William H. Seward was born May 16, 1801, in the village of Florida, Town of Warwick, Orange County, New York. His father, Dr. Samuel S. Seward, was a physician of good standing and the first Vice-President of the County Medical Society. Dr. Seward was a farmer, as well as physician, and also the magistrate, storekeeper, banker and money-lender of the little village. He lived to a good old age, dying after his son’s election to the United States Senate, in 1849.
The family was of New Jersey origin. John Seward, the grandfather of William Henry, served in the war of the Revolution, beginning as Captain and ending his campaign as Colonel of the First Sussex Regiment.
William Henry was the fourth of six children, and following the custom of those days, was selected as the least physically robust, to receive a college education. The village school, the academy at Goshen, a term or two in a short-lived academy at Florida, gave him his preparatory training, and at the age of fifteen, he passed the examination for the junior class at Union College, Schenectady, though the rules as to age at that institution compelled him to enter as a sophomore.
He graduated in 1820, having also spent six months of his senior year teaching in Georgia. He was admitted to the bar in 1822 and settled in Auburn, N. Y. He soon distinguished himself in his profession, and acquired a wide reputation for originality of thought and independence of action. He took an active interest in politics and in a public address he outlined the history of the so-called “Albany Regency, “a political clique, who were in complete control of state affairs at that time. His expose of their intrigues led to their political overthrow in 1828. In 1830 be was elected to the State Senate by the Anti-Masons, who at that time were politically powerful in Western New York. He was probably the youngest man ever elected to the Senate at that period, not being quite thirty years of age. He soon became the leader of his party in that body, and was a recognized political force throughout the State. In 1834 he was a candidate for Governor but was defeated. In 1838 he was elected Governor by a large majority, and his administration was in many ways the most remarkable in the history of the State.
In 1843, declining a re-nomination, he resumed his law practice in Auburn. In 1847 he was invited to speak in New York City on the life and character of Daniel O’Connell, and this is said to have been one of the most brilliant oratorical efforts of his public career.
In 1849 he was elected to the United States Senate, and at once took a prominent position in the affairs of his party, and soon thereafter was the recognized leader of the administration party. In 1850 he delivered his famous speech on the admission of California as a state, in which he made use of the expression, “there is a higher law than the Constitution,” that has since acquired wide fame. Another of his felicitous phrases, which is so frequently quoted as giving character to the history of his time, is from a speech delivered in Rochester in 1858, in which he’ declared that there was “an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces,” and that “the United States must become either entirely slave or entirely free.” He was re-elected to the Senate in 1855, and the news of his re-election was received with rejoicing throughout the free states. In 1860 he was the most conspicuous candidate of the Republican party for the Presidential nomination, receiving one hundred and seventy-three votes on the first ballot. He was defeated by Mr. Lincoln, but he immediately entered the campaign and gave him his most hearty support, making many speeches throughout the West. After the election of Mr. Lincoln he was invited to become a member of his cabinet, and was appointed Secretary of State, a position which he filled for eight years with almost unparalleled industry, energy and success. During this period he negotiated nearly forty treaties, most of which were of historic importance. Without doubt his finest acts of statesmanship were his management of the Trent affair, his dignified and determined action at the time of the French invasion of Mexico, the purchase of Alaska, the last of which was an act of judgment and foresight not fully appreciated by the public for many years.
In April, 1865, while he was confined to his room because of injuries from a fall from his carriage, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth and at the same time another assassin, named Paine, entered the room of Mr.. Seward, dangerously wounded his son, and with a poniard, inflicted wounds upon him that at first it was thought would prove fatal but from which he slowly recovered.
In 1869 he made an extended tour of California and Alaska, and in 1870-71 he made a journey around the world and was received with distinction everywhere. He died at his home in Auburn, October 10, 1872.
The Purchase of Alaska
The purchase of Alaska by the United States Government during a critical period of our national history, and the part played in that transaction by Secretary Seward, was little understood by the general public at that time, and in fact, for many years afterward, vague and contradictory stories were published in the public press regarding that episode. It was made a football of political controversy in several campaigns, largely by those who were totally ignorant of the inside facts of diplomatic history. The masterly diplomacy of Secretary William H. Seward was the foundation of this adroit movement by the United States Government, and to him, more than any other single individual, undoubtedly, is due the credit of acquiring this valuable territory at a time when the government was threatened with serious difficulties with the military and naval power of England and France, who both had heavy financial interests in the Southern Confederacy, and during the negotiations for the purchase, favored recognizing the Confederate Government.
Chief Justice Paxson, of Pennsylvania, at a dinner given by the Clover Club, of Philadelphia, to Mr. Charles Emory Smith, in honor of his appointment as Minister to Russia, shortly after the close of the Civil War, unfolded a page of war history by relating some details about the sale of Alaska by the Russian Government to the United States. He said: “The United States paid $7,200,000 in gold for this then regarded barren and worthless country, but we did not know what was involved in the sale of what has since proved a treasure.
We were struggling in the throes of civil war, and the governments of England and France were being, moved by every influence to recognize the Southern Confederacy. The acquisition of Alaska meant much to the Government. When that sale was completed and the storms of indignation that followed Secretary Seward when he paid $7,200,000 in gold for that frigid country, all through Europe was also heard the ominous growl of the Russian bear, which said plainer than words to England and France, `Hands off, or we will interfere and make this a. world-wide struggle.’ How many knew what deep import was vested in the appearance of an entire squadron of Russian gunboats in our harbor? But Seward did. It meant this: The Admiral of that squadron was in possession of sealed orders. His orders from the Russian Government were to remain where he was until this great question that was agitating France and England was settled. Upon the instant the Confederacy was recognized by those European powers the seals were to be broken, and his orders were to report for instructions in person to President Lincoln. That was the depth of the import embodied in the acquisition of Alaska by the United States.”
Benjamin B. Odell, thirty-seventh Governor of the State of New York, was born at Newburgh, N. Y., January 14, 1854. He was the son of Benjamin Barker and Ophelia (Bookstaver,) Odell. He graduated from Newburgh Academy in 1874, and entered Bethany College, in Bethany, W. Va., the same year. He remained there one year, after which he entered Columbia. College, New York City, where he continued until 1877. He married Estelle Crist, of Newburgh, April 25, 1877; she died in 1888. His second wife was Mrs. Linda (Crist,) Traphagen, a sister of his first wife, whom he married in 1891. He was a member of the Republican State Committee 1884-96; Chairman of the Republican State Executive Committee 1898-1900; Member of the 54th and 55th Congresses 1895-9, 17th New York District; Governor of New York, two terms, 1901-5. He died at Newburgh, N. Y., May 9, 1926, aged 72 years.
Major E. C. Boynton, a graduate of West Point Military Academy, and for many years an instructor in that institution, is chiefly distinguished as the author of the “History of West Point and the Origin and Progress of the U. S. Military Academy,” and several technical works, all of which are regarded as standard authorities on the subjects of which they treat. He was appointed as a cadet at the United States Military Academy, July 1, 1841. After graduation in 1846, he was assigned to the Second Artillery as Brevet Second Lieutenant and ordered to join the army in, Mexico, where he served with General Taylor at the front of the invading force. He served at Monterey and at the seizure of Saltillo in 1846. He participated in the siege of Vera Cruz, the battles of Cerro Gardo, Contreras, Churubusco, in the seizure and occupation of Puebla and in the skirmishes at Amazoque and Oka Laka in 1847. He was severely wounded in the action at Cherubusco. He was promoted Second Lieutenant February 16, 1847, and First Lieutenant, August 20, 1847, and Brevet Captain at the same time for “gallant and meritorious services in the battles of Contreras and Cherubusco, Mexico.” In 1848 he was assigned to the Military Academy at West Point as Assistant Acting Quartermaster. From August, 1848, to September, 1855, he was Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Geology. In 1855-56 he accompanied the expedition against the Seminole Indians in Florida. The degree of A. M. was conferred on him by Brown University in 1856. In 1856 he was appointed Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy and Geology in the University of Mississippi, which position he filled until dismissed in 1861 for “want of attachment to the government of the Confederate States.” He was appointed to the United States Army as Captain in 1861, and assigned to the Military Academy, first as Adjutant and then Quartermaster, remaining at that post throughout the civil war, at its close receiving the brevet of Major for faithful services. He resigned from the army in 1872, and thereafter made his home in Newburgh.
He is the author of “History of West Point and the Origin and Progress of the U. S. Military Academy,” (1863,) which is regarded as the standard work on that subject. He is also the author of the military and naval terms in Webster’s Army and Navy Dictionary, (1864;) Guide to West Point and the Military Academy; Greek Fire and Other Inflammables; Explosive Substitutes for Gunpowder; Photography as Applied to Military Purposes; Ovantitative and Qualitative Chemical Analysis of Hydraulic Limestone; Manual on Blowpipe Analysis. He discovered, compiled and published the most complete collection of Washington’s Orders at Newburgh. He was an honorary member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, President, (1883-88) of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands. He was born at Bennington, Vt., February 1, 1824, and died at his home in Newburgh on May 3, 1893.
Historian and journalist, was born Dec. 30, 1813, at Walton, Delaware County, N. Y. He died at Newburgh, N. Y., in 1897. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister settled at Walton. Early in life he determined to follow the ministry as a life work, and after graduating at Union College in 1839, he took a course in theology at Auburn Theological Seminary. After being admitted to the ministry he was settled over a church at Stockbridge, Mass. His health failing shortly after he was compelled to relinquish his chosen profession, and in 1842 traveled in Europe. His “Letters from Italy” attracted wide attention, and on his return Horace Greeley, the veteran editor of the New York Tribune, induced him to become an associate editor of the Tribune. After a year with the Tribune he severed his connection with that paper and thereafter pursued the path of authorship, residing continuously at Newburgh until his death.
His published works are: Napoleon and His Marshals, which appeared in 1846, and was followed at various periods by Washington and His Generals; History of the War, 1812; Life of Cromwell; Life of Havelock; Life of Scott and Jackson; Sacred Mountains; Sacred Heroes and Martyrs; Headley’s Miscellanies; The Imperial Guard; Chaplains and Clergy of the Revolution; The Great Rebellion; Grant and Sherman; Life of Farragut and Our Naval Commanders; History of the Great Riots, and many other works of lesser note.
During his long life he did not lay down his busy pen until 1854, when he was elected to the New York State Assembly from the First District of Orange County. In the following year he was elected Secretary of State of New York, which office he filled with marked distinction. He did not cease active literary work until late in life, and in his declining years was active in promoting public interest in historical matters pertaining to Orange County and vicinity.
Edward Payson Roe was one of Orange County’s most distinguished writers. He was born in Moodna, Orange County, N. Y., in 1838, and died at his home near Cornwall-on-Hudson in 1888. He is best remembered as a novelist whose works achieved great popularity in America and abroad, several of his novels being translated into foreign languages. He studied for the ministry, but illness caused him to abandon his studies while attending Williams College before graduation, but he afterward received a Bachelor’s degree, studied at Auburn and Union Seminaries, and in 1862-65, was a chaplain in the volunteer service during the Civil War between the states. He was from then until 1874 pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Highland Falls, N. Y., after which he gave himself up to lecturing, writing and fruit culture.
His first novel, “Barriers Burned Away,” (1872,) was a story suggested by the great Chicago fire. This was followed by “Play and Profit in My Garden,” (1873.) These two works established his reputation as a writer, and were followed in rapid succession by “What Can She Do,” (1873,) `Opening a Chestnut Burr,” (1874,) “From Jest to Earnest,” (1875,) “Near to Nature’s Heart,” (1876,) “A Knight of the Nineteenth Century,” (1877,) “A Face Illuminated,” (1878,) “A Day of Fate,” (1880,) “A Young Girl’s Wooing,” (1884,) “An Original Belle,” (1885,) “Driven Back to Eden,” (1885,) “He Fell in Love With His Wife,” (1886,) “The Earth Trembled,” (1887.) He also wrote “Success With Small Fruits,” (1880,) and “Nature’s Serial Story,” (1884.)
Journalist and historian, was born in the Town of Bennington, Vt., July 17, 1824. He entered the office of the Vermont Gazette as an apprentice to the printing business in 1837, and removed to Newburgh in 1838, where he became an indentured apprentice in the office of the Newburgh Telegraph, of which he became the owner in 1850. He was thereafter connected with Newburgh journalism as editor and publisher during his entire life, dying at the advanced age of 83 years on December 4, 1907, at Newburgh, N. Y. As a historian he was thorough and exhaustive, and to him, more than to any other local historian, is perhaps due the credit of preserving for future generations the vast mass of historical data relating to Orange County and the Hudson River Valley. He is the author of the following works: History of the Town of Newburgh, 1859; History of the Flags of New York Regiments, 1865; History of the Obstructions to the Navigation of the Hudson River, 1866; History of the Indian Tribes of the Hudson River, 1872; History of Orange County, 1881.
All of these works are universally regarded as standard authorities on the subjects treated and show ample evidence of his exhaustive research and ability as a writer.
David H. Moffat, one of the empire builders of the great West, was born at Washingtonville, Orange County, N. Y., in the year 1839. He died in New York City on March 18, 1911. He was the youngest child of David Moffat and Catherine Gregg Moffat. The life of David H. Moffat can be properly termed one of the romances of the great Middle West, for he was connected with almost every important development between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, particularly in the vicinity of Denver. He commenced his business career as a clerk in a New York bank at twenty years of age, and in 1860, shortly after the discovery of gold at Pike’s Peak, went to Denver, then a mining camp, where he established himself in the stationery business. That enterprise was first located in a tent, on the banks of Cherry Creek, where his little stock of newspapers, magazines and stationery was sold to the miners from a counter constructed by placing boards on the tops of two empty flour barrels. In a short time he was a clerk in the newly organized First National Bank of Denver, where he rose in rapid succession to the position of Cashier, and then President, a position which he held until his death. His name is inseparably connected with the mining industry of Colorado and the building of its railroad systems, in both of which he amassed a fortune of several millions of dollars. He was one of the chief promoters of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad system, and its President for many years. He built the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek Short Line Road which was constructed over mountains in many places 9,000 feet above sea level.
The greatest project of his busy life and the one of most importance to his adopted city of Denver, was the Railroad over the Rocky Mountain range, familiarly known as the Moffat Road. This road, the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific, crosses the range at an altitude of 11,600 feet, and is the highest broad gauge railroad in the world. Its terminus will be Salt Lake City, some seven hundred miles west from Denver. When completed this line will shorten the distance between Chicago and San Francisco some 250 miles and reduce the running time about 24 hours less than by any other route. It enters a vast empire of natural wealth now undeveloped. The original plans called for a tunnel under the range and this has now been built. It is 6.9 miles long and its total cost was $12,000,000.
Mr. Moffat died when his gigantic project was less than half completed, but his memory is cherished by those of the present day who regard his life work as of inestimable value to Colorado. Some forty years ago he presented his native village with a building which is used as a public hall and library, and bears the name of “Moffat Library.” Shortly before his death he gave a large pipe organ to Blooming Grove Church. The State of Colorado has honored his name by naming one of its counties Moffat County, and placing a memorial window in the Senate chamber in the State Capitol at Denver.