History of La Grange, NY
From: General History of Dutchess County
From 1609 to 1876, Inclusive.
By Philip H. Smith
Published by the author 1877


LA GRANGE.
POPULATION, 1,775. - SQUARE ACRES, 25,682.

LA GRANGE was formed from Beekman and Fishkill as "freedom" February 9th, 1821. A part of Union Vale was taken off in 1827. The following year the name was changed to La Grange - "the barn" - the name of Marquis de La Fayette's residence in France, that gentleman having lately visited the United States, Its surface is a rolling and moderately hilly upland, the soil is a gravelly loam. Sprout Creek is the principal stream, flowing south through near the center. Wappingers Creek* forms the west boundary. Freedom Plains, La Grangeville, Titusville, Sprout Creek, Arthursburgh, and Manchester Bridge, the latter lying mostly in Poughkeepsie, are hamlets.

* in February, Mr. heavy freshets prevailed all over the State. Almost every bridge over Wappingers Creek was either swept away or materially injured. A number of mills and mill dams on the creek were badly damaged.

The Nelsons, Sleights, DeGroffs and Cornelis settled in the western part of the town. Reuben Nelson, Jr., first kept hotel at Manchester. The old house here was of stone, and stood a short distance southwest of the present one. Moses DeGroff owned the mill at this place.

In the northeast part of the town is situated the district formerly known as "Jonah's Manor." Stephen Jonah was a Schaghticoke Indian, who lorded it over this region years ago. It is a wild, hilly country, hardly adapted to cultivation. Here he lived until a ripe old age, in undisputed possession of his native domain. He resided in a little rude cabin in the woods,:and subsisted partly by the chase, and partly by cultivating a small patch of ground cleared for the purpose. His sister Hannah is, we believe, still living in the town, in the family of one Skidmore. It is said she can, cure the bite of a chunk head, almost instantly. Nothing, however, can tempt her to disclose the remedy.

Joseph Weeks settled at an early date near La Grangeville. North of him were the Vermilyes. Isaac Clapp, father of Jesse, was one of the first settlers locating below La Grangeville. Jesse Clapp lived here in the time of the Revolution. Israel Shear and Derrick Swade settled southwest of La Grangeville. North of Shear was Elijah Townsend. Joseph Potter came in about the year 1812. Enoch and Samuel Dorland settled near Arthursburgh about 1820. Thomas Andrews and Jonathan Lockwood located here quite early. Richard Jackson entered upon the tract now known as the Jackson Flats; he was ancestor of the present Jackson families. William Wolven and William Pearsol took up their residence near Freedom Plains. John Aoret will be remembered as an eccentric Dutch shoemaker. J. C. Colwell came in here in 1827; he is the only one living in this vicinity that was here at that time.

The old village is about half a mile east of the railroad depot, and was formerly known as Moreys Corners. At this place, sixty years ago, was a carding machine, and fulling mill. The building is now used as a distillery. This structure could tell of revelry and bacchanalian riotings, it being the practice in early times for the customers to bring their toddy with Ahem, and drink one another's health while waiting for their work. The lower mill was built by Jesse Clapp over fifty years ago.

John Billings was an old auctioneer who lived north of La Grangeville. He was an influential man, with sterling business qualities. He was by trade a tan currier, and kept a shoemaker's shop.

Elder Pevey, of the Christian denomination, used to preach in this and adjoining towns to great crowds of people. One Miller, a Baptist, was led to embrace the doctrine of the Peveyites, as they were then called Miller had a daughter, traditionally beautiful as the houri; she was wooed and won by Pevey. A revival was the result of his preaching, and many in the country round about were converted. He baptised a large number of candidates in Johnson's Pond, now Sylvan Lake.

Sixty years ago, an old man lived on Freedom Plains, named William Petitt. On the same place afterward lived a Quaker, named John Palmer, whose son joined the Shakers.

Fifty years ago, and before the railroads were constructed in the vicinity, it was no uncommon thing of a morning to see twenty heavy loads of pork, and as many of grain, all going to Poughkeepsie, then the great mart of this section. Now the products taken there consist principally of hoop poles and straw.

The first church near La Grangeville was the Methodist Church at Potters Corners. The site of the edifice was near the old burying ground. It was taken down and a new one built where it now stands, called the Trinity Church of La Grange. This and the Ebenezer Church at the Clove, constitute one charge.

Near the northeast part of the town is a railroad station and postoffice known as Moores Mills. Here is an old mill, built by the family of Moores, doubtless one of the first in this section of the country - judging from its appearance, and the best information that could be gathered touching its history - after which the place is named.

A woolen factory was established on Wappingers Creek about the year 1828, known as the Titus Factory.

The first religious society formed in the town was that of the Friends, which was organized toward the close of the last century. Their place of worship was located at Arthursburgh. It was a plain, square building, with no porch, and stood on the site of the present one. The Presbyterian Church:at Freedom Plains, was erected some sixty years ago. Near the Verbank road, in the northeast part of the town, is a dense swamp, in the middle of which is a rising knoll of about half an acre in extent. This island, as it is called, has a historic interest that is worthy of mention.

In Revolutionary times the business of horse stealing was extensively practiced in this locality, its proximity to British lines rendering it an easy matter to dispose of the booty. The swamp island was used as a rendezvous to which the stolen 'property was temporarily conveyed until a convenient opportunity arrived to run the animals within the enemy's line. The rendezvous was discovered by some Whigs, who determined to keep a watch over the movements of the Tories, and at the opportune moment to swoop down upon them, and capture the marauders and their stolen animals, at one blow. Shortly after, a number of horses were taken from the farmers in the vicinity, and were reported to be secreted in the swamp. Accordingly a company was organized and equipped, and preparations made for an attack on the Tory camp. The night was dark, and the thickets of the swamp almost interminable. The Tories were known to be well armed, and many of them desperate characters; and withal were believed to outnumber the attacking party. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, the latter entered boldly upon the expedition, while their wives and children listened eagerly to hear the rifle shots which would tell them the affray had commenced, in which some husbands and fathers would most likely fall.

It was their intention to take the camp by surprise. They therefore crept with cat like tread, in the direction of the island. Before they reached it, however, yet while they could get occasional glimpses of the camp fires of the enemy, a low whistle was heard, doubtless the signal of a Tory sentinel to his comrades that danger was approaching through the gloom of the swamp. On arriving at the island, it was found deserted by man and beast, who left their camp fires brightly burning. The Tories had been alarmed in time, and beat a hasty retreat, carrying off their booty with them in their flight. Had the attacking party divided into three or four detachments, and approached the rendezvous by as many different routes, the capture of the entire camp might have been effected.

Some time afterward, this vicinity was the theatre of the maraudings of a noted horse thief - name withheld - who entered into the business on his own account. He was a resident of the town and plied his nefarious business for a time unsuspected. At length circumstances pointed to him as an agent in the spiriting away of the horses of the neighborhood.

One Mr. Clapp had a fine animal, on which he placed greet value. One night he was awakened by the loud barking of the watch dog, and imagined that he heard a noise at the barn. He went to the window and listened, but nothing unusual appearing, he returned to bed, under the impression that some wild animal might have been prowling about and disturbed his cattle, a thing not unfrequent in these early times. The next morning his favorite horse was gone, having been taken during: the night. On inquiry it was found that his suspected neighbor had left his home suddenly the same night. He appeared at home again in the course of a day or two, and was observed to have plenty of money. This served to lead people to be suspicious of him; but his guilt was not fairly shown until the following year when the horse was recovered in Canada, and the name of the thief was revealed. He was soon forced to flee the country.

A dwelling near Sprout Creek was, in the days of witchcraft, pointed out as the abode of a witch. It was said she could walk along the ceiling of a room as readily as she could tread the floor; and at times her spinning wheel and other articles of furniture would skip about the room without any visible agency So great was the notoriety of this woman, that people from far and near used to visit the house that they might witness these strange doings. One gentleman in particular, who had expressed great incredulity, while seated in her chair, was seized by some invisible means, raised bodily from the floor and set down in another part of the room. Once upon a time, some travelers were passing near, when, all of a sudden, their horses stopped short and refused to proceed further. They appeared to be alarmed at some object in the road. The night was dark, and one of the men got out to make a closer examination of the nature of the obstruction, when he saw a little black lamb standing there. He struck it with his whip, cutting a gash on its right ear, whereupon it vanished. That same night the old witch's right ear commenced to bleed, on which was found the marks of a whip. Sometimes the good house, wives of the neighborhood would be bothered with their churning; although the cream was of the proper consistency and the temperature exactly at the right point, "the butter would not come." As a last resort they would throw a red hot horse shoe into the churn, when the trouble would all be over. As certain as this was done, the old witch, though living at some distance, would set up a howling, and the print of a horse shoe would invariably be found upon her arm, as though burned into the flesh. This old beldame was believed by the unsophiscated people of the neighborhood to be the cause of all their misfortunes or ill luck; and it was a relief to their perplexed minds when she finally left the country. This belief in witchcraft, once so prevalent even in the more learned walks of life, against which wise legislators used to enact laws, is now fast disappearing before the superior enlightment of the age. The supernatural events said to have resulted from this agency are now to be met with only in the traditions of some rural neighborhood, and serve to entertain the group around the winter's fireside.

In the east borders of the town lived an old Tory, who sympathized heartily with the cause of Great Britain, and who was several times caught harboring the enemies of his country, and in other ways assisting them. The people finally became exasperated, and caught the old Tory, tied him to a post, and gave him a sound whipping, such as doubtless had a tendency to cure him of his Toryism, or at any rate to persuade him to be more cautious in his movements.

A little below La Grangeville, on the Jesse Clapp farm, is a Revolutionary building. Near by is a field, still known as "the camp lot," on which tradition says some British soldiers once encamped. These, perhaps, were a portion of Burgoyne's captive army, as history mentions their passing through this vicinity, while enroute for Fishkill. Their route was north of the American cantonments. They entered our county at Amenia, passed through Verbank, Arthursburgh and Hopewell, reaching the Hudson at Fishkill Landing, where they crossed over to Newburgh.

An incident is related that occurred at the old tavern stand at Sprout Creek. A gentleman from Pawling, named William Taber, was on his way to Poughkeepsie with a load of grain He had occasion to stop at this tavern, leaving his horses hitched to a post near by. While there, information was brought to him that a noted bully was frightening his horses, and there was danger of their breaking away. Mr. Tabor went out and remonstrated with the fellow. Whether the remonstrance was couched in gentle terms, or otherwise, is not stated; but the bully professed to be highly incensed at the interference, and proceeded at once to the task of giving Mr. T. a flogging. The latter though not a fighter by profession, was nevertheless endowed with considerable pluck and muscle, and it was soon evident he was more than a match for his assailant. The result was, the bully received such a sound beating that he was confined to his bed for weeks. It led to his conversion however, and he afterwards became an active Methodist preacher. He used to relate, in the pulpit, how religion was fairly beaten into him in a fist - fight at Sprout Creek.

Before the division of the town of Beekman, town meetings were held in a private house yet standing at Potter's Corners. Some sixty years ago Samuel A. Barker lived on the farm now owned by Davis. He was an intelligent man, a Justice of the Peace, and lived to a great age. Before his death, he became very childish. On his farm was a field of thirty acres, covered with daisies. One of his notions was to go into this field with a hired man, and dig up the daisies with a knife.

John Clapp lived near Freedom Plains Presbyterian church. He kept the town poor, which were then put up at auction, the lowest bidder to take care of them.

James Sleight was an early resident of this town and settled near Manchester on the farm now occupied by his son, Joseph Sleight. He was a soldier in the Revolution, served through three campaigns, and took part in several of the battles of that struggle. He was stationed at New Windsor when Vaughan passed up the Hudson. A detachment of Americans, of which he was one, marched up inland, following up Vaughan as he sailed up the stream. They came in sight of Kingston just as that village of 4000 inhabitants was lighted by the British incendiary torch. Many of his relatives, the Sleights, were living here; he saw his uncles, aunts, and cousins, fleeing for their lives, with such household goods as they could readily remove, while the bulk of their property, their houses and barns, were perishing before the devouring element. This scene he used to describe as the most trying one he witnessed during the war.

We cannot forbear mentioning another incident connected with his Revolutionary experience: - At the battle of White Plains, a regiment of raw militia were drawn up in a narrow valley. Before them was a low hill, along the top of which a rail fence extended, parallel to their front. At the foot of the hill, on the opposite side, lay a British regiment. Thus the two regiments were close upon each other, with the hill intervening, both awaiting the turn of events. A British officer crept up the hill to the fence, from whence he reconnoitred the position of the Americans. A Yankee soldier descried the officer, and disregarding the standing order not to fire until the command was given, blazed away at the tempting mark. The raw militiamen, thinking this a signal for opening fire, discharged their pieces, without any definite idea of what they were firing at, and all retreated to the cover of their breastworks a short distance in the rear. The enemy immediately ran to the top of the hill, and poured a volley at close range at the retreating militia. Fortunately the aim of the British was too high, and the bullets passed for the most part, harmlessly over the heads of the Americans. Only one man of the latter was injured. He was so far in advance of the main body as to be directly in range, and was fairly riddled with balls. His haste to reach a place of security resulted in his death. The remainder of the force reached their works in safety; and the British, not caring to attack them at a disadvantage, did not pursue.

During this engagement the enemy sent a squad of men, with a field piece to the right of the Americans, with the view of flanking their intrenchments. Their design was discovered, and a plan devised to outwit them. The Americans chose a small brass piece, the heaviest they had, loaded it with grape, and placed it in position to rake the precise spot the enemy were to plant their cannon, covering their movements with bodies of soldiers stationed irregularly about. When the British arrived at their destination, and had unlimbered their gun, preparatory to loading, the Americans separated from before their own gun, the fuse was lighted, and the deadly grape was poured directly into the British squad. The survivors gathered up their dead and wounded, and with their field piece made off as quickly as possible.

James Sleight was once with a party sent out to capture a deserter, who was known to be secreted in a house in the town of La Grange. They waited until nightfall, and then surrounded the house; leaving a guard at the front door, one or two passed around to the back of the house; they were too late however, as the deserter was then making the best of his way across a field a short distance off. He was commanded to stop, but refused to obey; a shot sent after him striking near him served only to quicken his pace. He succeeded into escaping into the adjoining woods, where he could successfully elude his pursuers.

In 1821, a terrible hail storm passed over this immediate section of Manchester. The storm took a southeast course, covering a tract of country about half a mile in width, carrying destruction in its course. It occurred on Sunday afternoon. The stones were so large that they broke the window sash in several dwellings, and it is said they even went through the roof of Mr. Cornell's house.


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