Friday, September 6, 2019

Colonel Hendrick "Henry" Quackenbush - An Act Of Kindness

Col. Henry Quackenbush was a provincial officer in the British Army under Lords Amherst and Abercrombie during the French and Indian War. He was engaged in the attack on Crown Point and Ticonderoga, and was with Lord Howe when he was shot by the Indians. During the Revolutionary War he was Chairman of the Albany Committee of Safety, and member of the Colonial Legislature. He was appointed Captain, and then 1st Major of the 3d Albany County Regiment, October, 1775, and succeeded Garret Van den Bergh as Colonel of the 5th Albany Regiment in 1778. He was wounded when in command of his regiment in the last attack of the American troops led by Gen. Arnold against the British at Saratoga, and commanded the guard of 200 men who brought Gen. Burgoyne to Albany after the last battle, where he — Gen. Burgoyne — was confined in the house of Gen. Schuyler in the south part of the city. (Col. Quackenbush's daughter said the soldiers encamped in front of their house, and wine and refresh ments were brought them by her father's orders.) Colonel Quackenbush received an autograph letter from General Burgoyne thanking him for kindness and attention shown him while a prisoner. After the war Col. Quackenbush was one of the Presidential Electors.

The following references to the private character of Col. Quackenbush are selected from a memoir entitled "A Few Events in the Life of Col. Henry Quackenbush," written by his great-grandson, Henry Quackenbush Hawley.

A great name in history, as we all know, is built up much more from fortunate opportunity than from real merit. In fact, the true heroes of the world are seldom the men it delights to honor, but rather those who, from the force of circumstances, pursue a simple and retired life, practicing virtue and self-denial, because it is their nature so to do, and without the stimulus of applause, acting nobly and tenderly and generously, because they are genuine men.

It is these qualities, and not the bubble reputation, that makes God's noblest work, a true gentleman. And such was Col. Henry Quackenbush, in all that justly makes that character; in courage, in integrity, in lofty sentiments and personal honor, in rugged strength, in tenderness of heart, in pure love of country, he was a marked man, even in the time he lived — now a century ago — when the country was young, and engaged in the fearful struggle we call the " Revolution." He was then a very prominent private citizen of Albany, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety, and pre-eminent in social life. Many a time have I listened with intense interest to anecdotes of his life and character, related by his daughter [Mrs. Anna Lansing (559) ], my grandmother, and so illustrative are they of simple manliness of character, that I can never recall them without a feeling of personal pride that I am descended from so noble a gentleman.

As we all know, anecdotes of adventure lose much when not related by an actor in the scenes described ; I cannot, there fore, give to what I remember of my grandmother's recollections of her father, anything like the interest with which she clothed them, but I so much desire that my children may have the benefit of what I can remember, that I give it here in the hope that it will be regarded by them as it is by me.

There are now in Albany but three or four dwelling houses representing the old architecture of the city. Two of these, the Lansing residence, on the corner of Broadway and Quackenbush street (in which I was born), and the building now known as the Pemberton house (in which my mother was born), were in Col. Quackenbush's family. In the former of these he resided, and in the latter his son-in-law, Jacob I. Lansing (my grandfather).

He was then a rich man, and his house was ever open to sustain the hospitalities of the city. "Many a time," my grandmother used to say to us children, as we clustered around her in the old house, " when a girl have I seen the entire Senate dine at this house." And I remember with what wonder I used to listen to her descriptions of the venison and game of all kinds, which persons dealing with her father used to bring him in great abundance, some in exchange for store goods, and others as tokens of regard, and of the number of slaves in the kitchen (young and old there were eighteen), and how each one had a separate duty. That was, of course, after the war had ended. Col. Quackenbush was then an extensive merchant, having embarked in a new business, to re gain from commerce what he had given to his country in its time of need and for nothing should he be held in higher honor in times like these than for that sacrifice. " It never caused him a single regret," said my grandmother. "It was for his country", he said, "and, if necessary, he would do it again."

And yet, what he did was to loan the government, when it was in despair and without credit, sixty thousand dollars in gold, returned to him after the war in Continental money, repudiated afterwards by Congress. And I remember well, when a boy, seeing a great chest in the garret of the old house filled with that money, then as worthless as rags. It was a great injustice, but perhaps at the time a necessity, as the bills had been so extensively counterfeited that to redeem them was beyond the resources of the nation.

What I have related above gives a good illustration of Col. Quackenbush's position after the war. That his success did not harden his heart is so well illustrated by the following anecdote of that time that I will give it here. He then owned large tracts of land in the wilderness of northern New York, some parts of which he had sold, receiving the consideration partly in money and partly in obligations upon time. Being so distant, these lands were in charge of an agent, and it was their owner's custom to visit them only at prolonged intervals. On one of these occasions, before reaching his own land (as he thought), he came to a log house, recently erected, before which were people bidding, and the sheriff selling the furniture of the settler, as its unfortunate owner lay within with a deadly fever.

"Who," said Col. Quackenbush when he was informed of the particulars above given, "is the man who can do so heartless a thing ?"

"Oh", said the relator,." he is a rich man. He lives away in Albany ; what does he care ?"

"But his name," replied Col. Quackenbush, "his name ?"

"It will do no good," said the man. " There is no help. He is hard and selfish. But if you want his name, it is Col. Henry Quackenbush."

This reply, so unexpected, for a moment kept Col. Quackenbush in speechless surprise. Then, springing from his horse, he rapidly made his way to the sheriff.

"What means this proceeding?" he sternly said. "By whose order do you this cruel thing?"

"Who are you ? " said the sheriff, " to interfere with the law ? I am but doing my duty."

"I am Col. Quackenbush of Albany; you must know my agent. Here are his letters to me, but he says nothing of this. Stop this sale." Then turning to the people present, he added, " My friends, this sale is a mistake. In the name of humanity, I ask you to recall your bids and your money will be returned." It was so done, and then Col. Quackenbush entered the house. He found the unfortunate debtor, haggard with fever and apparently in hopeless trouble, lying helpless upon a straw bed, while his wife, with her little children gathered about her knees, was weeping bitterly near him.

" My friend," said he, " I thank God for bringing me here this day. I knew nothing of this sale. It is stopped. Have no fear. I am Col. Quackenbush. Take courage and get well. Here is something to help you in your time of need." And taking out his pocketbook, he gave him a sufficient sum to sustain his family during the interval of recovery.

"I may never be able to pay you," sobbed the poor settler."

"You will, you will," said Col. Quackenbush, " but if not, it will be well. Have no care for that."
For the credit of humanity, I am able to add that long after, a man, vigorous and in perfect health, came one summer day to the Quackenbush mansion and inquired for its owner. " I see you do not remember me," he said. " I am the man you saved from ruin (naming the time and place], and I have come to pay my debt! " And he laid down a bag of gold to the full amount in arrears.

The above is an unusual case, but my grandmother often said that when friends needed wise counsel, or a good cause needed assistance, her father was always chiefly relied upon, from the esteem in which the city held him.

Henry Quackenbush's marker in the Albany Rural cemetary 

Inscription: Sacred to the memory of Colonel Henry Quackenbush, who, having lived the life, died the death, of the righteous, on the 2nd day of February, 1813, aged 76 years. Colonel Quackenbush was with Lord Amherst at Ticonderoga, with General Gates at Saratoga, "in the days that tried men's souls!" Chairman of the Committee on Safety, Member of the Colonial Legislature, Elector of President and Vice-President. In all the relations of life, virtuous; in all.

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