Tuesday, November 26, 2019

David Quackenbos And His Indian Friend

He was enlisted in the Tryon County militia during the Revolution, and reached the rank of Lieutenant. During the Battle of Oriskany, fought in 1777, between the Indians and the frontier husbandmen, David Quackenbos, hearing his name called, looked up and beheld an Indian friend of his boyhood in the ranks of the enemy. The Indian endeavored to persuade him to desert, dwelling upon their intimacy in the past, and referring to the time when they had fought side by side in the French War. David, however, declined to listen to such a proposition, whereupon the Indian said he would be compelled to kill him. Several shots were exchanged, David finally killing his former Indian friend in self-defense.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

A Courtin' We Will Go!

David Quackenboss was born in Albany, New York on June 21, 1702. He was the son of Pieter Quackenboss and was married to Anna Scott, daughter of Captain Scott, of Scott's Patent. The following anecdote was relayed about David Quackenboss which brings to mind the Courtship of Miles Standish.

David, the eldest son of Pieter Quackenboss, after a somewhat romantic courtship, married Miss Ann, a daughter of Captain Scott, and settled on Scott's Patent, where the Montgomery County Poor House new stands.

A young officer, under the command of Captain Scott, request young Quackenboss, then in the employ of the Captain, to speak a good word for him to Miss Ann, which he readily promised to do. While extolling the good qualities of her admirer, he took occasion to suggest his partiality for her himself. The maiden, who had conceived an attachment for Quackenboss instead of the young subaltern, shrewdly asked him why he did not make advances on his own account. He had not presumed on so advantageous a match; but the hint was sufficient to secure his fortune and happiness.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Wouter Quackenboss, In Defense Of Liberty

Wouter (Walter) Quackenboss, son of Johannes was born in New York on August 29, 1732. He married in New York on October 27, 1757 to Sophia Roorbach. The couple had the following children: Johannes, born Oct. 27, 1758; Sophia born January. 6, 1760; Johannes, baptized October. 18, 1761; Garret, baptized September. 25, 1763; Margrietje baptized December 1 , 1765; Cornelia, baptized September 17, 1767; Maria baptized April 28, 1769; Anna baptized September. 29, 1771.

Wouter or Walter Quackenboss, of New York City, was an ardent " Son of Liberty " and figured conspicuously in the defense of the Liberty Pole, which had been set up on the Common to commemorate the repeal of the Stamp Act. Many attempts on the part of the British troops to destroy this emblem of liberty had been thwarted by the " Sons," which so irritated the British that they caused a scurrilous placard to be printed and posted in public places, assailing the " Liberty Boys" individually and collectively. Referring to this incident the "New York Journal and Advertiser" of March 1, 1770, relates the following:

Mr. Isaac Sears and Mr. Walter Quackenboss, seeing five or six soldiers going toward the Fly Market, concluded they were going to put up some of the above papers. Upon the former's coming to the market, they made up to the soldiers and found them as they had conjectured, pasting up one of the papers. Mr. Sears seized the soldier that was fixing the paper, by the collar, and asked him what business he had to put up libels against the inhabitants, and that he would carry him before the Mayor. Mr. Quackenboss took hold of the one that had the papers on his arm. A soldier standing to the right of Mr. Sears drew his bayonet, upon which the latter took up a ram's horn and threw it at the former, which struck him on the head and then the soldiers, except the two that were seized, made off and alarmed others at the Barracks.

A fight between the soldiers and the inhabitants resulted which drew blood and lasted all that day (Jan. 19, 1770, and not Jan. 18, as appears on the tablets and in the various histories) and part of the next, during which one man was killed and several wounded. This fight is known to history as the " Battle of Golden Hill," and is commemorated by two bronze tablets, placed near the site of Golden Hill (John Street, near William) because it occasioned the first bloodshed of the Revolution. It thus appears that Walter Quackenboss and Isaac Sears struck the first blows in the first battle for Independence. Wouter Quackenboss resided in New York City, where he died August 5, 1785.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Lost And Found Town

This article is called Lost And Found Town because the items discussed have been hidden away, hoarded, kept safe, or stored and finally came out from wherever they were and were offered up for auction over the past few years. These are family items distinctly related to the Quackenbush Family. This sparked my interst, So, I did some research. I discovered that there is quite a bit of Quackenbush history out there that has been offered up for sale by various auction houses. Too bad we couldn't collect these things and loan them to Quackenbush Square or Quackenbush House to be put on display.

On June 17th 2006 Cowan's Auctions offered Lot No. 705 in their Spring Decorative Arts auction which consisted of Three Pieces of Quackenbush Family Armorial Export Porcelain. It was described as follows:

ca 1750-1800, of porcelain. A handleless footed tea bowl and saucer and a larger low bowl, Lowestoft-type, all hand painted and banded in cobalt blue and centered with the Quackenbush family arms with monogram MQ in the center for Margaret Quackenbush; unmarked. Tea bowl is 4.25" diameter x 2.25" high; saucer is 5.5" diameter; low bowl is 1.5" high x 8" diameter.

Provenance: Ex Quackenbush Family Collection

Condition: Nick to rim of larger bowl; slight wear to gilt decoration.

So these items are in pretty good condition at the time of the auction considering that they are about 250 years old! These same three items were sold as a set at this auction for $300.00

Also offered at this same auction was Lot No. 722 , Margaret Quackenbush Flame Stitched Firescreen Panel. It was described as follows:

likely Albany, New York and 18th century. A shield-shaped embroidered panel constructed of multicolor wool thread on canvas; bearing the name Margaret Quackenbush in marking stitch in the lower corners. Mounted (bound, not laid down) to paperboard with a linsey-woolsey back fabric (possibly original); 15" high x 11" wide.Margaret was the eldest daughter of Nicholas Quackenbush; this piece was purportedly worked in 1776.

Provenance: Ex: Quackenbush Family Collection

Condition: Areas of loss; colors remain bright.

Selling price for Margaret's Firescreen was $5,175.00

Also included in the 2006 Spring Decorative Arts auction at Cowan's was Lot No. 708. The

Nicholas Quackenbush (Assistant Quartermaster General of the Continental Army) Silver Cann, Jacob G. Lansing, Albany, New York. It was described as:

ca 1760, marked on either side of the handle IGL in an incuse rectangle with a rounded right side. A tapered, straight-sided cann with a spurred C-scroll handle and applied beading to the rim and foot.
Bearing engraved initials NQB (Nicholas Quackenbush) on the underside and a later-engraved cartouche with MQB, for Nicholas` eldest daughter, Margaret (Margrita, called "Aunt Peggy" in family documents). She was born in 1759. The neoclassical style of the engraved cartouche suggests that Margaret had the can engraved when she took possession upon her father's death in 1813. Although his will does not specifically mention the cann going to Margaret, it may be assumed she took it as part of the One full and equal third part of her fathers estate. The can is likely the tankard that appears in Nicholas` 1813 probate inventory: A Lot of plated ware including 2 large candle sticks and 4 small ones, 1 small teapot [crossed out], 1 tankard and 2 dishes valued at $16.00. Jacob G.
Lansing (1736-1803) was the grandson of another Albany silversmith of the same name. In the mid-1770s, he was working with Henry Van Veghten.

Provenance: Ex Quackenbush Family Collection

Condition: Minor dings. Great condition for what today would be called a beer mug. This mug by itself sold for $8,050.00.

In the fall of 2006, during their Fall (November 16 & 17) Americana auction, Cowan's offfered Lot No. 233, RearAdmiral Stephen Platt Quackenbush Archive and described it as:

Lot of 30, including includes an outstanding 3/4-length seated quarter plate daguerreotype image of Mexican War era Midshipman S.P. Quackenbush, mounted in original leather covered wood cast, PLUS 3 autographed Presidential Military Appointments all on vellum, appointing S.P. Quackenbush to Captain, signed by U.S. Grant, 1871, PLUS appoint to rank of Commodore signed by R.B. Hayes, 1880, PLUS appointment to rank of Rear-Admiral, signed by Chester A. Arthur, 1884, all 15.75" x 19.5", PLUS a family cdv album with three military views, Quackenbush’s 1880s blue undress cap with hat insignia and single shoulder strap with silver star and two anchors denoting Commodore, an original unsigned pencil drawing with caption depicting the destruction of Quackenbush’s ship USS Patapsco in Charleston Harbor on January 15, 1865, four sequential Navy Department documents appointing Quackenbush to the rank of Commander (1866), Captain (1871), Commodore (1880), and Rear Admiral (1884), a 1884 biographical sketch with photograph from Quackenbush’s MOLLUS (Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States) installation in the District of Columbia Commandery (Insignia No. 3137), and a three page typed summary of Quackenbush’s “record of service” compiled by the navy “Chief of Bureau” shortly after the admiral’s death in 1890. The cdv album contains at least one pencil identified view of “Lt. Commander S.P. Quackenbush” in Civil War uniform with two military shots of another unidentified navy lieutenant commander that resembles Quackenbush, presumably his brother John N. Quackenbush, among 37 civilian portraits of family members. This lot also includes 16 other cased images from the Quackenbush family 6, including 9 daguerreotypes, 3 ambrotypes and 3 tintypes.

Stephen Platt Quackenbush was the proverbial “old salt” having joined the navy as acting midshipman in February 1840. The next twenty years were spent in routine service aboard a succession of mail packets and steam frigates interspersed with coast survey duties, extended leave, and “waiting orders.” The outbreak of Civil War found Lieutenant Quackenbush aboard the ill-fated USS Congress but the Navy’s rapid expansion soon put even junior officers into command billets. During the early part of the war Quackenbush commanded the Delaware, Unadilla, and Pequot in wide ranging littoral operations supporting McClellan’s army on the Peninsula to combat at Elizabeth City, New Berne, and Winton, North Carolina.

While in command of the Pequot on the James River, Quackenbush was severely wounded at Malvern Hill loosing his right leg. Aboard the steam gunboat Unadilla in 1863 his ship captured the blockade runner Princess Royal containing Confederate naval stores including English built machinery destined for a rebel ironclad then under construction.

Now a lieutenant commander, Quackenbush took command of the ironclad Patapsco in 1864 and while reconnoitering Charleston harbor for obstructions hit a Confederate torpedo which sank the warship “in twenty seconds.” The anonymous drawing kept by Quackenbush shows the bow section of Patapsco engulfed in the explosion that sank her. Quackenbush then commanded the Mingo until the end of the war.

With the cessation of hostilities the mighty US Navy was quickly sold-off and decommissioned beginning in 1865 and the return of mundane peacetime duties ushered in a sad era of technological decline and backward thinking. The aging Quackenbush held a series of minor sea-going commands spending considerably more time in obligatory shore billets on “equipment duty” and as “inspector of supplies.”

Promoted to Commodore in 1880, Quackenbush took charge of the Pensacola Navy Yard and was promoted to Rear Admiral in July 1884 after nearly 44 years of continuous service. He was placed on the retired list in January 1885 and died in Washington, D.C. in February 1890.

The Quackenbush archive spanning five decades of war and peace is a fine snapshot of a dedicated career afloat.

Condition: The dag of S.P. Quackenbush has a few small brown spot and slight solar ring, still VG, most of the other dags have some problems, such as spots and solar rings, and range from G to VG, ambros are all VG-; most of the components of the archive are uniformly VG with the important pencil sketch about Good due to tears and loss of upper right corner.

This archive sold for a whopping $6,325.00.

In January of 2007 Cowan's Auctions offered Lot No. 29, Four Quackenbush Family Snuffboxes in their Paintings, Furniture & Decorative Arts auction.

All 19th century, of either papier mâché or kidskin. Includes three snuffboxes, two oblong, hinged examples about 3" long; a round two-piece example, 3" diameter and an oval kidskin-covered monocle holder, 3.25" long x 2" across.

Provenance: Ex: Quackenbush Family Collection

Condition: Expected wear.

200 year old papier mâché? They sold for $57.50

I will keep my eyes open and as I find other family treasures I will set them aside so we can revisit this topic in another article.

Source: Cowan's Auction

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Gerrit Van Schaik Quackenbush and the GVS Quackenbush & Co. Dry Goods Store, Troy, New York

Gerrit Van Schaik Quackenbush
The earliest established retail dry goods house in the city of Troy, New York was that of G. V. S. Quackenbush & Co. Few of its first patrons are living to tell of its beginning on the east side or River Street, one door north of State Street, sixty-seven years ago. Then it was seated as it is now in the business center of the city. Its removal on October 1st, 1856, to the south-east corner of Third and Albany streets, was looked upon as a mistake of the circumspect proprietor, but the marked changes in the growth of the city which later followed confirmed his foresight and sagacity.

The large and finely-lighted four-story store was a creditable monument to his enterprise. The business being wholly that of the sale of dry goods, the stock of the different departments, both wholesale and retail, comprises silks, woolen, cotton, and other dress fabrics, prints, cloths, linens, muslins, underwear, hosiery, laces and embroideries, shawls, cloaks, haberdashery, carpets, curtains, and other products of the loom and needle. An elevator carried buyers from floor to floor. The spaciousness of the salesrooms was one of the striking features of the well-ordered establishment. Situated at the intersection of Third Street and Broadway, two of Troy's principal thoroughfares, it was of easy access both to city shoppers as well as country customers.

The founder of the store, Gerrit Van Schaick Quackenbush, engaged in the dry goods business in 1824 with William C. Miller, under the name of G. V. S. Quackenbush & Co., at No. 202 River Street, next door north of the dry goods store of Knox & Morgan, opened in May, 1827, in the building on the north-east corner of River and State streets. The site was originally occupied by a two-story frame dwelling first the residence of Zephaniah Anthony, who, on October 27th, 1792, sold it and lot 70 to Moses Bears for 350 pounds, who converted the building into a tavern, which was burned in the fire of 1820, when Amos Allen was the landlord of the house.

On the dissolution of the partnership, on April 28th, 1826, G. V. S. Quackenbush and Edwin Smith formed the firm of Quackenbush & Smith. On the withdrawal of Edwin Smith, on March 7th, 1828, G. V. S. Quackenbush continued the business until 1837, when he and William Lee as G. V. S. Quackenbush & Co. became associated in it. The firm, from 1839 to 1841 had a branch store at No. 3 Franklin Square, which was conducted under the name of William Lee & Co. In 1841, the store at No. 202 River Street was conducted under the name of Quackenbush & Lee. From 1842 to 1865, G. V. S. Quackenbush had the management of the business. On February 1st, 1865, he, his son Gerrit, and Samuel Lasell, who had held a clerkship under G. V. S. Quackenbush for a number of years, and William H. Sherman, who had likewise held a similar position in his store from 1848, entered into partnership under the name of G. V. S. Quackenbush & Co. In 1868, Frederick Bullis became a co-partner.

On the death of Gerrit Quackenbush, on May 8th, 1869, the four surviving members of the firm continued the business under the same name. Gerrit V. S. Quackenbush died on June 10th, 1872, aged 71 years. On February 1st, 1873, Samuel H. Lasell and William H. Sherman succeeded to the business, which they have since conducted under the name of G. V. S. Quackenbush & Co.

The doors finally closed for good on August 3, 1937.

However, the historic Quackenbush building survives to this day, and is under renovation. The long-vacant, Victorian-era structure, will soon serve as the new, larger home for the Tech Valley Center of Gravity.

According to its website, The Center, initially founded in early 2013, "is a federation of makers, hackers, crafters', and artists who share camaraderie, space, and resources to do out tinkering."
In two years, the science business incubator has already outgrown its current 5,000 square foot space in the former Off-Track Betting parlor in the Uncle Sam Atrium.

According to the building's owner and local real estate developer David Bruce, the project is receiving financial support from Rensselaer County, the city of Troy, private developers and a $550,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corporation.

When complete, the building will also house offices for Gov. Andrew Cuomo's START-Up New York program, which offers new companies incentives for establishing their businesses in the Empire State.



Saturday, November 9, 2019

Mary Grace Quackenbos Humiston, The $1 Lawyer

While doing some research on the web I ran across this story about Mary Grace Quackenbos Humiston who was regarded as the woman Sherlock Holmes of her day.

She participated and helped solve many mysteries of her day. Mary was also the first female United States Attorney. I am sure that we will be covering other aspects of her life down the road. This story is about how she battled debt slavery (peonage) in Florida. Enjoy! --Will

Peonage, Part 2 - Mary Grace Quackenbos Humiston
By Joanna Grey Talbot

At the turn of the 20th century debt peonage preyed on African Americans and immigrants alike. Frederick Cubberley, U.S. Commissioner for the northern district of Florida, lived in Cedar Key and worked to prosecute cases and the majority of his clients were African Americans. At the same time, a female lawyer from New York City, Mary Grace Quackenbos (Humiston), began hearing tales from immigrant families that their husbands, sons, and fathers were being prevented from leaving jobs in the south because they supposedly owed money and were being treated inhumanely.

Ms. Quackenbos graduated from the New York University Law School and after working with the Legal Aid Society opened her own practice. The People’s Law Firm, located in Manhattan, worked to help immigrants adjust to living in the United States. She quickly won their trust and was widely known among immigrants of all backgrounds. According to

a Boston Evening Transcript article from December 13, 1905, the firm “takes the cases of all clients. But those who can afford to pay liberally are charged accordingly, and the fees accepted from the poor are often but one dollar, and that is returned if nothing is accomplished.” The reporter talks of sitting in the firm’s waiting room and seeing clients ranging from a poor Italian immigrant to the second secretary of the Spanish legation at Washington, D.C.

Ms. Quackenbos was a rarity and is described by Jerrell H. Shofner as a “militant, middle-class reformer whose legal training and personal economic independence enabled her to undertake a crusade against corrupt New York labor agents and their southern employers.” After hearing from the family members and a few men who had been able to escape she decided to investigate herself. She traveled to Florida under her maiden name, Grace Winterton, and posed as a reporter for McClure’s Magazine (a magazine famous for its muckraking articles). Funded by McClure’s and the Jewish Aid Society she investigated peonage throughout Florida and was horrified by what she saw.

She found that New York labor agents were paid $3 a head by Southern firms to find labor for their lumber, turpentine, and railroad operations. The labor agents lured the workers to the South with promises of high wages and good accommodations. Yet, they would arrive to find backbreaking work at a grueling pace in desolate conditions. The workers would arrive in debt because they were charged more for their travel and paid less for their work than they agreed. Other workers would owe more at the company commissary than their first paycheck totaled thus beginning a cycle of debt. Some businesses would even charge their workers for water during the work hours.

She reported her findings to the U.S. Department of Justice in July of 1906 and President Theodore Roosevelt in August. Assistant Attorney General Charles Wells Russell headed the DOJ’s peonage investigations and after reading through Ms. Quackenbos preliminary findings he appointed her a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney. She was the first woman to be given such a title.

Ms. Quackenbos was involved with three major cases, the first being US vs. Harlan. The case was against the manager and overseers of the Jackson Lumber Company, which operated on the border between Alabama and Florida. Not only were the men not allowed to leave because of trumped up debts but “hardly a day passed without someone being run down by the bosses or the bloodhounds and returned and whipped.” The trial began on November 14, 1906, and the defendants were found guilty on November 23. William S. Harlan, the manager, was sentenced to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The overseers were sentenced to less. The decision was of course appealed and on February 24, 1909, it was upheld by the Circuit Court of Appeals. An appeal was again placed and on November 28, 1910, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling. Harlan would end up serving only four months.

The next case, which ran almost concurrently with the previous case, was US vs. O’Hara. F.J. O’Hara was the superintendent of a sawmill in Buffalo Bluff and a naval stores operation in Maytown. Not only were the conditions similar to the Jackson Lumber Company but here the men were charged $0.15 for a drink of water. If they took a water break not only were they charged but they also were docked an hour of time. As a result of this, one immigrant said that by the end of the week of backbreaking work he had earned $6.30 but owed the commissary $7.90.

The trial began on December 10, 1906, in Jacksonville. O’Hara and his overseers were charged with conspiracy to commit peonage. After 14 days of evidence by the prosecutors the jury returned a not guilty verdict after deliberating for 17 minutes. Charles W. Russell decided to try O’Hara alone and his trial began on January 2, 1907. Testimony by more than 50 witnesses lasted for 22 days but it took the jury only 12 minutes to return a not guilty verdict. A large factor in both decisions was the Florida press and the acceptance of

peonage by many Floridians. The press had vilified Quackenbos and Russell. For example, the March 4, 1908, issue of The Pensacola Journal, described Ms. Quackenbos as “a smooth female who imagines she is a great reformer, but who would be better employed in raising babies, attending to household affairs and otherwise making a legitimate woman of herself, than in nosing around among the negroes of the South and smelling out all sorts of imaginary evils.”

The most highly publicized case that Quackenbos and Russell collected affidavits for was one against Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad extension to Key West. Flagler had decided in 1904 to extend his railroad to Key West and his company began contracting with labor agents in New York City to bring workers south. After arriving the workers found that their only means of transportation was company boats and the gates were locked behind them when they reached the dock. The living conditions were horrible and the workers were forced to work by fear of death. They couldn’t leave until they had paid their transportation and commissary bills, as in the other peonage cases. Local fishermen were warned that they would be shot if they tried to help any of the men escape.

Escaped workers had contacted the government on many occasions and the Department of Commerce and Labor finally sent an agent to investigate. He was accompanied by a railroad agent and found no peonage. Another federal investigator never left his Miami hotel to view the work site. In a preemptive strike the Florida East Coast Railroad submitted a 199-page report stating that peonage was not being practiced in the building of the extension. Within the report, though, they did describe horrible sleeping quarters and stated that they did hold men to pay debts but they never harmed them.

Not surprisingly, Russell and Quackenbos were the only ones to prove peonage. All other investigations were poorly done or purposely misleading. In 1907 the Florida Board of

Trade asked for an investigation of the “greatest menace to increased immigration to this state, namely, the unceasing agitation of the peonage question.” Meaning, they were tired of the federal government sticking its nose into their business. A month later a muckraking article, “Slavery in the South To-Day,” was published in the March 1907 Cosmopolitan Magazine. Writer Richard Barry wrote that “The Standard Oil Clique, H.M. Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway Co., the turpentine trust, the lumber trust, and other trusts have put in force a system of peonage which is actual slavery […] and it is done under the legal sanction of state laws – not by direct laws, but by subterfuges and circumventions which nevertheless attain the end in view.” The Florida legislature passed a resolution to condemn Barry and publisher William Randolph Hearts, calling the article “infamous, false, and libelous.”

Yet, in spite of all this, Russell and Quackenbos continued to work tirelessly on behalf of the men who were being held in peonage. The case finally started when on March 27, 1907, a New York grand jury indicted Francesco Sabbia, a labor agent, Edward J. Triay, a Florida East Coast Railroad agent, and two other men under the 1866 slave-kidnapping law. The trial began a year and a half later on November 10, 1908. The men could not be found guilty of peonage, though, since they were being tried for slavery. Their defense attorneys, therefore, said their clients were guilty of peonage not slavery. The trial got stuck on definitions and Judge Charles Hough continually sided with the defense. The case was dropped.

As a result of these cases, less and less immigrants traveled south for work and immigrant peonage became less typical. African Americans would continue to bear the brunt of debt peonage. Ms. Quackenbos would continue in her legal career in New York City and passed away in 1948.


“Lawyers vs. Shysters: An Institution Doing Excellent Work in New York” by Kellogg Durland, Boston Evening Transcript, December 13, 1905

“Mary Grace Quackenbos: A Visitor Florida Did Not Want” by Jerrell H. Shofner, Florida Historical Quarterly, January 1980, Vol. 58, No. 3, pp 273-290

“The Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the South, 1901-1969” by Pete Daniel, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1972

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Naming Of Otsego Lake, New York

Pieter Quackenboss, Son of Pieter Quackenboss and married to Sarah Wimple. The following anecdote is related of Pieter Quackenboss, in Mrs. Ellet's "Women Of The Revolution".

Pieter Quackenboss was amoung the early settlers of Montgomery County, New York, and did not escape the difficulties. He was a trader with the Indians, who placed great confidence in him, frequently consulting him. They were disposed to bestow on him some particular mark of regard, and after meeting for consultation, they decided on giving him the name "Otsego" and christening the lake for him. The ceremony of naming both him and the lake was performed by pouring liquor upon his head as he knelt on the ground, a portion being afterwards poured into the water. It is probable that few are acquainted with this origin of the name of Otsego Lake; but that family tradition has been confirmed by the recollection of some who witnessed the occurrence.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Mysterious Death Of William Garrett Howard

William Garrett Howard was a local photographer who, by 1915, had been living in Sag Harbor for 34 years. Mr. Howard lived with his daughter, Florence Nelson, and was sometimes visited by his wife, Anna, who no longer lived in the village. Ms. Nelson, Mr. Howard’s daughter, is by far the most fascinating character in the curious sequence of events that ended in her father’s death.

At 30 years old, Ms. Nelson had been living with her father since the death of her second husband, William F. Holtz. Indeed, she was twice widowed and both her first second husbands had died under very suspicious circumstances. This fact created a swirl of gossip around Ms. Nelson amongst the villagers of Sag Harbor.

She was described as a “tall woman of erect carriage” and often referred to as “robust.” She was active in church and had several intimate friends amongst the women of the village. Some people referred to her as a “man-hater.”

James B. Nelson, a large industrious man with an athletic build, was Ms. Nelson’s first husband. It was approximately seven months after their marriage that Mr. Nelson was stricken with severe stomach pains that became progressively worse. He died nine months after marrying his bride.

Three years later, Ms. Nelson married William Holtz. Only 58 days after marrying, Mr. Holtz was dead. He inexplicably began to experience violent stomach pains before suddenly passing away.

Enter one Isabelle Quackenbush. She was a resident of Sag Harbor and a widow as well. According to reports, Ms. Quackenbush spent virtually all of her time in the Howard home with Ms. Nelson. She would become a permanent fixture there, and the air of mystery that surrounded their relationship in 1915 would continue for years.

There is scant information available on Ms. Quackenbush, her first marriage or the manner in which her husband died, but suffice to say, the two widows virtually ran the Howard household.

In April of 1915, Mr. Howard developed violent stomach cramps and his condition deteriorated quickly. He was taken to what was called “The Southampton Sanitarium,” otherwise known as the hospital.

It was at this time that one of Mr. Howard’s attending physicians received a mysterious anonymous letter. The letter was written in pencil and the writing described as a “feminine hand.”

It was well composed, sent from out of state and signed with the initial “M.”

In part, the letter stated:

“I had information yesterday that compelled me to write you. If you want to cure him or save him a slow death, then you better have him taken away from home immediately. If necessary show him this. Do anything to save his life. This is no idle gossip or talk. That is all I can say.”

Alarmed, to say the least, the doctor immediately sent the letter to District Attorney Ralph C. Greene, who acted promptly. Mr. Greene had already been warned of the situation in the Howard home by yet another person: Mr. Howard’s own father and Ms. Nelson’s grandfather, Garrett Howard Sr. of Greenport. Mr. Howard Sr. had made the request that should his son die, an autopsy be preformed immediately.

While in the hospital, Mr. Howard thrived. His stomach troubles went away and he rapidly regained his strength. He was sent home with a recommendation to retain a private nurse.

The district attorney, by all accounts a thoughtful and noble prosecutor, took some extraordinary measures. After learning that Mr. Howard was looking for an attendant upon his release from the hospital, Mr. Greene hired a Brooklyn nurse to masquerade as “Miss Mattie Clark.” Unknown to any of the family members, she was placed in the home to watch over Mr. Howard and take note of any suspicious activity she saw.

As soon as Mr. Howard arrived home, his stomach troubles returned with a vengeance. He died on June 7, 1915.

The undercover nurse had much to tell the DA. But Mr. Greene refused to reveal what was in her report. However, the newspapers reported that the death of Mr. Howard was now being investigated as a poisoning.

There was much attention paid in the press to an empty box of Rough on Rats, a popular, turn-of-the-century rat poison, which was found in the house. Interestingly, Rough on Rats pops up in many news stories between the years 1800 and 1920. It was almost entirely composed of arsenic and was a popular product for those with both suicide and murder on their minds.

The fact that death seemed to follow Ms. Nelson was well known amongst the villagers of Sag Harbor. The fact that Ms. Quackenbush seemed to have the same problem did not escape anyone’s attention. That they were both in the house when Mr. Howard passed away was a fact that caused a storm of activity amongst the people of the village.

Upon further investigation, it came to light that at one time Ms. Nelson had a sibling. Although the cause of death is not known and it is not even known if that child was male or female, it is of interest that yet another person living with her had died before their time.

The investigation ended on a flat note. The district attorney could find no financial motive for murder, as Mr. Howard was not a wealthy man and his daughter did not benefit financially from his death, or from the death of either of her husbands.

It was suggested that there was a motive contained in the report that Ms. Clark had submitted, however, it was not enough for Mr. Greene to press charges.

The medical examiner did not find arsenic in Mr. Howard’s stomach. He tested for 26 other poisons as well and all tests were negative. Since there were virtually hundreds of poisons in existence, it could be argued that the medical report proved only that the Rough on Rats was not the cause of Mr. Howard’s death. It’s certainly possible that all three men were poisoned by a substance that was not detectable in 1915.

According to the newspapers, Ms. Nelson left town after the investigation and moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut to live with her mother.

But upon further investigation, it seemed that five years after the death of her father, Ms. Nelson was calling herself “Florence Holtz” and living in Brooklyn with Ms. Quackenbush and her two teenage sons. Their relationship is described as “partners” on the 1920 census.

The 1930 census report shows the women still living together, however some curious changes had taken place in the 10 years that had passed. The two women were then described as sisters and Ms. Quackenbush had a new last name—Nischwihup.

But a Mr. Nischwihup was conspicuously absent from the report. Ms. Nischwihup, née Quackenbush, was listed as “widowed” in the marital status box.

To this day, the story leaves many unanswered questions in its wake. Who wrote the mysterious letter and what did they know that compelled them to do so? Why did Mr. Howard Sr. suspect his own granddaughter of poisoning his son? What was in the report that Ms. Clark submitted to the district attorney?

Did Ms. Nelson get away with multiple murders? Did she meet in Ms. Quackenbush a partner in crime? The two widows took their secrets with them to their graves.

Source:The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press, Aug 26, 2011. Story by Linda Pari

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Scandal And Resignation - Chuck Quackenbush

Charles "Chuck" Quackenbush (born 1954) is a Florida law enforcement officer and former California Republican politician. He served as Insurance Commissioner of California from 1995–2000 and as a California State Assemblyman representing the 22nd District, from 1986–1994.

As a child, he grew up in a military family and after graduating University of Notre Dame on a full ROTC scholarship, he joined the United States Army and rose to the rank of Captain and helicopter pilot. In 1982, he left the military to join the family business in Silicon Valley. He was elected as a Republican to the California Assembly in 1986.

In 1994 he was elected insurance commissioner, effectively applying considerable campaign contributions from various insurance companies and won re-election in 1998. At this point, Quackenbush was considered the most promising Republican elected official in the state of California.

Cindy Ossias came forward to reveal California State Department of Insurance (CDI) corruption. According to testimony by CDI employees, including Ossias, and staff attorney Robert Hagedorn, the commissioner and his top aides abused their positions for personal gain and acted against consumers’ interests for many years.

Initially, Cindy Ossias blew the whistle as an anonymous source. When her identity was revealed, Quackenbush put her on an administrative leave.

On June 28, 2000, he announced his resignation (to become effective on July 10), rather than face impeachment and subsequent removal from office.

In February 2002, an 18-month investigation conducted by federal, state and Sacramento County prosecutors ended with prosecutors declining to press charges against Quackenbush, as they felt the evidence was not strong enough.

After resigning as California's insurance commissioner, Quackenbush moved to Hawaii, where he claimed to be "doing political and military intelligence consulting". In 2005, Quackenbush became a sheriff's deputy in Lee County, Florida. While working as a sheriff's deputy in February 2008, Quackenbush shot and critically wounded a suspect who was reported as resisting arrest.

After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it was alleged that Quackenbush allowed insurance companies to compensate their clients much less than the actual damages. In exchange, the insurance companies set up special "educational funds". Those funds were used to create television commercials in which Quackenbush appeared as a basketball referee with Shaquille O'Neal in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. The commercials were couched as public service announcements, but the suspicions rose that main idea behind the commercials was to increase Quackenbush's name identification, which is critical for electoral success in California statewide races.

In addition to the educational funds, those same insurance companies contributed to his wife's unsuccessful 1998 assembly campaign, as well as his children's football camps.