Samuel Waterbury: His Revolutionary Services, and Settlement in Saratoga Springs .


"And boldly for his country, still

In battle he had stood."

SCOTT, The Gray Brother .



"The old man would shake

His years away, and act his young encounters;

Then having showed his wounds, he’d sit him down,

And all the livelong day discourse of war."

JOHN HOME, Douglas .


SARATOGA SPRINGS is remarkable in that quite a number of its early settlers were persons who, after figuring prominently in the Border Wars of the American Revolution, sought within her borders a peaceful home in which to spend the evening of life. Of such a character was the father of the late Amos Stafford, of Stafford’s Bridge, whose adventures have been related at length in the preceding chapter, and of such, also, was Samuel Waterbury, one of the early pioneers of Saratoga, to whose early history the present sketch will be devoted.

Samuel Waterbury, who was the son of Josiah and Mary Waterbury, the uncle of Nathaniel H. Waterbury, Sen., and the grand-uncle of Edward, Frank, and Nathaniel H. Waterbury, Jr., was, in his youth, a resident of Stamford, Conn. Of a strong, patriotic spirit, his feelings were early enlisted, in the Revolutionary struggle, on the side of his country. His athletic frame, imbued with an indomitable spirit, made him in the War for Independence a conspicuous mark for the assaults of the "Cow-Boys" – a scourge of the border composed of the worst elements of society, viz.: the Tories and "certain lewd fellows of the baser sort," whose sole aim was rape, robbery, and murder. The country between White Plains and Stamford, embracing part of that which is now Westchester County, was, as is well known, a kind of neutral ground (since made famous by Cooper), on which in apparently insignificant skirmishes the fate of the empire was well-nigh decided. Here it was that Putnam (an ancestor of the original builder and owner of the Grand Union) took his famous horse-back ride, near Norwalk, down a rocky declivity, pursued by Tories and Indians; and here, also, Governor Tryon laid in ashes Fairfield – a village which well might have been in Goldsmith’s mind when he wrote of "Auburn, loveliest village of the plain."

It happened during this period, and when faction was at its fiercest, that a party of Cow-Boys captured and ensconced themselves in a house near Stamford. Samuel Waterbury, at the head of a volunteer band, sallied forth, and drove them from their place of refuge. As the enemy fled, pursued by several ineffectual shots, one of the companions of Waterbury exclaimed, "Sam, why don’t you fire?" I don’t wish to waste my powder," was the reply. At that moment one of the British fell on the ice, when "Sam" at once put a ball through his head. A week or so after this encounter, information was received that a party of Cow-Boys were coming up an estuary of the Sound, after cattle and supplies generally. Waterbury and his friends lay in wait, and as the boat approached the others discharged their pieces, but without effect. Waterbury then fired, and apparently with execution, since a voice in the boat cried out, "He is killed!" Thereupon, the crew of the boat paddled away, and fled down the creek. This timely defence saved the settlement from serious loss, but at the expense of Waterbury’s hearing (as will appear hereafter), for as the enemy dropped down the stream, one of them delivered a parting shot which took effect in his knee, inflicting a very painful if not dangerous wound.

Scarcely had the wound healed, when one evening found Waterbury in the woods hunting after some strayed cattle. A party of Cow-Boys, who had, as it afterward appeared, been hovering in the vicinity for several days – waiting for this very opportunity – coming up from behind, seized and bound his arms with the bridle which he had with him for the purpose of securing the cattle. Rejoicing that they had at length secured such a formidable antagonist, and one, too, who had become the object of their bitterest hate, they drove him before them, scourging him with thongs, and taunting him with everything that their malice could suggest. By super-human effort he escaped from his tormenters and climbed a tree, only, however, to be again captured and subjected to worse usage than before. Finally, he again broke away from them, and this time successfully, when, arousing the neighbors, he in turn became the pursuer, capturing nearly the entire party.

By such feats as these Mr. Waterbury was a perpetual terror to the British, and continued to be so until the close of the war, notwithstanding the large rewards which were offered for his capture. Indeed, it is not perhaps too much to say that it was partly through his influence and prowess, as well as to his singular facility in ferreting out and thwarting the designs of the Cow-Boys, that the south-eastern portion of the State escaped with so little injury, comparatively, during the war.

At its close, Samuel, with his brother William – the latter of whom had previously resided a little time at East Line – came to Saratoga Springs, influenced in the same manner as was Amos Stafford, by exaggerated reports of the productiveness of the soil. {As a comparison between the price of real estate then and now, it may be stated that William Waterbury purchased a farm of one hundred acres lying south of what is now Congress Street, in the west part of the village, for which he paid $3.25 per acre! Tempora mutantur !} Samuel bought a piece of land which had been owned by Benjamin Risley, and afterward by Silas Duel, but subsequently sold it to Frederick Ellsworth, and removed to Chautauque County. A part of the house on the north side of Congress Street, a little west of the rail-road, and now owned and occupied by Mr. Jonathan Pitney as a boarding-house, is the original building erected by Samuel Waterbury. William, his brother, made agriculture his main business; and in the winter he employed himself in hauling lumber from the surrounding pineries to the Hudson River. {When William Waterbury first reached this country he owed the man who moved him seven dollars, and had but two dollars and a half with which to pay him. He also owned a mowing scythe and a pocket-knife. From such small beginnings he rose to be a respected and comparatively wealthy citizen of the village. He was elected to the office of Constable, which at that day was much more elevated that that of Sheriff is now. This office he filled continuously for eleven years. Full of years and honors, like a "shock of corn fully ripe," he died on the 16 th of July, 1843.}

Allusion has been made in the first part of this sketch to the wound which Mr. Samuel Waterbury received from the shot of a Cow-Boy. The wound, though it soon healed, produced a fever, and a certain condition of the nervous system, which eventually resulted in Waterbury becoming completely deaf. Such was his condition when, in the summer of 1807, President Dwight, in passing through Saratoga, called on him, and elicited the following remarkable facts. President Dwight says:

"I had, while here [Saratoga], an interesting opportunity of witnessing to what a surprising degree the acuteness of one sense may be increased by the loss of another. A respectable farmer, Samuel Waterbury by name, though entirely deaf, possessed the faculty of conversing readily and correctly with others by watching the motion of their lips – so that scarcely a suspicion of his deafness could be entertained. I conversed with him some time without difficulty, often speaking in the lowest whisper, and standing at a considerable distance, as a trial of his skill. He informed me that his deafness arose from a hurt he had received, which terminated in a fever of some continuance. After his recovery, being one day before a looking-glass, and accidently speaking, his eye was arrested by the motion of his lips; and the thought struck him that he might, by observing these motions in himself and others, enjoy once more the pleasures of conversation. He immediately began the experiment, first learning the articulation of letters and words of one syllable, and then proceeding to those of more difficult pronunciation. After two years of laborious attention to the subject, he at length succeeded. When I saw him, his utterance was clear and distinct, and his articulations generally correct. This latter circumstance is somewhat remarkable, as he has not heard sound for fourteen years. This recital will not be altogether useless should it prove the means of encouraging any who are deaf to attempt the acquaintance of an art which can in a good degree restore them to one of the sweetest enjoyments of life." {It may be of interest for some to know the President Dwight states that the ancient town of Saratoga, which then included the township of Fairfield (a township six miles south of Glenn’s Falls), Northumberland, and Moreau, contained in 1794 3,071 inhabitants. In 1800, the town of Saratoga proper had 2,481, and Northumberland 2,007. In 1815, Dwight was again at Saratoga at the close of the season, at which time he says that "the Springs had been visited by two thousand persons." This number he appears to think marvellous!}

Whether this narrative of President Dwight eventually found its way to France and so gave rise to a similar idea, I know not. But within the last few years an institution has been started in Paris, the object of which is to make the deaf hear and speak on the very same principle first discovered and practised by Samuel Waterbury!



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