A Newsletter Concerning the Genealogy of the
Southern New York Wolfes—compiled, edited and written mostly by
Michael Wolfe, P.O. Box 7356, Beverly Hills, CA 90212–7356 / firstname.lastname@example.org / (310) 288–3621
I’m very happy to announce that my sister Susan Wolfe and her longtime companion Joseph Trovato christened their son Joseph Wolf Trovato on 11 September at the Immaculate Conception Church in Everett, MA. The godparents were my sister Anne Wolfe and Richard Herman, a friend of the family.
Thank you to everyone who wrote and called. People have been very enthusiastic about this endeavor and I appreciate all the support. My first cousin Charlotte Doria wrote to thank me and to say: "I was named Charlotte after my grandmother Charlotte Dreizler as my mother Marie Wolfe was carrying me when Charlotte Dreizler died. 36 years later my daughter Alessandra Marie was born four weeks premature on her grandmother’s birthday (Marie Wolfe)—just a story dear to my heart."
Cecilia Lemieux, my second cousin twice removed and at 87 years old the senior member of the Wolfe family, wrote to tell me she thought "Wolfsbane" was a fine production. She was happy to read about Annie Colvin, who was her grandmother: "My grandmother lived with my family on Staten Island for quite a long time. She died on Staten Island and my family went on the train with her body to Coeymans, where she was buried . . . I loved my Grandmother Wolfe very much."
Our cousin Ellen Dietz wrote to say that the newsletter made her miss her home state of New York (she lives in Arizona) and Christine Marano–Barton wrote to say she thought it was "absolutely terrific."
By the way, all information sent to me for family group sheets has been input. The database now stands at nearly 2,000 individuals. Those of you who haven’t sent me family group sheets yet—naughty, naughty. Also, anybody running Windows on an IBM–compatible computer should get in touch with me immediately.
And now I’ll turn the helm over to Frank Wolfe, who has discovered some more information about the Susie . . .
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Wake Up LittleSusie—Epilogue
By Frank Wolfe
Since the last (or should I say the first) issue of "Wolfsbane" the mystery of the Susie Gedney/Susie/Annie has been unraveled. A review of some background documents gives some approximate dates. According to the Coeymans News–Herald (March 27, 1901) she was renamed the Annie after Andrew J. Wolfe's wife, Annie M. Colvin. So the name change happened before then. Andrew's will of 1902 mentions a tug called the Anna (he owned 8/9ths of the boat which he left to his wife). His brother William Winne Wolfe leaves his share of the tug Annie to his second wife in his will of 1917.
So which was it? Annie or Anna? To be honest, the person went by both names. Generally known as Annie M. Colvin (Wolfe) my great–aunt was referred to as "Anna" in her father's will. Most likely that was her given name and she gave it back. The boat was never officially referred to as the Anna but considering how confusing this is I think we can give Andrew the benefit of the doubt. After all, the poor fellow had terminal stomach cancer when he made his will.
As to how she ended, I continued my search at the library of the Mystic Seaport Museum where some unfriendly volunteers allowed me to spend an afternoon with the annual U.S. Government List of Merchant Vessels. I followed the Susie Gedney for every year of her existence. Her name changes were as follows: Susie Gedney from 1868–1883; Susie from 1884–1900; Annie from 1901–1926.
As the Annie, she was listed as being owned by the Barclay Financial Corp. in 1925 and 1926 (the only years owners are listed). Her home port was Albany until 1918, when it changed to New York City, and she stayed there until her end. William Winne Wolfe's estate papers list her as being sold when he died in 1917, but not to whom. We can (perhaps) assume that it was the Barclay banking group. This would explain the shift to New York City the year after William died.
Alas, her final resting place was not a distinguished one for such an important member of the family. The Annie was "lost" on December 26, 1926 on the East River with four on board (no lives lost). The cause was listed simply as "do," a code that is not explained in the ledger. I would like to think that this means "saving the world for democracy" or "rescuing nuns and orphans from drowning" but despite wishful thinking it is unlikely that she did anything other than sink. She was 58 years old. And so our fearless tug still leaves us with another little mystery. . .
[Frank also received this letter from Gerard Mestropaolo, the steamboat historian from Schenectady owns a picture of the Susie—M.W.]
September 4, 1994
Dear Mr. Wolfe,
Thank you for both your letters of August 9th and August 30th and for the tremendous amount of information each contained relating to your research on the tugboat Susie Gedney/Susie/Annie. I'm sorry that it took me so long to reply but since I was late anyway I thought I might as well wait until the photo you wanted came in from the developers. It finally arrived yesterday and I am enclosing it herewith at no charge due to your long wait.
Actually, you stole a bit of my thunder as I was also going to confirm for you that Susie was in fact renamed Annie sometime between 1900–1902. This I also got from the List of Merchant Vessels for the year 1902, a copy of which I have on hand. Once I had the name Annie it was easy to find an entry with the verification that she had previously been named Susie Gedney. I note also they misspelled Gedney as Gidney (there is also a Gidney Avenue in the City of Newburgh) so there may have been quite a few variations of that name. Anyway, I enclose a copy of the page from the List of Merchant Vessels for 1902 just mentioned. I'm glad that you have been able to gather so much information and detail on this boat and on the Wolfes of that era. Am also glad to have the dates of operation of this vessel under her different names. It fills in some question marks I have had ever since I first obtained the photograph back around 1978 from the late steamboat historian F. Van Loon Ryder of Coxsackie, N.Y. He sold me a number of post card pictures at the time but no information was forthcoming on Susie until the late author Don Ringwald gave me some basic information on her including the fact that she had worked as a tender during the building of the Poughkeepsie railroad bridge in the 1880's. That was interesting to me because I lived in Milton while growing up (also Highland), and went to schools in Poughkeepsie, so that bridge has always meant a lot to me. I also painted the Mid–Hudson Bridge for two summers during my college years and worked in the purser's department on the Alexander Hamilton during 1967 and part of 1969. So, as you can see, the Hudson River and its steamboats have always occupied an important spot in my life and continue to do so. I always felt that eventually I would acquire more information on SUSIE. I found those towing bills last year.
By the way, I note that your grandfather Charles Wolfe was a pilot on the Brinckerhoff. She was a Poughkeepsie–Highland ferryboat which operated 1899 to 1941. She was the last of the sidewheel ferries on the upper river and made the last trip on the Poughkeepsie run on December 31st 1941 which ended all operations at that point. I understand several artifacts from the Brinckerhoff have just been donated to the Maritime Museum by a former engineer who still lives in the area. Perhaps he has knowledge of your grandfather when he worked on that boat. They would have his name at the Maritime Museum if you were interested in contacting him.
The Anna was a side–wheel towboat which operated out of Albany for many years. I have a picture of her also although it isn't a real great one. The Eagle was a passenger steamboat which burned at Milton in 1884. There are pictures of her in my collection also. The other boats listed I'm not familiar with without further research. Say When sounds vaguely familiar.
Anyway, thought I'd mention these things since those boats were included in the information you sent.
I’ve gone on too long so will close here.
Thanks again for the great information, and continued good luck in your research. . .
Memories of a Left–Handed Kid from the Bronx
By Vincent J. Wolfe
I was born on Tuesday, May 31, 1932 in a private house across the street from Mount St. Michael High School in the North Bronx. I was the third child and the first boy in the family—having two older sisters, Betty and Marie. Later I would have two younger brothers: Tom and Robert.
The Bronx was unique back then. It was truly a melting pot. We lived in a mixed neighborhood (as opposed to the all Jewish or Italian, etc.). One of the first places I can remember was 1070 Washington Avenue (South Bronx). It was your basic walk–up apartment house. The kitchen had a huge sink where we would do laundry on a scrubbing board and put window curtains in a starch mix and then put them on a wooden stretcher to dry. I always managed to prick my fingers on the stretcher nails.
Our neighbor upstairs was a German lady, Mrs. Miller, who made the greatest crullers I've ever eaten. That was always a special treat.
Gertrude Hebrank and her husband Al used to visit often. Another neighbor was Bridy McGary and she and her husband had a bicycle shop. This was where I first learned to ride a two wheeler. A block or so away was a Drake's Bakery where we used to buy the broken pieces of pound cake with raisins and this, too, was a treat. In those days milk was delivered to your door by a horse–drawn wagon. Just down the block from our apartment house was a livery where they would board horses and shoe them. One day a horse died and it lay in front of the livery for several days until the sanitation department decided to pick it up. I vividly remember how afraid I was to go within 20 feet of that dead horse. The cop on the beat was almost like a god to us. There was little or no crime back then. We didn't have to lock our doors. Our church was St. Augustine's (called the "little cathedral"). Monsignor Hayes was the pastor.
I used to visit my grandparents, Charlotte and William Driezler. We would take the trolley car on Webster Avenue for a nickel to the end of the line and walk to their house on Edson Avenue. That part of the Bronx was still mostly farms in those days. Grandma was a very sweet and gentle woman. Grandpa was somewhat of a loner. He used to have me walk up to Barney's Tavern and get a schooner of beer and my reward was a handful of pretzels from the bar. Strangely enough, we had our wedding reception in Barney's in 1951.
It seemed as if grandma's house was always filled with fresh baked pies and cakes. Whenever we had dinner there, more often than not, it was leg of lamb. She was a wonderful cook. Living at home at the Driezler house were my aunts and uncles. There was Eddie, Willie, Frank, Al, Joe, Martha, Julia, Rita and Mary. They were a happy group and always made us all feel welcome. Grandpa Driezler would spend a lot of time in the kitchen drinking coffee out of a soup bowl and listening to the N.Y. Yankees on the radio. He would always keep a box score on a special note pad.
Radio was our major entertainment other than an occasional movie. There were radio shows that we looked forward to each week, i.e.; Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Lone Ranger, and Let's Pretend. We had our version of the soaps. They were called that because they were sponsored by various soap companies. Another popular show was Lux Theatre which presented musicals. Yet another popular Saturday show was the Make–Believe Ball Room With Martin Block.
The local movie house was the Blenheim and how well I remember how the usher used to go up and down the aisles pushing the huge machine that dispensed a roach–killing spray (sort of a 40's version of Raid). There were always two full–length features and on Saturday mornings there were serials like Nyoka, Queen of the Jungle, The Green Hornet, etc.
I don't remember how old I was, but I do recall that it was a Sunday and the price of the movies went from ten cents to twelve and I only had ten cents. I was crushed (it was not an easy task in those days to raise two cents). I somehow managed to do it and I did get to see the double feature which was A Yank at Eton with Freddie Bartholemew and The Cat People with Simone Simone. Besides the two full–length pictures there were cartoons, the news and a weekly serial such as The Phantom, Buck Rogers, etc. These were short films that ended each week with the hero in a perilous situation so you had to go back each week to find out how they escaped only to find themselves in another fine mess and as always "to be continued." The movies were our mainstay of visual entertainment. The theatres gave away dishes and various other prizes just to get people to come back each week and this worked very well.
As kids growing up on the streets of the Bronx, we had all sorts of games that we played to amuse ourselves. Some of the most popular ones were "kick the can," "war," "ring–a–levio," "statues," "box ball" and "potsy." We played football with a rolled–up newspaper secured with rubber bands. The big guys played stick ball (a broomstick used to hit a rubber ball). Stick ball was serious sport. Money changed hands quite often. Neighborhoods would compete against each other.
I don't remember how old I was, but I can recall going to summer camp at Camp Hayes. It was always very traumatic for my brother Tom and I. We just didn't want to leave home. In retrospect I believe it was because of the trauma of the shelter we were placed in while Robert was born. It wasn't very long, but it did leave its scars. Once we got to the camp we did have some good times. We learned how to swim and react to the discipline of a counselor. We had our inspections, reveille and taps, hikes, swimming the Neversink River, and singing around the campfire. One of my favorite things was the canteen where we would buy candy (my love for sweets goes way back). Mom always managed to send a few cents to us and that went a long way. The accommodations were interesting. We ate our meals in a big mess hall and slept in a log cabin. There were daily inspections and very strict ones at that. Every Friday night we had an adoration service to the blessed sacrament and it always ended with the singing of "Holy God We Praise Thy Name." To this day it is the only hymn I know all the words to.
I remember Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941. We lived on East 183rd Street in the Bronx. Mom used to send us across the street to the candy store to buy five loosies—that is five loose cigarettes. The deli on Park Avenue was owned by a Dutchman named Fritz. He had a book in which people ran a tab. Every 2 or 3 weeks we would settle up and start over again. I think of it today as a forerunner of the credit card. It was always fun to argue with Fritz as to what was owed because it seemed as if there was always fifty cents here and thirty cents there that you didn't remember, but it was "in the book" so it was always paid.
One of my first jobs was delivering groceries for the deli. My pay was whatever tips you got and it was always just nickels and dimes, but in those days that was a small fortune. Another early job was to hand–wash and wax on my knees the chapel floors in the convent that our Aunt Lena, of the Sisters of Charity, was assigned to. My mom set the job up for me. I had to take the old Avenue "L" train to East Harlem. I did this about once a month. My pay was a quarter and cookies and milk.
My memory of grammar school begins here. I went to parochial school—Our Saviour's at 183 Street and Washington Avenue. Our principal was Sister Hortense. She was a very tough old bird. She must have been a middle linebacker in another life. I spent enough time in her office being reprimanded. Nuns and I didn't get along too well. However, I did have my favorites—Sister Monica and Sister Rose Imelda. The nuns tried to change me from a leftie to a right–handed person. I refused to give in to them and they really made a big deal about it. I finally won the battle. I never really knew why they insisted on making all children right–handed, but they did. To me school was a place one had to go to because that was the law. I was active in school events. I was an altar boy, but never served mass because Father Genslinger failed me in Latin, and I have never forgiven him. A little foresight would have told him that Latin would someday be passé. My best friend all through grade school and high school was Bob Cannon. Bob was a very bright student, class valedictorian, etc.
It was in the sacristy of Our Saviour's that I had my first taste of wine. Along with some other misguided youths, we managed to find the altar wine and had our little wine tasting. Altar wine is pretty gross tasting. It would make Ripple and Thunderbird taste like fine wines.
Some of the other priests were Father McKenna, a somewhat hyper Irishman and Father Duggan (the pastor) who at the time seemed older than dirt. The one priest who Tom and I were closest to was Father Brown a/k/a Pappy Brown. He was a sort of surrogate father—he would take us on trips to Maryknoll Seminary. He may have been trying to recruit us for the priesthood, but I told him up front that I didn't look good in basic black. He truly was an anchor for us at that point in our lives. One of the things that he would always stress was good posture—stand up straight and keep your shoulders back. It was a little thing, but I've carried the thought with me to this day.
It was Our Saviour's church that supplied many Thanksgiving and Christmas turkey dinners with all the trimmings to the Wolfe house. In those days, parishioners were expected to pay for their seats at Sunday mass. The ushers were a group of middle aged men. No young people would dare try to break that circle. They really played their role to the hilt. They were so damn serious about what they perceived to be a very important task.
Wilkes Drug Store was at 183rd Street and Washington Avenue. The pharmacist was a great guy by the name of Mike. He was like a doctor to most people in the neighborhood. If you had a cut, something in the eye or perhaps an aching back, Mike would always find a remedy for it.
Day–to–day food shopping was done in small food chains, i.e.; A&P, Gristedes, etc. Our diet at home was very basic. We ate lots of rice, liver and pea soup. Mom was a great cook, but there wasn't that much money around for expensive cuts of meat. However, we always had a hearty meal and we all survived nicely.
There were traditions in our home. One of them was that every Saturday the house would be cleaned top to bottom and shame on you if you didn't complete whatever task assigned to you. I slept with my brothers, and more often than not it was the three of us in one bed.
I've been reminded that up until now I haven't said anything about my father. I find it very difficult to write about someone I knew so very little about. This lack of knowledge is not by choice. He left home when I was 5 years old. I do remember him showing up every once in a while with some drinking friends and he would beat up on Mom and then disappear again. After a 10 year absence, he finally decided to come home again. By then I was 15 years old and I resented his being there and playing at being father of the house once again.
He was a stranger to me and he went to his grave still a stranger. It's ironic that Michael Wolfe through his herculean efforts has been able to find out so much about the Wolfes, yet nothing is known about the man born Vincent Elliot Winfield Wolfe on February 8, 1908 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. I do know he worked for Railway Express as a truck driver. He did become very active in the Knights Of Columbus. After Mom died in 1957, he met and married Margaret Fischer. They had two sons, Joseph and Francis (my two half–brothers). He didn't live long enough to see them grow up either since he died in 1966 when they were toddlers.
My first childhood crush was while I was in grade school. Her name was Catherine Inserra and she lived across the street on 184th Street in the Bronx. Alas, it was a brief romance, but at the time I thought it was very special.
I graduated grammar school in 1946 and then went on to Cardinal Hayes High School. School was a drag for me because I had no self–confidence. I know now that I had the brains to do better than I did in high school.
In 1947 a club was formed at the Y.W.C.A. on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx. It was the first men's club allowed in the Y.W.C.A. I was a charter member, so to speak. It was at a dance at the club that I first saw Patricia Starr (age 14) and immediately thought she was something special—but so did my best friend, Bob Cannon. We flipped a coin to settle who would ask her for a date.
Bob won the toss and they started dating. Their romance lasted for one year. Then on February 5, 1949, Patti and I had our first date. We went to the botanical gardens. After a courtship of almost three years, Patti and I were married on November 17, 1951. Bob Cannon was our best man! I had a job with Emerson Radio making $35 per week and Patti worked for Equitable Life Insurance Company. We had an apartment on the fourth floor at 310 East 196th Street in the Bronx for $40 per month.
To Be Continued . . .
The Reluctant Patriot
James Selkirk (1756–1820)
By Michael Wolfe
"The Gallowaa Hills are covered wi broom
Wi heather bells in bonny bloom
Wi heather bells and rivers aa
So we’ll gang oot ower the hills tae Gallowaa"
On 7 May 1774, in a small fishing village on the coast of southwestern Scotland, a young man seventeen years of age walked up to one of His Majesty's customs officials at dockside and lied about his age. He wanted to travel to America, but could only go alone if he were 21 years old. His name was James Selkirk, son of James Selkirk, grandson of James Selkirk (I'm afraid they weren't very imaginative). He was also descended from the Carson, Kevvens and Duns families. Although James didn’t know it, he was sailing toward more than a new world—he was sailing toward a place in history. . .
Nobody knows where the Selkirk family originally came from in Scotland, but an obvious clue is given in their name. One source breaks the word down into the Gaelic (sel for "to look," and kirk for "carrik" or "craig") and comes up with the romantic conclusion that the family once lived at a lonely lookout in the misty highlands. Although a very stirring image (one can just see them frolicking about in kilts), there is not one shred of evidence to support it. Dr. Theodore Selkirk, genealogist of the Selkirk family and a much more credible source, said the name is derived from the Gaelic "Schaleschryche," which means "huts–church." All that would mean is that they lived in some huts near a church. The most likely conclusion is that at one time the family hailed from the town of Selkirk, which is in the southern part (the "borderlands") of Scotland. What we do know for certain is that during the mid–1700s the Selkirks lived in Gatehouse–of–Fleet, near Kircudbright ("kircoobree"), Scotland.
Gatehouse–of–Fleet is a small, peaceful, seaside town tucked away in an inlet of Wigtown Bay. The grassy hills nearby, dotted with dairy cows, are called the Machars, and the whole region is named Galloway. Legend has it that Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian, once told Queen Victoria that there was no finer drive in all her realm than along the coast from Gatehouse to Creetown. "And which is the second?" asked Her Majesty. "Why, the drive from Creetown to Gatehouse!" replied Carlyle.
James Selkirk's father died in 1758, leaving his wife Jean Milligan in charge of three young children; John, James and Janet. Jean was in dire straits, and she turned to her brother–in–law Charles, who took the family in and provided for them. James learned to read and write, which is not surprising, as his Uncle Charles was a professor who eventually taught at the University of Edinburgh (1774). He also took up the trade of tailor while still a young man, because that is the profession he gave the customs officials before embarking (he wasn't lying about that). Unemployment was high in mid–1700s Scotland, and James had to find work. The New World beckoned, and he wasn't going to let a little thing like his exact age get in the way of survival.
And so, officially 21 years old, James boarded the Gale, a ship bound for the colony of New York. The Gale took 106 days to cross the Atlantic, and it is said that she lived up to her name—it was a stormy trip. 106 days is a long time to spend crowded below decks, probably seasick, with no friends. It's reasonable to think that sometime during this trip James befriended his shipmates, and in particular a family named Henry, headed by a man named James Henry.
James Henry was born in a town called Kerkitelloch, about six miles outside Glasgow. When still young he moved to Gatehouse–of–Fleet and married Nancy Herron, whose family lived in a stone house on the main street of Gatehouse, right next door to Mr. McBlane, a local blacksmith.
His grandson Joseph Henry would later describe James Henry as "a shrewd scholar in the way of religion [and] history fond of Polemic diversity. Had [read] much and was well acquainted with the history of Scotland." James had already seen some of Scottish history: he told his daughter Elizabeth that as a boy he had been standing atop the city gates when Bonnie Prince Charlie rode into Glasgow during his ill–fated uprising against the English in 1745—the last of the Scottish rebellions. We have no knowledge of James’s political beliefs, but if he was a typical Scotsman, he probably did not regret sailing out from under the English heel, which since his childhood had been firmly planted on Scotland’s neck.
Mr. Henry was in his thirties, his wife Nancy probably in her twenties. They had their three children along with them: Christiana ("Christy"), 15, Elizabeth, 8, and little William. James Henry had been ". . .induced to come to America at that period by letters written to him by his wife's brother who came to this country one year before and represented it as a terrestrial paradise." Nancy’s brother was James Herron, 40, who was along for the voyage. He had probably come home to help his sister and brother–in–law move to the colonies.
When they landed in New York, the Henry family booked passage on a sloop, which, until the advent of the steamboat, was the only way to sail up the river. James Selkirk probably went along with them. Sloops were an undependable way to travel, dependent on wind, current, and weather. After a passage of anything from two weeks to a month, they landed at Albany, where ". . .the family was frightened by the warlike appearance of the seven tribes of Indians [the Iroquois] who were there receiving their presents of blankets and arms + ammunitions." The Henrys survived this fright and promptly rented a house on State Street near the "English church."
James Selkirk must have bid them farewell, because we know he headed for Galway (near Saratoga) and knocked about, looking for work. It was James’s literacy that got him into the war. In December of 1775 he was living with a man who had been a lieutenant in Benedict Arnold’s Canadian campaign—a man who hated paperwork. The lieutenant’s scheme was that James would enlist in the militia with him and take care of the company’s paperwork. In return the lieutenant would take care of James and make sure he "would live as well as [the lieutenant] did." James didn’t want to go into the service, but I suspect that the tailor business was slow, so he enlisted in Colonel John Nicholson's Continental Regiment of New York Militia.
Militia troops were poorly trained, ill–disciplined and known throughout the war for their tendency to run away from battle rather than toward it. James spent most of this first term of enlistment ill from "ague" (probably malaria). He mustered out in Albany, and was entreated by a friend (Mr. Shaw) to re–enlist, this time in the regular army for a term of three years. Mr. Shaw was to be appointed Quartermaster and "was very anxious that [James] should enlist with him to be Quartermaster Sergeant" of a new regiment commanded by Colonel James Livingston. On 20 December 1776 James re–enlisted for three years, but the return came back with him down "for the duration of the war," and so he was trapped in the service of his new country, for better or worse.
Colonel Livingston's Battalion, as it was called, served under Benedict Arnold and was part of the relief effort for Fort Schuyler after the disastrous Battle of Oriskany Creek. Then, in the fall of 1777, all forces in the "Northern Department," as it was called, were ordered to converge on the British forces near Saratoga. General Burgoyne had moved down from Canada with the intention of splitting the American colonies in half along the Hudson River, cutting off New England. The Americans had to win this battle, or lose the war.
From James's own account, he was in the thick of it. The first battle took place at Freeman’s Farm on 19 September. It was a fierce, bloody fight, the turning point of which took place when Benedict Arnold, after a furious argument with his superior officer (General Gates) about whether to attack, reinforced the American troops and carried the day.
The most dangerous fighting for James was in the second battle (Bemis Heights), when Arnold led the Americans up to the entrenched British positions: "Nothing could exceed the bravery of both officers and men standing on this eminence and exposed to the galling fire of the enemy, ball and grape shot flying thick upon us." The Americans took the heights and drove Burgoyne's forces eastward into Saratoga, trapping them against the Hudson River. Burgoyne capitulated, and the colonists had their first major victory.
After more duty up and down the Mohawk River, Livingston's Battalion was ordered to Newport, Rhode Island, a long and tiring march. When they got to Newport in the summer of 1778 they joined a French–American attack on the British, but the British successfully defended their position and the Americans were forced to yield the main island. James and his comrades had to sit out the winter across the bay from the British, who were comfortably quartered in Newport.
In the spring of 1779 the British abandoned Newport, and in the fall Livingston's Battalion marched again, this time to Morristown, New Jersey. They arrived cold, ill–clothed and shoeless at the American winter camp in late 1779. Morristown was hell on earth that winter—the worst winter of the war, worse than Valley Forge in 1777. The soldiers had few blankets and fewer provisions, and the snow was so deep and the weather so bad very few supplies could be brought in. Because of the deep snow, James and his messmates had to live in tents until a thaw in February when they could build a hut.
But James survived; survived to fight at Springfield Heights the next spring, survived to march back to New York that summer, survived to witness one of the most remarkable chapters in American colonial history. Livingston's Battalion was stationed at Verplanck's Point on the Hudson River, and was still under the command of Benedict Arnold when Arnold tried to betray the American cause by giving away the plans to West Point. West Point was a crucial fortress on the Hudson River, one the British longed to capture because it would fulfill their dream of dividing the colonies. But Arnold's plan failed when his British contact Major André was captured.
Major André had sailed up the river on the British sloop Vulture to meet Arnold behind American lines. While they were meeting, a lieutenant in James's regiment who commanded the artillery at Verplanck's Point disobeyed orders and fired upon the Vulture. This encouraged the Vulture to move out of range, leaving Major André high and dry. He had to find his way back to British lines by land, and so was captured by American soldiers and the plan foiled.
When Arnold heard of André's bad luck, he got into a boat and ordered it rowed to the Vulture. James saw his boat going by, but having no orders to stop it and completely unaware of the betrayal, the Americans let it pass. Later that night one of the men who had rowed Arnold to the Vulture landed at James's position and spent the night there, telling James and his comrades about his role in this strange episode. Arnold was safely in British hands, André was later hanged (which I believe James also witnessed) and although they didn’t know it, the British lost their last chance to win the war.
After this time, Livingston's Battalion was disbanded and incorporated in the Second Regiment of New York. Later, in 1781, James sailed down to Yorktown, Virginia (another hair–raising adventure) and saw the British finally surrender at that climactic battle. He was put in charge of escorting some prisoners north and fell sick along the way, nearly dying from a mysterious infection. After recovering, he marched north again to Newburgh, New York. On June 7, 1783 he received his discharge, duly signed by General George Washington, and also a "Reward of Merit" for a total of six and a half years' service to his country. He walked back to Albany, arriving friendless, penniless, jobless and with no family to help him. For a time he fell into a deep depression, but then shook it off and started looking for work.
I do not know how he found his way back to the Henry family. I don't know if he had stayed in touch with them, or if he managed to find them after the war. The Henrys had not stayed in one place at first. After renting the house on State Street in Albany for about two weeks, "they removed to Schoharie. . . Middleburgh township. Here they lived about ½ year and then removed to Rensselaerville area the Big Lake where they took a farm from the Patroon and resided on it 4 years when they were obliged for fear of the Indians to remove to Bethlehem on a farm of Mr. Nichols where the old man resided until the time of his death which happened after he was the grandfather of a grandfather and had lived 93 years."
This is where James must have found them—on their farm in Bethlehem. Walking or riding up the road to the house, he must have looked very different: tired, older, a world wiser, a boy grown to a man who had seen things nobody should ever have to see, a reluctant revolutionary who had survived against terrible odds. He was 27 years old. Little Elizabeth, who had been just eight years old when she sailed for America, was eighteen years old in 1784. She must have turned the veteran's head, because they were married 12 January 1786 at the First Presbyterian Church in Albany, the second couple to have been married in that church.
James and Elizabeth settled down to the fruits of revolution: a quiet life farming, tailoring and raising a family. Elizabeth bore ten children, and as James acknowledged in his later years, they were a great help to him as he grew older (the war had ruined his health). Their children were: James, Jr. Nancy, William, John, Robert, Charles, Joseph, Elizabeth, Francis Nicoll, and Alexander. Years later, James, Jr. married a woman named Rebecca Mull, and they had a daughter named Henrietta. Henrietta Selkirk married a deckhand named Anthony Wolf, and so on down the Wolfe line.
James died at his farm on 2 December 1820. Elizabeth died many years later on 9 May 1844. Both of them are buried in the family burial ground of Colonel Francis Nicoll–Sill at the Nicoll–Sill farm in Bethlehem, NY. A memorial to the eight Revolutionary War veterans buried there is located just outside the fence surrounding the ground. Many members of the Nicoll–Sill family are buried there, as well as some Henrys and Caesar—115 years old when he died—the last person enslaved north of the Mason–Dixon line.
Sometime in the early 1800s, James sat down and began to write a history of the American Revolution in three parts: the causes of the war, the war itself, and a history of his own personal experience—a fascinating historical document. He intended to publish but it seems the opportunity never materialized. The manuscript, which survives to this day, was handed down from generation to generation to its present owner, Elizabeth Amberg–Lawrence. Her mother Elizabeth Whiting Selkirk–Amberg transcribed this document and in October, 1993 I visited Betty and her family, and after eating a delicious lunch, I was treated to a peek at both original and transcript. The original is about 6"x 6", on yellowing paper with crumbling edges, written in a cramped but neat hand. When I looked at some notes at the end of the manuscript, I found two pieces of paper fastened together with an ancient sewing needle, made of what appeared to be pewter. I turned to Betty and asked her if she knew where the needle came from. She said no. I mentioned that James had been a tailor, and her eyes flew open wide as she said, "I didn't know that!"
Betty and her family want to publish the history, and I have been given the assignment of transcribing it into a computer and trying to edit it into a readable form (it contains very little punctuation and can be difficult to read). I am about halfway to two–thirds of the way through the first pass at the transcription and am slowly working toward completion. It is difficult but rewarding work. When it is finally in good shape, the Lawrences will attempt to get it published. If any of you have any advice or knowledge that can further this goal, Betty and I would be very happy to hear from you. As Betty herself put it, this is what James would want, and we hope you will all enjoy the book when it is published.
I'm very proud to be descended from this man—this teenager who set out for a new land and wound up a citizen–soldier. Starved, exhausted, frozen, afflicted and shot at, he came through—a remarkable person and a remarkable American.
"That these very men should be the instruments on the hand of Providence for securing and establishing the freedom and independence, the civil and religious privileges of the United States of America will be a wonder to ages yet unborn. May the present and succeeding generations realize their privileges more than ever which were purchased for them by their forefathers so dearly."
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