Monday, August 27, 2012

The Mabee Family Papers

The original 1705 deed for what is now know as the Mabee Farm. In this deed, dated Jan. 22, 1705, Daniel Johnson conveys to John Pieterse Mebie a certain piece of land eight miles above the town of Schenectady on the South side of the Mohawk River containing 63 acres and 79 rood. This document is number M-Deed-06 in the Mabee Family Papers.

The Mabee Family Papers, a gift of George Franchere of Dunedin, Florida, consists of almost 600 items, including deeds, wills, correspondence, inventories, legal documents of many kinds, bills of sale for slaves, student exercises, and receipts for a wide variety of purchases. As a part of Mr. Franchere’s larger gift of the Mabee Farm, the Mabee Family Papers provide a wealth of information about the Mabee Farm and family. The wide breadth of materials in the collection are of interest to genealogy researchers as well as researchers interested in the history of the area. The documents in the collection give researchers a lot of information; not only about the Mabee family specifically, but also more broadly about commerce, farming, education, slavery, colonial Dutch language, cookery, war, and many other aspects of life and community. The personal correspondence, handwritten poems, and the elaborate calligraphy included in the student exercises provide a unique look into the personal lives, aesthetics, and personality of the people who created them.

The Mabee Family Papers are arranged and numbered by categories, in a style that parallels the system used for the Library's main Historic Manuscripts Collection. This introductory notebook begins with a listing of the categories used, followed by a categorized numerical list of the documents with an abstract summary of the contents of each item. See a complete finding aid for the collection here.

Below are just a few examples of some of the interesting documents included in the Mabee Family Papers.

This sketch map of an unidentified piece of land includes an interesting representation of scale information. “For Jacob Mabee, Esq.” is written on back of the map. Document number M-Misc-25 in the Mabee Family Papers.

Order by Col. John Bradstreet dated May 1, 1760, for “Jacob Mabie or a Sufficient Driver with a span of Horses, Harness and Waggon” to be “employed in his Majesty’s Service.” Document number M-Mil-05 in the Mabee Family Papers.

This slightly bawdy poem appears to have been written out by Pieter Mabee. “She thought to have pleasure but found it was small, she fell for his looks but found nothing at all.” M-Poem-03 from Mabee Family Papers.

Portion of a letter written by John V.P. Mabee to his cousin, Jacob Mabee, written while John was at Camp Vogdes, Fort Ringgold, Virginia in 1864 during the Civil War. John Mabee writes to his cousin for honey and beeswax and details the hardships of camp life. "I hope and pray I will see the day that I can meet Lieutenant Edward Smith in the streets of Schenectady when my term of service expires," he writes. "you can bet high he will either whip me or I will him[.] he is a very over bearing officer indeed." M-Letters-32 from Mabee Family Papers.

Bill of sale for a male slave named Cato, dated January 27, 1800. He was sold by Peter Conyne, Henry Funda, Peter Mabee & Simon Mabee to Jacob Mabee, for the sum of eighty-five pounds. M-Slaves-3 from the Mabee Family Papers.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A First Look at the Dick Whalen Collection

Photograph of the interior of a barber shop operated by Benedetto "Benny" Zegarelli near the intersection of Main Street and Market Street in Rotterdam Junction. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Nearly one year ago, the Rotterdam Junction home of former Rotterdam town historian Dick Whalen was severely damaged by flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. The first floor of his property flooded with four feet of water, and the basement and garage, where Whalen's collection of historical materials were stored, was completely filled with water for at least three days.

This photo, taken a few days after the 2011 flood, shows standing water in the back of Dick Whalen's home and garage on Main Street in Rotterdam Junction. Photograph courtesy of Dick Whalen.  
 One week after the flood, after obtaining permission from Whalen to try to salvage some of the materials, we quickly moved to recover as many original photographs and documents as we could. Whalen had organized the historical materials he had compiled into themed binders. We moved nearly fifty wet, mud-covered binders out of his home and into frozen storage, in order to prevent mold growth and further deterioration of documents and photographs.

In 2004, Dick Whalen stands alongside one of the historical information boards he created. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Over the course of the next several months, I worked on thawing and drying out the materials from Whalen's collection binder by binder and rehousing them in folders and boxes. Many of the photographs and documents survived remarkably well. In June, volunteers and I began working on creating high-quality scanned images of the photographs and documents from Whalen's collection so that the historical information he compiled over the years would remain available to researchers in our library for years to come.

Many of the photographic prints in the Whalen Collection were in relatively good shape despite having contact with water. However, some photographs became so waterlogged that the emulsion lifted from the surface of the page. An example of this type of damage can be seen on this drawing of a Schenectady Savings Bank branch, although much of the image is still intact. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Woestina High School students on set of operetta "Green Cheese," performed in 1937. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

The images you see here are just a few photographs and documents from the collection. The collection is a valuable resource about the history of Rotterdam and particularly of Rotterdam Junction, where Dick Whalen made his home for most of his life. Subjects documented in the collection include Rotterdam's town government, police, and fire departments, local schools and athletics, local industries, controversy surrounding the construction of the Rotterdam Square Mall, Rotterdam parades and historical celebrations, and historic houses in Rotterdam. Rotterdam Junction is particularly well-documented, from the Woestina School to local businesses to the people and families who lived there. For those interested in local history, the collection is truly a treasure. We're grateful for Whalen's diligence in compiling this material and his generosity in allowing us to record it and share it with others.

Rotterdam Town Supervisor John Kirvin marches in a parade in May 1978. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Carman Fire Department and members of the fire department, 1940s. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.
Mrs. Madison of Lower Rotterdam Junction. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Page from a 1898 diary of Norman M.F. Clute, a Rotterdam farmer. Note the drawing of a horse next to the entry about receiving a gray horse; Clute also inserted tiny drawings of chickens whenever he mentioned members of the family slaughtering one for a meal. From Dick Whalen Collection.

Photograph of a car near Hamburg Street destroyed during a severe storm in 1960. Photograph from Dick Whalen Collection.

Cover image from The Woestinian, a publication made by students at the Woestina School in Rotterdam Junction. From Dick Whalen Collection.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Billiards Legend Frank Taberski

Drawing of Frank Taberski.
This blog entry is written by Amanda Stafford, one of our summer interns at the Schenectady County Historical Society.
Frank Taberski was born March 15, 1889 in Poland. He immigrated to the United States as a child and grew up primarily in Amsterdam, New York, before moving to Schenectady as an adult. In 1915, at the age of twenty-six, Taberski began to make a name for himself in billiards. At that young age, he became a professional billiards player and, after attending the New York City pocket billiards championship, knew that he could become a champion. Between 1915 and 1916, he became the world champion, a title he would hold for seven years. By 1918, he had won ten consecutive challenge matches. He gained two nicknames for his playing style, “The Sloth” and “The Inexorable Snail,” because he played with a slow, deliberate manner, taking several minutes to ponder his next move, which psyched out his opponents. Because of this style, a new rule was conceived that put a three-minute limit on the time between shots. In 1919, he forfeited the title due to illness. He joined a vaudeville exhibition circuit from 1919 to 1923, and won all 313 games he played. In the mid-1920s, he returned to the professional world of billiards and won four more titles before the decade ended. In the late 1920s, he opened his own bowling alley and pool hall at the intersection of Broadway and State Street in Schenectady. The building stood for forty years before burning down in the 1960s. Frank married a woman from Poland named Loretta, and together they had three sons. Taberski died on October 23, 1941 at the age of fifty-two.
But his legacy wasn’t finished. In 1999, he was ranked seventh on the Billiards Digest 50 Greatest Players of the Century. Before that, however, in 1971, he was inducted into the Billiards Congress of America Hall of Fame. The Billiards Congress of America (BCA) was established in 1948 with the objective to organize the players and to promote the sport through qualifying tournaments at the local, regional and national levels in both Straight Pool and 3-Cushion Billiards. The organizers also wanted to create an official rulebook for the sport to standardize it and to help fund their efforts. During the late 1940s and all of the 1950s, the sport was in a depression and the association was anchored by its new official rulebook and the official recognition of World and National Championships through BCA sanctioning. The sport gained great popularity after the release of the movie The Hustler in 1961. Today, the BCA International Billiards and Home Recreation Expo is the largest billiard trade show in the world.
The BCA Hall of Fame has been inducting players since 1966. There are two categories; Greatest Player and Meritorious Service. The Meritorious Service category is for players that have made a lasting and memorable contribution to the sport. The Greatest Player category is reserved for outstanding players who have been playing in national or international competitions for at least twenty years and have won at least one national or international championship. Not surprisingly, Frank Taberski was inducted in the Greatest Player category in 1975.
To see Frank Taberski in action, here is a short video of him -

Friday, August 3, 2012

An Interesting Discovery

First page of Glen Letter 455, a letter from Richard Duncan to Gov. Joseph Yates regarding a debt Duncan owed to Yates.

This blog entry is written by Chris Carney, an intern at the Schenectady County Historical Society.

            My name is Chris Carney, and I am one of three summer interns here at the Schenectady County Historical Society. As someone who is not originally from New York, this internship has provided an amazing opportunity to learn about New York and Schenectady history. Initially, the project I was given was simple enough: select a letter from a collection of general papers and correspondence and research/write about it. I chose a letter from one Richard Duncan of Schenectady to Joseph C. Yates, the Governor of Schenectady. Dated the 16th of April, 1815, Richard Duncan is asking for leniency concerning debts he owes to Joseph Yates. While Joseph Yates is a common name where Schenectady history is concerned, Richard Duncan was an unknown to me.
            As it turned out, Richard Duncan was quite the man himself. His date of birth is unknown, but in 1755 he came to America from Berwick-upon-Tweed, England with his father, a merchant by the name of John Duncan. Richard is most notable for being a British loyalist, also known as a “Tory.” To that effect, in June of 1776, he assisted Adjutant General Allan Maclean in escaping to Canada and the following year he joined John Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga (Schuylerville, NY). After their surrender on the 17th of October, Richard traveled to the province of Quebec.[1] There, he was commissioned captain in the first battalion of Sir John Johnson’s King’s Royal Regiment of New York, also known as “The King’s Royal Yorkers”.[2] Despite his political and territorial connections in Canada, Duncan returned to Schenectady in 1791 after the death of his father to care for his father’s estate known as the Hermitage, an 800-acre parcel of land in Niskayuna.
            Initially when researching, I was unsure if the Richard Duncan who wrote the letter I was looking at was the same Richard Duncan detailed above. The piece of information that confirmed my suspicions was found at a Canadian reenactment website dedicated to the regiment Duncan was Captain of, The King’s Royal Yorkers. The site has a page dedicated to Richard Duncan’s powder horn. It had just crossed the auction block, and as a result, there are a number of highly detailed images of the powder horn. One of the images shows the intricate carving of a house from Niskayuna, his father’s property at the Hermitage![3] His letter to Yates also mentions his father’s former property. Between Richard and his father, a debt of £3,000 had been jointly accrued, and after John Duncan’s death, Richard began selling parcels of the Hermitage. One buyer mentioned in Duncan’s letter to Yates was Harmanus P. Schuyler. Schuyler built a large brick estate for his family, and that house is now known as the Stanford Home. If you take a drive down Rt. 5 toward Mohawk Commons, you’ll notice a brick house in the midst of being moved. That is the house built by Schuyler on land originally purchased from Richard Duncan. It is too cool how history and today intersect sometimes. The letter itself is dated April 16, 1815, and Richard died four years later in 1819.
            This research into the background of Richard Duncan helped to impart a newfound curiosity into other Tory sympathizers during Colonial America’s time under England. Every city has their own interesting characters, but to have found such an interesting person on accident, simply because I picked a letter with a printed transcription was a surprise. I’d be interested in how many British sympathizers lived in and around Schenectady and upstate New York in general. I’d also be interested to know what life was like for a Tory after American independence was achieved. All in all, it was an interesting piece about a surprisingly interesting person in Schenectady history.

[1] University of Toronto. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. University of Toronto. (accessed July 27, 2012).
[2] The King’s Royal Yorkers. The Regiment. The King’s Royal Yorkers. (accessed July 27, 2012).
[3] The King’s Royal Yorkers. Captain Duncan’s Horn. The King’s Royal Yorkers. (accessed July 27, 2012).