Tag Archives: Political History

A Short Biography of Engineer Benjamin Prescott


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Pipes of the Albany Water Works excavated by Wolfert Roost CC circa late 1980s002The Wolfert’s Roost Country Club in Albany maintains a small dam, pond, and pump house to provide water for their golf course. In the 1980s workers excavating the pond, which is fed by the Maezlandtkill, discovered several sections of ancient wooden and very early cast iron pipe along with iron bands. The pipe and other artifacts were placed in the woods near the club’s tennis courts and forgotten.

Benjamin Prescott, engineer of Albany’s first municipal water system and the man responsible for those pipes, is all but equally forgotten, despite an illustrious career in engineering.  Prescott served as an Engineer in the American Revolution, Superintendent of the Springfield Armory, and was the designer of several notable projects, including one of this nation’s first inclined planes (on the Connecticut River). He also conducted a 1790s survey of Niagara Falls, consulted on the Erie Canal, designed the Troy Sloop Lock (the Federal Dam) and more. Continue reading

New York’s Long History of Peace Activism


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Vietnam Veterans Against the War take part in an anti-war march in New YorkAs a scholarly specialist on the American peace movement, I am sometimes telephoned for background information by journalists writing articles about current demonstrations against war or against nuclear weapons. Almost invariably, they have no idea that the American peace movement has a rich history. Or, if they realize that it does have such a history, they have no idea that that history goes back further than the Vietnam War. This is a very big and unfortunate gap in their knowledge. Continue reading

Life And Times of Andrew Jackson, Southerner


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ben_franklins_worldDuring his lifetime, Jackson served as one of the most popular presidents and yet, today we remember him as a controversial figure given his views on slavery, Native Americans, and banks.

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, Mark R. Cheathem, professor of history at Cumberland University and author of Andrew Jackson, Southerner (LSU Press, 2013), leads us on an exploration of the life and times of Andrew Jackson. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/034

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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

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 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

Hamilton’s Mistress; My Historic Namesake


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StaatsburghDowntonTour6-2014 (153)In the study of history, a personal connection is often what draws us in to begin to explore a subject, place, or era.  We might be interested in World War II after hearing grandpa’s war stories.  We might begin to read about the Underground Railroad after discovering stations in our hometown.

Making a personal connection with the people we read about and study is a common impulse for history lovers.  It helps make history come alive. This story isn’t about an ancestor, or a history connection to my home town, it’s about a woman with a more unique connection to me, one who shares my name. Continue reading

Grant Cottage Property Being Transferred To State Parks


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Grant CottageThe New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) has announced that Grant Cottage State Historic Site, formerly part of the now closed Mount McGregor State Correctional Facility, will be part of a 750-acre parcel being transferred to Moreau Lake State Park.

Grant Cottage State Historic Site is the site where President Ulysses S. Grant died in July 1885.  Continue reading

Essex County’s William Rush Merriam (Conclusion)


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x4A NYHWR MerriamDespite the complexities involved in completing the 1900 census, the only fraud exposed occurred in Maryland, where a male enumerator counted dead people as long as they had expired within the past year. Since other shady circumstances were involved, the man was arrested. Said Census Director William Merriam about the Maryland case: “I have been simply amazed at the irregularities we have discovered. It will be the policy of this office to punish every offender.” And he followed through.

When all the returns were in, statistics provided by Merriam’s team determined the policies and needs that Congress would be addressing. The more data they received, the more impressed they became. From such partisan bodies as the House and Senate, a consensus emerged: Director Merriam had performed brilliantly. Continue reading

Essex County’s William Rush Merriam (Part 3)


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x3A NYHWRMerriamThe Cleveland Plain Dealer indeed dealt with it plainly: “It has been generally agreed that the conduct of the last census was a national scandal, and the president was determined that the present one should not be likewise if he could prevent it. The utter ignorance of many of the employees of the last census is even yet not properly appreciated by the country at large. Literally dozens of men and women carried on the rolls as high-grade clerks were not fit to sweep out an office—clerks who could neither spell, nor calculate, nor even write the English language with any degree of accuracy…. It was a shameful condition of affairs.”

Worse yet, a bureau of 70 clerks had been appointed to deal with the resulting mess, and their work was so incompetent that much of it had to be redone. President McKinley needed a director of the 1900 census who, said the Plain Dealer, “Would not have his work clogged by deadwood. He found just the man he wanted in [William] Merriam.” Continue reading

The Albany Connections of Burr, Hamilton, and Schuyler


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Hamilton-burr-duelDuring the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton served as an artillery captain and later a colonel and trusted aid to General George Washington. Colonel Aaron Burr also served in the Colonial Army and accompanied Benedict Arnold on his march through the Maine wilderness and his failed attempt to capture Quebec. Burr had been with General Richard Montgomery when Montgomery was shot and killed in Quebec. Later in the war, Burr was placed in charge of a regiment and his troops were stationed in Westchester County, New York. Continue reading

NYS Museum Acquires Franklin Co Suffrage Petitions


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Franklin County Suffrage PetitionsThe New York State Museum in Albany recently acquired a series of 1917 Franklin County women’s suffrage petitions from Jean Kubaryk, a teacher at North Warren Central School District. Ms. Kubaryk had been displaying the petitions in her classroom for years, but decided to donate the petitions to the Museum so they can be preserved for future generations.

After the petitions were officially acquired by the Museum, staff sent copies of the petitions to Ms. Kubaryk so her students can assist in researching the women who signed the petitions. Continue reading

Essex County’s William Rush Merriam (Part 2)


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x2A NYHMerriamMansIn November 1890, William Merriam ran again and won a second term as Minnesota’s governor, serving until January 1893.

Through the 1880s, as his status had grown from business and political successes, Merriam’s social position had elevated as well. Laura, already very well-connected, had become the leading socialite in Minnesota’s capital city. The Merriam mansion, next door to an even grander home owned by his father, John, became the hub of social activity. Extravagant parties were hosted frequently, and there was no more valued honor for visiting dignitaries than an invitation to the Merriam mansion. At three stories high, it held a vast library, artwork from the world’s masters, and featured multiple balconies, fireplaces, and porches. Continue reading

Ben Affleck and Credit Mobilier: Hidden Secrets Revealed


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1280px-Keppler_Credit_Mobilier_Hari-KariThe media was all abuzz recently over the revelation that actor Ben Affleck requested that producers of the PBS show ‘Finding Your Roots’, hide the fact that one of his ancestors owned slaves (going back six generations). When the news was leaked, Affleck responded by posting to one of his social media sites: “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors…”

I agree with him. But what I find more intriguing is his eagerness to hide the information from the public to begin with. Why hide the family skeletons? If anything, isn’t he impressed that the producers were able to uncover so much information about his ancestors? Continue reading

Political History: Essex County’s William Rush Merriam


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x1A NYHWRMerriamFrom humble North Country beginnings in a pioneer settlement, a local man rose to play an important government role on a national level. Work performed at the height of his career still affects every facet of our government today. It is also highly valued by researchers, genealogists, and historians as a great repository of important historical records.

William Rush Merriam was born in 1849 in the small community of Wadham’s Mills in Essex County, just a few miles northwest of Westport. Many members of the Merriam families in that vicinity played important roles in regional history. Continue reading

George Washington’s Revolution


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ben_franklins_worldWhat drove George Washington to become a Patriot during the American Revolution?

In this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, Robert Middlekauff, Professor Emeritus of colonial and early United States History at the University of California, Berkeley and author of Washington’s Revolution: The Making of America’s First Leader (Knopf, 2015), reveals the answer as we explore George Washington the man and leader. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/026

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Crises, Problems and Historical Insights


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Dorthrea Lange california migrants escaping the dust bowlHow useful are historical insights in addressing a state’s problems?

California is experiencing a historic drought so severe that Governor Jerry Brown has ordered a 25% reduction in the use of water with some exceptions, e.g., certain types of agriculture. As California endures this crisis, how helpful is historical insight in both understanding it and charting a way forward? So far, the results are mixed. Continue reading