Notes & sources (IV)

Most books are mostly made of other books. This story (“A Theatre,” published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies No. 336, August 12, 2021) is certainly no exception to that rule. Some people, and I’m one of them, can’t get enough of this sort of thing. Therefore, may I call you attention, Hypothetical Reader, to some facts, sources, and miscellaneous notes? To wit:—

Both Augustus Burnham and Enoch Crosby answered the call to arms after Lexington and Concord; possibly they met then near Boston. In any case, Crosby later enlisted in the Continental Army (I have moved his clandestine activities a few years later than they actually occurred), although there is no evidence that Burnham had any further military career. But then wouldn’t one expect secret service to be secret? (See Robert H. Burnham, Genealogical records of Thomas Burnham, the emigrant, who was among the early settlers at Hartford…, page 148; and H. L. Barnum, The spy unmasked; or, memoirs of Enoch Crosby, alias Harvey Birch, the hero of Mr. Cooper’s tale of the Neutral Ground….)

The advertisement of counterfeit currency that appeared in the New York Gazette is reproduced in facsimile in Kenneth Scott, Counterfeiting in colonial America. A secret circular describing the faults in various counterfeit issues (“Description of counterfeit bills, which were done in imitation of the true ones…”) is reprinted as Appendix K in John A. Nagy, Invisible ink: Spycraft of the American revolution.

My fictional purposes required the Neutral Ground to extend farther north than it ever did in reality. The main route through it, from the city of New York to Albany, is detailed in C.G. Hine’s The New York and Albany Post Road: From King’s Bridge to “the ferry at Crawlier, over against Albany,”…. Traces of the old Grape-Vine in Sparta (since annexed to Ossining) still remain as what’s now called the Jug Tavern, rebuilt circa 1885 and restored in the twentieth century; as does Saint John’s Chapel in Peekskill, although Crosby was never there; but Birdsall House was demolished in the nineteenth century to widen the street. Judging from the available pictorial evidence (such as the drawing on the bronze plaque at the site), however, Birdsall House was similar to Mount Gulian, near Fishkill, which still stands and may be visited by the curious. Crosby’s first escape from captivity—through the unlocked northeast window—was from the First Dutch Reformed Church in Fishkill, used at the time as a military prison, and also still standing and still in use as a church.

Thomas Waklee’s presence in the area is plain enough from his pension application (National Archives, pension file S40633), but the name of the town on his regiment’s muster roll for August 1780 is conveniently indecipherable. He married (23 February 1783) Anne Smith, of New York state, in New Milford, Connecticut (Samuel Orcutt, History of the towns of New Milford and Bridgewater, page 782); that they courted during his war service is pure conjecture. Sergeant Jeremiah Wood appears on the regiment’s muster rolls; apart from his name and rank I know nothing at all about him.

The countersigns for 3 August 1780 are recorded in that day’s General Orders preserved in the papers of George Washington ( Burnham and Crosby’s escape from Washington’s headquarters at Peekskill is based on, and at the end quotes from, Barnum, Spy unmasked. The moon at that time and place was actually a daylight waxing crescent (12%), not nearly full as described and the fiction demanded.

The list of tin goods in Murphy Steele’s wagon quotes from “A Yankee Lyric” by Hugh Peters (1807–1831), reprinted in Rev. Charles W. Everest (editor), The poets of Connecticut; with biographical sketches. Burnham’s joke about tin shoes also derives from that ballad. The slanders against the Yankee peddler with which Burnham chaffs Steel are from Memoirs of a Nullifier; written by himself, attributed to Algernon Sidney Johnston.

The sentence beginning “Joe-Pye weed…” is quoted, more or less, from New York Post Road, pages 44 and 47. Smith’s fever confession is based on, and quotes from, Spy unmasked, pages 67–69.

For period medical practices I am indebted to Lester S. King, The medical world of the eighteenth century and to Roy Porter, Quacks: Fakers & charlatans in English medicine. The names of Doctor Gordon’s cats are drawn from Guy Davenport, “The Dawn in Erewhon” in Tatlin!: Six stories, pages 232–235. He quotes from Burton’s Anatomy of melancholy, Partition I, Member III, Subsection II (page 171 of the NYRB edition).

The list of materia medica that Doctor Gordon rummages through is from William Buchan’s Domestic medicine, or a treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases by regimen and simple medicines, quoted in Porter, Quacks, page 48. His use of metallic tractors is anachronistic, Perkins having announced his great invention only in 1796. For a photograph of the tractors, see William Snow Miller’s “Elisha Perkins and his metallic tractors” in the Yale journal of biology and medicine, vol. 8, no. 1 (October 1935), page 51. The electrical treatment was suggested by a footnote on page 23 of James Harvey Young’s The toadstool millionaires: A social history of patent medicines in America before federal regulation. The specifics of the treatment are derived (and partially quoted) from George William Francis, Electrical experiments; illustrating the theory, practice and application of the science…, Chapter XII: “Medical and animal electricity.” The formula for cephalic snuff is adapted from the same author’s Dictionary of practical receipts; containing medicinal preparations….

The tale of the giants and the water-rats is quoted, condensed, and paraphrased from New York Post Road, pages 46 and 48.

Murphy Steel’s petition to General Clinton, recording his prophecies, together with the few other biographical traces that can still be recovered, is printed in Ruth Holmes Whitehead, Black loyalists: Southern settlers of Nova Scotia’s first free black communities, pages 76–85. His visions actually occurred during the summer of 1781, not 1780. There is no evidence that he left New York City to deliver his divine message directly to General Washington—but neither is there any evidence that he did not, apart from the great unlikelihood of such an expedition.

I’ve sifted tidbits of Albany arcana from Joel Munsell (editor), The annals of Albany (10 volumes); the articles “State Street in 1792” (volume 1, pages 310–316) and “Maud’s travels” (volume 3, pages 58–76) were especially helpful. The dishes served at Lewis’s City Tavern can be found in Hannah Glasse’s The art of cookery, made plain and easy….

Philip Schuyler’s characterization of the Shakers is quoted from Victor Hugo Paltsits (editor), Minutes of the commissioners for detecting and defeating conspiracies in the state of New York: Albany County sessions, 1778–1781 (3 volumes), pages 452, 469, and 592 (and from which volumes I have also drawn at random for the names of minor characters). His religious scruples on war and revolution are quoted and paraphrased from sermons by Moses Mather, America’s appeal to the impartial world…; John Murray, Nehemiah, or the struggle for liberty never in vain…; Peter Powers, Jesus Christ the true king and head of government…; and Ezra Stiles, The United States elevated to glory and honor…. The description of the lamentation of dogs is approximately quoted from Jeptha Root Simms, The frontiersmen of New York:…a great variety of romantic and thrilling stories never before published, volume II, page 336.

Mrs McReynolds’s establishment, although entirely imaginary, is based on descriptions of similar haunts popular among certain populations in London several decades earlier; the documentary evidence is too extensive to rehearse here (but see the notes to my story “That We Maye with Free Heartes Accomplishe Those Thynges,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies No. 386, July 13, 2023 ).

Cadwallader Goldsworthy’s discourse is confected of snippets and dollops of Christopher Colles’s pamphlets Proposals for the speedy settlement of the waste and unappropriated lands… and Proposal of a design for the promotion of the interests of the United States…. For prices of food, drink, and lodging in Albany at that time, see Arthur James Weise, The history of the city of Albany, New York…, pages 377–8.

The conversation that Burnham eavesdrops on is based on one reported in the article “Goldsborough Banyar,” in Annals of Albany, volume 5, pages 278–282.

The persecution of early Shakers at Niskayuna, near Albany, is documented—from opposing points of view—in Paltsits, Minutes of the commissioners, and Rufus Bishop and Seth Youngs Wells (editors), Testimonies of the life…of Mother Ann Lee, and the elders…. The warrant to arrest Ann Lee (called Ann Standerren in the relevant records, a corruption of her married name, although she had several years earlier, with her husband’s eventual acquiescence, declared that marriage dissolved) and others was issued 24 July 1780 (Minutes of the commissioners, page 469). She was ordered transferred to Poughkeepsie on 26 August (ibid., page 504), and was finally granted permission to return 4 December (ibid., page 592). I have compressed the gap between her arrest and transfer.

The description of the Stadt Huys quotes from the articles “The Old Stadt Huys” and “Albany County Jails” in George R. Howell and Jonathan Tenney (editors), The Bi-Centennial History of Albany…, pages 346–349. The Shaker prisoners had first been kept in the Stadt Huys but were soon moved to the Albany Fort; I have preferred to have them remain at the Stadt Huys until Ann Lee’s removal to Poughkeepsie. Lucy Wright’s words to Ann Lee’s persecutors are from certain sayings attributed to Lee herself in F.W. Evans, Shakers. Compendium of the origin…, page 149. Ann Lee’s minor miracle is based on the “Testimony” of Rebecca and Mary Clark in Alonzo G. Hollister (compiler), Book of the busy hours, quoted in Priscilla J. Brewer, Shaker communities, Shaker lives, pages 10–11.

Valentine Rathbone (who actually spelled his name Rathbun) recounts his conversion experience, from a hostile perspective after his apostasy, in Some brief hints of a religious scheme…, pages 17–20. Some of the groups in his list of New Light sects actually flourished a little later than our period, and a few even after the turn of the century: see David M. Ludlum, Social ferment in Vermont 1791–1850, pages 238–244; Stephen A. Marini, Radical sects of revolutionary New England, pages 40–55; and John L. Brooke, The refiner’s fire: The making of Mormon cosmology, 1644-1844, pages 56–58. For biographical details on Valentine Rathbun, see David D. Newell, “‘Late recruits for Britain’: Anti-Shaker propaganda during the American Revolution” in American communal societies quarterly, volume 2, number 3, pages 103–114.

For the story of Shadrach Ireland, see Marini, Radical sects, pages 50–51; Richard Francis, Ann the word: The story of Ann Lee, female messiah, mother of the Shakers, the woman clothed with the sun (probably the best biography of Ann Lee available), pages 162–168; and Francis G. Walett, “Shadrack Ireland and the ‘Immortals’ of colonial New England,” in Sibley’s heir: A volume in memory of Clifford Kenyon Shipton (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, LIX; 1982), pages 541-50. 

That the Niskayuna (all the variant spellings of Niskayuna I have used are attested in the historical record) Shaker settlement accepted Blacks is confirmed by Paltsits, Minutes of the commissioners, page 555; I’ve also taken Burnham’s pseudonym among the Shakers from there, pages 678 and 680. Caroline B. Piercy, The Shaker cookbook: Not by bread alone was very useful for details of Shaker foodways.

The description of early Shaker devotional practices is based on Rathbun, Some brief hints. The Shaker worshipper’s inspired gibberish is quoted from John Barth’s “Glossolalia” (pages 111–112 of the Bantam paperback edition of Lost in the funhouse), which is in turn quoted, or so he claims in his preface, from a certain Mme Alice LeBaron circa 1879. “They sing the song…” are Rathbun’s own words, as quoted in Thankful Goodrich’s “Testimony,” a manuscript source cited in Francis, Ann the word, pages 139–140. The song the twirling woman sings is from “Hymn of Love” printed in an untitled book in the Library of Congress’s rare book collection (BV442 .S53 1833;, page 18.

Little is known of Lucy Wright’s life before her appointment as Eldress, but see Richard Francis, Ann the word; Edward Deming Andrews, The people called Shakers: A search for the perfect society (which reprints the whole of the Millennial Laws (1845)); Priscilla J. Brewer, Shaker communities, Shaker lives; and Calvin Green, The biographic memoir of…Mother Lucy Wright… (which includes, in chapter 8, a description of her appearance). For my fictional convenience, I have given her the capacity of leader among the sisters at Niskayuna about a year before that responsibility actually commenced. She quotes from the opening lines (more or less) of David R. Slavitt’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In dreary actuality, Augustus Burnham had already married one Mary Stedman on April 12, 1771, her eighteenth birthday, when he was himself aged 19—an unusually early marriage which might suggest a story all of its own to those so minded.

For cheesemaking lore I have relied on Charles Millington, The housekeeper’s domestic library…, chapter XIII, “The dairy, &c.: Directions respecting the dairy and its management, and for making butter and various kinds of cheese” (note that this is the second chapter XIII, pages 363–369). Also very valuable was the video from Jas. Townsend & Son, “Cheesemaking in the early 19th century,”

Goldsworthy’s communications scheme is from Christopher Colles’s pamphlet Description of the numerical telegraph…; Ann Lee’s remark about wings is from Testimonies, quoted in Ann the Word; Rathbone’s calumny against the Shakers is quoted from Some brief hints; Lucy Wright’s instruction on folding the hands is quoted from the Millennial Laws, of which she was probably the chief author; the Virginian’s stream of abuse is lifted from the anonymous pamphlet The anatomies of the true physician and counterfeit mountebank.

The list of books and other dry goods derives from “Books in 1772,” Annals of Albany, volume 1, page 214. I calculated the stage-wagon fees from data in “Stage and mail routes in olden time,” pages 246–254. Trowbridge’s Coffee-House is called “the original stage office” in “Notes from newspapers,” in Cuyler Reynolds, Albany chronicles: A history of the city arranged chronologically, page 308. That book also locates Hugh Denniston’s Tavern, “the first stone house in Albany,” at the north-west corner of Green and Beaver Streets. The story that Burnham tells John takes some situations, names, and turns of phrase from James A. Pickering, “Enoch Crosby, secret agent of the Neutral Ground: His own story,” in Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, volume XLVII (1966), pages 61–73.

I have also gratefully consulted these resources:

John Bakeless. Turncoats, traitors and heroes: Espionage in the American Revolution.

 Nancy Cox and Karin Dannehl. Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities 1550-1820;

Kenneth A. Daigler. Spies, patriots, and traitors: American intelligence in the revolutionary war.

J. R. Dolan. The Yankee peddlers of early America.

Melvin B. Endy, Jr. “Just war, holy war, and millenianism in revolutionary America,” The William and Mary Quarterly, third series, volume 52 (1985), pages 3–25.

David Kahn. The code-breakers: The story of secret writing.

Christian Kay, Marc Alexander, Fraser Dallachy, Jane Roberts, Michael Samuels, and Irené Wotherspoon (editors). The Historical Thesaurus of English, version 4.21;

Elise Lathrop. Early American inns and taverns.

Richard M. Lederer, Jr. American colonial English: A glossary: Words and phrases found in colonial writing, now archaic, obscure, obsolete, or whose meanings have changed.

Heather Jane McCormick. “History of the Davids–Garrison/Jug Tavern property: A report for the Long Range Planning Committee, Jug Tavern of Sparta, Inc.”

Stephen Mihm. A nation of counterfeiters: Capitalists, con men, and the making of the United States.

Nathaniel Philbrick. Valiant ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the fate of the American revolution.

W.J. Rorabaugh. The alcoholic republic: An American tradition.

Carl van Doren. Secret history of the American revolution: An account of the conspiracies of Benedict Arnold and numerous others drawn from the Secret Service papers of the British headquarters in North America now for the first time examined and made public.

Walter Richard Wheeler. “Vanished Vernacular III: The Schuyler-Staats House, Albany, New York,” in The Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture Newsletter, Vol. 21, No. 2 (April–June 2018), pages 2–15.

C. Keith Wilbur. Revolutionary medicine 1700-1800.

Richardson Wright. Hawkers & walkers in early America: Strolling peddlers, preachers[,] lawyers, doctors, players, and others, from the beginning to the Civil War.