Captain Stephen Dexter .


"A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. Where be your jibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?


" Jaq. - Is not this a rare fellow? he's good at anything.

" Duke S . - He uses his fun like a stalking-horse, and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit." - SHAKSPERE.


ALLUSION has been made in several of the preceding chapters to Captain Stephen Dexter, who died in 1869, at the ripe age of seventy-five years. Captain Dexter, however, was for so many years a resident of Saratoga, and his early associations of so peculiar and interesting a character, that a more minute sketch of him may possess interest to those, at least, who from youth have come to regard Captain Dexter as identified with the village of Saratoga Springs.

Captain Dexter began life as a stage-driver, in or near the village of Herkimer, and was accustomed to relate many curious incidents of the old times when stage-coaches were the only public conveyance. It was in the days of the Great Turnpike from Albany to Buffalo; and the same kind of vehicles which Jason Parker started in 1794, and continued to use as late as 1820. A specimen of these coaches - similar to those that Dexter drove at this time - is here presented for the benefit of the curious reader.

The driver seen in the illustration evidently is not intended for the portly form of the Captain; at least, if it is so designed, he must when young have been an extremely attenuated lad!

Captain Dexter was from the first distinguished by energy as well as shrewdness, and an enterprising spirit was the first element of his prosperity. In fact, it would almost seem as if S.C. Goodrich (Peter Parley) had the "Captain" in his mind when he wrote the following: "There was no corner, no secluded settlement, no out-of-the-way place where he was not seen. Bad roads never deterred him. He could drive his horses and coach where a four-wheeled vehicle never went before. He understood bearings and distances as well as a topographical engineer, and would go whistling contentedly through a forest where he had not even a 'trail' to guide him. He could find fords and crossings where none were previously known to exist; and his pair of horses, by the skilful management of their driver, would carry him and his passengers across sloughs and swamps where a steam-engine would have been brought to a stand by the weight of a baby-wagon. If he broke his harness or his wagon in the wilderness, he could repair it without assistance, for his mechanical skill extended from the shoeing of a horse to the repair of a watch. He was never taken by surprise; accidents never came unexpected, and strange events never disconcerted him. He would whistle 'Yankee Doodle' while his horses were floundering in a quagmire, and sing 'Hail Columbia' while plunging into an unknown river. He never met a stranger, for he was intimately acquainted with a man as soon as he saw him. Introductions were useless ceremonies to him, for he cared nothing about names. He called, a woman 'ma'am' and a man 'mister,' and if they were good company he would never trouble himself or them with impertinent enquiries. When he had passed through a settlement once, he had a complete knowledge of all its circumstances, history, and inhabitants; and the next trip, if he met a child in the road, he could tell you whom it most resembled, and to what family it belonged. He recollected all who were sick on his last visit; what peculiar difficulties each was laboring under, and was always glad to hear of their convalescence. He gathered medicinal herbs along the and generously presented them to the house-wives when he halted, and he understood perfectly the special properties of each. He possessed also a great store of good advice, and distributed it with the disinterested benevolence of a philanthropist.

"Those were the days, moreover, of no 'expresses' and no general mails. The stage-driver was consequently not only called upon to execute commissions for the farmers' wives at the stores in Albany, but he was also the universal news-carrier, and was supposed to be able, and expected to tell all about movements of the whole world. He knew of every death, marriage, and birth within a hundred miles. He recollected the precise piece of calico from which Mrs. Jones bought her last new dress, and the veritable bit of lace with which Mrs. Smith trimmed her 'Sunday-go-to-meeting' bonnet. He knew, also, whose children went to meeting in 'store-clothes,' whose daughter was just putting on long dresses, and whose wife wore cotton stockings. He would laugh the husband into half a dozen shirts, flatter the wife into calico and gingham, and praise the children till both parents joined in dressing them anew from top to toe. What wonder is it, then; if he was a prime favorite with all the women, or that the appearance of himself and stage was a day of jubilee to both parents and children?"

But the stage-driver, like every other human institution, had his day, and the time soon came when he was forced to give way to the march of improvement. The country in Central New York grew densely populated, till shortly the smoke of one man's chimney could be seen from another's front door. People's wants began to be paramount - they were no longer content with transient supplies - they demanded something more constant and regular. Hence arose the little neighborhood stores, established at a central point, usually at a "cross-road," and these gradually superseded the stage-driver's function.

Such was the state of things when, about 1824, Captain Dexter left his old route and took a position under General Blanchard , {General Joshua T. Blanchard was born in 1801, at Alexander, New Hampshire. He was named after his maternal grandfather, Joshua Tolford, one of the largest landholders in the States. His father was Dr. Ahimaz Blanchard, of Brisilica, Mass. He came to Saratoga in 1820, and has resided here ever since. He was here in the days of Graudus Schronhoven and Samuel Drake, of Congress Hall. General Blanchard has, in his lifetime, been on terms of intimate acquaintance with many of our most distinguished men. He is still in a green old age, and is wont to relate the following anecdote of General Scott. The year before Scott's nomination, he was at Saratoga, and in the course of conversation General Blanchard said: "General, you had best injure your right arm in some way and hang it in a sling so you cannot write any letters." Scott, however, disregarding the advice of his old friend, wrote the "Hasty Plate of Soup Letter," and was defeated. The next year, meeting General Blanchard, he said: "General, it would have been well for me to have taken your advice.} as driver on the old "Redbird" line of stages then running between Saratoga and Schenectady; and it was with no little pride that he was wont to tell how he drove the first coach load of passengers up to the "United States Hotel," when it was opened, and how he always retained the friendship of Mr. LeRoy, of New York, who was one of the passengers in that coach. On the opening of the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad, and the consequent withdrawal of the stage line in 1832, he took a situation on the Utica and Schenectady Railroad. After a few years' service he returned to Saratoga and settled down in the livery business, which he continued successfully for nearly forty years. His son, William E., now walks in his father's steps - a reputable and respected citizen. {Thurlow Weed, writing in 1875, says: "I remember when a lumbering stage wagon, with canvas covering, running between Albany and Utica every other day, accommodated all the passengers between Albany and the far West. At that time there was no Syracuse, no Rochester.'}

Captain Dexter's youth, as has been stated, was passed in the County of Herkimer, in the beautiful valley of the Mohawk. His early playmates and school-fellows were Thurlow Weed, the venerable Theodore Faxon of Utica, the late James R. Westcott of Saratoga, Col. John H. Prentiss of the Cooperstown Freeman's Journal , and Col. William L. Stone, of the New York Commercial Advertiser . With all of these persons - although circumstances threw him into a different sphere of life - his relations were ever of a very pleasant nature; and most fortunate was that visitor who, having secured the services of the Captain for a drive, listened to the reminiscences of personal adventure and frolic with these distinguished men in boyhood. Many a time has Captain Dexter overthrown the late John H. Prentiss in a wrestling match; frequently, under General Morell, and side by side with Jason Parker, has he performed militia duty (hence his title) with

"Those gallant sons who shoulder guns,

And twice a year go out a training -"

armed with sticks, or, in default of those, with corn-stalks. Once Col. Prentiss and himself, returning from a husking-bee, fell through a hole in the decayed flooring of an old bridge across the Mohawk, and narrowly escaped with their lives; Thurlow Weed and Col. Stone, who were behind, guiding them with rails torn off the bridge to the shore. It was also Captain Dexter's custom often to run into the office of the Herkimer American (then edited by Col. Stone) and assist Mr. Weed (who was employed as apprentice) in pulling the presses and setting type. One incident is worthy of note.

Mr. Weed was at this time a Democrat. It happened that just before an election - there being no Democratic printing-press within several miles - Mr. Weed asked of his employer, Col. Stone, the privilege of using his press to strike off the Democratic tickets. This was good-humoredly granted by the Federalist editor, and the entire night was spent by the Democratic journeyman, assisted by Captain Dexter, in striking off tickets and hand-bills. Mr. Tweed was paid for his night's work five dollars, which, as he often remarks with pardonable pride, was the first five dollars he had ever earned. Whether he shared that sum with the Captain I have never enquired, but the probability is that some of the fruits were reaped by his assistant.

Captain Dexter possessed an extremely genial disposition, and, as I have stated, retained in a remarkable degree the affections of those who had outrun him in the race for worldly emolument and fame. The writer, who chanced to be present, well remembers the parting at the old depot between Captain Dexter and Mr. Weed on the occasion of the latter's departure from Saratoga in the summer of 1868. Mr. Weed is, as is well known, strong in his friendships, particularly those of his early youth, and as the Captain accompanied the old playfellow of his boyhood to the steps of the car; and shook his hand in farewell, tears stood in the eyes of each. Both seemed to feel that their parting was the last. Nor was it Mr. Weed alone who, on his return to Saratoga, missed the outstretched hand, and friendly grasp, and merry twinkle of the old Captain. Many of the old visitors, as they emerged from the cars on their return to Saratoga, have instinctly felt that the Saratoga of the present was not the Saratoga of the past; and, although they might not be able for the nonce to account for the feeling, yet if they chanced to learn of the Captain's death they at once traced in that fact the cause.



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