Chasing Wisps Across the Internet
Levi Hasbrouck by Ammi Phillips. Circa 1825
By Bruce McKinney
In a thousand places the drama of life has played itself out and the details disappeared. The famous and infamous have lived on in collective memory, the simply good, bad and in between inevitably disappeared. There is simply no time to remember everyone although the ability to remember, even reconstruct lives, is increasing. We may someday live in a world that forgets nothing. Today we live in a world that is beginning to remember what time forgot. I found this out recently while researching an early Ulster County bank certificate.
Two months ago I purchased for $34, on eBay, a stock certificate issued by the Ulster County Bank in 1834. I'm building a Wiki Blibliography for Kingston-Rondout and so look for material on the area. When I received it I noticed it was made out to a Levi Hasbrouck of New Paltz. I once lived there but moved away decades ago. The name was unfamiliar. I next did some internet searches and found an emerging patchwork of museums, colleges, associations and municipal staff willing to take a few minutes to search their records for references to him. It turns out there is a light but discernible footprint.
I'm somewhat aware of the history of Ulster County and have some of its histories. In Sylvestor's History of Ulster County I found a detailed history of the bank from its first organizing in 1831 to the publishing of Slyvestor's in 1880. I found further reference to the bank in Picturesque Ulster, a series of folio magazines published in 1896. Online I found reference to some of Levi Hasbrouck's records in storage at the Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz and noticed a separate online notation to a painting of him in the holdings of a Massachusetts museum. I contacted them to ask if it would be possible to see and learned they didn't have it. The painting's earlier listed ownership then led to a gift to the University of Indiana at Bloomington which confirmed, when contacted, they had no record of it either but could not confirm they didn't have it. In the process I learned Levi's wife's name, Hylah Bevier Hasbrouck, and found links to an online exhibition of the Huguenot Historical Society that is located less than a mile from the Elting Library. They, it turns out, have the Ammi Phillips painting of her referenced on the Library of Congress website, and it turns out, they also have a painting of Levi. They also own his home and it is open to the public. It is Locust Lawn, located on Route 32 on the road from New Paltz to Modena that continues on to Newburgh.
Having come this far [electronically] I contacted the Ulster County Records Center in Kingston which was able to provide a certificate of [re]incorporation for the bank dated 1861 that Mr. Hasbrouck, as stockholder, signed in a palsied hand. He died two months before the document was officially filed with the county.
I also found a reference in Lefevre's History of New Paltz  to Levi's father Josiah one hundred years earlier as "quite certainly the richest man in New Paltz, perhaps the richest man in the county." This suggests the son was also well-to-do and is consistent with investing in a new bank.
Chasing Wisps Across the Internet
The largest ownership in Ulster County's oldest bank? Probably
From all this I concluded that Levi Hasbrouck was an early, possibly an orginal investor in the bank. He also appears to have had a large stake, perhaps the largest of any of the early investors. By 1861, when a list of shareholders is filed with the county, the number of shareholders has declined from 127 to 64 and he is still listed, and by a small margin, the largest shareholder. It's all interesting but inconclusive, the certificate of the county's earliest bank an interesting artifact, his ownership an indication of his wealth.
More importantly the search provided fresh evidence that a broad community is building in support of local research. Every institution and organization I contacted had people to answer phones and questions, who were fluid and familiar with the type of inquiries I made and quick to provide insight, information and suggestions. Also near to the surface is a budding fee based business. This time around only the County Records Center asked to be reimbursed. No one else did although the Huguenot Historical Society indicated future requests for images would incur a fee. This all seems reasonable. Such services are valuable, for many invaluable. In a year or two the custom of charging will have mostly taken hold. The internet is making it possible to plumb the far corners, to find the unfindable, to know the unknowable but this is a fee-based business waiting to happen. The economy is in free fall and interest in research rising. So perhaps it is only logical that the key to future help and research is likely to soon be the twenty dollar bill on whose face the very man, who by campaigning for the closure of the Second National Bank, ushered in the creation of more than a thousand state and county banks, one of which was the Ulster County Bank. That man of course was Andrew Jackson.
For those interested to know more about Levi Hasbrouck here are some documents and links;
The Josiah Hasbrouck House at Locust Lawn, also the home of Levi and Hylah Bevier Hasbrouck
Acknowledgments and sources:
Huguenot Historical Society. This organization fielded many calls and have provided the image of the Ammi Phillips painting of Levi Hasbrouck. For those interested in the history of the Hudson Valley, Ulster County and New Paltz in particular they are the first stop.
The University of Indiana
Curator of Western Art after 1800
Indiana University Art Museum
The Gore Place Museum
Lana Lewis, Collections Manager
Ulster County Records Center
300 Foxhall Ave., Kingston, New York
Ken Gray Archivist
T. Craig McKinney, Retired Publisher of the Hudson Valley Newspapers
Available for Research
New Paltz, New York