January 11, 2013

Faithful church founder remembered


---- — PLATTSBURGH — A 30-year-old Long Islander founded the First Presbyterian Church of Plattsburgh.

The Rev. Frederick Halsey was recruited by Judge Thomas Tredwell to come to nascent Plattsburgh.

Halsey was born March 2, 1761, in Westhampton, Long Island. He died Aug. 6, 1838, in Plattsburgh. He married Laetitia Platt, and they had seven children. Laetitia was the eighth child of Charles and Caroline (Adriance) Platt.

“Charles was the guy who came here first,” said Jim Bailey, who is the historian for the First Presbyterian Church.

“He was the brother of Zephaniah. The Platts were down in Poughkeepsie organizing the grants, the soldiers’ rights to organize this town. Charles was the pioneer who came up with the first group in March of 1785 to chop down the first trees, build the first dam and put in the first saw mills. Charles was the founder of Plattsburgh, physically.”

Halsey was a graduate of Columbia College and a licentiate of the Presbytery of Long Island, according to former church historian Ed McShane in “Highlights of the History of the First Presbyterian Church of Plattsburgh, New York.” 


In August 1795, Halsey arrived here to start a secondary school, the Academy, and the Presbyterian Church, which was formally organized on Oct. 1, 1797.

In a letter dated Aug. 3, 1794, and reprinted in the church’s 1997 bicentennial booklet, Tredwell wrote the following to Halsey:

“If you are willing to take both these charges upon you, and would make us a visit, soon, and things could be agreeable to both sides, you will have an opportunity of procuring a good Settlement, in as beautiful a part of the Country as I ever saw; and in a place where your labors are likely to be useful as anywhere at all.”

The fledgling congregation met in the blockhouse on Cumberland Avenue and later the court house. The academy was established in front of his home at Halsey’s Corners, a stone’s throw from Punki’s Shear Perfection today.

McShane writes:

“Mr. Halsey’s starting salary was 100 pounds per year, plus a settlement of 50 pounds, a total of $375.00. He wrote one year that his salary consisted of cash, 1 swine, 14 bushels of wheat, 2 bushels of corn, one-half bushel of salt, a dozen pigeons, 164 pounds of beef, 1,799 pounds of flax, a yoke of oxen, 1½ bushels of smutty wheat and 4 bushels of musty wheat, apple trees, and ‘the makings of a gown.’ His income over the next fourteen years averaged only 74 pounds.”

The Rev. David Dobie, church pastor from 1844 to 1855, writes in “Dobie’s Discourse”:

“A small band of brethren was organized as a Church of Christ, consisting of eighteen persons, viz: Ezekiel Hubbard, John Stratton, Abner Pomroy, Wm. Badlam, Mrs. Badlam, Moses Corbin, Elizabeth Addoms, Catherine Hageman, Catherine Marsh, Lucretia Miller, Phoebe Platt, Esther Stratton, Mary Addoms, Mrs. Mix, Martha Coe, Stephen Mix, Wm. Pitt Platt and John Culver.”


In addition to his school responsibilities, Halsey gave two sermons a week. Before he resigned his pastorate in 1810, Halsey officiated at more than 600 marriages. Halsey’s daughter Caroline married James Bailey, a successful 19th century real-estate entrepreneur.

“He (Bailey) had a lot on South Catherine Street that went back into what is now the (Riverside) cemetery. According to James Bailey’s will, he stated, ‘I want to be buried on my own private lot.’ When he was buried, it was private land. The cemetery expanded and includes the space where Halsey is buried. Halsey is buried next to Bailey,” Bailey explained.

The Battle of Plattsburgh Association has mounted the Rev. Halsey Grave Restoration Fund to repair the exterior walls of the deteriorated vault, which is located near the gravestone of British Naval Commander Downie in Riverside Cemetery.


During the War of 1812, Halsey served as chaplain to the 8th Regiment of Militia organized by his neighbor Col. Thomas Miller.

“That’s where Tom Miller Road’s name comes from. Tom Miller’s house is still standing. It’s the stone house on the end of Quarry Road,” Bailey said.

In the church’s Sessions Records for Aug. 1, 1813, the Rev. Wm. R. Weeks, who succeeded Halsey, writes:

“This day in consequence of an invasion by the British troops, there was no public workshop and the sacrament of the Lord ‘s Supper could not be administered according to the appointments.”

Halsey’s future son-in-law, a teen James Bailey, had a close encounter with the Red Coats that summer.

“He arrived just as the British raid was going on, when Murray landed at the mouth of the Saranac with a few troops and preceded to go up and burn Pike’s Cantonment and loot the Delord store.”

Bailey and a cohort stalked the British soldiers.

“They locked him in a house or barn,” Bailey said. “He managed to escape.”

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WHAT: The Rev. Halsey Grave Restoration Fund.

DONATIONS: Make out checks in any amount to: The Battle of Plattsburgh Association, marked "for Halsey grave restoration." Credit cards may be used by calling 566-1814.

ADDRESS: Battle of Plattsburgh Association, 31 Washington Road, Plattsburgh, NY 12903.

HOURS: The War of 1812 Museum is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.