Seward Family Treasures On Exhibit In Auburn


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Untold Stories 2Two of Auburn’s leading cultural institutions, the Cayuga Museum of History and Art, and the Seward House Museum, have joined forces to create a new exhibit, “Untold Stories: Treasures from the Seward Family Collection” will be on display at the Cayuga Museum from until August 30, 2015.

Showcasing items from the collections of the Seward House Museum in the spacious galleries of the Cayuga Museum, this unique collaboration explores the themes of family life in the Victorian era and the Seward family’s world travels. Continue reading

The Battle of Diamond Island on Lake George


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General Lincoln by Charles Wilson PealeToday it’s a State-owned island – a day use area for picnics – but Diamond Island witnessed a horrific bombardment by gun boats manned by Patriots during the American Revolution. The fight occurred during British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne’s 1777 campaign to capture Albany. Initially, Burgoyne’s 9,000 man army had successfully captured Fort Ticonderoga and Mount Independence in July.

When Burgoyne’s progress stalled near Skenesborough (present-day Whitehall, NY), his supplies were quickly eaten up by his extended campaign. Since his large army could not easily live off the land, except for shooting an occasional deer or bear, or boiling up a captured rattlesnake or turtle, the 54-year old general established a long supply line back to Canada. It was anchored by Fort George at the southern end of Lake George and by Fort Ticonderoga at the northern end. Between the two forts, a supply depot, guarded by two companies of the 47th Regiment of Foot under Captain Thomas Aubrey was fixed on Diamond Island. Continue reading

Spectacle: The Life of Ota Benga


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Ota BengaIn Pamela Newkirk’s Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga (Amistad / Harper Collins, 2015) the award-winning journalist reveals a little-known and shameful episode in American history, when an African man was used as a zoo exhibit — a shocking story of racial prejudice, science, and tragedy in the early years of the twentieth century.

Ota Benga, a young Congolese man, was featured as an exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Two years later, in 1906, the Bronx Zoo displayed him in its Monkey House, caging the slight 103-pound, four-foot eleven-inch man with an orangutan. The attraction became an international sensation, drawing thousands of New Yorkers and commanding headlines from across the nation and Europe. Continue reading

Upstate Cauldron: Eccentric Spiritual Movements in Early NYS


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Upstate Cauldron - Eccentric Spiritual Movements in Early New YorkJoscelyn Godwin’s Upstate Cauldron: Eccentric Spiritual Movements in Early New York State (SUNY Press, 2015) is an outstanding guide to the phenomenal crop of prophets, mediums, sects, cults, utopian communities, and spiritual leaders that arose in Upstate New York from 1776 to 1914.

Along with the best known of these, such as the Shakers, Mormons, and Spiritualists, Upstate Cauldron explores more than forty other spiritual leaders or groups, some of them virtually unknown. Continue reading

This Week’s New York History Web Highlights


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This Week’s Top New York History News


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Researching NY History Conference Seeks Proposals


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Researching NY ConferenceThe organizers of Researching New York 2015 are inviting proposals for presentations on any aspect of New York State history – in any time period and from any perspective.The conference meets annually in November, bringing together historians, archivists, public historians, graduate students, museum curators, teachers, documentarians, and more to share their work on New York State history.

They are encouraging proposals that explore the diverse communities of New York – their histories and how they are gathered, preserved, and presented –  whether considering the question of “what is a community?” or the experiences of specific communities. Continue reading

Entering the Post Civil War Sesquicentennial Era


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lithograph of the Battle of Gettysburg from the Library of CongressA recent article “Made in New York: The Empire State at War,” in the Albany Times Union by Civil War historian Bill Howard reminded readers of New York’s central importance in the Civil War.

Howard noted, among other things, that New York governor Edwin Morgan began mobilizing troops for the war even before the surrender of Fort Sumter, enlisted about 450,000 soldiers during the war (more than half of the state’s population under 30), was a major supplier of arms and other war materials. Howard analyzes several other New York contributions and concludes that “the war could not have been won without New York’s contributions.” Continue reading

1861: Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth in Albany


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The Delavan House on BRoadway in AlbanyFollowing his election as President in 1860, Abraham Lincoln undertook a train ride to Washington that took him through Albany. He arrived in the city on February 18, 1861 with his wife and three sons.

As their train passed the West Albany railroad shops, an electrical switch was turned off at the nearby Dudley Observatory, causing an electromagnet mounted on the roof of the Capitol in downtown Albany to release a metal ball that slid down a pole, signaling to military officials to start a 21-gun salute in Capitol Park. Continue reading

Plane Crash Wreckage Hike Recalls Mount Beacon 6


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Dixie Kiefer on the USS TiconderogaOn Sunday, November 11, 1945, a Navy Beechcraft twin engine transport plane traveling from Curtis Wright Airport in New Jersey to the Quonset Air Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, crashed near the northwest ridge of Beacon Mountain in the Town of Fishkill, New York.

Among the six men who lost their lives that day was Navy legend Dixie Kiefer, Commander of the Quonset Point Naval Air Station, and one of the World War II Navy’s best known figures. On Saturday June 20, 2015 there will be a hike to the site of the crash on Mt. Beacon, were some wreckage remains. Continue reading

Aaron Burr Revised: Conspiracy, Treason and Justice


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Aaron Burr by John Vanderlyn in 1809. Courtesy of New-York Historical SocietyWho remembers Aaron Burr as anything more than Quick Draw McGraw shooting down the near-sighted Alexander Hamilton at dawn in 1804? But there is much more to the man, as Gore Vidal revealed in his intriguing 1973 historical novel, and other subsequent scholarship.

Two aspects of Burr’s varied career stand out in today’s world. First, his treason trial that closely examined issues of what counts as an act of war against one’s own government. And second, his relationships with a series of highly intelligent and accomplished women, reflecting his high opinion of the female sex and its potential. Continue reading

The Mirror Girl of Saranac Lake


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NYH01AColonel Walter ScottMirror Girl. What an intriguing term. In the past it has been applied to the prettiest coeds in sororities, cute girls in general, and particularly vain women. But in this case, it addresses one of my favorite historical stories linked to the Northern New York’s years as a tuberculosis treatment center. The patient was a young woman, Jessica “Jessie” Ferguson, born in 1895 in Mount Pleasant, New York, north of Tarrytown on the Hudson River. Her parents, James and Anna, were both natives of Scotland, a fact that becomes key to the story.

The young girl’s difficulties began in her early twenties when her father died, and Jessica was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, affecting her spine. In 1918, she lost the ability to walk. Doctors placed her in a cast that forced Jessica into a permanent reclining position. Continue reading

Gilded Age Scandals, World War I at Staatsburgh


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Tea-Talk--6-9-15 (139)Two special theme tours this summer at Staatsburgh State Historic Site will explore very different aspects of the Gilded Age. “World War I and the End of the Gilded Age” will focus on the impact of the war on the social elite and their way of life. “Gilded Age Scandals” will share historic gossip about turn-of-the-century celebrity scandals.

Staatsburgh was the home of prominent social hostess Ruth Livingston Mills and her husband, financer Ogden Mills. The 79-room mansion showcases the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthy elite of the early 20th century. Continue reading

The Oneida Nation Supported American Rebels


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Oneidas  at the Battle of Oriskany in 2009James Kirby Martin, a history professor at the University of Houston, traces his interest in the Mohawk Valley to his birthplace in northern Ohio.

Joseph Brant of the Mohawk Nation was born in what is now Ohio in 1743 and Martin was fascinated by Brant’s life. The younger brother of Sir William Johnson’s longtime consort Molly Brant, Joseph Brant and Sir William’s son John led devastating raids in the Mohawk Valley during the American Revolution.

Sir William, Britain’s Indian agent in our region, died in 1774 before the war. However, his good relations with the Iroquois Confederacy kept most of them on the side of the British during the Revolution. Continue reading

Artillery Day At Knox’s Headquarters


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American Revolution ArtilleryThe long barrel artillery piece or gun was a dominating presence on most of the battlefields of the American Revolution.  Firing solid iron balls out to distances of 1,000 yards and deadly shotgun blasts of caseshot, small iron balls, in a tin canister, up to 300 yards, the gun devastated enemy formations.  The larger versions battered down walls and smashed holes in great warships.

On Saturday, June 20th, from 11 am to 3 pm, Revolutionary War cannon firings every half-hour will highlight a program about the 1780-81 artillery encampment at Knox’s Headquarters in New Windsor, Orange County, NY. Continue reading

Mabee Farm’s Civil War Living History Day June 27th


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Mabee Farm Civil War DayOn June 27th the Mabee Farm Historic Site will present Civil War Living History Day from 10 am to 4 pm. Living history educators, historians, and musicians from across New York and beyond will be on hand to recall one of the tumultuous moments in American history.

The event will feature education and family entertainment including living history demonstrations of military life, a children’s military muster, the exhibit “Witness to Assassination: President Lincoln’s Death and the Schenectady Connection,” and a  musical performance by the 77th New York Regimental Balladeers. Continue reading

Bourbon Empire: America’s Whiskey Past, and Future


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Boubon EmpireBorn of necessity in the colonies, fine-tuned and perfected over the centuries – witnessing civil war, Prohibition, and the marketing genius of Madison Avenue – bourbon continues to this day to be one of the most popular and iconic spirits of America.

In Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey (Viking, 2015), Reid Mitenbuler provides a popularly accessible history of this unique industry and a personal commentary on how to taste and choose your bourbon. Continue reading