Sunday, January 17, 2016

A little bit about Sampson Sammons

From: Mohawk Valley wiki
In a previous post we explored Lafayette’s visit through Fort Hunter (NY) in 1824 on the Erie Canal through a recollection of Col. Simeon Sammons in the Illustrated History of Fulton & Montgomery Counties.  Part of that was the fact that Col. Sammons father, Thomas, had known the French nobleman during the American Revolution.  According to 19th century local historian Washington Frothingham, Thomas’ father Sampson hosted Lafayette at Johnson Hall – where he was residing on lease for a yearly “rent of three hundred pounds,” from the Committee of Sequestration.    

                Sampson Sammons was himself a part of the Whig faction that controlled much of the area militarily as well as politically.  Known as the Tryon Committee of Safety, the patriot fervor ran strong and it was recorded by past historical observers and writers that Sampson Sammons was one of the “first…west of the Hudson River at whom a shot was fired in the Revolutionary struggle.”  This is reported as an occurrence involving the Tory sheriff, a man by the name of Alexander White.  White had several times cut down the Liberty Poles erected in the Mohawk valley, the first of which was planted “at the German Flats.”  The escalation occurred after arresting a “Fonda, the Sheriff put him in Jail at Johnstown, but Fonda’s neighbors promptly liberated him, and would have captured White had they not been interrupted by the gathering of a superior force of Tories at Johnson Hall.  Retiring to Caughnawaga they sent a deputation to Sir John Johnson, demanding White’s surrender.”  This, of course, was denied.

   Tension in the Mohawk Valley grew exponentially as Whig and Tory factions struggled for civil as well as military control in the early stages of the revolution.  Boiling points for this continued and where especially ferocious during the Johnson and Butler raids* into the valley in 1780.   


The Sammons family had moved into Johnson Hall after the 1777 campaign that not only saw American victory at Saratoga, but the Oriskany ambush that shook Tryon County to its core.  Sampson entertained often at the Hall and hosted council meetings there as well.  His association with other well attributed men and families of the Mohawk Valley (one that reads like a list of the local founders indeed), such as James Duane, Jelles Fonda**, Nicolas Herkimer and General Schuyler is testament to the Sammons family influence in the region prior to and throughout the revolutionary era and well into the late 19th century.
Johnson Hall
                While this may seem a bit far removed from the era of the Erie Canal, it is related to the colonial Fort Hunter through not only the connection with the Johnson family but more so the atmosphere of the region as a new nation was to emerge.  The Sammons family would continue honorable service to the valley and to what would become Montgomery County as members of local and state militia and legislatures.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Little on the Transformation of Food in Early America

According to Richard J. Hooker in his work, “Food and Drink in America: A History” the transformation in the early American Republic from old world traditional methodology and ingredients to utilizing new world resources reflected cultural as well as sociological shifts that the opportunities and liberty of the continent could provide.  
While the views on certain foods mingled in the minds of new world immigrants, those that had been established in the former colonial realm had adapted.  Together, this would develop into an American Style of food & beverage consumption.  With the early 19th Century canal craze, the transportation of products and foodstuffs began a new era for American food & drink.
It wasn’t just the relative ease of transporting these goods, but the method - particularly on the early Erie Canal - of moving people, that sparks interest for many today.  Combine that social and settlement pattern interest with food, and a new world of understanding comes into focus.
While the invention of the Steamboat predated the opening of the Erie Canal, in tandem they were a forge in creating the new America that would develop in the first half of the 1800’s.  
Much of the travel was by new conveyances, both on land and water. In 1817 New York State began to construct the Erie Canal...that was completed in 1825 and that became a major means of travel into the upper Mississippi Valley.  During the next several decades other canals were built, but only a few were really successful.  Also in 1817 a steamboat pushed upriver from New Orleans to Cincinnati, and within a few years there were steamboats on all the large tributaries of the Mississippi River system.  The railroad come soon after the canals and steamboats.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, begun in 1828, was but one among a number that by the 1840’s were connecting eastern cities with each other and with the trans-Appalachian West” (Hooker 150).
Again, the food was transformative, but those that traveled had their opportunity to feast,
“Food and drink on canal boats differed greatly according to the time and place.  The meals were served on long trestle tables that were set up three times a day in the main cabin where the men slept at night and in the women’s cabin where the  women and children slept.  Everything was placed on the tables at once.  One traveler to Buffalo over the Erie Canal wondered how such ample means of roast turkey, chicken, beef, ham, vegetables, pies, and puddings could be prepared in “the little closet aft.”  Equally bountiful were the meals served Charles Dickens, the English novelist, in 1842 on Pennsylvania canal boats.  Breakfast and summer consisted of tea, coffee, bread, butter, salmon, shad, liver, steaks, potatoes, pickles, lamb chops, black puddings, and sausage.  The midday dinner was the same, but without teach and coffee.  A passenger on the Wabash and Erie boat in 1854, however, spoke of breakfast beefsteaks that were dry, small and much underdone.  The captain, furthermore, “looked very black” if anyone asked for a second helping”
If all of that sounded decadent, the food service reported on Steamboats of the era put even the canal cooks to shame.  Further, the manners at such tables brought consternation from many observers; those unaccustomed to such fare were apt to be “...determined to get their money’s worth from the prepaid meals.”  It was noted by a Cincinnati editor that he witnessed “ man begin his dinner by swallowing a beautifully molded dish of blanc mange, while others also did not wait for the hot dishes but began on tarts, pies, and jellies.”   

As “...well to do families [brought] along a slave or servant to prepare special dishes…”  bringing with them wine and liquors that they were more firmly familiar - those well to-do travelers begot the era of “floating palaces of gleaming white paint and shining brass served meals that were greatly admired... there was abundance and variety.  A traveler from St. Louis to Louisville in 1833 mentioned thirty-one different dishes put before twenty-two passengers…”  
Most often, meats dominated the meal.  Everything from poultry, fish, beef, pork, and sausages prepared in various ways.  The culture of food in the America’s had transformed into the age of earlier European traditions of higher classes.  Meats dominating passengers meals is evidence of this, as those paying to ride steamboats or barges would have wished to be seen as distinguished within society.  In support of this is the decadent visual features of such watercraft as they emerged as a status of transportation.  This is seen in the early years of the Erie Canal as Captains outfitted illustrious tack upon their teams of high stepping horses that pulled brightly painted packet barges.  
Food had become more than just sustenance for more and more of the populous - it was status, it was pleasure, it was more social culture than just the trappings of where your family had come from. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The James Shanahan Lock

   One of the really great things about Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site is that it is the only place where you can witness all three of the major phases of the Erie Canal - from “Clinton’s Ditch,” to the enlargements of the mid-19th century and to the “Barge Canal” of today.  To make today’s Erie even more fantastic along Schoharie Crossing, is the Lock E-12 operated by the New York State Canal Corporation between Tribes Hill and Fort Hunter.  This lock has a movable dam and is one of only two which also serve as an automobile bridge.  Lock 12 is known as the “James Shanahan Lock,” and for good reason.  

James Shanahan was born in Ireland in 1829 and came to New York at the age of eight.  As a young man he began the trade of “a stone cutter,” and worked with his brother who was a contractor on building “lock 50 on the Erie Canal and locks 9 & 10 on the Oswego canal.”  His work continued with projects for the Erie Railroad, Central Railroad and the Oswego Railroad.  After such time, he was employed by the Dorchester Freestone Company in the capacity of quarry overseer.  Those under his supervision garnered great profits for the company.  

The next step in his career was “engaged in the construction of the New York Central elevator” that spanned across the Hudson River at Albany.   After finishing the contract, Shanahan was elected in 1869 and served as a member of the New York State Assembly for Montgomery County.  In the following years he was employed in the projects of a new bridge over the Hudson that utilized cut stone from his Tribes Hill quarry, as well as the masonry work associated with the Central Railroad double track line between Fort Plain and Fink’s Bridge, also between Schenectady and Albany and the stone work for the Schenectady Bridge.

The Mechanicville Mercury
July 24, 1885
By 1878, his execution of projects and service in politics had bolstered his prominence in the region.  He was appointed Assistant Superintendent of Public Works with charge of state canals in the eastern division.  Having been the Superintendent of Section 3 from 1868-1870, he was well suited for the position and went on to head Public Works as well as be named the Superintendent of New York State Canals until 1897.  

The Seneca County Journal
September 21, 1891

While most newspapers and accounts comment on the character of Shanahan as being good and as him being non-corrupted in an age of massive political underhandedness, at times there were misgivings as to his interests - particularly between the competitive canal system and the railroads.  Other mentions, while agreeing as to his honorable nature, make a point that often in his role of government official he was at odds with the public.  He was influential in not only county government but state as well, and that while patronage (particular canal related) was prevalent in Montgomery County, Shanahan exacted his functions of office without “working his department for all it was worth.”  
The Daily Leader
Gloversville, NY
September 21, 1892

In later years Shanahan sat on the boards and councils of several local and regional investments such as the Cayadutta Electric Railroad and the Fonda, Johnstown, Gloversville Railroad (F.,J., & G. RR) as well as continued in state politics - notable as part of the Democratic party and nominating committees.  His role within the Cleveland-Hill Feud was often recognized in the press, and while the Cleveland faction won in 1891, his resignation from the Public Works department brought fears of the Hill faction replacement.  

From: Illustrated History of Fulton and Montgomery Counties NY
On the home-front Shanahan had married in 1854 and produced eight offspring.  In 1875, along with several neighbors, he purchased the former Dutch Reformed Church building - “an unoccupied church, located on main st [in Tribes Hill]...which was enlarged, remodeled, tastily finished and furnished” that was “presented to the bishop of the diocese” as two priests were at that time shepherding a parish that encompassed Fort Hunter, Tribes Hill, Amsterdam and Port Jackson.  
This would become Sacred Heart Church which has since rebuilt but retains a congregation in the town. The Catholic Church enterprise, along with several other real estate holdings and business investments placed Shanahan well within the leaders of civic life in the area. The divestment of his estate took place in January of 1900 after the passing of his widow.  James Shanahan had himself died on March 12th 1897 in Albany, NY.

Mechanicville Saturday Mercury
March 27, 1897

The James Shanahan  Estate.
 The Daily Leader
Gloversville, NY
January 29, 1900

The sale  of  the  James  Shanahan property took place at the Central hotel in Amsterdam Saturday.  The  bid­ding was quite lively and a  majority of the parcels  offered  brought fair prices.  Judge Westbrook  had  charge of  the sale, which  began at  10  o’clock  and lasted two hours.  The  first parcel offered was a  house and vacant lot  on McDonnell  street,  Amsterdam.  It was struck down to Francis Morris for $2-250.
Solomon  Levi bid  in a  Lot on John street for $26.50.
Francis Morris also secured the property on Forest avenue, a stone quarry, the price being $300.
The James Shanahan farm at Tribes Hill was struck off to Henry Dufell for $1,495.
John Noonan  bought  the  property south of the railroad at Tribes Hill for $150.
A house and lot at Tribes  Hill  was bid in for $262 by E. A. McCaffrey.
What is known as the broom factory property at Tribes Hill brought $60, the purchaser being David  H.  Lewis.
Much Interest was displayed  in  the bidding  for  the  farm in the  town  of Florida.  T. H. Benton Crane and Augustus Becker were the rival  bidders. It was struck down to the latter for $1,100.
The Crandall  house and lot was purchased by Elijah Smith for $400.
E. J. Shanahan secured what  is  also known as the Crandall  property at Tribes Hill.
The last parcel was the Kilcast property and was bid on by  James W. Ferguson for $70.
The  sale  aggregated $6,723.50.



#MapMonday for today is this great NYS Canals survey map from 1858! NYS Canal Corporation Erie Canalway National...
Posted by Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site on Monday, December 28, 2015