Orange County can claim the distinction of having been the home of many men and women who have achieved literary fame as poets, historians, journalists and writers, the work of several having found a permanent place in English literature. Chief among her poets may be mentioned Nathaniel Parker Willis, of Cornwall, and Goshen’s sweet singer, Mrs. Ethel Lynn Eliot Beers. Poems of both these writers are to be found in Bryant’s “Family Library of Poetry and Song,” a standard work of international reputation.
Ethel Lynn Eliot Beers
Ethel Lynn Eliot Beers. Goshen’s Sweet Singer, Mrs. Ethel Lynn Eliot Beers, who wrote under the nom de plume, of “Ethel Lynn,” was born at Goshen, Orange County, N. Y., in 1825 and died at Orange, N. J., in 1879. Mrs. Beers who was a woman of rare literary gifts, was a frequent contributor to the leading periodicals of her time. Perhaps her best known poem is “All Quiet Along the Potomac,” written during the civil war, which attracted wide attention, and occupies a permanent place in standard poetical literature.
“All Quiet Along the Potomac” was first published in Harper’s Weekly of November 30, 1861. The phrase, “All Quiet Along the Potomac,” was a familiar one in the Fall of that year, and in the indifferent announcement that was one day added, “A Picket Shot,” the author found the inspiration of her poem.
This celebrated poem when first published bore only the initials “E. B.,” and as it went floating around in the great sea of journalism, numerous aspirants for literary fame, who were not over scrupulous in their methods of obtaining it, grasped the opportunity of playing the role of literary pirates in their ambitious desire to have their names handed down to posterity as poetical celebrities, in the vain hope of thus achieving enduring literary fame.
Mrs. Beers, in an explanatory note in her volume of collected poems entitled “All Quiet Along the Potomac and Other Poems,” published by Porter & Coates, Philadelphia, (1879,) gives the history of this poem along with the amusing incidents connected with its publication and the various claims of those who sought to establish themselves as its author. She says:
“In the Fall of 1861, `All Quiet Along the Potomac’ was a familiar heading of all war dispatches. So, when this poem appeared in Harper’s Weekly of Nov. 30, it was quickly republished in almost every journal in the land. As it bore only the initials `E. B.,’ the poem soon became only a nameless waif and was attributed to various pens.
“The London Times copied it as having been written by a Confederate soldier and found in his pocket after death. (It seems to have been a dangerous thing; to copy it, as it has so often been found in dead men’s pockets.) An American newspaper quoted it, saying that it was written by a private soldier in the United States service and sent home to his wife. This statement was met by another asserting that it was written by Fitz-James O’Brien. As the soul of that true poet and gallant soldier had gone out through a ragged battle rift won at Ball’s Bluff, this was un-contradicted until an editorial paragraph appeared in Harper’s Weekly, July 4, 1863, saying that it had been written for that paper by a lady contributor.
“It appeared in a volume of `War Poetry of the South,’ edited by William Gilmore Sims, as a Southern production, and was set to music by a Richmond music publisher in 1864, with `Words by Lamar Fontaine,’ on its title page. A soldier cousin, who went with Sherman to the sea, found in a deserted printing office at Fayetteville, a paper containing a two column article on the poem, with all the circumstances under which `Lamar Fontaine composed it while on picket duty.
“It appeared in the earlier editions of Bryant’s `Library of Poetry and Song,’ over Mrs. ‘Howland’s name, which was afterwards corrected by Mr. Bryant. “Within the last year a Mr. Thaddeus Oliver claims its authorship for his deceased father, being no doubt misled by a wrong date, as he fixes an earlier time than its first appearance in Harper’s Weekly.
“I have been at some pains to gather up these dates and names as one of the curiosities of newspaper waif life. To those who know me, my simple assertion that I wrote the poem is sufficient, but to set right any who may care to know, I refer to the columns of the old ledger at Harper’s, on whose pages I saw but the other day, the business form of acceptance of, and payment for, `The Picket Guard, among other publications.
“Fortunately I have two credible witnesses to the time and circumstances of its writing. A lovely lady sitting opposite me at the boarding house table, looked up from her morning paper at breakfast time to say, `All Quiet Along the Potomac, as usual,’ and I, taking up the next line, answered, `except a poor picket shot.’
“After breakfast it still haunted me, and with my paper across the end of my sewing machine, I wrote the whole poem before noon, making but one change in copying it, reading it aloud to ask a boy’s judgment in referring to two different endings, and adopting the one he chose. Nothing was ever more vivid or real to me than the pictures I had conjured up of the picket’s lonely walk and swift summons, or the waiting wife and children. A short sojourn in Washington had made me quite familiar with the routine of war time and soldier life. The popularity of the poem was, perhaps, due more to the pathos of the subject than to any inherent quality.
“Ethel Lynn Beers.” Orange, N. J., 1879. Poems
Nathaniel Parker Willis
Born in Portland, Maine, January 20, 1806, died at his country home, Idlewild, Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, January 20, 1867. His chief works are: Melanie, Lady Jane and other poems; Pencillings by the Way; Inklings of Adventure; Romance of Travel, comprising Tales of Five Lands; People I Have Met, or Pictures of Society and People of Mark; A Health Trip to the Tropics; Out of Doors at Idlewild; Paul Fane, or Parts of a life else Untold, a Novel. Edgar Allen Poe, in a review of the literary work of N. P. Willis said: “As a writer of `sketches’ properly so called, Mr. Willis is unequaled. Sketches especially of society, are his forte, and they are so for no other reason than that they afford him the best opportunity of introducing the personal Willis or more distinctly because this species of composition is most susceptible of impression from his personal character.”
Among his short poems, perhaps the most popular are “May” and “The Belfry Pigeon.”
For many generations the name of Clinton has been a name for New York State to conjure with. The public achievements of George Clinton and his fame as a farseeing statesman have been somewhat obscured by the later brilliancy of DeWitt Clinton, of the same clan. George Clinton was born on July 26, 1739, in what is now the Town of New Windsor, Orange County, N. Y. He was the youngest son of Charles Clinton, who came from the North of Ireland. He was born in 1690 and died in Orange County in 1773.
It should be stated by way of explanation regarding the birthplace of George Clinton, that he was born in what was then the County of Ulster, but his life work and political associations were confined largely to this county. In the year 1797 Orange County included the present county of Rockland, its northern boundary extending only as far as Murderer’s Creek. In that year, what is now Rockland County, was detached, and five towns then in Ulster County, viz, New Windsor, New burgh, Wallkill, Montgomery and Deerpark were annexed to Orange County, whereby Orange County acquired its present dimensions. George Clinton resided at New Windsor and the house in which he lived is still in existence.
His first noteworthy adventure was connected with privateering in the French war of 1763. He was an officer in the expedition against Fort Frontenac, and after the war went into law and politics. He was chosen to the Colonial Assembly and to the Continental Congress and was made a Brigadier General in the Revolutionary Army. In 1777 he was elected first Governor of the State of New York. He was reelected and occupied the executive chair in all for eighteen successive years, and in 1800 was chosen for one more term, making twenty-one years as Governor. In 1804 he was elected Vice-President of the United States, holding the office until his death, as he was reelected in 1808, when Madison was elected President. He died in Washington in the year 1812, aged 73 years.
Under his leadership the state’s commercial interests were jealously guarded. It is stated by a well informed authority that the vast project of the Erie Canal, Which was carried out by DeWitt Clinton, had its inception in the fertile brain of George Clinton, who, as a member of a distinguished party which included President Washington and Alexander Hamilton, toured the northern and western parts of the state in 1780, investigating economic conditions.
DeWitt Clinton was born at Little Britain, Orange County, N. Y., in. 1769. He died suddenly while engaged in official duty at Albany, February 11, 1828. His paternal ancestors, although long resident in Ireland, were of English origin, and his mother was of Dutch-French blood. He was educated at Columbia College, graduating with high honors. Choosing the law for his avocation, he studied law under Samuel Jones, afterwards Chief Justice of the United States Superior Court. He was admitted to the Bar in 1788 and entered immediately into political life, being an ardent supporter of his uncle, George Clinton. He took an active interest in the adoption of the Federal
Constitution, and reported for the press the proceedings of the convention held for that purpose, also acting as private secretary for his uncle. His first office was Secretary of the Board of Regents of the University, and the next, Secretary of the Board of Commissioners of state fortifications. In 1797 he was elected to the State Assembly as a representative from New York City, where he made his residence, and the next year was chosen State Senator for four years. In 1802, when but 33 years of age, he was appointed a Senator of the United States. He labored for the abolition of slavery and its kindred barbarism, imprisonment for debt. Before his term as Senator expired he resigned to accept the office of Mayor of New York, which he held for four years, when he was removed; he was again appointed in 1809; again removed in 1810; finally appointed in 1811, again holding the office for four years, through the period of the war with England. He was a member of the State Senate from 1805 to 1811; Lieutenant Governor for the, next two years, and for part of this time again made a member of the council of appointment. In 1804, his uncle, the Governor, was elected, Vice-President of the United States, and soon afterwards by reason of age, retired from active political life. His retirement left the political scepter of the Clintons in the hands of DeWitt, who speedily became the leader of the Republican party in the State of New York, and their candidate for President, ,at the close of Madison’s first term. The result of the election was a disastrous defeat for Clinton, he having but 89 electoral votes to 128 for Madison. His partisan opponents considered his political career at an end, but they were mistaken. He took a leading part on many public questions, notably, that of establishing the public school system of New York City, the establishment and promotion of various institutions of science; in the improvement and modification of criminal laws, the extension of agriculture and manufactures, the relief of the poor, the improvement of morals, and many other worthy objects, in which he was in many instances the moving spirit.
All these, however, were small in comparison with the great work upon which his fame as a public man rests, viz., the building of the Erie Canal. The history of this enterprise and the part he played in it would fill volumes. He labored with indefatigable energy, patience and hope until the great work was an accomplished fact. Through all these weary years “Clinton’s folly” was the by word of scoffers, but he never despaired, and toiled on, often against the most discouraging opposition, never giving an inch, until after a dozen years, a line of cannon stationed at intervals along the much ridiculed “ditch,” awakened the people of the Empire State to the fact that the waters of lake Erie were pouring through the canal bearing on their waves the message that the great lakes were on that day wedded to the Atlantic ocean. In 1816 Governor Daniel D. Tompkins was chosen Vice-President and resigned the Governorship. Clinton was brought forth for the place, bearing not only the odium of advocating the “big ditch,” and of the crushing defeat as a Presidential candidate four years before, but the additional ignominy of having been but one year before removed from the office of Mayor of New York by a council of appointment controlled by his own party. To run for Governor seemed madness, yet the marvelous power and political genius of the man gave him an easy victory, and he was elected by a heavy majority. He was reelected in. 1820, in 1824, and in 1826. In 1822 he was out of the field, and his enemies once more celebrated his political demise, adding in the course of their two years’ rule, the indignity of removing him from the office of Commissioner of the canal, then under construction. This outrage was more than the people could bear and he was once more brought forward for Governor, running against Samuel Young. The disgraced Canal Commissioner was elected by 17,000. majority. While engaged in official duties at Albany he died suddenly on February 11, 1828. Among his works are: Discourses before the New York Historical Society; Memoir on the Antiquities of Western New York; Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of New York; Speeches to the Legislature, and many historic and scientific addresses.