Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Searching for Erastus

I'm starting on a project that could take years, namely researching a gentleman named Erastus Root. Root was not a Bovina resident but is inextricably linked to its history as the person who named the town (see my blog post of November 22, 2009). This interest in Root was piqued after I finished reading Harvest of Dissent: Agrarianism in Nineteenth-Century New York by Thomas Summerhill (I highly recommend this - the focus is on Otsego, Schoharie and Delaware Counties). Root is mentioned a few times in this book in discussions on the politics related to farming. These references to Root and his political activities got me to wondering if maybe he had more to do with the creation of Bovina than just its name. Did he spur the various citizens in Stamford, Middletown and Delhi to break away to create the town? And if he did, why? What was in it for him? Maybe he was looking for another seat on the Delaware County Board of Supervisors. Root may have wanted that seat as part of his effort to ensure that rural areas did not suffer politically from the construction of the Erie Canal. As Summerhill noted in his book, "For Root, universal suffrage and the expansion of the number of elective offices would encourage voters in townships and counties to band together to promote their interests. Only then could rural districts battle canal towns for political power."

My thoughts about Root's involvement with the creation of Bovina are just speculation right now, but it has driven me to start some research. I went to Root's entry in The Encyclopedia of New York State, which gave me some basic information about Root. He was born in Hebron, Connecticut in 1773. He became a lawyer and started his practice in Delhi in the late 18th century. Over the years, he held a number of elected offices, including State Assemblyman, State Senator, and a term as Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1823-24. He served four non-consecutive terms as a Congressman, with his first term in 1803-05 and his last term in 1831-33. Root was Speaker of the Assembly in 1827, 28 and 1830. His last elected office was as State Senator from 1840 to 1844. Root's party affiliation changed, sometimes as the parties evolved, but at least once because he had changed. He was a Democratic-Republican when he first went to Congress and was a Jacksonian Democrat when he served his last term there. When he unsuccessfully ran again in 1838 for another term in the House, he ran as a Whig. Root had broken with the Jacksonian Democrats over concerns about President Jackson's dictatorial tendencies. Late in life, Root supported the anti-renters during the Anti-Rent War of the 1840s.

Root died somewhat unexpectedly in December of 1846. His funeral was a large event in Delhi, though inclement weather kept some people away. The Delaware Gazette in its January 6, 1847 issue reported extensively on Root's death and funeral, though politically the paper had been opposed to Root for several years, probably when he became a Whig. The paper itself noted that "although for some years past we have been politically opposed to him, we have always entertained a kind and grateful remembrance and feeling towards him..."

I'll provide periodic updates as I progress on my research about General Root. We'll see if ultimately I'll have a grateful remembrance and feeling towards him.

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