Old Stone Houses of Rosendale


By ALAN MACKENZIE
DELIVERED AT THE FIRST ANNUAL MEETING
OF THE ULSTER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY,
OCTOBER 16, 1930, IN THE CHAPEL OF
THE FIRST REFORMED DUTCH CHURCH, KINGSTON, N.Y. 

It is with peculiar pleasure that I find myself in the society of men and women who hold the memory of their ancestors in gratitude and reverence. Lord Macaulay has well said that a people who take no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendants.

Having been requested to tell you the story of the Jacob Rutsen House At Rosendale, and having consented to do so, I will omit the usual deprecatory remarks as to want of ability, lack of preparation and general unfitness for the task, inasmuch as these things will doubtless become apparent as the narrative proceeds.

The history of this house is the history of the very beginning of civilized life in what is now the Town of Rosendale, and as it is so inseparably mingled with that of Colonel Rutsen, perhaps it would be well, before proceeding to describe the building, to take a brief glance at the genealogy of the builder.

His ancestors were natives of Holland, from whence his father Rutger-Jacobsen Van Schoonderwoerdt, emigrated to New Amsterdam under the auspices of the West India Company and their High Mightinesses, the States General, and there in 1646 married Tryntje Jansen Van Briestede who was of Scandinavian stock, her father having emigrated from Denmark. By her he had one son and two daughters, — Margaret the eldest daughter married in 1667 Jan Janson Bleeker who came from Mepple [Meppel], Province of Drente [Drenthe] to America in 1658 and was the ancestor of the Bleeker family in New York State; an opulent and populous street in the Metropolis still commemorates the family name. It seems that Annatje, the younger daughter, was deformed and died in early life.

Jacobsen Rutger van Schoonderwoerdt, the son, was born at Albany in 1650 and in 1670, being then at the age of about twenty years, married Maritje-Hansson, whose forbears were of mixed French and Norwegian stock. He first appears in the Esopus on November 17th, 1678 where we find him and his wife, as Jacob Rutse and Maritie Hansen, presenting their child, Sara, for baptism. It seems that sometime previous to his arrival he had abandoned the ancient patronymic of his family and had adopted the shorter and more convenient name by which with some variations he was afterward to be known. He was even at this early age a man of affairs, and possessed large tracts of land in several counties. However, in 1680 he purchased from the Indian owners a tract of land between what is now Rock Lock in the Town of Rosendale and the Coxing Kill. The writer has been unable to discover what the consideration was in this purchase, or in what commodities it was paid. Neither can he find any account of its being confirmed by Sir Edmund Andros, then royal governor of the province, as was the New Paltz purchase made three years previous.

However, having secured the ground and having probably decided here to erect his future home this young man then at about thirty years of age, leased the whole tract to Direk Keyser with the condition that, Direk should erect thereon a stone house. This lease was executed on June 17th, 1680.

Charles Stuart the second still sat upon the British throne, soon however, to be succeeded by his unfortunate brother, as James the second, and though in the Kingdom of France Protestant Christians were persecuted and oppressed, still five years were yet to elapse before the revocation of the edict of Nantes was to send hundreds of these confessors to seek in the western wilderness an inheritance and a home.

Near the eastern end of the purchase and at about four hundred feet from the Kings-highway at the foot of a gentle eminence was a spring of beautiful water, the source of a little rivulet which ran to a small brook emptying into the Rondout. Here at an earlier time had been an Indian village and back at the foot of a nearby hill may still, with some difficulty, be traced the remains of an ancient cemetery in which were interred the mortal part of the aboriginal inheritors of the soil. The spring has long since entirely disappeared although there are men still living who have drank from its waters and who have pointed out to the writer with vague uncertain finger its former location. This spring was no doubt a determining factor in the location of the house. At all events in the autumn of the year 1680 Direk Keyser, in pursuance of his contract, excavated a cellar erected a stone house of one story and an attic, a little to the northeast of the spring. This building, 25 by 22 feet in dimensions, was the first dwelling of civilized man in the present Town of Rosendale. The old lines may still be plainly traced from which arose the humble walls of this first promise of things to come, and a venerable Balm of Gilead tree still shades the spot, where two hundred and fifty years ago the hand of honest Direk Keyser first broke soil and planted in a waste place the seeds of Christianity and civilization.


Here he lived and labored for twenty years until in 1700 Colonel Rutsen, then at the age of fifty, intrusting [sic] his business affairs at Kingston to the care of his son-in-law, Johannes Hardenbergh, the husband of his daughter Catherine, took possession of the property and incorporating the house which Direk had built twenty years before in the new building, erected a stone mansion sixty-two feet in length by twenty-five feet in depth fronting on the highway on a line northeast by southwest and attached to the house on the southwest end and opening into it was the slave quarters, a stone building fifteen by eighteen feet square, and in the same end of the cellar of the great house entered by a bulk-head, was the place set apart for the correction of unruly servants. A lady now living, distinctly remembers this place and describes it as having had a dirt floor and on one side a small cell in which the delinquent might be confined. She also has a dim recollection of a large black woman called Julia, a descendant of these slaves, who was still a servant in the family when she was a child. The property not having been surveyed at the time of its purchase, Colonel Rutsen in 1685 employed Philip Wells, a surveyor, to run the lines. Among the land papers at Albany is a description of nine hundred and sixty-three acres of land at a place called Roasendale, surveyed by Philip Wells, surveyor for Jacob Rutsen. The paper is dated May 28th, 1685 and the writer says that on this day he finished a survey of ye pleasaunt lauds of Roasendale. As far as the present writer can discover this is the first mention in any public document of the name Rosendale.May I beg your indulgence while we step aside for a moment to follow for a little way the history of this man. How he came to be here at that time, I do not know. He must have been even then in the decline of life for he was born at Jamestown in Virginia and was among the very first, of that innumerable multitude of the Anglo Saxon race, destined to be born on the continent of America. His father was that Gabriel Wells, friend and companion of Captain John Smith, and his mother one of those chaste maids sent over by the London Company to be purchased for wives by the planters of the infant colony. His father was the only man who escaped death at the bands of the Indians on that unfortunate voyage up theChickhominy River, in which Smith was captured by Opechancanough and brought to Powhatan. Among the archives of the London Company preserved in the British Museum are the diary and reports of Captain John Smith, and sometimes the doughty Captain pauses for a moment while pronouncing his own eulogy to commend the prudence and address of his companion, Gabriel Wells.

There is reason to think that Philip returned to the Virginia Capes; that he resided in his old age on the Island of Roanoak; that he died and was buried there.

Sometime since the writer visited the Island and conversed with its oldest inhabitant, Oliver Wells, then at the age of ninety-two years. The old gentleman’s memory was somewhat decayed as to things present, but turning to the past his stock of misinformation and tradition was so prodigious that little could be learned, yet as the writer looked upon the dim eye and wrinkled visage of this old man, imagination defying time flew backward to the little colony at Jamestown, to Gabriel Wells and to the gentle English girl whom he had purchased to be his wife, for one of his ancestors had been a surveyor, and his name was Philip.

And now if you will permit just a word in remembrance of these chaste maids. The Virginia Historical Society is rich in the memorabilia of these mothers of the Commonwealth; from them sprang some of the great soldiers and patriots of the revolution, and even to this day the best blood in the Old Dominion is proud to trace its lineage back to this little group of expatriated girls. The writer has seen and held in his hand a scarf richly embroidered by the skillful fingers of Rachel Craven, one of this company and, ancestress of the Hayward family of Richmond, in which it is still carefully preserved.

And now, having wandered so far afield, we will with your permission return to our subject. Counting east and west at about the center of this tract surveyed by Wells, and under the shadow of a great bluff which still bears the name of Jacob’s Mount, stands the pleasant Hamlet of Rosendale.

Colonel Rutsen’s father having been long dead, his mother who was then a member of his family came with him to the new home and here in this house in 1711, honored and full of years, mother Tryntje died and lies buried in a little mound not far away. In 1730, nineteen years afterwars, Colonel Rutsen, after a long and benificient life, also died under the same roof at the age of eighty years.

And here where the Shawangunk range slopes gently down to more level lands, in a little mound near the home which he had founded in the wilderness and under the shadow of the great hill which bears his name, in an unmarked and almost-forgotten grave for two hundred years has mouldered the dust of the builder of this house. Two iron stakes recently placed by the hands o two old men, themselves beyond the age of eighty years, may still for a little time preserve the memory of this spot.

For some unknown reason, although he left a son, the inheritance passed to his daughter Catherine, the wife of Johannes Hardenbergh, and for many years the house was known as Hardenbergh Hall. And now for more than forty years it had only the distinction of being the residence of an opulent hospitable country gentleman. A son of Johannes and Catherine, born at Kingston, was for many years a Colonel in the Militia and a member, as his grandfather had been, of the Colonial Legislature. His son, the Reverend Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, born in this house, became the first President of Queen’s, afterward Rutgers College of New Jersey founded in 1785, and continued to hold this office until his death. And now, when the ominous shadow of the great struggle for human liberty and independence fell upon the peaceful valley, the staunch old house still sheltered men and women worthy of their birthright. On the lawn fronting this house, one hundred and fifty-three years old today, the army of Colonel Clinton halted, only to hear the cannon of the bandit Vaughn as he landed at Kingston Point and began the destruction of the village. On November 15th, 1782, General Washington on his way from Port Jervis to Kingston, was the guest of Major Wynkoop at Stone Ridge in the house which is still standing, quite unchanged, and is now known as The Lounsberry House. On his return on the 17th he, with his military staff, took dinner with Colonel Hardenbergh at the Rutsen House. On June 21st, 1783, Mrs. Washington, together with Gov. Clinton, Mrs. Clinton and their attendants, were entertained here at breakfast by Colonel Hardenbergh.

Many years ago Mrs. Henrietta Wood, to whom the property at that time belonged, found in the attic a letter announcing their arrival on the following morning. The letter ran as follows:

 

“Kingston, June 20th, 1783.
Dear Sir:Mrs. Washington is at this place accompanied, by his Excellency The Governor and Mrs. Clinton and purposes to set out tomorrow morning so early as to reach Headquarters by evening. She is desirous to pay the Dominie and Mrs. Hardenbergh a visit on her way down, and will therefore do herself the pleasure of waiting on your family tomorrow at breakfast, at which time l shall do myself the honor to attend her.

In the, meantime, I am very respectfullyYour obedient servant,

RICHARD VARICK.”

This was the last of the great days for the famous old homestead. After the close of the Revolutionary War it gradually declined in relative importance and eventually became a tenant farm house. About one hundred years ago we find it in the possession of the Snyder family. By the marriage of Mary Snyder to Jacob Woodmansee the house passed into the possession of that family. Jacob Woodmansee died leaving a daughter Catherine. Sometime after his death his widow, Mary Snyder Woodmansee married Peter Cornell, a widower with a son, Thomas. Thomas Cornell, son of Peter, married Catherine Woodmansee, the daughter of Mary.

This Thomas was the late Major Cornell well remembered by many now living. The house remained in his family until on the 5th day of July, 1911, during a violent storm it was struck by lightning and totally destroyed and with it many priceless records of an earlier time.

To the contemplative mind this now desolate spot which for centuries has witnessed every phase of human vicissitude and emotion, has a peculiar charm. Imagination like an enchanter’s wand calls back from the oblivion of eternal night the countless shades of those who here have lived and loved, the shadowy forms of fair women and of mighty men, the humble specter of the hapless slave. We see the gentle bride approaching the apotheosis of womanhood, lean timidly on the strong arm of the bridegroom and as in a dream the lighted candles and the gathering guests. We hear the tread of many feet, the sound of revelry and of mourning, and as afar off the happy voices of children.

The writer wishes to extend his sincere thanks to Mrs. Katherine Madden, President of the Atharhacton Club of this City, for kindly favoring him with the recollections of her early life which was passed in this house, it having been the home of her ancestors for a hundred years.

And now permit me to thank you for the patience with which you have listened to a rambling tale indifferently told, and say to any member of the society who may consider that the writer, imitating his illustrious predecessor, the immortal Pickwick, has written with more zeal than knowledge, the sources of his information will be gladly supplied.

 

 

O Thou, to whom be, glory first and last
Make fruitful in our daily life the lessons of the past
And grant that we who now upon the narrow land
Between the eternal past and unknown future stand.
May leave to coming men, some living thought
And broader life from deeds our hands have wrought
And while we tread the dusty path our fathers trod
Teach us in all mutation still to see, the hand of God.