Washington’s Headquarters: 169 Years Ago – July 4, 1850 by Joe Santacroce

The Madrigal Choir at WHQ
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An Ode

NFA Madrigal Choir
The NFA Madrigal Choir at a rehearsal for “An Ode” written by Mary E. Monell in 1850. (Photo provided by the Author)

In April of 2016 a group of students at Newburgh Free Academy, The Madrigal Choir, came together at Washington’s Headquarters to recreate the performance of “An Ode” written by Mary E. Monell, wife of Newburgh lawyer John J. Monell, during the transition of the home to the state to become the countries first publicly owned Historic Site in the country. It was a magical moment and included in the film Mansion on the Hill, the Story of the Hasbrouck House. This is an excerpt from the story of what led to that transition which occurred on July 4, 1850.

On June 7, 2016 the Choir came together at WHQ to perform “An Ode” by Mary E. Monell

The Hasbrouck House

The house on Liberty Street, also known as the Hasbrouck House, was the home of farmer and merchant Jonathan Hasbrouck. Jonathan Hasbrouck, in addition to becoming a Colonel in the Militia, became the first Supervisor of Newburgh in 1763 and the first town meeting was held at his home.  He was also a member of the Committee of Safety which acted as the local Government filling the void created during troubled times of both British and Native American hostilities. He and wife Tryntje had seven children at the home. Jonathan died in 1780. Shortly after George Washington would come to Newburgh and make this home Headquarters from around April 1, 1782 until August 18, 1783 and the end of the war. A number of pivotal events in the fight for freedom occurred right here in Newburgh during that period.

1883 Bryant's Popular Hist
Illustration of Washington’s Headquarters in 1883. (Provided by the Author)

Jonathan and Tryntje’s Son Cornelius, who would have inherited the home, had left Newburgh. He was rumored to be in Canada and said to have allegiance to the Crown although there are different theories as to why Cornelius had left.  Cornelius had also signed over, by way of a deed filed in Ulster County Court which Newburgh was still a part of, his inheritance of the properties willed to him by his father in 1786.  Cornelius was arrested, jailed, and branded for stealing cattle belonging to the Continental Army.  After spending time in jail and being released in March 1781 he ran into more trouble and was felt to be a sympathizer by his neighbors. He then left the country but was later involved in land transactions in the area. There is no known record of his death.

Brother Jonathan had died in 1792 so son Isaac was now in possession of his father’s property. When Isaac passed in 1806 and his wife Hannah passed the following year in 1807, what amounted in the day to quite a fortune in land holdings went to Isaac’s sons and grandchildren of Jonathan and Tryntje Hasbrouck: Jonathan III, Israel, and Eli. Israel passed in 1810 unmarried. As the younger brother Eli was underage at the time the land was put in trust along with other properties that their father had owned.

 

Washington's Headquarters 1811 Partition Map
Washington’s Headquarters 1811 Partition Map showing the division of property between the Children Rachel and Mary Hasbrouck and Grandchildren Eli and Jonathan III.

In 1811 a Partition Map was filed which divided up the brother’s interest giving each sole ownership of various Properties. Jonathan III would receive the lot which included the Mansion, or the Stone Hasbrouck House.

In 1816 brother Eli signed over his interest in other property upstate, over 1000 acres, to Jonathan III for repayment of his care and education dating back to 1811 which was estimated to be 15k.

In 1813 the Village of Newburgh wanted to tear down the house and extend Grand St. which would run right through it. Jonathan III spent a great deal to fight City Hall. He was offered money to tear it down. He declined.

In the years leading up to the property being transferred to the State Jonathan III tried in vain to hold onto the property. It had been vandalized, had been rented out for various purposes and to various tenants including Jonathan’s daughters Ann Eliza and Israela running a school there. In 1834 things were getting worse and Jonathan III put the house up for sale. In the notice in the Newburgh Telegraph dated January 16, 1834 he described it as “the most ancient and durable building above the Highlands” and “to describe the surrounding scenery is impossible”,

In an 1834 article in the New York mirror author G’ulian Verplank called it “one of the most interesting relics of the first and heroic age of our Republic”.

There was an increase in the desire to preserve the home by the late 1830s. Washington Irving, the noted author thought it should be saved as an historic site. Along with others Washington Irving joined in petitioning the state Legislature to preserve Washington’s Headquarters as an historic site in March of 1839.

 

Jonathan Hasbrouck III had taken a mortgage loan against the home to try and maintain ownership. He had defaulted on the loan and tried desperately and in vain to obtain the necessary funding to pay the annual payment but failed.

Washington's Headquarters from Grand St.
Washington’s Headquarters from Grand St. (Photo provided by Author)

According to Richard Caldwell, author of “A True History of the Acquisition of Washington’s Headquarters at Newburgh”, he stated, “It was truly pitiful the efforts which the old man made to save his heart treasured possession”. When it was put up for sale at the Court House in Goshen and no one bid the needed amount, and when bid by the Commissioners of United States Deposit Fund who held the mortgage, Caldwell wrote, “the old man was at the sale, and when it was finally struck off he burst into tears.”

One of the Commissioners and father of Richard Caldwell, Andrew J. Caldwell, felt the house should be preserved and communicated with then Governor Hamilton Fish. This is turn led to legislation which would provide the funding to pay off the mortgage and become property of the state when the bill was passes on April 10, 1850.

Jonathan Hasbrouck III had lost his battle to maintain ownership of the home. He had again tried to regain ownership of the home at least one time, in 1852, but again failed. Jonathan Hasbrouck III died in 1855 and is buried along with his wife, parents, and brother Eli and wife in Old Town Cemetery in Newburgh.

Downtown Newburgh would not be the same if the 1813 plans to extend Grand St. through the property and tear down the house had succeeded. It is almost sacrilegious to think what might have happened if some did not have the foresight to preserve such a family and revolutionary treasure. Jonathan Hasbrouck III did not retain ownership which was his passion. He understood that in this case at least, money isn’t everything.

At a special meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Newburgh, held at the United States Hotel, on Wednesday, April 24th, 1850, a committee was formed to oversee the restoration of

The United States Hotel
The United States Hotel on Front St. in Newburgh. (Photo Courtesy of the Historic Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands)

the house. With Transition to the State the Hasbrouck House, also known as Washington’s Headquarters, became the first publicly owned Historic Site in the Country.

The Committee appointed by the Trustees, led by Enoch Carter, went about restoring every part of the building to the condition when occupied by General George Washington. A large flagstaff was erected. And on July 4th, 1850 Washington’s Headquarters was dedicated before a large crowd. The Honorable John J. Monell of Newburgh provided the dedication address and wife Mary E. Monell composed a song, “An Ode”, which was sung by the Choir.

Included in the purchase by the state were other properties identified on the Partition Map of 1811. Various lots that surrounded the property that were previously sold off or belonged to Mary and Rachel Hasbrouck, daughters of Jonathan and Tryntje, were also purchased by the state.

Within 20 years of the transition there was concern of development and the City was quickly encroaching on the landmark. In 1869 the State had authorized additional funds in the amount of $10,000 to purchase approximately two acres of land currently owned by Mr. Homer Ramsdell.

Again in 1890 as it was felt more breathing room was needed, another 1 and ¾ acres for $22,000 was purchased from the “The Ramsdell Reality Company”. The result is the beautiful property that exists today in the heart of downtown Newburgh. It is a fraction of what the total size of the Hasbrouck Land was in the late 18th Century. But it will be there for all to enjoy and to remember the extraordinary events that took place right here in Newburgh during our fight for independence.

 

There are many to thank who assisted both in this article and in the making of the film. A few include but not limited to:

  • Rick Santacroce
  • Mary McTamaney
  • A Jay Schenkman
  • Washington’s Headquarters Historic Site
  • Historic Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands
  • New York State Parks and Recreation
  • Scott Snell
  • The Madrigal Choir and Jillian Caci Director
  • and many others!

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