Sunday, November 29, 2009

Status of Bovina History Calendar for 2010

I'm doing this brief blog entry once again from Russell's Store. I'm unhip enough to still be fascinated that I can actually blog from Russell's.

Ok, the calendar. Briefly, it's not happening this year. Things had progressed well. The content was completed in the summer and the design was pretty much done in early fall. The Bovina Historical Society was set to handle the sales. Ultimately, my busy fall prevented me from getting the final details worked out. The calendar needed one more review and we still had to sort out where it would be printed. By the time I was ready to do this, it was into November and I was away for about a week about in the middle of the month. That likely meant it wouldn't get to the printers until about now. That simply was too late, so I sadly concluded that the calendar would have to wait.

The good news is that the calendar will be pretty much ready for 2011. With any luck, we'll have it available in September/October of 2010. So stayed tuned.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How Did Bovina Get Its Name?

I've been a bit behind on this blog lately. I'll blame a brief trip to Ireland last week and the impending holiday season. This brief entry speculating about how Bovina got its name was written a bit ago but not posted - until now.

I've already explained in a past blog how Bovina got its name, but the story has always struck me as a bit off. The information in some of the old histories says that Bovina, created in 1820, got its name from the fact that it was a pioneering town in dairying. And yes, Bovina did become a noted dairying community in the region. In 1875, Bovina produced more butter per acre than any other town in the Delaware County. But that was later. In 1820, Bovina did not have much dairying other than what was needed for the farmer's immediate needs. At Bovina's founding, it appears that the main money making livestock was not cows but sheep. And it stayed this way into the 1850s.

My speculation is that the term 'bovine,' the root of 'Bovina,' was not meant to refer to dairying but to a more generic term akin to 'pastoral.' One of the earliest references I can find to how Bovina was named comes from the 1860 Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York by J. H. French, LL.D. In its entry for Bovina, the gazetteer said that General Erastus Root, who came up with the name, noted the area's fitness for grazing as the reason his suggestion. No reference was made to dairying. Bovina at its founding had many more sheep than cows - and people. Maybe General Root was being rather forward thinking and saw the potential of the area for larger scale dairy farming, but I suspect it was all those grazing sheep that put the idea into his head.

Now one can speculate as to whether or not the naming of the town helped to set its destiny as a dairying community, but keep in mind that the surrounding towns' farmers also saw dairying as their main livelihood. Still, it can't have hurt Bovina's butter industry to have such an appropriate name - maybe it gave Bovina butter makers a bit of an edge in the marketplace.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And as prepare your holiday meal, whether it's the stuffing, rolls, or that yummy homemade apple pie, think of Bovina butter!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Walk the Line

On Sunday, November 8, I had another chance to meet with Mike Kudish (see my blog entry for May 12), who has been researching the railroads in and around the Catskills, as he has already done in the Adirondacks.

Today we walked three segments of the rail bed for a railroad that would have brought the trains into Bovina. The Delaware Railroad Company was founded in 1898 to connect Andes and Delhi, with a spur to Bovina. The main use of the railroad would have been for transporting milk from the Bovina creamery. After maybe about a year of preliminary construction, the project was abandoned. This likely was caused by a combination of the economic downturn that hit the country just around the turn of the century and the use of trucks to transport milk.

Finding the rail bed in the vicinity of the Bovina creamery has proven challenging. During Mike's hike last spring, he found what appeared to be a rail bed but it was too far up the bank to have allowed a train to get to the creamery. He now thinks this bed is just a farming road. We aren't sure, but we think we did find a rail bed at a lower level that would have brought trains to the creamery.

Then we drove to Route 28 to find another section of rail bed by a ravine that some maps call the Bovina Gorge, not too far from the Clarence Burns farm. As Mike pointed out, it's no gorge, just a ravine. It is where Silver Lake drains down to the Little Delaware. The rail bed comes to the ravine, where it would have needed a trestle for the train to cross it.

From the ravine, we walked a ways up Route 28 towards Andes. We climbed up the bank not too far from the turn off for Tunis Lake. There we found a trail that was marked on a topo map from the 60s as a hiking trail. This turns out to have been the rail bed for the line that was to run from Andes to Delhi (the trail is not heavily used since it all goes through private property, we think). We hiked that toward Delhi until we found a newly dug pond (two actually) where a development is being planned. It was right above Burgin road where my car was parked, so it worked out well.

Mike still wants to find where the Bovina line was to have met up with the Andes/Delhi line. We think we identified the spot and also suspect the bed for that part was never constructed, but we need to make another visit - hopefully next spring - to find that and to walk the bed further along towards Delhi. So stay tuned for the further adventures of the Delaware Railroad Company.

Murder Most Foul and Unnatural - Part II

In my entry for November 4 related a possible case of a murder in Bovina in the early 19th century. The result of a coroner's jury, convened in late April 1821, was the arrest and jailing of Cornelius McDonald and his sister Jane Post for the murder of their father John McDonald three years earlier. During the inquest, they had accused each other of having committed the crime. The case caused a stir not just in the local press but in papers around the United States. Cornelius and Jane were excoriated for committing an abominable crime.

The case did not show up in the newspapers again until early August when there was a major development. In late July, Cornelius confessed that he lied about his sister having killed their father. Since Cornelius' evidence accusing his sister was recanted, Jane was released from jail. And while Jane did accuse Cornelius of the crime, she provided no direct eye-witness evidence of the fact. The grand jury came back without an indictment for murder. There simply wasn’t enough evidence. Cornelius was convicted of perjury, however, and sentenced to three years and one day in prison.

At least one newspaper expressed the following:

"Whatever might have been his guilt is best known to himself and his God: the testimony, however, was insufficient to convict him of the murder. We cannot but rejoice for the honour of the County, that we are relieved from the truly melancholy task of recording the ignominious exit from this world of a fellow creature upon the gallows. Innocence frequently pays the last debt of nature upon the gibbet. In this case, though his guilt had been ever so black, what a spectacle would it have been to the contemplative mind – with what horror would the feeling heart be filled, to witness a fellow mortal (but to say a son) launched into eternity with the indelible print of Murder stampt upon the catalogue of his sins with the blood of a father!

"We hope that all ruling Providence will see fit to send forth the conciliatory decree of his Divine will, to check the progress of crime of every description with which our country is at this time cursed, and which every day’s Herald adds to the list."

The rest of the story of the McDonald family can only be speculated. The last record related to the case was when Cornelius was hauled off to prison in New York City – probably Newgate (Sing Sing had not been built yet). A couple of pages away from Cornelius’s indictment, on file at the Delaware County Clerk's office, is that of Barber Stafford. Stafford was hauled off to the same prison for robbery. At some point, Stafford and McDonald became brothers in law when Jane married Stafford. It would appear that Jane must have visited her brother and maybe met Barber while in prison.

The names of Jane Stafford and Cornelius McDonald occasionally show up in various records, but whether or not they are the same ones accused of their father’s death is not completely clear. Jane is easier to identify in the records. A Barber Stafford shows up in Roxbury in the 1840 census records and the ages of the household correspond with Barber, his wife Jane and their son Barber, Jr. There’s also another teenager in the house – maybe a daughter. Barber, Jane and Barber, Jr. show up in Gilboa in the 1850 census and are back in Roxbury in 1860. Jane does not show up in the 1870 census, but whether she was missed, had moved or was dead is not clear. She apparently is buried in Bovina at the old RP cemetery but no death date is available.

It likely is that her son Barber Stafford was one of those convicted during the anti-rent war shooting of Osman Steele in 1845. It was reported that because of his youth, he was not imprisoned. Jane already had a son from her first marriage to Robert Post, also named Robert. This son likely was born around the time of the death of John McDonald. And it appears that this son stayed in Bovina – there’s a Robert Post living up on Cape Horn Road in the 1850s, 60s and 70s.

Cornelius is harder to trace. There’s a Cornelius McDonald in Middletown in Delaware County in 1830, with what appears to be a wife and five children. In 1860, a Cornelius McDonald is living in Roxbury with his son John and his family. This Cornelius died of fits on June 11, 1863, age 68. This likely is the same Cornelius – the age and circumstances seem to fit, including the fact that he had a son named for his father.

So did Cornelius do it? Did he kill his father? All the evidence is circumstantial, but you can make a pretty decent case it was Cornelius. His testimony is inconsistent. If Jane pushed her father down the stairs and broke his neck, then how was it that he was then able to go to bed and get up in the night to ‘make water’ the night of his death? And why did he lie about his sister’s role in their father’s death, unless it was to point the finger away from himself? But the grand jury ultimately did not feel it could bring down an indictment for murder. The fact that they went after Cornelius for perjury maybe was seen as a way to at least punish him a little.

Other questions that come up include where did this crime happen and where is John McDonald buried? Unfortunately, I have not found the answer to either. My main evidence that the crime even happened in Bovina is the fact that the coroner's inquest took place in Bovina. It seems likely that it would happen where the crime took place. And while Bovina has very detailed information on its burials (see the cemetery listing on the Delaware County Genealogy website at the McDonald family does not show up.

So this crime that put Bovina in the papers around the country probably can never be proven as such. But it makes an interesting tale to tell.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Murder Most Foul and Unnatural - Part I

In the small hours of January 21, 1818, Mrs. Henrietta McNaught was awakened by someone pounding on the door of her home in what later became the Town of Bovina. There she found Cornelius McDonald, the son of her neighbors Mr. and Mrs. John McDonald, standing on her doorstep with the news that his father had died. He asked if she would come over. So she did, guided by a candle carried by Cornelius. When she arrived, she found a clean and dry house with a good fire – and the body of John McDonald lying in the middle of the bed.

The neighbors didn’t think much of the McDonald family. They quarreled often and the old man freely complained to anyone who would listen about how badly he was treated at home. He would go to neighbor’s homes to get a decent meal, claiming that he was being starved. Once, he ate so heartily at a neighbor’s to make up for the lack of food at home that he got sick. A visitor to the McDonald home during breakfast noted that the old man was outdoors and when he came in to ask for something to eat, he was given a piece of bread about the size of two fingers and told to go away, since he had already had breakfast. John McDonald also complained that his daughter Jane misused him and that he was scared of Cornelius. He claimed that Cornelius knocked him down and once held him so close to the fire he thought he would burn up. So when the old man did die, it started a run of gossip.

The gossip did not abate during the lying in and funeral. Several of the neighbors noted the odd angle of the John McDonald’s neck. One neighbor later testified that “the men nearly all withdrew from the house to consult relative to the funeral.” There was some debate about going through with the burial but they finally concluded to carry it out, trusting that at some point justice would prevail. Jane later reported that her brother Cornelius became quite nervous at this withdrawal of the men.

So the funeral took place and John McDonald was buried – but he did not rest in peace. Over the next three years, the surviving family members continued to quarrel and exchange accusations. It appears that much of it came to a head when their sister Lydia died in 1820. This led to accusations between Jane and Neal concerning the death of their father.

Exactly what triggered the coroner’s inquest is not clear, but obviously there was enough information to order the exhumation of the body of John McDonald in April 1821. And while McDonald was buried in Delhi, he was dug up in Bovina, the town having been created a little over two years after his death. His body was brought to the Bovina home of William Neish on April 27, 1821 where a corner's jury was convened. The report of the jury stated that "The body [was] laying on his back the head inclined on the left side. The membranes nearly decayed and a quantity of bloody matter about half way from his head to his shoulders attached to the neck bones. The other part of the Body (we suppose) as used as other persons which has been buried as long as the J. McDonald has been.

The result of the examination of John McDonald’s body bore out the comments about the odd angle of the head. The jury concluded that his neck had been broken before he died. It then adjourned until the next morning, meeting at Thomas Landon, Jr’s house in Lake Delaware. Over the next two days, testimony was taken relative to the death of John McDonald.

A number of the neighbors testified. Many of them reported the quarrels in the McDonald family and noted the odd angle of John McDonald’s neck at the funeral. None of them mentioned having witnessed any specific threats made by either Neal or Jane to their father, though the father had told neighbors he was scared of them.

Lewis Halstead reported a conversation with Mrs. McDonald in which she told him that when she was awaken by a noise the night John McDonald died that she found Cornelius outdoors walking and found the old man dead on the hearth. Halstead also testified that Mrs. McDonald said that she believed Cornelius had thrown his father down the stairs during the night, then carried him back upstairs to bed.

Cornelius and his mother and sister had differing viewpoints of the old man’s situation from that of the neighbors. And they also differed widely from each other in what happened. At times, the testimony almost reads as the transcript of a family argument happening right in court.

McDonald’s daughter, Jane Post, felt the family was taking good care of her father, but she did testify that her father was afraid Neal would kill him. She also claimed that Neal expressed a desire to have the “old man out of the way.” He had said that if his father worked as hard as he ate, he might be worth something. Jane also testified, though, that she never heard her brother directly threaten their father. And though she thought her brother had killed their father, having said so to her mother the day her father died, Jane never produced direct evidence of having seen her brother attack her father.

She did testify, however, that “I have heard Neal tell my mother that she should say nothing about breaking his neck and likewise has told me that he would thrash me if I should say anything about it.” She went on to say that “Cornelius has threatened my life and to wash his hands in my hearts blood” if she said anything.

Cornelius had a different story and testified not only that his sister had done the deed but that he saw her do it through an 8-inch crack in the floor. He claimed that his sister and father had quarreled that evening and that he saw her push him down the stairs or down a ladder. Neal said he carried his father upstairs. But according to Neal’s testimony, his father was well enough to request a bed by the hearth and wanted help later in the night to go to the bathroom.

Cornelius claimed the night his father died that the old man was not feeling well and after being put to bed got up and asked for a bed by the hearth. During the night he needed help to go out and ‘make water.’ Neal said later that night that he heard his father make a heavy breathing noise and so he asked ‘Dadda are you asleep.’ That’s when he thought he might be dead.

Jane and Cornelius’s mother, Christian, says she heard some kind of noise where her husband was sleeping and called up to her son, who was sleeping with his father that night, to find out if everything was all right. Cornelius called down that he thought his father was dead. She testified that she never saw Neal use any violence against his father other than to keep his father off him.

So the three family members in the house the night John McDonald died had conflicting stories. Jane reported that her mother thought Neal had done the deed, but Mrs. McDonald denied this. She also denied having said that she wanted her son back to face the gallows. When Jane was asked by the court why Cornelius was testifying against her she responded “I do not know, I supposed he wants to clear himself.”

After all the testimony, the jury decided that there was enough evidence of foul play, stating "[T]hat one Cornelius McDonald late of the town of Delhi but now of Ulster County … having the fear of God before his eyes and being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil … with force in and upon the body of the said John McDonald then and there being in the peace of God and the said people feloniously, violently and of his malice aforethought made an assault and that the aforesaid Cornelius McDonald with his hands or by some other violent means did dislocate the neck of said John McDonald of which said dislocation the said John McDonald then and there instantly died, and so the said Cornelius McDonald then and there feloniously killed and murdered the said John McDonald against the peace of the people of said State and their dignity.

The jurors went on to say “Jane Post of Colchester in the County of Delaware spinster was feloniously present at the time of the felony and murder aforesaid and was an accessory to the felony and murder aforesaid in manner aforesaid against the peace of the people of the said State and their dignity.”

Both Cornelius and Jane were carted off to jail in Delhi. The story of this alleged parricide was published in the Delaware Gazette in Delhi. It then appeared in numerous newspapers in places such as New York City; Saratoga; Pittsfield, MA; Woodstock, VT; Maine and even in Baltimore.

So what happened to Cornelius and Jane? Did they swing from the gallows, go to the hoosegow, or beat the rap? Stay tuned to this blog for the concluding installment of this story.