The Early Settlement of Ballston.


"Methinks I hear the sound of time long past

Still murmuring o'er me, and whispering in

The following pages - like the lingering voices

Of those who long within their graves have slept."


THE town of Ballston derives its name from the Rev. Eliphalet Ball, a Presbyterian clergyman, and third cousin of George Washington, who, in 1770, removed from Bedford, Westchester County, N.Y., and settled on what has since been the farm of the late Colonel Samuel Young, near the old "Academy Hill." A lot of five hundred acres, embracing this farm, was presented to him, as an inducement to settle by the proprietors of the "Five-Mile Square." This tract, comprising the present town of Ballston (except a small strip at the southern extremity), together with the "Five-Thousand Acre Tract" - now constituting the south part of Charlton - was set apart by Christopher Yates, John Glen, and Thomas Palmer, the Commissioners for making a partition and survey of the "Kayaderosseras Patent," "to defray the expenses thereof." They accordingly selected what, as after events proved, they correctly judged to be the most valuable land in the Patent.

Rev. Mr. Ball was accompanied by several of his congregation from Bedford, and also from Stamford, {It is worthy of note how many of the first settlers of Saratoga and Ballston came from this section of the country. - See Sketch of Waterbury .} the adjoining town into which his parish extended. He brought with him his three sons, Stephen, John, and Flamen, and a daughter Mary, who was afterwards married to General James Gordon, of Revolutionary fame. John, subsequently known as Colonel Ball, held a commission in Colonel Wynkoop's Regiment in the War of Independence, and, as lieutenant, marched out under General Arnold to the relief of Fort Stanwix. He thus identified himself with the primary cause of the downfall of British supremacy in America, since the raising of that siege gave to Gates and Arnold the chief troops by which they were enabled to conquer Burgoyne. He was also the first Supervisor of Milton (which was taken from Ballston in 1792), and represented Saratoga County in the Assembly of 1793-4. The first "meeting-house" in Ballston was erected under the auspices of Rev. Mr. Ball. It was afterwards known as the "Academy," and was demolished several years since - though the writer, who in his boyhood attended the school of Rev. Hiram W. Bulkley near by, still has a vivid remembrance of its antique appearance, and the traditions which, to the youthful mind, invested it with something of the supernatural. Rev. Mr. Ball died in 1795.

The only settlement that had been made when Mr. Ball arrived, was upon the "McDonald Farm," on the west bank of "Long Lake." Two brothers, Michael {It was this same one who, it will be remembered, piloted Sir Wm. Johnson, in 1767, to the High Rock Spring.} and Nicholas McDonald, natives of Ireland, were, when boys, enticed on board of a vessel in the Liffey, brought to Philadelphia, and there sold for a term of years to defray the expenses of their passage. {For a fuller exposition of this nefarious custom the reader is referred to Charles Reade's novel, The Lost Heir . The title of the McDonald farm is still on file at Albany. Sir William Johnson assisted them in procuring it; hence their aid to him.} In 1763, they "squatted" on this spot and made a clearing (afterwards, however, obtaining a deed), and were the only white residents nearer than those of the Mohawk Valley until the arrival of Rev. Mr. Ball. On the route of the McDonald boys from Schenectady, a point from which they started to penetrate the wilderness, they crossed a tract that had recently been burned by the Indians for a deer pasture. To it they gave the name of "Burnt Hills," a name which yet designates the southern part of Ballston, and where Michael McDonald lived to the hale old age of ninety-three, remaining on the farm until his death, which took place January 29, 1823.

Soon after the arrival of Rev. Mr. Ball and the members of his congregation, other settlers moved in from New England, New Jersey, Scotland, and the north of Ireland. Among those from New England were Beriah Palmer, Epenetus White, Nathan Raymond, Thomas and Jesse Smith, David How, Eliphalet Kellogg, Joseph Morehouse (father of the present Talcot Morehouse), Thaddeus Scribner, McDaniel, Edward A. Watrous, Capt. Stephen White, Paul Pierson, Capt. Tyrannus Collins, Hezekiah Middlebrook, Stephen and Enoch Wood, Thaddeus Betts, Elisha Benedict, John Higby, Edmund Jennings, Samuel Nash, Joseph Bettys, and his son "Joe Bettys," and afterwards the notorious partisan and marauder. The McCreas came from Leamington, New Jersey, as also Andrew Mitchell, Robert Speir and his two sons, Archibald and James, and the Frazers from Scotland. {Of this list Beriah Palmer was a representative in the Eight Congress, and a member of the New York Assembly from 1792 to 1796; Epenetus White was a Judge of the County Court; Edward A. Watrous was a member of the Assembly in 1800 and 1802; and Andrew Mitchell was also a member of Assembly in 1792. The McCreas were the brothers of Jane McCrea of Revolutionary fame. Thaddeus Scribner saw Burgoyne lay down his arms. He was a mail contractor from 1800 to 1832, carrying the mails from Schenectady to Ballston and Saratoga, and thence to Hadley and Luzerne. He carried the first mail ever taken to Saratoga, carrying it once a week, and daily for three months in a year to Ballston - the remaining months carrying if for four days in a week. He sometimes went with a carriage, taking passengers. "Uncle Thad," as he was called, used the old fashioned "postman's horn," and when he came in hearing, "There is Uncle Thad's horn," was a common expression. He was a Revolutionary soldier, and served under Col. Marinus Willet. Born in Fairfield County, Conn., he died at Ballston in 1845.} Several of the Scotch immigrants settled in the "Scotch Bush" north of the "Burnt Hills," while others located in "Paisley Street" (the road now leading from West Milton to Schenectady) so named in honor of their native town. General James Gordon {James Gordon had, for several years previously, been an Indian trader at Detroit and Schenectady. (See Stone's Life of Sir William Johnson, Bart .) He was born at Killead, County Antrim, Ireland, in 1739. During the American Revolution he held the commission of Colonel of militia and saw much active service. He was also a representative in the Second and Third Congress, a State Senator from 1797-1804, and a County Judge. He was likewise the first Supervisor of Ballston. He died there in 1810. The first death that occurred in Ballston (commemorated by a gravestone) is that of his mother "Martha, relict of Alexander Gordon," who died in 1775. She was the great-grandmother of the present Hon. George G. Scott, of Ballston. A sister of Gen. Gordon was the wife of Wm. McCrea, of Ballston, a brother of the unfortunate Jane McCrea. Miss McCrea also had another and older brother - Col. John McCrea - who resided at this time in Albany, and with whom she lived. At the time of her tragical death she was on a visit to Fort Edward.} George Scott, Francis Hunter, and the three Kennedy brothers were natives of the north of Ireland.

The Rev. Mr. Ball left a son - the late Colonel Ball - who was a remarkably intelligent man, and preserved to the end of his life an exceedingly retentive memory. In 1842, the late Theodore Dwight visited Ballston, and received from him some interesting reminiscences of the early days of the place. "At the time of my father's first coming to Ballston," said Colonel Ball to Mr. Dwight, "the low grounds near the Springs were covered with a forest, and the old Spring - the only one then known - was overflown by the brook when it was much swollen by the rain. {This Spring (afterwards known as the "Iron Railing Spring," and "The Public Well," was discovered in 1770 by Hon. Beriah Palmer while engaged in surveying the line between the XIV th Allotment and the "Five Mile Square" during the partition of the Kayaderosseras Patent. French's New York Gazetteer (1860) puts the date of its discovery a year earlier, viz., 1769. The date 1770, given to the author by Hon George G. Scott is, however, probably the correct one.} The deer used to come and lick at the Spring, and I have been there in my youth to ambush and shoot them. It was not uncommon, then, to meet deer when looking for stray cattle; and the Indians often came from Oneida to hunt in bodies of two or three hundred. No Indians, however, had their residence in this vicinity. My father, at an interview with Sir William Johnson, heard from him the particulars of the wound which he received at the battle of Lake George in 1755, which was in the front part of the thigh, and remained open until he died. I dined with him in a large marquee pitched on the level border of Ballston Lake. Near the same place was the log-cabin of the McDonalds, who had settled there about seven years before my father's arrival. {Writing still further upon Ballston, Mr. Dwight continues: "A few years ago a small image of a man made, I think, of bone, with garnets for eyes, was found near Ballston Lake, bearing a strong resemblance, in form and appearance, to those that have been taken from some of the Western mounds, and tending to confuse us still more in our conjectures about the origin of the former inhabitants of this part of the country." - Summer Tours , by Theodore Dwight.}

For a long time after the discovery of the Spring, the accommodations for visitors were of the poorest description. In 1790, Elkanah Watson, writing of his visit to Ballston in that year, says: "From Saratoga I proceeded to Tryon's, a low, one-story tavern on a hill in Ballston. At the foot of this hill I found an old barrel with the staves open, stuck into the mud in the midst of a quagmire, surrounded by trees, stumps, and logs. This was the Ballston Spring. {This agrees with Mrs. Dwight's account. - See Chapter III .} I observed two or three ladies walking along a fallen tree to reach the fountain, and was disgusted to see as many men washing their loathsome sores near the barrel. There was also a shower-bath, with no protection except a bower of bushes. Tryon's was the only public-house, no buildings having been erected below the hill. The largest number of visitors at one period, the past summer, had been ten or twelve, and these were as many as could be accommodated." {Compare this statement with the following extract from the Ballston Spa Gazette of August 12, 1822: "There are at present in the village, the Spanish minister, Chevalier de Anduaga and suite; the British minister, Mr. Canning and suite; and the ex-king of Spain, Joseph Bonaparte and suite. His excellency Governor Clinton and the other Canal Commissioners had a meeting in this village last week."} Fifteen years, however, produced a change in the surroundings of Ballston almost as marvellous as any ever wrought by Aladdin's lamp. In 1805 Mr. Watson again visited Ballston, of which visit he writes as follows:

"We left Albany on the 19 th of August, and the ensuing day reached the "Sans Souci,' in Ballston, amid scenes of elegance and gayety. We seated ourselves at a sumptuous table, with about one hundred guests of all classes, but generally, from their appearance and deportment, of the first respectability, assembled here from every part of the Union and from Europe, in the pursuit of health or pleasure, of matrimony or of vice. The is the most splendid watering-place in America, and scarcely surpassed in Europe in its dimensions and the taste and elegance of its arrangement. The building contains almost one hundred apartments, all respectably furnished. The plan upon which it is constructed, the architecture, the style of the outbuildings, and the gravel walks girded with shrubbery - are all on a magnificent scale. What a contrast has the progress of fifteen years, since I was here in 1790, produced! Where the 'Sans Souci' {The "Sans Souci" was built in 1803 by Andrew Berger, a French refugee, after the design of the palace at Versailles, and opened by him in 1804. In 1849 it passed into the hands of John W. Fowler, who occupied it until 1853 as a "State and National law school." In 1854 it was re-opened as a hotel, and under several managers remained such until 1862, when it was converted into the "Sans Souci Ladies' Seminary." It is now (1875) again kept as a hotel. Its hospitable roof has sheltered John C. Calhoun, Martin Van Buren and his son Prince John, R. Barnwell Rhett the elder, General Wool, Franklin Pierce, J. Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, Commodores Hill, Decatur and McDonough, General Dix, Charles O'Conor, Bishop B.T. Onderdonk, Jerome Bonaparte, Louis Napoleon, then an obscure princeling, and many others well known in the world's history. While the law school had an existence, its walls echoed the brilliant rhetoric and burning eloquence of Henry Clay, as he delivered his memorable address to a graduating class, and through them, for the last time, to the young men of America. Here also, in 1857, on the anniversary of the nation's independence, while a guest at the hotel, the veteran statesman William L. Marcy closed his useful life, dying suddenly in his room alone, of heart disease. - E.R. Mann's Ballston Past and Present .} now stands, was then almost an impenetrable quagmire, enveloped in trees, and deformed by stumps and fallen logs. A single, one-story house, situated upon the hill which overlooked this desolate valley, was the only public accommodation, and, although at the height of the season, was occupied by six or eight families.

"In the evening we attended a ball in a spacious hall, brilliantly illuminated with chandeliers, and adorned with various other appliances of elegance and luxury. Here was congregated a fine exhibition of the beau monde . A large proportion of the assembly was from the Southern States, and distinguished by their elegant and polished manners. In the place of the old-fashioned country dances and four-hand reels of Revolutionary days, I was pleased to notice the advance of refined customs, and the introduction of the graces of Paris in the elegant cotillion and quadrille. At table I was delighted in observing the style and appearance of the company, males and females intermixed in the true French usage of sans souci . The board was supplied with the luxuries of more sunny climes. There was a large display of servants, handsomely attired, while the music of a choice band enlivened the festivities. In the afternoon we arrived at Congress Hall, in Saratoga. This is a large hotel, three stories high, with galleries in front but far inferior to the 'Sans Souci' in dimensions and appearance. {My attention was first directed to this Journal of Mr. Watson by Dr. A.W. Holden, of Glen's Falls, N.Y., to whom I am greatly indebted for important suggestions.}

In the matter of baths, also, the village soon improved. In 1828, James Stewart, an English traveller, who is quoted at length in Chapter XV ., visited Ballston and wrote as follows:

"On the 31 st of October we changed our quarters from Saratoga Springs to Ballston Spa, in a pleasant situation, in a hollow surrounded on all sides by high grounds. The Kayaderosseras, a small river, runs through the village, which contains 800 or 1000 people.

"There are only two great hotels here, the 'Sans Souci,' which is on the largest scale, and Mr. Aldridge's. {This house was built in 1797, and kept for several years by Benijah Douglas, the grandfather of the great Illinois senator.} There are several small hotels and boarding-houses. The baths are as good as at Saratoga Springs. We are in the boarding-house of Mrs. Macmaster, one of the most comfortable we have seen in this country. The house is managed by herself, two daughters, and a little girl. Everything good of its kind; poultry, the best that we have met with; dinners well cooked, and coffee as well prepared as by the best restaurateurs in the Palais Royal. The charge, four dollars per week. But this is not the gay season, when the rate is of course greater.

"There is nothing to find fault with, excepting that now, when the nights are becoming cold, the beds are without curtains, and the bed-rooms barely furnished. Mr. Brown, an attorney and counsellor here, and an exceedingly well informed man, is a permanent border in the house. {This Mr. Brown afterward married one of these "two daughters." He was Anson Brown, an alumnus of Union College, and was elected to Congress as a Whig, in 1838, over Nicholas Hill, Jr., the Democratic candidate. He died in 1840. His widow and daughter yet (1875) reside at Ballston.} Law-suits are very cheaply and expeditiously brought to a conclusion in the County Court - so cheaply that legal means of redress are, really and truly, equally open to all. Mr. Brown was a day absent while we were here, attending an inquest of lunacy on a person of some property. The whole expense of the proceedings from beginning to end, in which lunacy was established, would not, he said, cost above sixty dollars - a sum differing too widely from the 8000, the amount of taxed costs in the recent proceedings for establish Lord Portsmouth's mental incapacity, not to furnish matter for serious reflection. There is too much truth in the statement of the ruinous expenses of law proceedings in England which a lady of high rank, in one of her late novels, put into the mouth of a man of wealth, who was seeking for some means of revenge against an individual to whom fortune had not been so bountiful. 'Right or wrong, is it not your opinion that I can force him to law with me, and so ruin him? Nothing is easier than that.'

"There is an Episcopal Church here. The clergyman has an establishment for educating young men [Dr. Babcock]. A person belonging to his church died while we were here, in consequence of swallowing a poisonous drug, instead of the medicine ordered by the physician, and was buried in the same way as in the case mentioned at Saratoga Springs. The funeral was not on a Sunday; but there was a previous sermon in the church."

The settlement was for some time known as the Ball Town District, and when organized into a town of Albany County in 1775, by the name of Ball's Town, it embraced the towns of Ballston, Milton, Charlton, Galway, Providence, Edinburgh, Day, Hadley, and most of Greenfield and Corinth. The town remained undivided until 1792, when it was subdivided into four towns, viz., Ballston, Milton, Galway, and Charlton - the other towns above mentioned being subsequently taken from Milton and Galway.



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