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Just a Torn Scrap of Paper
Stories of the past are often tucked within the pages of old books. In this case, the details in the sketches on a torn scrap of paper found in student Webster Coon’s “Natural Advanced Geography” fascinates me. I am drawn first to the three circular focus frames placed above another sketch. The first circle is of Albany with a cityscape serving as a backdrop to the river, framed by a conifer. In contrast, the second focus frame depicts the serenity of the Adirondacks with the highest mountains in New York standing tall in the background. It is the central focus frame, but it is overlaid by the two other frames. National Maritime Historic Landmark Montauk Lighthouse constructed in 1796 and still operational as a navigational tool draws the viewer’s eye, yet there are two figures on the cliff and several below who in view of the rough waters and rocks of the Atlantic Ocean seem insignificant. In terms of details, the sketch of numerous water vessels beneath the three circles is the most remarkable of the collection.
This focus on water is fitting and explained in these two sections of text on the torn page: “Position and Rank” and “Outline and Boundaries”.
Position and Rank
Outline and Boundaries
What will I discover next within the pages of an old book? Share your findings in the comments section.
BENEATH THE MOUND: CAPTAIN ALEXANDER HAMILTON SHULTZ
The key to discovery is questioning. Through the seemingly simple question of “Why? Why is there a mound in the middle of rows of grave-stones in a cemetery?”, Local History Librarian Beverly Kane unearthed a mystery.
Kane’s curiosity led her to examine a map of Rhinebeck Cemetery which revealed that A H Schultz purchased two plots at that location. Further research in Deaths, Marriages, and Much Miscellaneous From Rhinebeck, New York Newspapers 1846-1899 Volume 1, Deaths confirmed that Alexander Hamilton Shultz was buried in a family vault in the Methodist section of the cemetery.
The story begins. In the family history Christian Otto Schultz and his American Descendants compiled by Enid Dickinson Collins, Alexander Hamilton Shultz born on August 15, 1804, son of Lucas, grandson of Peter, great grandson of early Palatine settler Christian Otto Schultz, is called “Captain”. Collins’ source is Edward Harold Mott’s Between the Ocean and the Lakes; the Story of Erie.
“Capt. A. H. Shultz, the pioneer Erie steamboat Captain, was born at Rhinebeck. Before there were railroads in Central and Western New York, he ran stages between Rochester and Buffalo. Later he ran a steamboat between Amboy, N. J. and New York. He began in the Erie service January 1, 1841, having been harbormaster under Governor Seward, before the railroad was in operation, and continued until 1844.”
When the schedule for the two modes of transportation, train and steamboat, was published in New York in 1842, Alexander’s business acumen became apparent.
“The ‘Winter Arrangement’, made December 12, 1842, announced that the cars, on and after that date, would ‘run in connection with the steamboat ‘Arrow” (Capt. A. H. Shultz), daily except Sunday.“
That same pioneering spirit evident in Alexander’s Great Grandfather Christian Otto Schultz as he sailed from Rotterdam on the ship “Hope” in 1734 appeared in Capt. Shultz throughout his many challenges. University-educated Christian Otto was trained as a civil engineer and became a teacher, but he began his first days on American soil as a farm laborer. His descendant Alexander became one of the pioneers of transportation in America.
“The winter of 1843 was one of the hardest on record. Capt. Shultz made his two trips on the Hudson River daily between New York and Piermont, although the ice was twelve inches thick, missing but one trip. April 28, 1843, in recognition of this, the people of Piermont presented him with a solid silver snuffbox, lined with gold.”
Much as the original German settler Christian Otto did, Alexander Hamilton not only created opportunities but was also willing to take risks.
“In September, 1846, Capt. ‘Alec’ Shultz, who owned the Hudson River steamboats that ran in connection with the trains at Piermont, and who seems to have been a man with no inconsiderable ‘pull’ in Erie transportation affairs, con-ceived the idea of an excursion over the railroad, and down the river and bay to Coney Island, then a sand barren, ex- cept at its northern extremity, where famous clam bakes were served. The idea meeting with the approval of Super-intendent H. C. Seymour and his lieutenant, S. S. Post, the event was announced.”
The excursion was not a success for several reasons not the least of which was a train accident considered the “first serious accident in the history of the railroad” only about six weeks earlier.
Although it is uncertain when Alexander began his position as “Alderman from the Fifth Ward of New York”, it is known that he was in “Government service for many years” before his death at Philadelphia on the 30th of April in 1867.
Despite his death, the story does not end. Interns under the direction of Beverly Kane at the Rhinebeck Cemetery discovered the headstone of Lucas Shultz, Alexander’s father, buried near the mound. It is unknown how many years ago the headstone was buried, but it was preserved beneath the ground and is in remarkable condition. Nearby, beneath the mound, Alexander Hamilton Shultz’s vault remains…?
Making history come alive is not merely compiling facts. It is sharing the stories of humans, their strengths and their weaknesses. It is the stories that reveal how those who lived before us remain relatable to each succeeding generation. It is the stories that remind us that all humans are not infallible. It is the stories that enable us to understand the triumphs celebrated and the defeats endured throughout history. By focusing on one individual, then one family, one community, one region, one nation, one world, we keep our history alive. Sometimes these stories are shared by our forefathers, but perhaps even more frequently the stories are discovered with one seemingly simple question.
More about Alexander Hamilton Shultz:
Collins, Enid Dickinson. Christian Otto Schultz, 1712-1785 and His American Descendants. E.D. Collins, 1943.
Kelly, Arthur C. M. Deaths (Vol. 1), Marriages (Vol. 2) and Much Miscellaneous from Rhinebeck, New York Newspapers, 1846-1899.
Mott, Edward Harold. Between the Ocean and the Lakes: the Story of Erie.
Local History Writer and Researcher Shares Stories of the Past