High Point Cemetery Chosen By Pioneers
Unsung Heroes Rest in Burial Ground on Mountain
Pioneer Yankees from Connecticut Chose High Point for Cemetery: Was Part of Farm of an Early Settler
Only a Few Weeks Ago One of Their Oldest, "Webb" Whipple, Was Here Interred; Earliest Dated Marker Goes Back to 1785; Story of "Old Saddle Bags"
Forty-second Article on Local History by A. B. GREGG)
A little hill standing out alone rises abruptly at the very top of the state road as it breaks over the mountain above Altamont. The stranger driving by sees only the frog pond that bathes its foot, but a more curious person may distinguish through the thick foliage of shrubs and trees that hide it from the bustling world a glimpse here and there of white that indicates a sacred field of the dead. From this little eminence one sees a panorama stretching out before his eyes that covers in one encircling glance the highlands of the Mohawk, the Adirondacks, the Green Moutains and Berkshires. This commanding position was the spot selected in the early days of settlement by the pioneer Yankees from Connecticut, to lay away their loved ones. A part, it was, of the farm of one of these pioneers, and to this day the members of this family, here, are laid to rest.
Only a few weeks ago one of their oldest was here interred—one who had given the writer a great store of information out of the memories of his long life—"Webb" Whipple. Indeed most of us speak of the little burying ground as the "Whipple Cemetery," though the gate erected at the entrance bears the inscription "High Point Cemetery." More than ordinary interest there is in this little piece of "God's Acre," for here are buried some of our most famous men of a century gone, among them Revolutionary veterans, and one, George Washington's own orderly.
But let us pause a moment to ponder over certain facts that may help us to a clearer understanding of what follows. Here within a stone's throw of our settlements of Dutch Reformed and German Lutherans, we find at the close of the Revolution, at the montain's top, a different race, called here by lure of farming lands and lumber—the Connecticut Yankee.
Some were Presbyterians, others Congregationalists, these last without ever a church of their own, but easily transferring into the Methodist belief when circuit rider and camp meeting had their day. The establishment of the common burying ground is significant too. While the settlers below the mountain retained the custom of the private burying ground until the middle of the nineteenth century, their neighbors on the Helderberg, immediately set apart a plot for common use, an idea brought with them from New England. Later as their sanctuaries of worship were erected, the church yard followed, but here, where never a church existed, we find that continuously from the first death 150 years ago, these people have preferred the burial of their families where they felt that mutual interest afforded greater protection. From the earliest dated marker in 1785, we find the Whipples, Chesebroughs, Dennisons, Gallups, Seaburys, Crarys, and Williamses, neighbors in Old Mystic and Stonington, neighbors in the wilderness, and neighbors in their last resting place.
Here is the grave of Amos Whipple whose headstone shows him 87 when he died in 1826 and near him his son, Malachi. Malachi followed his father in ten more years but not until he had left his name well known in the whole county. His name appears at the Severson auction of 1814 where he bought two heifers, and frequently in our ledger of the "Wayside Inn." Just to the north of the cemetery we can see his old home still, occupied and owned by his direct descendants, who cultivate the farm that in 1820, the second year of such, awards, received the premium for this model farm in Albany county. His interest in the improvement of agriculature was shown in our account of the first Albany County Fair. In 1826 he served as member of assembly in the forty ninth session: To him goes the distinction of being supervisor of the town of Berne in 1821 and of the Town of Knox the next year without changing his residence, for in 1822 Knox came into being as a separate township.
In his day," says Howell and Tenney, "he was a recognized leader."
There is the grave of Capt. Benjamin Fowler, who idled. Oct. 12, 1808 marked with the bronze-insignia of the Mohawk Chapter D. A. R., which states he was a soldier of the Revolution. The civil list of the town of Berne shows he was supervisor in 1800, five years after the formation of that township from Rennselearville.
Here is the grave of Lieutenant Henry Dennison who died in 1835, in the 82nd year of his age. His tombstone states: ,Dea (con) Henry Dennison. An officer of the revolution and for nearly fifty years a faithful servant of the cross."
Here is the grave of "Cap. Elisha Williams" who died. Oct, 26th, 1826, aged -80 years. The. marker of the D. A. R. states he was "Sergt. Elisha William's, a soldier of the Revolution." No doubt the title "Capt." was conferred on many an aged Revolutionary hero by the courteous public as a token of respect, This old patriot who had fought for freedom, in New England was the great, great grand father of Stanley Williams of Knox. He came from the line of Robert Williams who landed in New England from the ship "Rose" in 1635. This is the same family that gave to our country Ephraim Williams, who was killed in the French and Indian War in the battle of Lake George, Sept. 8, 1755. He left his fortune by will to found a free school at Williamstown, Mass.; which afterwards became a college called after his name. His burial place and tombstone are near Fort Edward, but his bones have been disinterred and taken to Williamstown.
A cousin of Sergt. Elisha, too, was the famous Hon. William Williams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from the state of Connecticut. Here, also, in the Williams section of the cemetery are the graves of Prentice Williams, Sr., and Prentice, Jr., greatgrandfather and grandfather of Stanley Williams. Both were prominent in local and county affairs, the later being assemblyman in 1834.
In our articles dealing with "Fairfield" and the "Old Country Doctor" we gave a letter written by a medical student to Dr. Frederick Crounse. C. E. Dayton wrote a live description of the routine at medical college for the benefit of one who had been graduated eight years before in 1830. My eyes fell upon two head stones which recalled this letter and at the same time, told perhaps a tragic story of an early epidemic or a worn out doctor's surrender in his fight for his own child's life. They bore these inscriptions: "Chas. E. Dayton, M. D., died May 19, 1848, ae 41;" the other, "Chas. E. Dayton, Jr., ae 1 yr. died May 18, 1848."
The next monument we notice is that which bears the following inscription: "In memory of James Dyer, who departed this life Mar. 3, 1835, ae 78 yrs., 10 mo. and 8 days. A soldier of the Revolution." As we start on our way we muse: Just a soldier of the Revolution. The D. A. R, have placed their accustomed marker at his grave. It's a fine thing to do.- Helps to locate the spot if the old stone tumbles over. But stop? "A soldier of the Revolution." Do you know what heart-aches, suffering and privations are behind those simple words? In this case we do not have to speculate for we have sworn testimony. These very complete documents, we are able to publish through the kindness of Milton B. Crounse, who is a direct descendant, the line being as follows: James Dyer, born Scituate, Mass., April 25, 1756. Rebecca Dyer, daughter, married Christopher Keenholts. James Keenholts, son of Christopher, married Nancy Ogsbury. Their daughter, Emma Keenholts, married Benjamin Crounse. And these are the parents of Milton B. Crounse.
Affidavits Concerning Revolutionary Services of Washington's Orderly, James Dyer - Story of "Old Saddle Bags, the Circuit Rider"
The affidavits pertaining to the military service of James Dyer tell the story in vivid language.
"Sept. 18, 1832, first declaration, James Dyer resident of Knox, Albany Co., N. Y. Enlisted April 1775 at Sturbridge, Mass, for 8 months in the State line, under Capt. Martin, Col. Leonard's Regiment. Was stationed at Roxbury and was there at the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown. Remained there until the end of the 8.months.
"April 1776 enlisted again for 5 months, under Capt. John Wilcox of Brookfield, in Col. Newel's Regt. Marched from Sturbridge to New Haven and went on board of a sloop commanded by Capt. Williams find sailed to New York. Was stationed a little above the City on the Hudson River, and was there when the British fleet came in and as they passed, exchanged a few shots with them. The morning following, they were ordered to retreat and marched to Haarlum Heights, early the next morning the British attacked our rear guard. Our Regiment was ordered to reinforce the picket guard. We attacked the British and drove them back with the point of the bayonet, for which we received the thanks of General Washington and each man, had a gill of rum dealth out to him. We soon after retreated across Kings bridge and soon heard the firing at the taking of Ft. Washington. We continued our retreat to White Plains and was in the battle my messmate who was by my side was shot down. We retreated to what was then called Planks Bridge when enlistment expired and I was discharged.
"March 1780 orders were received by the town authorities to raise men for 3 years service. I enlisted under Capt Asee Coburn recruiting officer and was marched from Strubridge to Springfield and was there mustered in by Major Banister, then marched to West Point and selected out to fill up the Old Companies, myself and a brother Moses Dyer was requested by Capt. Gabriel Michael Hudang to join his Company and continued with it until peace. Capt. Hudang's Company belonged to the 5th Regiment, Gen. Patterson's Brigade. The Regiment was soon ordered down upon the lines near Kings bridge watching the enemy, had several skirmishes with them but no general battle. Was on the lines and at West Point until peace was proclaimed. Was on the lines at the time General Washington and the French troops marched for Yorktown. In June 1783 Col. James Dorce took command of our Regiment and ordered to march to Philadelphia. Elijah Dorce brother to the Colonel was. Lt. Colonel and took charge; we marched there to quell a Mutiny among the troops; while there deponent as Corporal had command of a file of men and took in charge a prisoner by the name of Noggle, a sergeant major, and took him before a Court Martial, heard his trial and sentence. He with two other ringleaders of the mutiny were sentenced to be shot. Deponent was one of the twelve men commanded by a Lieutenant who were appointed to execute them. After they were arranged to receive our fire, Lieutenant brought us to a present at this time an Adjutant rode up with full speed and ordered the Lieutenant to bring his men to a shoulder, he then took the paper and read a reprieve from General Washington, the prisoners were set at liberty. We soon after marched back to West Point when the Regiment was marched to New York and were present when the British evacuated the City and saw them sail out of the harbor. While in New York deponent was orderly for one week for General Washington to carry letters and wait upon him. We had at this time a splendid illimunation of the City in consequence of the British evacuating it. Our Regiment marched back to West Point, and in December were discharged. This deponent received honorable discharge from Gen. Knox as a Corporal. After returning home received payment for three years service in securities from Lt. Park HalIum, paymaster of the 5th Regiment.
"Deponent, was born in 1756 in the town of Scituate, Mass., when a youth his parents moved to Sturbridge, Mass. About 1806 deponent moved to Jefferson, Schoharie Co., N. Y., and moved in 1809 to the present town of Knox where has since resided. Has no documentary evidence and knows of no one living to testify to his service.
"William Brown, a clergyman, and Erastus Williams, both of Knox, certify to his veracity and repute as a Revolutionary soldier.
"Aug. 15, 1832, a fellow, soldier, Dennison Wheelock of Southbridge, Mass., testifies to being in the same Company with Dyer, uinder Capt. Adam Martin, Col. Ebenezer Learned's Regiment of Oxford.
"Joshua Harding of Southbridge also certifies to all of Dyer's war service.
"A later declaration, to supplement gaps in first affidavit states that Dyer served a Col. Glover's regiment, Sands 1st Lt., John Warren, 2d Lt. Capt Hudang's Co Served in this Regiment until June 1783 and for the ensuing 6 months until his discharge in Dec he was in Capt. William's Co. as previously stated.
Jan. 20, 1837, Mary Dyer aged 77, widow of James, who died Mar. 3, 1835, affirms that she was married some time in November, 1776.
Jan 14,1837, affidavit of Winthrop Dyer, a son, states his belief as to his father's Revolutionary service, and his parents' marriage. He states his age as 58 to the best of his knowledge and belief.
"Matthias Zeh, who lived in the family of Dyer certifies to having heard the Dyers speak of Mary's privations and sufferings in supporting and caring for her young children while her husband, was in the Army, and, he believes, they were married some time before the expiration of Dyer's term, of service.
"Lemuel Russell, a neighbor, testifies to the same effect. Knew the family for 16 years, and often heard how Mary had to hoe corn and potatoes and provide for the family while husband was in the army, but she would say she was glad he had been fighting for the country for now we enojyed freedom.
"Second affidavit of Mary Dyer gives her maiden, name as Mary Marcy and says she was married, in Sturbridge, Mass. by Moses Marcy, Justice of the Peace.
A copy is submitted from the Sturbridge records of "'Intention of marriage between James Dyer and' Mary Marcy, Dec. 9th, 1776 both. of Sturbridge, were entered. Attest. Joshua Harding, T. Clerk.
"John Holbrook of Sturbridge testifies that in Dec. 1776 he was present at a religious publick meeting in the meeting house when the intention of marriage was published by the Town Clerk.
"Mary Simpson of Southbridge, and Dennison Wheelock and Cyrus Amimidown, both of the same place, testify to their knowledge that James and Mary Dyer were married and lived together as man and wife.
Mary's pension was uspended until all evidence was produced, and then allowed with arrears to date, at the same rate that her husband originally received—$80 per annum."
William Brown, a clergyman of Knox, was mentioned in the foregoing as a character witness to the veracity of our patriot Dyer. Concerning the former, a tale, often repeated on winter nights long ago when cracker barrel sages gathered about the country store in Knox will here bear repetition.
In the early years of the century there located on a small farm in Knox an itinerant Methodist preacher. He is said by Howell and Tenney to have been the first Methodist preacher in Knox. As a young man he settled here and built a house. His circuit consisted of Knox, Berne, Reidsville, Middleburgh and Schoharie. Over this extensive territory, with his Bible in his saddle hags, he rode for many years, carrying the doctrine of John Wesley to his hearers, and hence the name given him more in affection than in ridicule—"Old Saddle Bags, the Circuit Rider."
The land on which he settled and built his home was part of the VanRensselaer Manor and subject to the usual feudal dues, but these from necessity, he had allowed to run unpaid until one day he was summoned to the home of the Patroon Stephen at Albany. Clad in his rough homespun, leather breeches and high boots, he strode into the Manor house and spoke thus to Stephen Van Rensselaer: "I am a preacher, sir, and as the contributions from my circuit are very small, I am unable to pay the rent that has accumulated on my place."
"You a preacher!" said Van Rensselaer, "Preposterous! You can't be a clergyman."
"Indeed, sir, I am," replied the circuit rider.
"Well, if you are .a preacher," said Van Rensselaer, "you will have an opportunity to prove it to our satisfaction. Tonight, at the Dutch Church, the two-steepled church, you will preach a sermon for Us."
"I will," answered the dominie.
Forthwith the Patroon sent word to all his friends, that at 7 o'clock, there would be held, a special service at the church. A tenant, an uncouth man, claiming to be a preacher, would deliver the discourse. Amusement was predicted.
At candle light, the church was filled. Slowly and with dignity the rough country man mounted to the pulpit and after a simple, prayer took as his text Matthew 19:24: "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Spell bound, his audience listened to the magnetic presentation as he everlastingly lambasted them, the aristocracy, while those that came to scoff were carried away by his eloquence. At the conclusion of the sermon, the Patroon, himself, was the first to hurry up in front to congratulate the rough circuit rider.
"You are indeed, a preacher. One of the finest sermons, I've ever heard. Tonight, you are the guest of honor at my home. Tomorrow we shall fix the deed—a valid deed—free from all rents forever."
The farm, a half mile north of Knox, now owned by Stanley Williams, contains a little cemetery, and three tombstones bear the following inscriptions:
"Rev. William Brown, born Oct. 24, 1768, died Ap. 25, 1834, aged 75 yrs. 6 mo. 1 day." "His wrife, Mary (Chesebro) Brown, died Jan 18, 1834 ae 73 yrs."
"His daughter, Priscilla, died Mar 25, 1832 aged 30 yrs.