Benjamin Van Buren's Bay
Charles G. Gosselink
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What I have offered in the text about the life of Benjamin Van Buren is all that I have discovered from the census and other records. We know that Van Buren arrived in Hague in 1847 and that he died in 1877. We know about his wife Jane and their eight children. And then they pass out of our sight. But where did Benjamin Van Buren come from?
Before I learned of his presumed father Henry, I still entertained the possibility that Benjamin might have been an escaped slave from Virginia and that his claim to having been born in Rensselaer County was only a protection from the threat of the fugitive slave laws. But it appears now that he was indeed born free in New York State. Another tradition has it that he was descended from former slaves of the family of Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. That is at least a possibility. Though Martin Van Buren himself, as President and later as leader of the Free Soil Party, was opposed to slavery, his father Abraham Van Buren, a tavern keeper in Kinderhook, did own slaves. The census records show that he owned six slaves in 1790. In 1800 he still had three, and by 1810, though he had no slaves, he did have one "free nonwhite" living in his household. There were about twenty Van Buren families living around Albany in 1790, and any of them might have owned slaves as well, but it is intriguing to think that our Benjamin might have received his name from the family of a future President of the United States.
If Benjamin was born free, where did he grow up and where did he live before he arrived in Hague? Henry Van Buren and his family left Rensselaer County before 1810, and there is no record of where they went. We do know, from the 1855 census in Hague, that Benjamin and Jane's two oldest daughters were born in Essex County, but I have not been able to discover yet where the family lived. It is tempting to think that Benjamin might have gone to join John Brown's community at North Elba and taken advantage of Gerrit Smith's offer of forty acres of land to free blacks and escaped slaves who would settle there. But Benjamin's name does not show up in Garrit Smith's roster of grantees, and in any case, the grants were parceled out only in 1846 and 1847.
The Federal Census of 1840 for Essex County lists 34 "Persons of Color" not taxed and 6 taxed, living in eight of the fifteen towns. The names are given but Benjamin Van Buren is not among them. The abstract of the New York Census of 1845 again shows 34 "Colored" not taxed and six taxed. The distribution among the towns is a little different, but the abstract does not provide names and I have not been able to locate a copy of the actual census. It is possible that the two living in Ticonderoga could be our Benjamin and Jane, but then their children Lucinda and Julia should have been listed as well.
So, though we have solved some mysteries and exposed some myths, question remains. There are still leads to follow and places to search after this study has gone to print. I will let you know.
 Thanks to Marie Agnew-Marcelli for this research.
 It is hard to pinpoint one date for the abolition of slavery in New York; it was a gradual process. But those not freed earlier would have become free in 1828.
 See Tom Calarco, "Fitch and Cutler: Tracking the Underground Railroad in the North Country," Adirondack Life, April 2002 and Nichole M. Christian, "Recalling Timbuctoo, A Slice of Black History," The New York Times, February 12, 2002.
 Thanks to Amy Godine, curator of the Timbuctoo exhibition, for this research.
Pursuit of the Braisted story proved something of a challenge. Originally, the facts seemed pretty straightforward. The family had records of John and Olive Braisted and their descendents. They were also listed in the index for the Hague census of 1875. In addition, some of us who now own pieces of the original Braisted property have deed records dating back to 1871, when it was believed they first arrived in Hague. But the identity of Rollin Braisted, or Rollin Isham, and of "Mr. Isham" who are mentioned in the deeds remained a mystery, and there was the broader question of where the Braisteds had come from and why.
A search of available census indexes for Vermont, where Olive and Rollin were born, and New York, where the children were born failed to produce the John Braisted family, though it did prove that Braisteds and Ishams were numerous in the Burlington, Vermont area. Laborious checking of the actual census records for some Essex County towns produced nothing. But a chance search of deed records in Essex County showed that Olive and Susan Isham of Schroon River had purchased property in North Hudson in 1853 and that Olive Braisted and Susan Johnson, residing then in Horicon, had sold it in 1863. Armed with that information, I quickly found John and Olive, newly married, with three children, Rollin Isham 9, Florence Isham 6, and Ellen Braisted 6_, in the Schroon River census for 1855. Olive had lived in the town for two years and John, with the profession of sawyer, had been there one year. Living next door were John Isham, a farmer, 62, and Rhoben Isham, 65, and their daughter Suzan, 24. They, too, had been in the town two years.
Reading between the lines, we can begin to construct the story. In 1853, after her first husband had died, Olive Isham with her two children and her in-laws moved from Vermont to Schroon River, where she and her sister-in-law purchased thirty acres of land. We do not know why they moved, but the census records show that they were among the many people who migrated from Vermont to Essex County at that time. John Braisted, whose first wife had also died, arrived the following year, accompanied by his daughter. Whether they had known each other before is not given, but Olive and John wasted no time in getting married and combining their families. Over the next ten years, they had four more children. Whether they actually lived in North Hudson is not clear, but at some point the Braisted and Isham families seem to have moved to the Village of Adirondack in Horicon. There Susan Isham was married to William Johnson.
In 1865, John and Olive and their children moved to Hague. Further search of deed records showed that John and Rollin had first purchased property in Hague not in 1871 as it appeared originally but in August 1865. A check of the Hague census for 1865 shows John Braisted there with his whole family, though there is no indication that Rollin and Florence were stepchildren. However, John Isham, now 73, was living with the family. Presumably his wife had died and he chose for some reason to live with Olive rather than his daughter Susan. The census records also show that John was a Civil War veteran.
The story answers the question of how Rollin happened to know and then marry Rachel Howe of Horicon. He had known her when the family lived there. She must have remained close to her own family, for her first two children, who died in infancy, were buried in Horicon, as was she when she died in 1904. We do not know where Rollin and Rachel settled when they left Hague, sometime after 1880, but they were probably somewhere in the vicinity. They do not show up in the Horicon census of 1892, though William and Suzan Johnson, now 67 and 61, were still there.
The photograph on page 58, from the Hague Historical Museum, shows the family at Silver Bay in about 1903. It shows John Braisted's son John C. and his wife Mary and daughter Ella, seated, on the left; perhaps Rollin standing in the center behind his mother Olive; James next to his Aunt Rhoby, seated; then perhaps Rollin's daughter Susanne; then Jack and Ed on the right.
In 1912 Ed Braisted entered into an agreement which had repercussions later for the whole Braisted family. He signed a quit claim deed by which he conveyed to John Wilson the rights to the 13 foot square piece of land across the road from his house, the grave of "Mr. Isham." Ed agreed to have the remains of John Isham moved to the cemetery at Hague. In return, Wilson conveyed to Ed Braisted a 13 foot square parcel of land on the shore of Lake George, in a line directly east of the stone pillars at the entrance to Oneida Drive, with access by a right of way eight feet wide from the public road, along the boundary line of Charles Kilborne's property, now the McCormicks's. Ed's claim, right to, or responsibility for the Isham grave came to him presumably when he inherited his portion of his father, John Braisted's land. However, it was never spelled out, and it represented only a claim on and not really the ownership of the property. While he may have had the responsibility for the grave site, others in the family shared in the claim. However, in trading that claim for the 13 foot square parcel of land, he acquired real property in his own name. Ed built a dock on that parcel for the boating and swimming use of his hotel guests. But other members of the family, including the Whitford children, enjoyed the dock as well. Ed died in 1938, leaving his property in the hands of his executor in trust for his brother John C. and sister Rhoby, and after their deaths to named nephews and nieces When Mortimer Bowen bought that the property in 1944, he also acquired the 13 foot square parcel and right of way. Surviving members of the family lost what they felt was their right to use the dock. Although he might have claimed that his deed to the property was clear and unambiguous, Mortimer Bowen must have been aware of the conflicting claims of the Braisted family. In 1964, a month before he sold that property to Thornton Penfield, Jr., Bowen arranged for John H. Braisted, the sole surviving heir to Ed Braisted's will, to convey to him expressly that lake front parcel and right of way.
 While it is recorded that the disinterment was made by Frank Spaulding and witnessed by Walter Watts, I have found no record of a new grave in any of the Hague cemeteries.
 Warren County Record of Deeds Book 451, page 73.
Though I had completed much of the research for this project earlier, I started writing in the days following the events of September 11, 2001 as an escape I suppose from the tragedy unfolding before our eyes and the radio, television and newspapers to which I seemed to be glued. And now I have come to Silver Bay, to continue my research, to enjoy the beauty of the changing season, and to retreat, for a moment, from the reality of the world out there.
A certain irony overhangs my project. The settlers of Van Buren Bay a hundred years ago were prominent leaders in the establishment of the Silver Bay Association and in the international missionary movement. Their purpose here was to train young men and women to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world and their slogan was "the evangelization of the world in this generation." They came here for rest, reflection, and rejuvenation and then they went out to change the world.
Now, a hundred years later, we face an adversary whose purpose, it would seem, is to undo the accomplishments of that missionary endeavor and whose slogan could well be, "the elimination of Christianity and Western influence in this generation." What went wrong? The missionaries did change the world. They accomplished great things in education, in medicine, in social service, and in the promotion of the Christian faith. They faced opposition, but they also earned a large measure of respect and good will. Unfortunately, they also accompanied, and sometimes led, in the establishment of Western political, economic and cultural domination in Asia and Africa. Too often they were insensitive to local customs and beliefs and used their power and position to promote what they felt was a superior way. We should not be surprised if some people saw their efforts as a threat to all they held valuable. The Boxer Rebellion in China a hundred years ago was one reaction to that threat. Al Qaeda today represents another.
I have often envied the confidence and self-assurance of those missionary pioneers. Their task was so clear, the objective so close. But we know now that the world was and is a far more complex place than they thought. Our mission today is not so clear and our objectives may be far off. If we are to live in peace with our neighbors around the world and contribute to their well being, we need to learn much more about mutual respect and understanding. And perhaps that defines the mission which the Silver Bay Association, and we here in Van Buren Bay, must pursue in this second one hundred years.
Charles G. Gosselink
Silver Bay, October 11, 2001