Nelson Hull
Reminiscences
of Nelson Hull


Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

"By the loss of my mother, in infancy, I was adopted into my grandfather's family, Peter Hull, son of Daniel Hull, who was ten years old when his father moved into this country. In my affections I knew no other parents, calling them father and mother, and living with them to the day of their death. From him I received most of my information in relation to their suffering in those early times. My father, as I ever called him, was one of those sober, dispassionate men. strictly an evevy-day Christian, and adoring his Saviour God to the day of his death. I never dared to harbor a doubting thought in regard to the truth of any assertion that fell from his lips. He has often, when in my childhood, and much later, given me the account of the early sufferings and later and better days. Also from his brother, the Rev. J. Hull, and D. Hull, Jr., I learned much. They seldom made him a visit but the conversation turned upon their days of deprivation. He scarce ever spoke of these times and things but the tears flowed from his eyes.

"When they (D. Hull and family) arrived at their new home, their provisions were nearly consumed. Means must be taken to replenish their store. This, from a howling wilderness, was a poor market to look for stores for subsistence. Bears and deer and other game roamed in the forest. The brooks were alive with trout, but they wanted time to take it. Every moment must be employed to clear up the lands to raise grain for bread, and increase their store of the necessities of life. Corn they bought of the Dutch, in the Brimmer neighborhood. To get it ground they were necessitated to carry it on horseback to a mill near the Federal stores, now West Nassau. Nearly the whole of this way was dense forest; the roads consisted of nothing but paths most of the way. The distance was full twenty miles, and it ususally required about three days to make one of those mill journeys. In the course of three years a highway was opened to Williamstown, Mass.; the distance was shortened, but it often took three days to get a grist ground there and home. There was no mill in the valley of the Hoosick until the year 1779 or '80. This was erected by a Mr. Trial, and afterward called Bates Mill.

"They had no milk, butterr, or meat, except occasionally some wild game. They got buttermilk of the Dutch. On this and corn-bread the mostly lived. The second year they had a small crop of wheat and purchased a cow. Fare was a little better. The cow had to be turned into the woods to get her living; if she roamed too far away that they could not find her, the family went to bed without their supper, or supped on dry bread, which was often the case, and the cows and other stock browsed in winter. The second year they also raised some pork. The means for raising or fattening was almost wholly on wild nuts for several years. The little store of pork laid in was generally consumed at an early day in the spring, if not long before. When spring opened, they commenced making sugar from the maple. To make up for milk, which they seldom had at this season, they substituted sap porridge. Several dishes were seasoned with this beverage (maple-sugar); it also took the place of butter. The facilities for making it were such they could obtain but little. The sugar seldom lasted longer than the spring months; ho- the remainder of the year milk and bread served them for food.

"They suffered much from the cold; it was not uncommon to rise in the morning with their beds covered with snow, to the depth of several inches. Their houses were open and their furniture consisted of few articles of the simplest kind. Their outside clothing consisted of flannel or linsey-wool, in fashion not dissimilar from a hunting-coat; a jacket of the same, if they could get one; short breeches, almost invariably of leather, either buckskin or sheep, shoes and stockings.

"There were no factories or mills to card wool or dress cloth. Fulling-mills were in use, but none existed in these parts for some years. The first fulling-mill in this place was on the Swamp Creek, west of Cherry Plain Hill, near the Bailey orchard, built by Mr. Ludington. The wool taken from the sheep, it was carded, spun, and woven, also fulled; this was done by pounding in a trough or barrel, in the usual way of pounding clothes at the present day; lastly, cut and made by their wives and daughters. I am led to believe there were not many pianos or guitars for their wives or daughters to amuse themselves with, in the early times, in the valley of the Hoosick.

"I will relate an anecdote or two that will, perhaps, show something of the simplicity of character and the times in which these pioneer fathers and mothers lived. I received them from my father. In the neighborhood of three years after their settling in this place (D. Hull's) they succeeded in raising the second cow. His mother often spoke of it in after-times, and said the richest she ever felt in her life was when they came in possession of two cows; she had applied her needle to making linens for the Dutch settlement, receiving a pound of butter for the garment. This had been the amount of luxury experienced in her family of eight or nine children. But her churning hopes were soon blasted. The cow was turned into the woods, a limb fell from a tree and killed her.

"Another time, after they had increased their number of cows to several, in consequence of their grazing in the woods where a bulbous plant grew in certain localities which the cows were fond of, but impregnated the milk with a strong taste, that spoiled the use of it. The early inhabitants were often compelled to dispense with the use of it for several days at a time. At one time, when the family had been deprived of the use of the milk for several days unexpectedly, his mother (Mrs. Hull) procured some blackberries, and made a pie without any of those seasoning ingredients now in use. When the family came from their day's labor the pie was served up. I have heard my father speak of this in his last days, and say it was the best food, to his taste, he ever ate in his life.

"Their market was Sohodack Landing or Castleton. In consequence of the poor roads the market could be reached only in winter, with a sleigh. The inhabitants, for several years, seldom made the journey, except when compelled to for want of salt (this article was very dear) and a few other indispensables. The little trade carried on, or currency in use among the inhabitants of the valley, was wheat. Barter was the trade. There was no store in the country till 1778. This was opened by Joseph Westcoat, N. Slephentown (now), and where the house of Mrs. R. Dennison Jones afterwards stood. The next by James Jones, 1783, at Sweet's Corners, now South Berlin.

By the year 1775 many Yankee families had settled in the Valley, and the adjoining hollows east of the Hoosic Valley. The axe and falling trees were heard in every direction. The curling smoke above the lofty forest pointed out the cot of additional new settlers in every direction.

"These lands were all Manor lands, belonging to tho Van Rensselaer family. The first occupants of these lands had no rents to pay for the first ten years; after, was imposed the usual rent ten bushels of wheat per hundred acres. All held by leases, with few exceptions.

"The state of society at so early a date as 1775 or the morals, I can say little of; but I would suppose these pioneers found something else to do besides frolicking; and as for spendthrifts, they had nothing to spend. There were no schools till three or four years after the first Yankee settlers came in. The first school-house was built of logs near the present dwelling of Hezekiah Hull. This was burnt. The next school-house was on Cherry Plain Hill (about twenty five rods south of the house of Philo Hull). This was built probably about the year 1776. The first frame school-house was built 1790; stood on the east side of the road, a short distance south of Berlin Centre.

"The early inhabitants were mostly Presbyterians. The first assembling for Christian worship was at the house of Daniel Hull. The meeting was addressed by S. Smith, a Presbyterian licentiate. Those meetings continued at intervals for several years in and about the neighborhood. S. Smith died a few years later; was buried in the Hull burying-ground. The first regular minister of the gospel was the Rev. Mr. Barns, who resided at South Hoosick, now North Stephentown, and was a Baptist. A reformation followed his services. This was near the close of the Revolutionary war. A Baptist church organized, and a log house of worship erected near the line of now Berlin and Stephentown, on the main or west road.

"The Seventh-Day Baptists organized a church in a few years after the before-mentioned organization, W. Coon, their preacher.

"The first settled minister in Berlin was Justus Hull, ordained about the year 1784. Elder Wm. Satterlee was also ordained a few years after, and chosen pastor of the Seventh-Day Baptist church.Those two ministers the former of the regular Baptist continued in the pastoral care of the two churches most of the time till the death of the former (J. Hull), which took place, at the advanced age of seventy-eight in 1833. The latter (Wm. Satterlee) till age impaired the intellect.

"The first frame house of worship was the old Baptist church; stood on the ground where is now the burying-ground, on the farm of David Dennison.

"The inhabitants of this country, for several years after they commenced as a neighborhood, knew but little of laws, or of officers to put them in execution. The officers were a vigilance committee of three, chosen by the people. They were empowered with nearly the same privileges as a magistrate of the present time, probably not quite as limited, acting as judge and juror in most csses. I am told there was no colonial law that made any specification for such committee, but a general choice and consent of the people appointed Daniel Hull and James Dennison (the third I cannot ascertain) a vigilant committee In the year 1775, or near that time. Those were the officers invested with the civil laws of the Iand. I have been told the only article in their code of laws that invested and governed their judicial proceedings was the article that a contained the word just, simplified right. These officers counseled and devised ways and means, --if necessary, in concert; if not, individually.

"These enterprising pioneers had all along been almost wholly engaged in thought and power, in bringing their wild lands into a state of cultivation, providing for their families, and making their homes more comfortable for future days. But a new field was opening up about this time, 1775, that called them from their domestic cares. The oppressive taxation of the Mother Country (England) began to agitate this country. The fire caught in the breasts of those pioneers of the valley; the call began to whisper in the distance, to Arms! It drew nearer till the inhabitants of the Valley of the Hoosick were called to come together.

"I will relate an anecdote showing the interest these pioneers felt for the freedom of their country. I do not relate it here on account of the circumstance of itself, for it may appear incredible to many, but showing the zeal for the cause of freedom.

"The morning of the battle of Lexington, at the first gray, Daniel Hull rose from his bed full of anxiety and interest in the alarming times, left his house and began pacing the lawn in front. About the time of sunrising, his ear was saluted with the sound of a cannon; and, as he often related it in after-years; 'That sound was something more than the promiscuous discharge of a cannon. It struck my ear with a loud impression, The war has commenced!' When breakfast was ready he was called. He came, but could not eat; from his breast heaved constant sighs. He related the hearing of the cannon, declaring it was at Boston, and for the alarming of volunteers to come together for battle; saying, 'This day begins the war, and the falling of many of our countrymen for Liberty.' He continued through the day to walk, exhibiting the same depressed spirits.

"At this time it was almost a dense wilderness, all of Western Massachusetts, and cannon were found only at the more populous towns. It was two or three weeks before the news of that day arrived, when circumstances proved it, to him, to be more than conjecture.

''Soon after, hearing of the battle of Lexington, in which seven men of the Americans were killed, casting a general gloom and mourning through the country, the inhabitants of the valley and adjoining neighborhoods assembled at the house of Daniel Hull. This was the first public-house in the boundaries of now Berlin, a log-house, on the ground where stands the house of David Hull, and in council began to devise what must be done to meet the alarming crisis. There had been no military company ever formed in these parts; but now the times required it, was the decision of the council. Boundary-lines were specified for a military company district. The line dividing the north from the south was at the foot of Cherry Plain Hill. The north was the central of the town of Petersburg, east and west as far as the inhabitants extended from the valley at that time. Officers chosen the captain's name I cannot learn; be did not reside here-abouts. Samuel Shaw, lieutenant; the command devolved on him, and he was soon after promoted to captain. Capt. Shaw enlisted heart and interest in the cause, volunteering his services without pay or recompense for the freedom of his country. In later times be was promoted to a colonel, which title he generally bore to the day of his death.

"A company was formed south of the line specified, and James Dennison chosen captain. Capt. Dennison was zealous, enlisting his every power in the independence of his country. Was in several campaigns.

"He caught the smallpox in the army, returned to his home, Cherry Plain Hill, and died much lamented. As a neighbor, soldier, and officer he was beloved. From this time, 1775, began every man, for the cause of freedom, to prepare his gun and be in readiness for the call. Some left, enlisted during the war, or a term; others remained at home, in readiness whenever the country required their services.

"There were many Tories in and about the country; it became necessary to keep a garrison. One was generally stationed at the house of D. Hull through the Revolutionary war. Many stories have been related of the taking of the Tories and the executing of sentences; which generally consisted of whipping, haltering, and taking away their arms, and such means as they had to assist the English; sometimes banishment, etc.

"When the Declaration of Independence was received, the inhabitants through the country assembled al tho house of D. Hull, to hear it read and counsel for future action. The military formed in line on the ground, now the door-yard in front of Benjamin L. Hull's house. Here D. Hull read that Declaration for the first time, publicly in the Valley of the Hoosick. After the reading, he then says, 'I am one to sustain this Declaration.' Requesting the commanding officer (I think Capt. Shaw) to order his rank to open to the right and left, which was accordingly done, he (D. M.), stepping forth between the two lines, requested all that would sustain the Declaration to follow him. Seeing an exciting stir and smile from the soldiers, looking behind himself, be saw his wife, who had joined in line of march, acknowledging her services should not be withheld in sustaining that Declaration of Independence. Every man joined in this line of march, as volunteers in the cause of Liberty and Independence. It is said the reading of the Declaration and the exercises were affecting, and a deep sense of the importance of the cause and the trust pervaded the heart of every individual present.

"Much deprivation and suffering was in every part of the country. Every able bodied man was serving his country, either at home or abroad. The lands were neglected, families left in want, but all was with a willing heart for Independence. The women did not withhold; they applied their hands to the tilling of the lands, etc., to keep a starving family alive, and a famishing soldier.

"At the surrender of Burgoyne many of the soldiers of this section were present, but stationed on the east side of the Hudson River, as a guard to the English crossing. Who was the commander I can't learn, neither the names of but two of the soldiers, D. Hull and son, Hezekiah. At the battle of Bennington (in 1777), which took place a few days before the surrender of Burgoyne, James Jones (the major) and Isaac Hood were sent out as scouts, and were in the above engagement; also others whose names I have not ascertained. On the return of the soldiers, or the news of the surrender of Burgoyne, the rejoicing can be better imagined than my pen can write. Every expression of joy was manifested that could be conceived of through this valley and the country. James Jones was also at Ticonderoga, Col. Ethan Allen commander, and one of the garrison afer Allen left. (This was in 1775.) In the Revolution, when the militia was called into service, the captain took command of half the company half the time, and the lieutenant the other half and time. In the manoeuvre of the British to clear the road for Burgoyne, from Canada to Albany, an attack was made on Fort Edward in the early part of the season, 1777. A company from the valley of the Hoosick was called to the scene of action, Lieut. Bentley in command. While stationed there or near, a scout was sent out to reconnoiter. Shortly they heard reports of fire-arms. Col. Van Rensselaer rode into camp about the time of the report (of scout), and called for volunteers; wanted none but volunteers. Lieut. Bentley refused to go, saying he was a lame man. Only two men of his company volunteered, Isaac Hoard and Justus Hull.* They marched to the scene of action, four miles north of Fort Edward. Col. Van Rensselaer ordered every man to shelter himself behind a tree. The British and Indians were designing to surround them in the thick woods. But few shots were made, when Col. Van Rensselaer said. 'The Red-Coats have shot my leg all to pieces.' J. Hull being near him, went to his relief, found his thigh broken, set him up against a tree, and returned to his post. Soon the colonel called for his officers. Hull replied there was none to be seen. The colonel repeated the call. Hull replied again, 'None to be seen, colonel.' 'We shall be surrounded by the Red-Coats. You take the command, and order your men to flank to the right and left, and charge.' Hull sprang upon a log, and gave the word of command, thirty men flank to the right and thirty to the left, charge bayonet, and rush. The men obeyed to a man, although there was but about thirty in all. This maneuvre put the enemy to flight. They pursued them near two miles, and then returned to the wounded. Hull ordered a litter to be constructed, and was one of six men that assisted in bringing in the colonel to the fort. (J. Hull was twenty years old at the time.)

"Some four years after, Col. Van Rensselaer, then holding a general's commission, intended to promote Hull to a colonel, inquiring after him (that smooth-faced Hull), and being informed that he had become a preacher of the gospel, he said he was d n sorry, for he wanted to make a colonel of him.

"I have heard the Rev. J. Hull tell the story, and say, 'When the colonel gave me that order I only held a second sergeant's warrant, but I felt as though the whole command devolved on me.'

"Towards the close of the war a garrison was stationed in the neighborhood of Berlin village, in consequence of many Tories in that region and farther north, that were committing frequent depredations on the inhabitants.

"Much might be said, and many more anecdotes told of these Revolutionary times, but I believe a sufficient has already been said to show that the inhabitants of the Hoosick were not idle spectators or lacking in interest or courage, or did not bear their quota in these war-times.

"At last the news of the event of Oct. 18, 1781, began to sound in the distance. The capture of Yorktown, Lord Cornwallis and army, came as a messenger of glad tidings to this long-anxious and care-worn people. In the exultation of the closed victory and the happy prospect of peace, with the mingling emotions ol past suffering and dangers, none could tell the depth of joy, with the streaming tears that flowed from the eyes of many of those patriots and families, whose toils in war had been for the seven years a bitter cup. The time had arrived when the echo of the discharge of the cannon at the disbanding of the army struck the hill-sides bordering the Valley of the Hoosick, and swept along the vale, informing the inhabitants their sword and gun were no longer required -- they could again return to the brightening of the ploughshare and the cultivation of their lands. With cheerful hearts these enterprising patriots turned from the war-camp to their fields to the breaking up of the fallow ground and the sowing of the wheat. The wild brier and the thistle that had long grown in the gardens were uprooted, and the vegetable and flower again grew in its place.

"The old vigilance committee no longer acted under the new government; new officers were chosen, The first magistrate in these parts was D. Hulll. He was one of three that was appointed in what is now Rensselaer County, which was included in Albany County. The office he held for many years, and continued to be the only magistrate in these parts till after Washington's first administration. He appointed two days in a week for court days, at his house, and seldom lacked for business. In the war individual or local matters were not much tended to for want of proper laws. But when proper law- were enacted, and officers empowered, many made up for lost time and want of civil laws.

"After the Revolution new settlers began to come in and enlarge the boundaries of cultivation. Mechanical arts began to increase. A saw-mill was built near the year 1780, by Amos Sweet, in the hollow east of the Christian chapel. A blacksmith-shop was opened by Thomas Sweet, on the east side of the road, a short distance north of Sweet's Corners. This was much earlier than the above date.

"The early inhabitants of the country were generally quite healthy and athletic, but a doctor saw fit to settle here, whether for weal or woe, near the year 1775, Dr. John Forbes, at Sweet Corners.

"The first frame house in the limits of now Berlin was built by D. Hull, near the close of the Revolution, on the same ground where now resides Daniel J. Hull. It was large; through the centre opened a spacious hall; on each side two large, square rooms; betwixt the two rooms the chimney, with large fireplaces in each room; one story, with attic-window in the roof. It was opened as a public-house, and kept for some years. In this house Daniel Hull died, Aug. 26, 1811, eighty-nine years old.

"Age impaired his intellectual powers, and for several years before his death was incapable of attending to any business, forgetting everything he ever done or knew, except offering his daily prayers to his God.

"In a few years the log buildings vanished. Good, substantial frame buildings took their place. Soon after the Revolution the facilities for living, trade, and travel were much improved. Highways opened to the principal places through the country, and to Albany and Lansingburgh, and the inhabitants began to resort to those places for a market. At Centre Berlin, as now called, a stirring little hamlet commenced, with a store, tavern, potash-manufactory, and tannery. This was not far from 1790. Also several mechanics of different trades settled in the neighborhood. Berlin village, as now called, was not commenced as a village in some time after the above. In 1790 the inhabitants were supplied with a weekly newspaper, the Lansingburgh Gazette, by a post, distributing them at their doors; also other papers were early introduced. A mail line was not established through the Valley of the Hoosick till a much later day. The letters, packages, etc., came on the Boston and Albany line, and were deposited at an office in the centre of Stephentown.

"In 1784, Stephentown extended her borders as far north as the old Baptist church, or now burying-ground, on the site of said church, in Berlin. Rensselaer County took her name in 1791; till that date it was iucluded in Albany County. In the above year Petersburgh assumed her name and claims to the remainder of Little Hoosick. By the unanimous voice of the people, honoring Peter Simmons with his Christian name, and the addition of burgh for the name of that town.

"In the year 1790 a number of schools were, or had been, opened; lines were drawn specifying districts, and in a few years the most remote inhabitants were supplied with schools, where the common branches were taught.

"In 1811 a revival of religion commenced in this town: a large number of members were added to the church. The year following, in 1813, an epidemic made its appearance in the valley of the Hoosick, and swept through the country like a tornado. The inhabitants of the valley had, from the earliest settlement, been much favored in health.

Very few cases of those complaints that normally afflict people of new countries, such as ague, bilious complaints, etc. But few deaths had occurred comparative to the number of inhabitants; but when the epidemic made its appearance it was but the warning of the near approach of the angel death.

"There was little or no exception as to age; the young and athletic fell before the destroyer. The grand lever of human greatness broke at the silent touch of this awful disease. Mourning was in almost every house; but few families escaped. Few cases wore cured; the knowledge of the physicians was altogether too limited to stay the fever of this raging epidemic. The habiliments of mourning were seen everywhere, and the wail of widows and orphans not unfrequent. It made its appearance near midwinter, and continued till warm weather."

* Afterwards Rev. Justus Hull.



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