Page images

doors, which have ever been found of sovereign virtue to repel this awful visitation. This is the origin of the horse-shoes which may still be seen nailed to the doors of barns and farm-houses, in various parts of this sage and sober-thoughted region.

The evil, however, bore hard upon the Roost; partly, perhaps, from its having in old times been subject to supernatural influences, during the sway of the Wizard Sachem; but it has always, in fact, been considered a fated mansion. The unlucky Wolfert had no rest day nor night. When the weather was quiet all over the country, the wind would howl and whistle round his roof; witches would ride and whirl upon his weather-cocks, and scream down his chimnies. His cows gave bloody milk, and his horses broke bounds, and scampered into the woods. There were not wanting evil tongues to whisper that Wolfert's termagant wife had some tampering with the enemy; and that she even attended a witches' Sabbath in Sleepy Hollow; nay, a neighbor, who lived hard by, declared that he saw her harnessing a rampant broom-stick, and about to ride to the meeting; though others presume it was merely flourished in the course of one of her curtain lectures, to give energy and emphasis to a period. Certain it is, that Wolfert Acker nailed a horse-shoe to the front door, during one of her noctural excursions, to prevent her return; but as she rëentered the house without any difficulty, it is probable she was not so much of a witch as she was represented.*

After the time of Wolfert Acker, a long interval elapses, about which but little is known. It is hoped, however, that the antiquarian researches so diligently making in every part of this new country, may yet throw some light upon what may be termed the Dark Ages of the Roost.

The next period at which we find this venerable and eventful pile rising to importance, and resuming its old belligerent character, is during the revolutionary war. It was at that time owned by Jacob Van Tassel, or Van Texel, as the name was originally spelled, after the place in Holland which gave birth to this heroic line. He was strong built, long-limbed, and as stout in soul as in body; a fit successor to the warrior sachem of yore, and like him, delighting in extravagant enterprises, and hardy deeds of arms. But, before I enter upon the exploits of this worthy cock of the Roost, it is fitting I should throw some light upon the state of the mansion, and of the surrounding country, at the time.

* HISTORICAL Note. — The annexed extracts from the early colonial records, relate to the irruption of witchcraft into Westchester county, as mentioned in the chronicle :

JULY 7. 1670. - Katharine Harryson, accused nf witchcraft on complaint of Thomas Hunt and Edward Waters, in behalf of the town, who pray that she may be driven from the town of Westchester. The woman appears before the council.

She was a native of Evg. land, and had lived a year in Weathersfield, Coonccticut, where she had been triell for witchcraft, found guilty by the jury. acquitted by the bench, and released out of prison, upon coudition she would remove Affair ailjourned.

* August 24. – Affair taken up again, when, being heard at large, it was referred to the general court of assize. Woman ordered to give security for good behaviour,' etc.

In another place is the following entry:

Order given for Katharine Harryson, charged with witchcraft, to leave Westcbester, as the inhabitants are uneasy at her residing there, and she is ordered to go off.'

The situation of the Roost is in the very heart of what was the debateable ground between the American and British lines, during the war.

The British held possession of the city of New York, and the island of Manhattan on which it stands. The Americans drew up toward the Highlands, holding their head-quarters at Peekskill. The intervening country, from Croton River to Spiting Devil Creek, was the debateable land, subject to be harried by friend and foe, like the Scottish borders of yore. It is a rugged country, with a line of rocky hills extending through it, like a back bone, sending ribs on either side ; but among these rude hills are beautiful winding valleys, like those watered by the Pocantico and the Neperan. In the fastnesses of these hills, and along these valleys, exist a race of hardheaded, hard-handed, stout-hearted Dutchmen, descendants of the primitive Nederlanders. Most of these were strong whigs, throughout the war, and have ever remained obstinately attached to the soil, and neither to be fought nor bought out of their paternal acres. Others were tories, and adherents to the old kingly rule; some of whom took refuge within the British lines, joined the royal bands of refugees, a name odious to the American ear, and occasionally returned to harass their ancient neighbors.

In a little while, this debateable land was overrun by predatory bands from either side ; sacking hen-roosts, plundering farm-houses, and driving off cattle. Hence arose those two great orders of border chivalry, the Skinners and the Cow-boys, famous in the heroic annals of Westchester county. The former fought, or rather marauded, under the American, the latter under the British banner ; but both, in the hurry of their military ardor, were apt to err on the safe side, and rob friend as well as foe. Neither of them stopped to ask the politics of horse or cow, which they drove into captivity; nor, when they wrung the neck of a rooster, did they trouble their heads to ascertain whether be were crowing for Congress or King George.

While this marauding system prevailed on shore, the Great Tappan Sea, which washes this belligerent region, was domineered over by British frigates, and other vessels of war, anchored here and there, to keep an eye upon the river, and maintain a communication between the various military posts. Stout galleys, also, armed with eighteenpounders, and navigated with sails and oars, cruised about like hawks, ready to pounce upon


prey: All these were eyed with bitter hostility by the Dutch yeomanry along shore, who were indignant at seeing their great Mediterranean ploughed by hostile prows; and would occasionally throw up a mud breast-work on a point or promontory, mount an old iron field-piece, and fire away at the enemy, though the greatest harm was apt to happen to themselves, from the bursting of their ordnance; nay, there was scarce a Dutchman along the river, that would hesitate to fire with his long duck gun, at any British cruiser that came within reach, as he had been accustomed to fire at water-fowl.

I have been thus particular in my account of the times and neighborhood, that the reader might the more readily comprehend the surrounding dangers, in this the Heroic Age of the Roost.

It was commanded at the time, as I have already observed, by the stout Jacob Van Tassel. As I wish to be extremely accurate in this

part of my chronicle, I beg that this Jacob Van Tassel of the Roost may not be confounded with another Jacob Van Tassel, commonly known in border story by the name of Clump-footed Jake,' a noted tory, and one of the refugee band of Spiting Devil. On the contrary, he of the Roost was a patriot of the first water, and, if we may take his own word for granted, a thorn in the side of the enemy. As the Roost, from its lonely situation on the water's edge, might be liable to attack, he took measures for defence. On a row of hooks above his fire-place, reposed his great piece of ordnance, ready charged and primed for action. This was a duck, or rather goose-gun, of unparalleled longitude, with which it was said he could kill a wild goose, though half way across the Tappan Sea. Indeed, there are as many wonders told of this renowned gun, as of the enchanted. weapons of the heroes of classic story.

In different parts of the stone walls of his mansion, he had made loop-holes, through which he might fire upon an assailant. His wife was stout-hearted as himself, and could load as fast as he could fire; and then he had an ancient and redoubtable sister, Nochie Van Wurmer, a match, as he said, for the stoutest man in the country. Thus garrisoned, the little Roost was fit to stand a siege, and Jacob Van Tassel was the man to defend it to the last charge of powder.

He was, as I have already hinted, of pugnacious propensities; and, not content with being a patriot at home, and fighting for the security of his own fire-side, he extended his thoughts abroad, and entered into a confederacy with certain of the bold, hard-riding lads of Tarrytown, Petticoat Lane, and Sleepy Hollow, who formed a kind of Holy Brotherhood, scouring the country to clear it of Skinner and Cow-boy, and all other border vermin. The Roost was one of their rallying points. Did a band of marauders from Manhattan island come sweeping through the neighborhood, and driving off cattle, the stout Jacob and his compeers were soon clattering at their heels, and fortunate did the rogues esteem themselves, if they could but get a part of their booty across the lines, or escape themselves, without a rough handling. Should the moss troopers succeed in passing with their cavalgada, with thundering tramp and dusty whirlwind, across Kingsbridge, the Holy Brotherhood of the Roost would rein up at that perilous pass, and, wheeling about, would indemnify themselves by foraging the refugee region of Morrissania.

When at home at the Roost, the stout Jacob was not idle; but was prone to carry on a petty warfare of his own, for his private recreation and refreshment. Did he ever chance to espy, from his look-out place, a hostile ship or galley anchored or becalmed near shore, he would take down his long goose-gun from the hooks over the fire-place, sally out alone, and lurk along shore, dodging behind rocks and trees, and watching for hours together, like a veteran mouser intent on a rat-hole. So sure as a boat put off for shore, and came within shot, bang! went the great goose-gun; a shower of slugs and buck-shot whistled about the ears of the enemy, and before the boat could reach the shore, Jacob had scuttled up some woody ravine, and left no trace behind.

About this time, the Roost experienced a vast accession of warlike importance, in being made one of the stations of the water-guard.

This was a kind of aquatic corps of observation, composed of long, sharp, canoe-shaped boats, technically called whale-boats, that lay lightly on the water, and could be rowed with great rapidity. They were manned by resolute fellows, skilled at pulling an oar, or handling a musket. These lurked about in nooks and bays, and behind those long promontories which run out into the Tappan Sea, keeping a look-out, to give notice of the approach or movements of hostile ships. They roved about in pairs; sometimes at night, with muffled oars, gliding like spectres about frigates and guard-ships riding at anchor, cutting off any boats that made for shore, and keeping the enemy in constant uneasiness. These musquito-cruisers generally kept aloof by day, so that their harboring places might not be discovered, but would pull quietly along, under shadow of the shore, at night, to take up their quarters at the Roost. Hither, at such time, would also repair the hard-riding lads of the hills, to hold secret councils of war with the ocean chivalry ;' and in these nocturnal meetings were concerted many of those daring forays, by land and water, that resounded throughout the border.

The chronicle here goes on to recount divers wonderful stories of the wars of the Roost, from which it would seem, that this little warrior nest carried the terror of its arms into every sea, from Spiting Devil Creek to Antony's Nose; that it even bearded the stout island of Manbattan, invading it at night, penetrating to its centre, and burning down the famous Delancy house, the conflagration of which makes such a blaze in revolutionary history. Nay more, in their extravagant daring, these cocks of the Roost meditated a nocturnal descent upon New-York itself, to swoop upon the British commanders, Howe and Clinton, by surprise, bear them off captive, and perhaps put a triumphant close to the war!

All these and many similar exploits are recorded by the worthy Diedrich, with his usual minuteness and enthusiasm, whenever the deeds in arms of his kindred Dutchmen are in question : but though most of these warlike stories rest upon the best of all authority, that of the warriors themselves, and though many of them are still current among the revolutionary patriarchs of this heroic neighborhood, yet I dare not expose them to the incredulity of a tamer and less chivalric age. Suffice it to say, the frequent gatherings at the Roost, and the hardy projects set on foot there, at length drew on it the fiëry indignation of the enemy; and this was quickened by the conduct of the stout Jacob Van Tassel; with whose valorous achievements we resume the course of the chronicle.

This doughty Dutchman, continues the sage DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER, was not content with taking a share in all the magnanimous enterprises concocted at the Roost, but still continued his petty warfare along shore. A series of exploits at length raised his contidence in his prowess to such a beight, that he began to think himself and his goose-gun a match for any thing. Unluckily, in the course of one of his prowlings, he descried a British transport aground, not far from shore, with her stern swung toward the land, within point

blank shot. The temptation was too great to be resisted ; bang! as usual, went the great goose-gun, shivering the cabin windows, and driving all hands forward. Bang! bang! the shots were repeated. The reports brought several sharp shooters of the neighborhood to the spot; before the transport could bring a gun to bear, or land a boat, to take revenge, she was soundly peppered, and the coast evacuated. This was the last of Jacob's triumphs. He fared like some heroic spider, that has unwittingly ensnared a hornet, to his immortal glory, perhaps, but to the utter ruin of his web.

It was not long after this, during the absence of Jacob Van Tassel on one of his forays, and when no one was in garrison but his stouthearted spouse, his redoubtable sister, Nochie Van Wurmer, and a strapping negro wench, called Dinah, that an armed vessel came to anchor off the Roost, and a boat full of men pulled to shore. The garrison flew to arms, that is to say, to mops, broom-sticks, shovels, tongs, and all kinds of domestic weapons; for unluckily, the great piece of ordnance, the goose-gun, was absent with its owner. Above all, a vigorous defence was made with that most potent of female weapons, the tongue. Never did invaded hen-roost make a more vociferous outcry. It was all in vain. The house was sacked and plundered, fire was set to each corner, and in a few moments its blaze shed a baleful light far over the Tappan Sea. The invaders then pounced upon the blooming Laney Van Tassel, the beauty of the Roost, and endeavored to bear her off to the boat. But here was the real tug of war. The mother, the aunt, and the strapping negro wench, all few to the rescue. The struggle continued down to the very water's edge; when a voice from the armed vessel at anchor, ordered the spoilers to let go their hold; they relinquished their prize, jumped into their boats, and pulled off, and the heroine of the Roost escaped with a mere rumpling of the feathers.

The fear of tiring my readers, who may not take such an interest as myself in these heroic themes, induces me to close here my extracts from this precious chronicle of the venerable Diedrich. Suffice it briefly to say, that shortly after the catastrophe of the Roost, Jacob Van Tassel, in the course of one of his forays, fell into the hands of the British; was sent prisoner to New-York, and was detained in captivity for the greater part of the war. In the mean time, the Roost remained a melancholy ruin ; its stone walls and brick chimneys alone standing, blackened by fire, and the resort of bats and owlets. It was not until the return of peace, when this belligerent neighborhood once more resumed its quiet agricultural pursuits, that the stout Jacob sought the scene of his triumphs and disasters ; rebuilt the Roost, and reared again on high its glittering weather-cocks.

Does any one want farther particulars of the fortunes of this eventful little pile? Let him go to the fountain-head, and drink deep of historic truth. Reader! the stout Jacob Van Tassel still lives, a venerable, gray-headed patriarch of the revolution, now in his ninetyfifth year! He sits by his fire-side, in the ancient city of the Man. hattoes, and passes the long winter evening, surrounded by his children, and grand-children, and great-grand-children, all listening to his

« PreviousContinue »