Search This Blog

Monday, March 13, 2023


by James W. Ellis
Copyright ©2023. All rights reserved by the author.


The artist Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) lived for five productive decades on Manhattan’s Lower West Side, during which time he became America’s most idiosyncratic painter of imaginative subjects (fig. 1). Late in life, Ryder reflected on his artistic journey and characterized himself as a seeker in search of something he might never find. He asked, “Have you ever seen an inchworm crawl up a leaf or twig and then, clinging to the very end, revolve in the air, feeling to reach something? That’s like me. I am trying to find something out there beyond the place on which I have a footing” (Ryder 1905, 10). Ryder tended to select subjects from music and literature, from Wagnerian operas, Shakespeare’s dramas, and the Bible, but he used these sources as jumping-off points. His most powerful and dramatic images place archetypical characters within mysterious, eloquently expressed settings accented by unsettling colors and unnatural lighting. Above anything else, Ryder relied on his own intuition and instincts; his themes were utterly transformed by inner visions and deliberations. Perhaps his most affecting single work is Death on a Pale Horse, which is also known as The Race Track (fig. 2).


Figure 1. Alice Boughton, Albert Pinkham Ryder. 1905. Photograph. 

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Public Domain. 

Figure 2. Albert Pinkham Ryder, Death on a Pale Horse (The Race Track), ca. 1896–1908.

Oil on canvas; 28 x 35 in. 

The Cleveland Museum of Art. Public Domain.


The Artist

Albert Pinkham Ryder descended from the early English settlers of the Plymouth Colony on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. During the 1630s, one of his ancestors left the colony to help found the town of Yarmouth, and by the mid-nineteenth century, the family had settled further inland to New Bedford, Massachusetts. This was where the future artist was born, on March 19, 1847, the youngest of four brothers. During the nineteenth century, the Ryder family was caught up in the revivalist spirit of the Protestant Great Awakenings, and they joined the American Methodist movement. The English clergymen John Wesley, his brother Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield helped establish the Methodist Revival in the southern colony of Georgia during the 1730s, which quickly spread up the Eastern Seaboard in the next decade, reaching New York, Boston, and all the principal cities and towns of New England by the mid-1740s (see Carwardine 1972). Albert’s grandparents and his parents, Alexander and Elizabeth (Cobb) Ryder, were devout Methodists. His grandmother, mother, and other women in his family even dressed in the “plain manner” more commonly associated with the Quakers and Amish (Sherman 1920, 12). The artist’s strict religious upbringing shaped his worldview and the subjects he chose to depict.

Each of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s older brothers served in the military during the Civil War, and after the war was over, each brother relocated to New York City in search of economic opportunities. Albert and his parents soon followed, and by 1871 the whole family was reunited and living together again in Manhattan in a small house on West Thirty-fifth Street (Broun 1989, 18, 182). The artist’s father, Alexander Ryder, helped support the family by working in a variety of trades and even served as a church sexton in a local Methodist congregation.

Albert Pinkham Ryder showed an artistic aptitude at an early age, and as soon as he arrived in New York, he began taking instruction in drawing from William Edgar Marshall (1837-1906). Marshall’s fame was based primarily on his engraved portraits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and he accepted many students into his studio. After Ryder honed his skills for several months, he applied to The National Academy of Design and was accepted. For the following four years, Ryder took part in drawing courses at the Academy’s building on Park Avenue and Twenty-third Street, sketching plaster casts of famous ancient sculptures and producing studies of live models. Around the same time, he took his first trip to Europe but stayed only one month. He would return to Europe only twice, in 1887 and 1896, but both times he again quickly returned.

Art historians and curators often mischaracterize Albert Pinkham Ryder as either somewhat naïve or as a wholly unique artist. This may be because as Ryder aged, he became more and more reclusive, living and working in seclusion, and his visual idiom grew more eccentric and visionary. In this progression, Ryder was similar to the innovative post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Ryder’s near contemporary. Van Gogh has also been misunderstood as a mere oddity or as an outsider to the art world who preferred only to pursue his own muse and disregarded the work of others (see Bailey 2019). But, in fact, both van Gogh and Ryder were well acquainted with the history of European painting, and both were particularly impressed by the landscapes and genre scenes of the French Barbizon School (Homer 1961, 283; regarding Ryder’s other influences, see Evans 1986). Ryder was known to frequent The Metropolitan Museum of Art and leading galleries to see the paintings of Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), bucolic scenes infused with spiritual messages. Ryder also borrowed from the softly generalized forms, rough brushwork, and “dusky golden tonalities” of the Barbizon painter Théodore Rousseau (1812-1876) (Homer 1961, 283). However, while Ryder was a sophisticated art student, like van Gogh, he had an unusual disposition.

An Odd Personality

During the twelve years that Albert Pinkham Ryder worked on Death on a Pale Horse (The Race Track), he lived in a “row house” at 308 West Fifteenth Street, near Eighth Avenue, specifically in a cramped attic studio on the second floor at the rear of the building (Taylor 1984, 3). One of Ryder’s few close friends during this period was Charles Fitzpatrick, who lived at the adjacent row house. Fitzpatrick described 308 West Fifteenth Street as “an old-fashioned house … one of those peculiar houses that attract professional people of small means, most of the tenants [were] artists, sculptors, musicians, doctors, and newspaper men” (Fitzpatrick 1984, 8).

Ryder took no interest in the condition of his tiny studio apartment. Fitzpatrick recalled the artist’s room was cluttered with “bags and barrels filled with paper, empty food boxes, ashes, old clothes, especially under-garments … all soiled and in a fearful condition, mice that had decayed in traps, food in pots that had been laid aside and covered with paper and forgotten” (Fitzpatrick 1984, 8). Ryder often appeared in public in a similar state of disrepair, his clothes disheveled and his rugged beard untrimmed. More than once, the city housing authority was called out to investigate the deplorable state of Ryder’s dwelling. When they did, the artist was found “sleeping on a rough cot” or puttering around in his overalls “with a pair of old leather slippers on his stockingless feet.” Outsiders might have viewed his studio as “the abode of dirt and disorder,” but Ryder himself, “the poet and dreamer, had a very different idea. ‘I have two windows [he explained, which] look out onto an old garden, [and] I would not exchange these two windows for a palace with less a vision than this garden with its whispering leafage – [it’s] nature’s gift to the least of her little ones’” (Sherman 1920, 19-20).

Ryder placed a far higher value on his independence and individuality and his drive to document his intense inner imaginings than on material comforts. In a letter dated 1900, he wrote, “It is the first vision that counts. The artist has to remain true to his dream, and it will possess his work in such a manner that it will resemble the work of no other man – for no two visions are alike. Those who reach the heights have all toiled up the steep mountains by a different route. To each has been revealed a different panorama” (Homer and Goodrich 1989, 205).

Completing a painting was rarely the artist’s primary goal; rather, working through an initial conception was his fascination. The abstract idea underlying a work meant more than its fulfillment (Soby and Miller, 35). Ryder was notorious for his frustratingly slow process and his “tortoise-like pace.” He labored over and over for as long as fifteen years on a single painting, developing a “neurotic attachment” that prevented patrons from taking works from his studio (Homer 1990, 86). The artist’s obsessivity was exacerbated by his poor eyesight, brought on by a childhood infection, which made prolonged visual concentration extremely difficult. In addition, Ryder suffered from various other ailments, including gout, kidney disease, insomnia, and a nervous disorder (perhaps “neurasthenia”), that impeded his progress (Ross 2003, 89-90). As a result, in a career lasting fifty years, Ryder’s entire oeuvre numbered just over one-hundred-fifty paintings.

A Spiritual Muse

Albert Pinkham Ryder undoubtedly had an eccentric personality and was withdrawn, but he was not simply unsociable. Ryder disregarded the state of his apartment and avoided the company of others largely because of an obsessive preoccupation with his work. As Ryder aged and became well-known, though, he attracted the attention of a younger generation of painters living and studying in New York. One of these younger painters was the prominent social realist Philip Evergood (1901-1973). Evergood’s parents were close acquaintances of Ryder’s next-door neighbors, Charles and Louise Fitzpatrick, and over time, Louise and Flora Evergood (Philip’s mother) became the best of friends.

As a child, Philip Evergood often visited Ryder’s studio and “played among [his] canvases” with Fitzpatrick’s adopted daughter Mary (Taylor 1984, 2). Evergood expressed admiration for Ryder’s personal magnetism: “He drifted smoothly along, taking everybody, children, women, trees and sky as a matter of course. He would talk to strangers as though he had known them all his life, though he only had a few real friends (Evergood 1984, 6). On warm summer evenings, Ryder often accompanied Louise and Mary Fitzpatrick to church, preferring to sit outside “on the church steps waiting for them to come out” (Taylor 1984, 4). The church doors were kept open during the summer, and Ryder sat listening as Mary sang in the choir and at times, performed a solo (Fitzpatrick 1984, 13).

The Fitzpatricks outlived Flora Evergood (and Albert Pinkham Ryder) by many years, but they continued their relationship with Philip Evergood until their own deaths. Charles Fitzpatrick often spoke with Philip Evergood about his artwork, but as Charles aged, his attitude changed. As he neared his own death, he grew more and more religious. Evergood was surprised when Fitzpatrick began voicing “gruffy disapproval of [his] work just before he died [in 1932]. He acted as though my paintings were obscene. … I was painting all imaginative compositions with nudes, and [Charles] used to preach to me to change my ways and to think of Ryder’s religious fervor [emphasis added]” (Evergood 1984, 5). Louise Fitzpatrick made similar suggestions. She encouraged Philip to go study Ryder’s pictures closely whenever he could, not to see the way he painted, but to “feel the mystic spirit of his soul” (Evergood 1984, 5). It seemed to Philip Evergood that Louise gradually transformed into “a kind of Saint whose fervor and love for humanity was completely tied up in her fervor and love of the master. She would speak of Ryder and Christ in the same breath” (Evergood 1984, 7). Because of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s reliance on (often religious) inspiration, and his prioritizing of subjectivity and individuality, he is often considered a latter-day Romantic.

Romanticism was a wide-ranging artistic and cultural movement that swept across Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. European Romantics shared a nostalgia for the past and were “interested in the mind as the site of mysterious and unexplained” phenomena (Adams 2002, 754). Chief European Romantics such as William Blake (1757-1827) and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) painted with a rich and religious imagination (see Polistena 2009). Romanticism arrived rather late in the United States, though, and American Romantics, such as many of the Hudson River School, often worked in isolation as bohemian artists (Kuspit 1963, 219).

Most art historians agree Albert Pinkham Ryder was a Romantic, and many debate whether he also deserves the epithet “mystic” since he opted for a humble life of contemplation in order to attain a spiritual apprehension that lay beyond the intellect or human perception. Historian and psychoanalytical art critic Donald Kuspit dismissed this epithet, preferring to see Ryder’s “hyperbole of moodiness and passion” as characteristic of his unique “conception of expressiveness” (Kuspit 1963, 219). On the other hand, Columbia University Professor of Art Barbara Novak believed Ryder’s “entire oeuvre, religious or secular [was] an act of devotion”; he saw “all of nature within the purview of the Almighty” (Novak 1969; quoted in Dillenberger and Taylor 1972, 154). Lloyd Goodrich, the longtime Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, concurred, calling Ryder “one of the few authentic religious painters of his period – in whom religion was not mere conformity, but deep personal emotion. The life of Christ moved him to some of his most tender and impressive works” (Goodrich, 1959; also quoted in Dillenberger and Taylor 1972, 154).

The work that will now be examined, Death on a Pale Horse (The Race Track), offers a fascinating balance of Ryder’s competing passions, 1. his desire to visually realize his initial inspiration or conception, and 2. his desire to reach “beyond the place on which [he had] a footing,” to express a transcendent, spiritual concept.

The Inspiration

Albert Pinkham Ryder’s personality could scarcely have been more distinct from that of his older brother, William Davis Ryder (1837-1898) (Hotel Albert 2011). William was far more pragmatic and business-oriented. After serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, William came to New York City and opened a large and successful restaurant at Broadway and Howard Street. He then invested his earnings in the hotel business and became the manager of the Hotel Albert, located at 32 East Eleventh Street (fig. 3). On occasion, Albert stopped into the establishment to visit his brother and to take meals (fig. 4). On one of these occasions, he received his initial stimulus for Death on a Pale Horse (The Race Track), which he later recounted in detail:

“As to how I came to paint ‘The Race Track’ – it was rather an inspirational matter. At this time my brother was the proprietor of the Hotel Albert and I frequently used to get my meals there and got acquainted with many of the waiters. I got acquainted with one, but I cannot recall his name, who was unusually intelligent and a proficient waiter and I sometimes used to chat with him. This was about the time the Dwyer brothers had their phenomenal success with their stable of race horses, as they won about all the important events throughout the country for over three or four years. In one of my talks with this waiter he mentioned this fact and that this was an easy way to make money. I, of course, told him that I did not consider it so, as there was always ‘many a slip between the cup and the lip,’ and advised him to be careful. Not long after this, in the month of May, the Brooklyn Handicap was run, and the Dwyer brothers had entered their celebrated horse, Hanover, to win the race. The day before the race I dropped into my brother’s hotel and had a little chat with this waiter, and he told me that he had saved up $500 [equivalent to around $15,000 today] and that he had placed every penny of it on Hanover winning this race. The next day the race was run, and as racegoers will probably remember, Hanover came in third. I was immediately reminded that my friend the waiter had lost all his money. That dwelt on my mind, as for some reason it impressed me very much, so much so that I went around to my brother’s hotel for breakfast the next morning, and was shocked to find my waiter friend had shot himself the evening before. This fact formed a cloud over my mind that I could not throw off, and ‘The Race Track’ is the result” (Sherman 1920, 46-48).


Figure 3. Hotel Albert, ca. 1907.

Figure 4. Hotel Albert dining room, ca. 1907.

Figure 5. Hanover, ca. 1887.

Figure 6. Monmouth Park, Eatontown, NJ, 1880.


The Dwyer Brothers Stable was a successful thoroughbred racing team owned and operated by the brothers Philip Dwyer (1844-1917) and Michael Dwyer (1847-1906) (see Barnes and Wright 2018). The Dwyer brothers earned their fortunes in the Brooklyn meat packing industry and then founded their extremely successful horse racing operation in 1876. Over the next fifteen years, Dwyer horses won five Travers Stakes, five Belmont Stakes, two Kentucky Derbies, and a Preakness Stakes. They maintained a stable that included several U.S. Champions, but their most famous racer was Hanover, the American “Horse of the Year” in 1887 (fig. 5).

Hanover won his first seventeen races, his greatest triumph coming at the Belmont Stakes, held in June 1887 at the Jerome Park Racetrack in The Bronx. He won the Belmont by an amazing 15 lengths. Because of this great victory, Hanover was an overwhelming favorite to win the inaugural Brooklyn Derby (or “Brooklyn Handicap”), held in July 1887 at the (now-defunct) Gravesend Race Track near the Coney Island amusement parks. And, in spite of Ryder’s apparently foggy recollection quoted above, Hanover did, in fact, win the Brooklyn Handicap in 1887. It was an incredible year for the steed, a year in which Hanover started twenty-seven races, won twenty times, finished second five times, finished third only once, and finished completely “out of the money” also only once (National Museum of Racing 2023). The only time Hanover finished worse than third in 1887 was at the Omnibus Stakes, held in late July at Monmouth Park in Eatontown, New Jersey (American Classic Pedigrees 2023) (fig. 6).

A bettor who makes a “win wager” receives a large “payout” if their chosen horse wins the race. Since this is a risky bet, it has a high payout. A bettor who makes a “place wager” receives a payout if their chosen horse finishes either first or second. A bettor who makes a “show wager” receives a payout if their chosen horse comes in either first, second, or third. Hanover’s remarkable winning percentage in 1887 (74%) led Ryder’s waiter friend to believe the horse was basically a “sure thing” to win, so he placed a very chancy “win wager” on Hanover, apparently, at the Omnibus Stakes. And when Hanover came in third, he, unfortunately, received no payout whatsoever. A safer show wager would have resulted in at least a small payout, and presumably, Ryder’s friend would not have taken his own life.

The Concept

Like many Romantic painters, Albert Pinkham Ryder was stimulated by famous literary sources, from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (see Constance, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (see With Sloping Mast and Dipping Prow, Smithsonian American Art Museum), to the vivid texts of the Bible (Homer 1961, 280). Exhibitions often juxtapose Ryder’s paintings with explanatory labels quoting such texts, shining a light on his work’s deepest meanings. Unlike some other Romantic artists, though, Ryder did not merely illustrate literary sources; rather, he created “pictorial dramas” encouraged by transcendent themes, translating them into something purely visual and “purely individual” (Goodrich 1949). This holds true for Death on a Pale Horse.

Ryder suggested the suicide of his waiter friend motivated him to paint Death on a Pale Horse. However, the suicide occurred in 1888, and he did not begin his painting until eight years later (ca. 1896); he then labored over it for another dozen more years (until 1908). This is a prime example of his “tortoise-like pace.” Significantly, when Ryder worked on the painting, his closest family members died in succession: his mother in 1893; his brother William in 1898; and, finally, in 1900, his father passed away following a long illness. In these years, it may have seemed to the artist that, sadly, death was continually galloping through his life. In 1928, the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, William Milliken, proposed that in the Cleveland painting, Ryder “deals with the eternal problem of death, not in any mood of morbid curiosity, but instead with an inevitability,” which is characteristic of the subject matter itself (Milliken 1928, 65).

Ryder believed he suffered from a nervous condition, what today we would call an anxiety disorder, and this condition was undoubtedly exacerbated by losing his dearest family members. After his mother died, he sought support from one of his patrons, a therapist named Dr. Albert T. Sanden. Between 1895 and 1915, Dr. Sanden treated the artist at his New York City apartment and at Sanden’s upstate country home and dairy farm in Goshen, New York (Ross 2003, 86). The two men eventually became good friends and continued an active correspondence until shortly before the artist’s death. In 1907, Ryder wrote to Sanden, “There is no one in the world I feel more comfortable with than [yourself]” (Ross 2003, 91-92). At the same time Ryder was receiving treatment for his nervousness, he apparently also sought solace by reading Bible passages, specifically the sixth chapter of the book of Revelation, which is also known as “The Apocalypse.”

The Apocalypse contains some of the Bible’s most awe-inspiring figurative prose, and none of its passages is more memorable than the account of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” who, the text says, will be sent to deal with humanity on God’s behalf at the end of the ages. The author of the Apocalypse revealed this vision:“I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, [and] one of the four beasts saying, ‘Come and see.’ And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. And … I heard the second beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword. And … I heard the third beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, ‘A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.’ And … I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him [emphasis added]. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:1-8 KJV).


One of Ryder’s artistic heroes, the American painter Washington Allston (1779-1843), said for Romantic and visionary artists, it was “impossible to conceive anything more terrible than Death on the white horse” or the three other horsemen of the Apocalypse (quoted in Flagg 1892, 43-44).

Many Romantic artists attempted to envisage and portray the highly symbolic passage, but few, if any, equaled the original text’s blend of simplistic language and fantastic description, nor its palpable sense of sublime terror (see Considine 1944). The Anglo-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797), who anticipated the Romantic movement, defined “the sublime” as an artistic effect that produces the strongest emotions; whatever “operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime” (Burke 1757, 58). Perhaps the two visual artists who most closely captured the terror of the Apocalypse’s text were the German Renaissance painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and Albert Pinkham Ryder.

In Dürer’s woodcut print entitled “The Four Horsemen,” of 1498, he attempted to hold faithfully to the biblical text (fig. 7). Dürer’s first three riders go forth with power, spreading war, plagues, and famine. Below is the fourth rider, Death, a withered old man with a long white beard, hollow eyes, and a gaping mouth (fig. 8). The emaciated rider sits atop a similarly emaciated horse with a pitifully exposed ribcage, who tramples indiscriminately over humanity. Death wields a trident, which he employs to fling bodies into the jaws of a ravenous Hellmouth. His unfortunate victims include a shrieking peasant, a common housewife, a dandified merchant, a horrified burgher, and a tonsured priest. The gruesome harvest includes the poor and the rich, the mighty and the humble (see related biblical passages Ecclesiastes 9:5; Hebrews 9:27). Dürer borrowed from the medieval literary and pictorial allegory known as the Dance of Death or Danse Macabre, in which Death was symbolized as a dancing skeleton who merrily leads a cross-section of society toward the grave (see Eisler, 1948) (fig. 10).


Figure 7 and 8 Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen, 1498. 


Public Domain.


Albert Pinkham Ryder departed from Renaissance (and medieval) iconographic conventions by separating the figure of Death from the other horsemen, which suggests Ryder’s true intention. His image is more a meditation on a theme than an illustration of a biblical text. Ryder also placed Death at the center of his composition, and, instead of representing an aged and ailing man, Ryder’s Death more closely resembles the skeleton of a Danse Macabre or illustrations of the personification of death known as “the Grim Reaper” (figs. 9-11). To underscore the latter association, the artist took away Death’s traditional trident (fig. 8) and gave him the Grim Reaper’s preferred harvesting tool, a scythe (fig. 11).

Figure 9. Detail of fig. 2.

Figure 10. Swiss engraving of Death Dancing with a Cook. Public Domain.

Figure 11. French illustration of the Grim Reaper. Public Domain.


From the Middle Ages onward, European and American artists almost invariably presented the Death figure of the biblical Apocalypse as still living, though just barely. He will bring death to humanity but is not quite dead himself. The only major exception to this convention predating Ryder’s image was a drawing by the English painter John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-1779). Mortimer’s drawing has been lost but is nonetheless known by an etched copy circulated by another artist in 1775 (fig. 12). One art historian described Mortimer’s scene as a “horrible imagining,” a prime example of a “conspicuous current of ‘Gothic’ terror which first emerged in British art in the 1770’s” (Ziff 1970, 529). Ryder seems to have been aware of the widely-circulated etching. As Ryder would do a century later, Mortimer conceived of Death as an isolated skeletal horseman. Mortimer also used a dark, threatening sky as a foreboding backdrop to intensify his drama. Ryder’s setting is similar. William Milliken saw echoes of Ryder’s ghostly horseman in the “livid clouds” and “weird patches of deep blue” of his ghostly sky (Milliken 1928, 71). Mortimer’s disturbing drawing inspired later artists of various inclinations, including Benjamin West, William Blake, and the poet Charles Baudelaire (Ziff 1970, 532), and perhaps now, Albert Pinkham Ryder should be added to this illustrious list.


Figure 12. An etched copy of John Mortimer’s Death on a Pale Horse, 1775. Public Domain.


Ryder made other interesting iconographic choices. The author of the biblical Apocalypse wrote, “I looked, and behold a pale horse: and the name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him” (Revelation 6:8). Although ostensibly, Ryder distilled this passage to its absolute essentials, he did not forget to include Hell. The biblical term transliterated as “Hell” or “Hades” from an original Greek term (ᾅδης) is an equivalent of the Hebrew term Sheol(שְׁאוֹל), the dark realm of the dead inhabited by disembodied spirits. The Hell accompanying Death on a Pale Horse is often represented as a mysterious, quasi-mythological beast, such as Dürer’s Hellmouth or Mortimer’s dragon-like creature (figs. 8, 12). Ryder decided on a snake, specifically a hooded cobra, a species that is not indigenous to North America but ranges widely across Asia and Africa (fig. 13). It seems, though, that Ryder did not intend to associate Hell with a place but to associate Hell with evil or temptation, particularly with the uncontrolled desire for money, or greed. To make this connection, it is necessary to go back and reconsider how the artist described his initial inspiration.


Figure 13. Detail of fig. 2.


Ryder said when he was speaking with his ill-fated friend at the Albert Hotel, the waiter brought up the racehorse Hanover’s impressive record and his belief that betting on the horse offered “an easy way to make money.” Ryder gave an intriguing response: “I, of course, told him that I did not consider it so, as there was always ‘many a slip between the cup and the lip’ [emphasis added], and advised him to be careful.” The artist referenced an ancient proverb originally attributed to the third century B.C. Greek poet Lycophron, but often repeated in European and English literature, including in Charles Dickens’s last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend (see Hecimovich 1995). The proverb’s perceived truth is that even though a prospect may appear very promising, a person should not be overconfident about future success. A related idiomatic expression is “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Albert Pinkham Ryder was a spiritually minded person, and he may have found his inspiration from a similar biblical passage: “Man proposes, but God disposes” (Proverbs 19:21 TLB). Ryder advised his friend to recognize the role of uncontrollable destiny in his life and to not be unduly tempted by the lure of easy money. The snake Ryder included in his painting brings to mind the biblical book of Genesis, which describes how a “serpent” (or “snake” [נָחַשׁ]) tempted Adam and Eve to eat forbidden fruit growing in the garden of Eden and that as a result of giving into their temptations, they died (Genesis 3:1-19). Perhaps Ryder saw parallels in his friend’s story. He succumbed to the lure of temptation and, as a result, was gathered up by Death on a Pale Horse.

Another element that merits attention in Ryder’s painting and is an element that is easily overlooked but is still ripe with symbolic meaning: namely, the way the artist attended to movement. Surprisingly, Ryder makes the pale horse his most active element. The author of the Apocalypse used the Greek term chlōros (χλωρός) to describe the horse’s color. The term does not denote simply a paleness but specifically signifies the insipid yellowish-green tint that characterizes cadavers and other decaying life forms (see Mark 6:39). Like his deathly rider, the horse is beginning to rot and putrefy and turn yellowish-green. Although Ryder painted his horse with this sickening hue (fig. 9), he also flouted expectations by depicting a surprisingly healthy and active animal. Indeed, Ryder’s horse more closely resembles Hanover than Dürer’s sickly steed (figs. 5, 8).

In the sinister contest Ryder portrays, Death and his speedy mount are the sole competitors; at the end of this race, the race of life, the “phantom rider,” and his “phantom horse” will inevitably win (Milliken 1928, 71). The horse gallops at a furious pace without caution. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s conservation department conducted an x-ray analysis of Ryder’s painting, which revealed the artist originally placed the animal’s hoofs under its body in the natural pose of a running horse, but later decided to splay the legs unnaturally (see Muybridge 1979, xv-xix). He apparently did this to emphasize the horse’s speed (Cole, 2023). There is another peculiarity: Ryder’s horse races clockwise around the track. This goes against the norm in the United States, where horses traditionally race counterclockwise. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s American Paintings Curator has speculated that Ryder intended to convey the message that in the natural progression of each person’s life, death is always riding toward us in the opposite direction, and as time passes, the distance between us and our demise gets smaller and smaller (Cole 2023).

The message that death is inevitable is underscored by the last remaining iconographic feature: the rotting tree on the right side of Ryder’s composition (fig. 14). The remains of the tree are fixed and stationary, in contrast to the racing horse but bloom with symbolism. Ryder was arguably America’s last great Romantic landscape artist, and his art was partly indebted to New York State’s Hudson River School, a group of Romantic landscape painters known for infusing nature with allegorical spirituality (Kelly 1989, 174). For example, the Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) often used a tree that had been blasted and destroyed by lightening as “a substitute for a human being [and] as a potent metaphor for the endless cycle of life and death” (Ellis 2019, 4) (fig. 15). If Ryder intended to portray Death and his pale horse setting off at the beginning of their race, then it was surely no accident that he placed a lifeless tree at their finish line.


Figure 14. Detail of fig. 2 


Figure 15. Frederic Church, Storm in the Mountains, 1847. Public Domain.


Aftermath and Conclusion

As Albert Pinkham Ryder aged, he seemed to dwell more and more on death and on his own demise. This may help explain why he chose to live modestly and was obsessed with his artistic legacy. Late in life, he told a visitor to his studio, “The artist needs but a roof, a crust of bread and his easel, and all the rest God gives him in abundance” (Ryder 1905, 10-11). However, even though Ryder lived without physical comforts, this was by choice, not by necessity. During his lifetime, many of Ryder’s pictures sold for in excess of a thousand dollars, and he had “ready buyers for his works even before they were far along on the easel, [and] even if he lacked the ability to bring them to completion” (Broun 1989, 138). In fact, his most financially rewarding work turned out to be Death on a Pale Horse. The artist’s friend (and occasional dealer), Charles Fitzpatrick, left this account:

[Around 1910] I had an office on Broadway. [A collector] who was gathering quite a few of [Ryder’s] pictures had one on the next block. We would meet occasionally, and he would ask me how the old man was, if he was working, etc. … [At one of our meetings] I told him a man from Brooklyn called quite a few times lately who was interested in the Race Track picture. He immediately became interested (I noticed this) and asked how much Ryder was asking for it. I told him I thought seven thousand dollars, and the man was coming in a few days to close the deal. The collector was down in a few days and closed with Ryder for seven thousand five hundred dollars. … The collector was a good sport and had plenty of money … [he] was placing his money on the future market” (Fitzpatrick 1984, 11).


The man Fitzpatrick referred to was the Brooklyn art collector and publisher Louis A. Lehmaier, who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, amassed one of the finest collections of American Romantic and Tonalist paintings. According to the provenance records at the Cleveland Museum of Art, at some point before 1913, Lehmaier returned Death on a Pale Horse to Ryder’s studio, perhaps so the artist could make some final touches, and then it reached the hands of Ryder’s friend and therapist, Dr. Albert T. Sanden.

Around the same time, the house in which Ryder lived on Fifteenth Street was closed for remodeling, and he moved a block away to a two-room flat on Sixteenth Street. His health quickly declined, and he was taken to Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village for four months. When he was finally released, Ryder was frail and had nowhere to go, so his friends, the Fitzpatrick’s offered to take him in at their new home in Elmhurst, on Long Island (fig. 16). He lived there in seclusion for a little over a year, when he finally passed away March 29, 1917, a week after his seventieth birthday. In the end, Death and his pale horse finally, inevitably, caught up to Albert Pinkham Ryder as well.

Figure 16. The house where Ryder died 

9103 50th Avenue, Elmhurst, New York, 2023.

About the author: James W. Ellis, PhD, JD, is an freelance writer and a former Research Assistant Professor in the Academy of Visual Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University. Before moving to East Asia, he lived, worked, and was educated in the State of New York, which remains his primary research interest and passion.


Adams, Laurie Schneider. Art Across Time. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

American Classic Pedigrees. Hanover (USA). (2023). Retrieved from

Bailey, Martin. “Ten Myths about Vincent van Gogh.” The Art Newspaper (2019). Retrieved from:

Barnes, Amanda and Juliet Wright. The Butcher Boys: Part One – The Making of the Brooklyn Stable. Lulu, 2018.

Broun, Elizabeth. Albert Pinkham Ryder. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1989.

Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. London: Dodsley, 1757.

Caron, David. “Four Horsemen.” Irish Arts Review 36, No. 2 (2019): 116-121.

Cole, Mark. “Symbolism on the Race Track.” The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse). Cleveland Museum of Art (2023). Retrieved from:

Considine, J. S. “The Rider on the White Horse.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 6, No. 4 (1944): 406-422.

Dillenberger, Jane and Joshua C. Taylor. The Hand and The Spirit: Religious Art in America 1700-1900.  Berkeley: University Art Museum, 1972.

Eisler, Robert. “Danse Macabre.” Traditio 6 (1948): 187-225.

Ellis, James. “Forest Cathedrals: ‘The Hidden Glory’ of Hudson River Landscapes.” Journal of Religion & Society 21 (2019): 1-20.

Evans, Dorinda. “Albert Pinkham Ryder’s Use of Visual Sources.” Winterthur Portfolio 21, No. 1 (1986): 21-40.

Evergood, Philip. “The Master’s Faithful Servant.” Archives of American Art Journal 24. No. 3 (1984): 5-8.

Fitzpatrick, Charles. “Albert Pinkham Ryder.” Essay in the collection of Harold O. Love, Tucson, Arizona. Microfilm in Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Reproduced in Archives of American Art Journal 24. No. 3 (1984): 8-15.

Fitzpatrick, Charles. “Albert Pinkham Ryder.” Archives of American Art Journal 24. No. 3 (1984): 8-16.

Flagg, Jared. The Life and Letters of Washington Allston. New York, 1892.

Goodrich, Lloyd. Albert P. Ryder. New York: Braziller, Inc., 1959.

Goodrich, Lloyd. “Realism and Romanticism in Homer, Eakins and Ryder.” The Art Quarterly 12 (1949).

Hecimovich, Gregg. "The Cup and the Lip and the Riddle of Our Mutual Friend." ELH 62, No. 4 (1995): 955–977. 

Holbein, Hans. “The Noblewoman, from The Dance of Death.”  (ca. 1526). Retrieved from:

Homer, William Innes. “Albert Pinkham Ryder.” Art Journal 50, No. 1 (1991): 86-89.

Homer, William Innes. “Ryder in Washington.” The Burlington Magazine 103. No. 699 (June 1961): 280-283.

Homer, William Innes and Lloyd Goodrich. Albert Pinkham Ryder: Painter of Dreams. New York: Abrams, 1989.

“Hotel Albert 1882-1976 Greenwich Village.” (2011). Retrieved from:   

Hyde, William. “Albert Ryder as I Knew Him,” Arts 16, No. 9 (1930): 597-598.

Kelly, Franklin. Frederick Edwin Church. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1989.

Kuspit, Donald. “Albert Ryder’s Expressiveness.” Jahrbuch für Amerikastudien 8 (1963): 219-225.

Milliken, William. “’The Race Track,’ or ‘Death on a Pale Horse’ by Albert Pinkham Ryder.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 15, No. 3 (1928): 65-71.

Muybridge, Eadweard. Muybridge's Complete Human and Animal Locomotion. New York: Dover, 1979.

National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Hanover (KY). (2023). Retrieved from:

Novak, Barbara. American Painting of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969.

Polistena, Joyce. “The Unknown Delacroix: The religious imagination of a Romantic painter.” America Magazine (2009). Retrieved from:

Ross, Zachary. “Linked by Nervousness: Albert Pinkham Ryder and Dr. Albert T. Sanden.” American Art 17. No. 2 (2003): 86-96.

Ryder, Albert Pinkham. “Joan of Arc.” Microfilm. Washington, D.C.: Archives of American Art, D181, frame 608.

Ryder, Albert Pinkham. “Paragraphs from the Studio of a Recluse.” Broadway Magazine 14 (1905): 10-11.

Sherman, Frederic F. Albert Pinkham Ryder. New York, 1920.

Soby, James T. and Dorothy C. Miller. Romantic Painting in America. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1943.

Taylor, Kendall. “Ryder Remembered.” Archives of American Art Journal 24. No. 3 (1984): 2-4.

Ziff, Norman. “Mortimer’s ‘Death on a Pale Horse,’” The Burlington Magazine 112. No. 809 (1970): 529-535.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

In This Beautiful Place

by Richard White
Copyright 2023. All rights reserved by the author.

“In this beautiful place, which has come to be the acknowledged center for tourists who visit the St. Lawrence River area, there exists a feeling of bitter hatred between the black and white servitors. It has no effect whatever upon the place as a pleasure resort, for the authorities hold both sides in check and will maintain the strictest order here.” 

On July 23, 1889, this was the observation of the Watertown Daily Times on Alexandria Bay’s recent race riot that was caused by a “bitter hatred,” and, in addition, it offered a preventive incantation to reassure guests and tourists that there would not be another riot because of strict measures to separate the
“bitter” blacks and whites. Although had been a riot in town, the public could still stay at a fabulous resort with all its amenities on a majestic river with great enjoyment.

However, there was no enjoyment on the 18th when two well-armed mobs tried to eradicate each other. The sole instigator of the evening was a local individual, John Gladd, a white longshoreman, whom the Syracuse Weekly Express on July 25 described as “notorious.” Gladd was widely known as “Crosseyed John,” but he easily could have been called “Stupid Crosseyed John.” For example, the night before
the riot, Gladd, for no stated reason, went to Flack’s saloon, where many black waiters from the Thousand Island House went after work and confronted them. The Express’ reportage did not describe Gladd’s exact behavior, but “he was removed by waiters and the proprietor.” There was no discussion on whether Gladd was thrown out physically or otherwise or whether what he said and/or did was obnoxious. Gladd did not appreciate his forced exit and felt he should have revenge.

So, the following night with 10-15 friends whom The Utica Weekly Herald labeled as “well-known characters,” united as a mob and followed Gladd back to Flack’s. The "characters" immediately attacked a small group of waiters with fists and broken pipes and drove them off without serious injury.

But these men quickly regrouped, gathered reinforcements and weapons, and went back to the saloon—there were about 20-25 of them, and they were anxious for action, as were Gladd’s mob, whose anthem during the riot was “kill the niggers,” wrote the Times on July 24.

At this juncture, references to firearms being used appeared in many newspaper accounts. For instance, on July 19, the Times coverage of the riot reported that “pistol balls whizzed through the air.” Fortunately, no one on either side was shot.

Most of the injuries were the result of the use of billiard cues and clubs. Such was the beating of “a quiet, inoffensive colored waiter who was trying to quiet the mob…and was severely clubbed and beaten for interfering,” Soon, law enforcement would arrive to restore order.

In the aftermath of the riot, there were two critical results. First, there was not any crowd control upon the arrival of Special Officer Fred Cornwall of Watertown, and the village constables, who could do nothing to quell or slow down, the rioters at first because of their belligerent state of mind. Each
Watertown Re-Union side was determined to have it out. The July 24 edition explained what Cornwall and his crew finally did to impact the fighting—“they used their batons freely and worked hard” and made nearly a dozen arrests. Gladd slipped away but was arrested the next day along with another ringleader. Later a Grand Jury indicted them, and the two-day trial resulted in sentences for the ringleaders of 35 days in jail, but charges against the rest of the white mob were dropped.

The black waiters were not indicted, let alone arrested. The second critical result was that the waiters protested at an evening indignation meeting on July 19, the night following the riot. At the meeting, the status of the waiters was emphasized—they were college students, not local tough guys or “characters” looking for opponents to beat. The Times’ coverage was clear but incomplete---it wrote that “it is understood that the colored employees contemplated reopening their troubles with the whites here” but does not present data on other “troubles.” In addition, research has not uncovered any specific racial incidents.

There was no report in the press that the racial tension, let alone the hatred, in the Bay subsided. And just as important, there was no assertion in the press that the riot was not serious compared with the racial violence in the South in an attempt to make it seem unimportant. But even in a picturesque setting in the North, deep seeded feelings and emotions brought two races to violence in 1889.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.



Saturday, December 3, 2022

Lemuel Cook: The Man Who Outlived History

By Michael Mauro DeBonis

Rip Van Winkle’s fictional tale pales in comparison to Lemuel Cook’s real-life one. The celebrated American prose stylist (Washington Irving) from New York State’s Hudson Valley was born in New York City on April 3, 1783, to parents of Anglo-Scottish ethnicity (Biography.Com, 1). Irving was a writer of great vision, versatility, and discipline. Yet, with respect to the life of esteemed Revolutionary War veteran and historically concrete Lemuel Cook, Irving’s brilliant literary creation of Van Winkle does not measure up to his actual flesh-and-blood counterpart.

“Mr. Cook was born in Northbury, Litchfield County, Connecticut, on September 10, 1759, the son of Henry Cook (Jr.) and a grandson of the first settler of that town, also named Henry Cook (Sr.)” (Hilliard, 7). Lemuel was born on his father Henry Cook’s farm (Frank Cook, 2), the eighth of nine children (Frank Cook, 2). Henry Cook (Jr.) married Lemuel’s mother, Hannah Benham Cook, on November 27th, 1745, in Northbury, Connecticut (Holly Cook, 25-26). Hannah B. Cook died in Northbury, Connecticut, circa 1795 (Holly Cook, 25-26). The great progenitor of the whole Cook family in New England was another Henry Cook, who was an Anglo-Puritan from Yorkshire, England (Frank W. and Holly Cook, 1 and 17-18), and he was born there about 1615 (Frank W. and Holly Cook, 1 and 17-18). Henry the Puritan is first recorded in public records in 1638, at Salem, Massachusetts (Frank W. and Holly Cook, 1 and 17-18).

According to Frank Cook, Lemuel’s great-grandson, an unknown epidemic swept through Connecticut in 1759, killing four of Lemuel’s siblings (Frank Cook, 2), but five of the Cook children (including Lemuel amongst these) had survived the disease (Frank Cook, 2). Lemuel grew up doing the harsh work required on the family farm. Henry Cook, Lemuel’s father, was born on August 17th, 1723, in Wallingford, Connecticut (Holly Cook, 19). Henry Cook, in the French and Indian War, served as a private “during the campaign of 1762” (Holly Cook, 19). As the American Revolution drew near, Henry Cook died on September 6th, 1771 (Holly Cook, 19), presumably of natural causes. “When Henry [also called Henry the Fourth] died, the family was left in depressed circumstances…” (Frank Cook, 2), “…but through it all, the family remained together” (Frank Cook, 2). “At the outbreak of the Revolution in 1775, Lemuel was the first of the Cook sons to enlist…” (Frank Cook, 2), with several of his brothers (including Selah Cook and Trueworthy Cook), both enlisting in the Continental Army, subsequently, as the War for Independence progressed (Frank Cook, 2). Henry Cook, who had honorably served in the King’s Connecticut colonial militia (Holly Cook, 19) and became a very successful farmer afterward (Holly Cook, 19), instilled in all his children a very strong work ethic (Frank Cook, 2), along with his beloved wife, Hannah Benham Cook (Frank Cook, 2). Both Cook's parents could not have anticipated the long bloody war that lay before their sons and the soon-to-be new nation.

“He [Lemuel Cook] enlisted at Cheshire [Connecticut]…when only sixteen years old. He was mustered in ‘…at Northampton, in the Bay State, 2nd Regiment, [Continental] Light Dragoons…’’’(Hilliard, 7). Private Lemuel Cook’s commanding officers were Colonel Sheldon, Captain Stanton (Hilliard, 7), and Major [and eventual Lt. Colonel] Benjamin Tallmadge (Editors-BRTN, 1). Major Benjamin Tallmadge was the chief agent for General George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring (Editors, BRTN, 1). Lemuel Cook “…served through the war, and [he] was discharged in Danbury [Connecticut], on June 12, 1784” (Hilliard, 7-8). In 1864, two years before Lemuel Cook died, Cook commented to Connecticut historian, the Reverend Elias Hilliard, in a famous face-to-face interview, “When I applied to enlist, Captain Hallibud told me I was so small, he couldn’t take me, unless I would enlist for [the entire] war,” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook, the young intrepid teenager, proudly accepted his role as a soldier. Lemuel Cook’s mettle, from 1775 onwards, would soon be tested by his redcoat enemies.

Sometime after his military induction, Lemuel Cook saw action at Dobbs Ferry (in modern-day Westchester County, New York State) while he was on patrol (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook’s Continental Army Regiment of the Connecticut Second Light Dragoons was at Dobbs Ferry to perform reconnaissance missions against all possible British military operations in what was then infamously called “the Westchester” (Hilliard, 7-8). What Cook and his brave band found was something much worse. As Cook’s company of bluecoat Continentals approach a countryside barn, several armed men inside of it fired their muskets upon Lemuel and his Yankee unit (Hilliard, 3) and their French allies, too (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook commented on this incident to the Reverend Hilliard nearly ninety years later, “They were Cow Boys”’ (Hilliard, 7-8).

The Westchester in lower upstate New York and Suffolk County on Long Island (specifically during the American Revolutionary War) were the two most lawless regions in the northeast area of operations during that long, bloody conflict (Tallmadge, 32-33, 34-35 and 50-52). The London Trade was carried on by both British Tories and alleged Yankee Whigs (Rose, 204 and 232). The London Trade was an illegal smuggling and stealing operation conducted by numerous criminals and opportunists on both sides of the British vs. American campaign, with many neutral (but nefarious) parties also greedily participating (Rose, 232-235). “The Cow Boys,” mentioned by Lemuel Cook, were brutal and devious highwaymen who freely stalked New York State’s roads in both Westchester and Long Island, looking for an easy and suspected target from which they could find to pilfer property and money, civilian or military (Rose, 204 and 232-235).

The Cow Boys conducted their venomous and savage raids on land, whereas their counterparts on the sea (especially on the Long Island Sound) carried out their thieving expeditions in open water (Rose, 204 and 232-235). Lemuel Cook’s superior officer, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, called these lowly robbers “freebooters” (Tallmadge, 32). As noted above in Tallmadge’s historically well-detailed and factual Memoir, Tallmadge was constantly waging war against Cow Boys and freebooters alike, doing whatever he could to upset and end their activities during the Revolution (Rose, 204 and 232-235 and Tallmadge, 32-33). This involved Tallmadge and Cook both (as Dragoons) carrying on perpetual sting operations against these crooks, on land and on water, seizing illegally “collected” cargo and burning those ships at sea carrying it (Rose, 235 and Tallmadge, 34, 46, and 48-49). If on land, Tallmadge and Cook would confiscate stolen horses and property from The Cow Boys, and (if possible) they would return them both to their rightful owners. If their rightful owners happened to be redcoat soldiers or Tory sympathizers, Tallmadge and Cook would keep the captured booty for themselves, and they would split it up amongst their Continental ranks (Tallmadge, 52). This conduct was legally permissible by the Continental Congress.

The Cow Boys were typical of Tory extraction (Rose, 204), and their criminal counterparts on the Whiggish and patriotic side of the Revolution were robbers called “Skinners” (Rose, 204). Both Cow Boys and Skinners were of lowly and dubious nature. Any sober student of history would be cautioned to align these lawbreakers with any particular side while their convenient loyalties both waxed and waned as the events of the War for Independence took place. Ironically, the Revolutionary War created a very favorable environment for crime and graft to exist on both Loyalist and Whiggish sides of the struggle, but it is a subject for discussion much too broad to be fully discussed here.

It should be noted the London Trade was sharply described by Benjamin Tallmadge, fifty years after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, as “…the illicit trade…”(Tallmadge, 50). Historian Alexander Rose further comments about the London Trade, “Illegal trading understandably alarmed Congress…” (Rose, 73) because it was (during the Revolution) “…draining cash from already cash-strapped strapped states…” (Rose, 73). Rose further says about Tallmadge’s thoughts regarding the Skinners, “Like [Caleb] Brewster, Tallmadge also nursed a particular dislike of these men, who declaimed their Revolutionary principles, while acting like banditti” (Rose, 232). Rose states that Skinners and freebooters alike had a “…terrible effect on [Long Islanders’] morale” (Rose, 232), and Rose proceeds to quote Tallmadge’s wartime thoughts on the Skinners to Washington, “…the marauders from our [American] shore make no distinction between Whig and Tory,’” (Rose, 232). Tallmadge was describing the Skinners’ vulgar and cutthroat behavior on Long Island while carrying on their raiding operations (Rose, 232), and Tallmadge was factually correct that the presence of the Skinners on Paumanok was not only a criminal one for Long Islanders, but it was also a psychologically traumatizing one for Suffolk County residents, too (Rose, 232).

Dealing with brutal and unsavory smugglers, highwaymen, and other criminals was only one of the many military occupations that tasked Yankee cavalrymen Cook and Tallmadge. They also had to fight British enemy redcoats. Yet Lemuel Cook’s well-documented encounter with the Cow Boys was a significant one in his life, and about it, we must more deeply speak.

Lemuel Cook continued relating his wartime tale to Reverend Hilliard, “I felt the wind of the [musket] ball” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook went on explaining the story to Hilliard, “A [Continental] soldier near me said, ‘Lem, they mean [to shoot] you. Go on the other side of the road.’”(Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel followed his ally’s advice and did so (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook stated to Hilliard once more, “So I went over…pretty soon another man [Cow Boy] came out of the barn and aimed and fired. He didn’t come near me. Soon another [a third Cow Boy] came out and fired. His [musket] ball lodged in my hat. By this time, the firing had roused the camp, and a company of our troops came on one side [of the road], and a party of the French [also came out] on the other [side of the road]…and they [Continental and French soldiers alike] took the men from the barn prisoners, and [they] brought them in,” (Hilliard, 7-8).

Cook was not done with his Revolutionary War reminiscence as he still related to Hilliard, “When they [the French and Continentals both] brought the men [the Cow Boys] in close, one of them [a Cow Boy] had the impudence to ask, ‘Is the man here we fired at just now?’” (Hilliard, 7-8). “Yes,” said Major Tallmadge, “There he is, that boy” (Hilliard, 7-8). “Then he [the Cow Boy] told how they had each laid out a crown and agreed that the one who brought me down should have the three” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook continued with his recollection to Hilliard further, “When he [the Cow Boy] got through with his story, I stepped to my holster and [I] took out my pistol and [I] walked up to him and [I] said, ‘If I’ve been a mark to you for money, I’ll take my turn now. So, deliver your money or your life!’ He [the Cow Boy] handed over four crowns, and I got three more from the other two’” (Hilliard, 7-8).

Lemuel Cook (as a Continental teenage soldier) had thus doggedly and shrewdly reversed the Cow Boys’ shakedown against him. Fortunately for Cook, he narrowly lived to tell his tale and was wealthier for it. His story could have very likely ended much differently. Cook had many other Revolutionary adventures that remained ahead of him.

In his final years, Lemuel Cook was also extensively and thoroughly interviewed by his great-grandson, Frank Cook (Frank Cook, 2-4), when both were living in Clarendon, upstate New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). The name of Frank Cook’s historical account of his great grandpa’s personal military experiences and memories from the War for Independence is the terse and penetrating three-page text called Lemuel Remembers Washington (Frank Cook, 2-4). It also contains much of Lemuel’s first-hand testimony concerning his Revolutionary War activities (Frank Cook, 2-4) and is, in as much, as valuable a biographical and historical source of knowledge describing Lemuel Cook’s early life as is Reverend Hilliard’s novel 1864 historical writing The Last Men of the Revolution. Both of the aforementioned sources do not conflict with each other in any way, either factually or chronologically. They do, however, blatantly reinforce the other’s historical veracity.

“As a young lad, I had an opportunity none will have again,” begins Frank Cook’s potent commentary of his great ancestor’s Revolutionary War exploits (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook continues, “We, the Cook kids, who grew up at Clarendon, were told about the Revolutionary War by its last soldier, our great grandfather Lemuel Cook, who, we more affectionately called, Grandpa Lem” (Frank Cook, 2-4). “He [Lemuel] would take delight telling us about his life, and we were glad to listen” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook continued, “We’d watch for Lemuel to come out to sit in his rocker, either on his front porch or under the big old elm tree, in his front yard, as he always did on warm summer afternoons” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook goes on to say that Lemuel would flag all his many grandkids over with his cane, and “…[we] would run to see who would get there first for the best seat” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Frank Cook further comments, “It [Lemuel’s discussion of General George Washington] would usually start with a question. Tell us about George Washington. What did he look like?” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank stated about Lemuel Cook still further, “He [Lemuel] would say, ‘Let me think on it…”’ (Frank Cook, 2-4). Frank Cook, moreover, adds about Lemuel, “…a gleam would come to his eye, and he would begin to speak slowly and deliberately” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Then the wise silver-haired elder statesman of the Cook family began to tell his many progeny his long a-gone tales and memories of General Washington, sixty years after the former American President’s death in 1799. Lemuel began to speak, “I saw General Washington a few times, and I said a few words to him, and he [did] back to me. I’ll not forget. [The] first time I set eyes on him [Washington] was at White Plains or thereabouts. I’d joined up at the first call [with the Continental Army, in 1775], and those first couple of years were hard ones” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

As Lemuel Cook spoke of his distant yesteryear participation in America’s savage and arduous War for Independence, Frank Cook studiously listened to his great grandfather’s words and personal experiences, and Frank Cook carefully jotted down on paper all that Lemuel had uttered aloud…

“Our company was resting near White Plains, after being pushed off the Island [Manhattan] and out of New York City and up [the Harlem] River” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel was referencing the Patriot withdrawal from Manhattan in the autumn of 1776, immediately following the British invasion thereabouts. This was the frenetic aftermath Lemuel was talking about when the Yankee bluecoats were outmanned and outgunned by their British redcoat adversaries (please see Michael M. DeBonis’ 2017 NYHR article on the subject entitled, “Dangerous Interlude”). General Washington’s badly outnumbered and poorly trained Continental Army could not thwart Lord Howe’s brutal and overwhelming assault on Brooklyn and Manhattan Island. General George Washington had scored two brilliant miracles against Lord William Howe’s relentlessly advancing British forces in the wake of their monstrous onslaught (Tallmadge, 12-13). Firstly, Washington and his Continentals conclusively (and unexpectedly) outclassed the British Army at the Battle of Harlem Heights, towards the northern end of Manhattan Island, and he (Washington) subsequently organized and delivered a brilliantly executed and well-ordered withdrawal of his bloodied and battered Continental Army north to Westchester County, by boldly crossing the Harlem River, before his British enemies could fully surround him (Tallmadge, 12-13). This complicated martial maneuver clearly confused the charging General Howe, and General Washington had skillfully managed to keep most of the starving and retreating American Army entirely together under the severest military and logistical odds thrust against them (Tallmadge, 12-13).

Lemuel continued his reminisces of Washington, “My job was with Major [Benjamin] Tallmadge. Being in the Light Dragoons, we had horses to take care of. Mine was a good ole Bay I’d brought from home. I was caring for my horse and a couple of others that needed rubbing down when I heard a commotion a ways down the road. I could see by the [blue] uniforms it was [a group of] officers leading several companies of Foot. One fellow sat above the others in the saddle, head, and shoulders. I knew he must be the General [Washington]. We had heard how large a man he was. As they came closer, all I could do was stand there with my mouth open. An officer in the front gave me a dirty look like to be saying, ‘How come you don’t salute?”’ (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Lemuel Cook continued, “I whipped off a good fancy one. I suppose the officers dismounted, and [they] went to talk with the Major [Tallmadge]. I went back to [working on] my horse. A while later, the General [Washington] came around the headquarters, where I was, to stretch his legs, I suppose, and [he] said, ‘Is that your horse, soldier?’” Lemuel recounted to his great-grandchildren (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel responded to Washington, “Yes sir,’’ as he came to full attention (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel went on to explain, “He [Washington] put me at ease, and [he] asked [me] my name” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Private Lemuel Cook responded to General George Washington, “Lemuel Cook, from Connecticut, sir” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington spoke directly to Lemuel in return, “That’s a right smart mount you have there, Lemuel Cook, from Connecticut” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel replied to Washington, “He’s done right by me, General” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington finished with Lemuel by saying, “Well, you take care of him [Lemuel’s Bay]. You will be glad you did” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook returned, telling Frank Cook and the others, “With that, the General [Washington] went about his business. That’s all there was to it. I’ll never forget, though, with all the things that must have been pressing on him, he [Washington] took the time for a kind word. He [Washington] had the kindest look in his eyes I’ve ever seen. [I] got the chance to see him [Washington] a few times more, being in the quartermasters. They called us artificers in them days. [I] didn’t see him [General Washington] until some two, maybe three years later” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel was not done yet with telling his family about his famous wartime army general.

Lemuel resumed his speech of Washington, “We were going down [south from Connecticut and New York] through Head of Elk [Cecil County, Maryland]. Things were getting better…we had been winning [in the War]. We knew we had a big battle coming up somewhere to the south. Scuttlebutt [the gossip in the Continental Army] was that the General [Washington] had gone ahead and [he] would meet us along the way. We had stopped [along our southward journey], and I was minding my own business, paying no mind to no one, when I heard a rich, full voice say, ‘Lem Cook, is that you?’” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington continued talking to Lemuel Cook, saying, “I thought that might be you, with that Bay” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Cook responded to Washington, “Yes, sir…It’s very good to see you, sir” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington still had more to say to Private Cook, “I admire the lines of your Bay, Lem. I have one like it at Mount Vernon” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel said to General Washington in return, “Yes, sir. He’s a little worse for wear. But I’ve been keeping your advice. My brothers made me promise to bring him back to the farm when our work was done” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington concluded to Cook, “That’s what we’re about, private” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook further added to his progeny, “And with that, the General [Washington] was gone as quickly as he had appeared” (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Great Grandpa Cook related more about Washington to Frank Cook and his other descendants, “I had whirled around with my eyes bugging out and my mouth wide open, again, amazed that he [Washington] had remembered me” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook was directly speaking of his second encounter with General Washington. Washington had left a distinctly positive impression on the young American soldier. Lemuel would continue to describe his second meeting with George Washington to his great-grandson Frank, “I’d grown six inches since last time we met [at White Plains, New York]. He must have recognized the horse before recognizing me. It seems as though he still towered a foot over me. But I was ten feet tall after that. ‘How come the General knows you?’” they [Lemuel’s fellow dragoons] all asked. I didn’t tell them. We saw him again at Yorktown, which turned out to be the big one where we were heading. The last time I spoke to him [Washington] was at Danbury, [Connecticut] when he gave [personally to] me my discharge. I was standing there with my brother. I still have my discharge [papers] here, someplace. But, I will have to tell you [the Cook family] about that another time. The General had a look about him, you don’t forget. There are hardly any words to describe him. Those were hard days for the most part, but there were some good things about them, too” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel met General George Washington four times in total (during the Revolutionary War), and he had conversed with him (Washington) at least twice (Frank Cook, 2-4). Washington did indeed leave an incredibly enduring and noble memory of himself in Lemuel Cook’s mind and soul. As students of American history, we are certainly not at a loss for having Private Cook’s close, firsthand recollections of the great American General interacting with his beloved soldiers.

Reverend Elias Hilliard commented of Lemuel Cook in 1864, “Mr. Cook was at the Battle of Brandywine [Creek], and he was at Cornwallis’ surrender [at the Battle of Yorktown, Virginia]” (Hilliard, 7-8). In regard to the Americans’ attack against the British, at Brandywine Creek, in Pennsylvania, it must be stated that Private Lemuel Cook was not alone. Once again, Cook was in the company of his commanding officer, the recently promoted Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Tallmadge, 20-21). Tallmadge would write of this bitterly contested clash in his highly respected and insightful Memoir sometime before he died at his home in Litchfield, Connecticut, on March 7, 1835 (Tallmadge, 69). Tallmadge says in his very factual account, “On the morning of the 11th of September, 1777, Gen. Howe put his army in order of battle, and [he] moved on towards the Brandywine. The action commenced by 10 o’clock in the morning, and [it] was sustained from right to left [flanks] by turns through the whole line. The action was obstinate on both sides, and [it] lasted through the [whole] day; but the left wing of the British Army, having crossed the [Brandywine] river, some distance above, on the right of our [Continental] army, came down upon our right [flank], while the Hessians [foreign-born German mercenary soldiers in service of the British crown] crossed in front at Chadsford, and the American troops were forced to retire,” (Tallmadge, 21).

Once again, Washington’s troops were badly outgunned and outmanned by their much better-trained and equipped British enemies. The redcoats also outmaneuvered the Patriots, who clearly had superior discipline, battlefield experience, and leadership within their ranks. General (Lord) William Howe may have outflanked General George Washington in his advance on the Continentals, but Washington instantly returned the favor by markedly outflanking the British in his [American] retreat towards Philadelphia, thus evading capture by the hands of the redcoats (Tallmadge, 21).

In the days following the Battle of Brandywine Creek, the British rapidly pursued Washington and his American bluecoats to Philadelphia (Tallmadge, 21 and Rose, 59), the Patriot capital, only to find it abandoned by the Continental Congress and the Continental Army (Rose, 59). The very troublesome American mischief-makers had again skillfully eluded capture by General Howe and his redcoat hordes. The Americans may have given up their capital city, but they retained both their lives and their ability to fight the enemy another day. In this instance, the British Army was shamefully humbled by the bluecoats. Benjamin Tallmadge and Lemuel Cook were both in General George Washington’s personal presence during this very turbulent military campaign. Both Cook and Tallmadge had faithfully and competently served the Continental cause.

Of his individual and direct participation at the Siege of Yorktown, Lemuel Cook does give a succinct account, unlike Tallmadge, who did not participate in the Battle of Yorktown in any capacity (Tallmadge, 45-46). The regiment of Connecticut’s Second Continental Light Dragoons was thus split into two halves, with one half being sent south from the Tristate area to fight General Charles Cornwallis in Virginia (Hilliard, 7-8), while the other half of the Dragoon regiment remained behind in the lower Hudson Valley, near Westchester County, New York, to guard upstate New York and lower New England against any potential British incursions into those regions, that would be possibly launched by British General Henry Clinton, the recoat Commander-in-Chief, based with a formidable army in New York City (Tallmadge, 44-46).

Lemuel Cook commented to Hilliard of the Siege of Yorktown, “It was reported that Washington was going to storm New York [City]. We made a bylaw that every man should stick with his horse in our regiment. If his horse went, he [each Continental cavalryman] should go with him. I was waiter [assistant] for the quartermaster, and so I had a chance to keep my horse in good condition. Baron Steuben was muster master [a senior-level record keeper]. He had called us out to select men and horses fit for service” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cook continued to Hilliard, “The next morning, old Steuben had got my name. There were eighteen out of the regiment [the Second Connecticut Continental Light Dragoons]. ‘Be on the ground tomorrow morning at nine o’clock,”’ (Hilliard, 7-8). Thus, Baron Steuben chose Private Lemuel Cook to go on a mission (Hilliard, 7-8).

Although Washington had publically put out the word to his troops that they would be attacking New York City from southern Connecticut and Westchester County, in lower upstate New York, Washington privately ordered his officer corps to steer their soldiers around Manhattan Island, having the bluecoats march into New Jersey instead (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 44-45). From New Jersey, General George Washington and his Continentals resumed stampeding southward into the State of Maryland (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 44-45), and, from Maryland, the Continentals continued their southward footwork into Virginia (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 44-45).

Of his departure south, Lemuel Cook says, “My colonel [possibly Sheldon, Cook is not specific] didn’t like to have me go” (Hilliard, 7-8). This statement by Lemuel Cook to Reverend Hilliard reinforces the factual reputation that Cook’s record in his own dragoon regiment was stellar and that Cook the soldier was very well respected by his fellow privates and superior officers alike (Hilliard, 7-8).

Cook told Hilliard that the Continentals’ march south to Virginia from Westchester County, New York, and southern Connecticut was arduous (Hilliard, 7-8). Then Cook resumed his speech (to Hilliard) about his firsthand Revolutionary War experiences at the Battle of Yorktown, “Then we were in Virginia. There was not much fighting. [General] Cornwallis tried to force his way north to New York, but he fell into the arms of [General] LaFayette, who drove Cornwallis back [towards Yorktown, Virginia]. Cornwallis was sealed off on land from British General Henry Clinton’s reinforcements in New York City, by LaFayette, and at sea, by French Admiral Count De Grasse (Tallmadge, 45). Fighting conditions quickly deteriorated for the British, who were all garrisoned at ocean-oriented Yorktown in Virginia (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge 45). British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, in charge of all redcoat military operations in the American southern colonies, tried in vain to fend off the combined infantry and artillery assaults by Washington and LaFayette’s Franco-American force (Tallmadge, 45).

Lemuel Cook continued telling about the Battle of Yorktown to Reverend Hilliard “Washington ordered that there should be no laughing at the British. And he [Washington] said it was bad enough to surrender without being insulted” (Hilliard, 7-8). Major Benjamin Tallmadge affirmed Cook’s observation, commenting on the British surrendering to Yankee and French troops at Yorktown, “The joy and exultation were proportionally great in the allied army, although not the smallest insult was offered to the prisoners” (Tallmadge, 45). Cornwallis’ redcoat Army was also a starving one, with dirty and tattered clothes (Hilliard, 7-8), and Cook described, “…Some [redcoats] had a pint of lice on them…No boots or shoes [either],” (Hilliard, 7-8). Cornwallis and his Royal British Army had little or no supplies at their disposal; hence the British Army’s chances of escape or victory (in the direct presence of the integrated Franco-American Army) were astronomically slim, to none at all (Hilliard, 7-8 and Tallmadge, 45).

Cornwallis’ surrender to Washington was inevitable (Tallmadge, 45), and the British General to the American Commander-in-Chief made his undisputed capitulation on October 19, 1781 (Tallmadge, 45). In almost one swipe of his sword, General George Washington and his underdog Continental Army had boldly defeated the most powerful military power (Great Britain) on earth. The colossal and bloody struggle America had fought for so long to gain its political and economic independence from the British Crown was, practically speaking, over. Washington and Lemuel Cook were thus personal witnesses to one of history’s most momentous occasions, and the Reverend Elias Brewster Hilliard had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn of it from a direct survivor of that specific plight.

Frank Cook noted of his great Revolutionary ancestor, “Lemuel served for the entire war, and he was wounded several times, but [he was] never seriously [hurt] enough to keep him out of the thick of it for any length of time. Having received his discharge at the close of the War, Lemuel returned to Northbury [Connecticut], where he married Hannah Curtis in 1783” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Hannah C. Cook was a native of Cheshire, Connecticut (Hilliard, 7-8). The Revolution had come to an end, but life for the young, steel-willed Lemuel had barely just begun.

After eight harsh years of war, Lemuel only desired a peaceful life of farming (Frank Cook, 2-4). He would never again, in his many years, return to the life of a soldier (Frank Cook, 2-4 and Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel and Hannah Cook remained in Connecticut until 1788, when they relocated to a farm in Clinton, Oneida County, in upstate New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). For unknown reasons, Lemuel Cook and his family returned to Plymouth, Connecticut, circa 1795, and he became one of the “incorporators” of that town (Frank Cook, 2-4).

“He [Lemuel Cook] remained in Connecticut until 1804 when he returned to [upstate] New York” (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook settled with his wife at Pompey, in Onondaga County, following his brothers Selah and True Cook, who both had journeyed and settled there (from Connecticut) sometime before 1795 (Frank Cook, 2-4). At Pompey (in his forty-sixth year), Lemuel Cook bought a sixty-acre farm and prosperously worked it until 1818, when he applied for his first military pension (Frank Cook, 2-4). Cook’s wounds from the American Revolution were beginning to take their toll on his health (Frank Cook, 2-4), and several of his sons, still living with him, were not yet of age to be able to satisfactorily help him with the running of his Pompey farm (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel Cook sold his Pompey farm in 1821, which was positioned on Henneberry Road (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Lemuel’s older sons, Lemuel Jr. and Miles Cook, were both of age to give their father some assistance at his farm in Pompey, but both sons had families and farms of their own to tend, so the help they both were able to give to Lemuel Cook Sr. was hence very mitigated (Frank Cook, 2-4). In 1821, Lemuel Cook (Sr.) relocated to North Bergen, in Genesee County, and he bought and operated a farm there (while living with his younger two sons, Gilbert and Selah) until around 1832. Lemuel Cook (Sr.) then moved again (for the final time) to his last residence (also a farm) at Clarendon, New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). Lemuel’s initial land purchase at Pompey, New York, was part of the Military Tract located there (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Gilbert and Selah Cook bought and operated their own farms, near their father, at Clarendon, New York (Frank Cook, 2-4). Hannah Cook died sometime in the first part of the nineteenth century (Frank Cook, 2-4) and Lemuel Sr. remarried his second wife, Ruth Cook, formerly of Monroe County (in upstate New York) and a past resident of the village of Sweden (Frank Cook, 2-4). Ruth Cook died in 1860 (Frank Cook, 2-4), causing Lemuel Sr. to stay with his sons, Gilbert and True Cook, who both insisted that their father retire from farming after nearly eighty years of his doing the very rigorous work (Frank Cook, 2-4).

Now in his twilight years, Lemuel Cook would enjoy telling his grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his wartime adventures (Frank Cook, 2-4), and (with the help of a cane) Lemuel Cook would cherish walking into town to pick up his pension check, at the Clarendon Post Office, (Frank Cook, 2-4). Two years after his very fortuitous meeting with the superb historian, E. B. Hilliard, the undeniably durable and spirited Revolutionary War veteran Lemuel Cook Sr., passed away at Clarendon, New York, aged 107 years old, succumbing to his infirmity, that which is called great antiquity (Frank Cook, 2-4). The date of Lemuel Sr. Cook’s death is May 20, 1866 (Rochester Union Advertiser, 1), and his subsequent prayer service and burial took place on May 23, 1866, in the family cemetery built on the property of his son, Curtis Cook, in Clarendon, New York (Rochester Union Advertiser, 1).

Hilliard’s historical account of Lemuel Cook fills in much of Cook’s background narrative, which is factually absent from Frank Cook’s very concise (though highly detailed) exegesis describing his revered ancestor. It is also noted here that Frank Cook’s excellent biographical commentary about Lemuel provides much missing critical information about Lemuel’s life, which is not at all recorded in Hilliard’s account of Private Cook. And Lemuel Cook’s life was a truly amazing one.

Hilliard says that Lemuel Cook, while still a young man, became engaged in a tavern brawl (near Utica, New York) with an unknown aboriginal American (Hilliard 7-8) over a disagreement between them involving cattle (Hilliard, 7-8). The male aboriginal “…assailed him [Lemuel] at a public house, as he [Lemuel] was on his way home, coming at him [Lemuel] with great fury, with a drawn knife. Mr. Cook was unarmed, but catching up a chair, he presented it as a shield against the Indian’s thrusts till help appeared. He [Lemuel] says he never knew what fear was, and he [Lemuel] always declared that no man should take him prisoner alive” (Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel Cook was not a man who cowered in the presence of danger.

E. B. Hilliard further says of Lemuel Cook, “His frame is large. His presence is commanding. In his prime, he [Lemuel] must have possessed prodigious strength. He [Lemuel] has evidently been a man of most resolute spirit…the old determination still manifesting itself in his look and words. His voice [Lemuel’s], the full power of which he still retains, is marvelous for its volume and strength” (Hilliard, 7-8). Hilliard went on relating Lemuel Cook’s character traits, “Speaking of the present [Civil] war, he [Lemuel] said, in his strong tones, at the same time bringing down his cane, with force upon the floor, ‘It is terrible. But, terrible as it is, the rebellion must be put down!’’’ (Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel was mentally alert and patriotic at one hundred and five years old and two years from his death. But he very well knew that a civil war is the worst kind of war, where fathers square off against their sons and brothers kill their brothers. Lemuel Cook knew this awful reality because he had engaged in such a war (against the British) during the Revolution. Indeed, the American Revolution resembled the American Civil War in many categories, although the battles of the Revolution had body counts usually much lower than those of Civil War battles.

In his old age, Lemuel Cook often stuttered in his speech and frequently had problems with his memory (Hilliard, 7-8). Lemuel would quickly catch on to the gist of a conversation once his years-rich mind became focused (Hilliard, 7-8). He (Lemuel) enjoyed hearing and telling good jokes, talking to his friends and family, going on long walks, and reading his Bible (Hilliard, 7-8). Hilliard was positive to document Cook’s political leanings as an active and life-long Democrat (Hilliard, 7-8). But, unlike many Democrats of Civil War America, Lemuel Cook Sr. was one who was wholly loyal to the Union cause (Hilliard, 7-8).

Lemuel Cook was a very dynamic force in American history, from his personal life in the late eighteenth century of colonial British America through to the early, middle, and late nineteenth century. At this very time, a new nation did rise, unseen like any in the history of the world before it, brazenly declaring that all men under God were created equal and that the newly-minted country, called the United States of America, would dedicate all of its people, resources and lifespan to the fulfilling of this divine declaration (See U. S. Declaration of Independence, paragraphs 1-8, by Thomas Jefferson and others).

The story of Lemuel Cook is the story of the United States of America. Lemuel Cook’s biography is one of the most astonishing life stories in all of American history. Although Lemuel Cook’s life ties him directly to the history of Connecticut and New York State, Cook’s story historically transcends its time, place, and space with respect to American geography. This is so because America was Lemuel Cook and Lemuel Cook was America. History cannot be neglectful of its own events, but, more significantly, history cannot be derelict in the proper mentioning of the very souls who inhabit it…and Lemuel Cook’s soul looms largely over our American history.

Lemuel Cook’s markedly novel and extraordinary life incorporates the last two decades of Western Civilization’s Enlightenment, the whole of the nineteenth century’s Romantic Movement in the arts, letters, and music that replaced it, as well as the first two-thirds of the Victorian Age (Harrington, 545-561 and Capers, 561-579). Lemuel Cook’s life directly coincided with the lives of esteemed American thinkers and writers as diverse as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to those of Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain, who followed them both (in the annals of American history) much, much later on in time (Harrington, 545-561 and Capers, 561-579). The hugely expansive length of Lemuel Cook’s life makes his individual biography virtually unprecedented in the time span of his American country. For instance, Lemuel Cook was very well alive for Cornwallis’ remarkable surrender to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia (in 1781), as well as being alive, too, for Robert E. Lee’s epoch-making surrender to Ulysses S. Grant, at Appomattox Courthouse, also in Virginia (in 1865). Cook lived long enough for the American Civil War to begin and end. And Lemuel Cook lived long enough to understand the Civil War’s historical importance with respect to the American nation as a whole. At age 105, Lemuel still had his wits about him (Hilliard, 7-8), albeit his wits were at times slowed down by his much-advanced age (Hilliard, 7-8).

The Brookhaven Times Newspapers comment on Lemuel Cook’s life, “He [Lemuel Cook] lived through the War of 1812…saw his countrymen settle westward, achieving new frontiers…and in 1861, he saw our young republic descend into a brutal civil war,” (Editors, BRTN, 1). The Brookhaven Times Newspapers also accurately say of Lemuel Cook, “At the time of his [Lemuel’s] enlistment [in the Continental Army] in 1775, there were just thirteen British colonies. By the time of his [Lemuel’s] death [in 1866], there were [existing] thirty-six American states” (Editors, BRTN, 1). Cook lived through the American life and times of Manifest Destiny, the Mexican-American War, the Indian Wars, and the First Industrial Revolution (Harrington, 545-561 and Capers, 561-579). Cook’s life is certainly not one to be overlooked by American historians. Lemuel’s eyes “…witnessed so much: [they] watched as Benjamin Tallmadge led charges against British soldiers, watched as [fellow Culper spy and New Yorker] Caleb Brewster carried secret messages to camp, and they witnessed [at Yorktown] the sword of General Cornwallis being offered to [General] Washington,” (Editors, BRTN, 1). The eyes of Lemuel Cook were wise and discriminating.

There are no legal or family records from Lemuel Cook’s vast and vital life that document any possible criminal activity or financial distress of his while he lived, whether Lemuel was living in New England or whether he was living in upstate New York. All written documentation regarding Lemuel Cook’s life strongly indicates that he was a genuinely moral, and diligently laborious farmer. The historical record also shows that Lemuel Cook was an industrious and economically successful agriculture agent.

From Lemuel Cook’s last will and testament, drafted and sealed in 1855 (Lemuel Cook, 1), we see at that time, Lemuel Cook Sr. had eight living children, including seven male heirs and two female heirs (Lemuel Cook, 1). Their names are Esther Coleman, Curtis Cook, Gilbert Cook, Lemuel Cook Jr., Lyman Cook, Miles Cook, Worthy Cook, and Electa Tousley (Lemuel Cook, 1). The Senior Lemuel Cook’s last will and testament was registered in Orleans County of upstate New York (Lemuel Cook, 1). Lemuel Cook’s son Selah Cook is not listed in his will with his other children (Lemuel Cook, 1). But from Lemuel’s codicil, written sometime later on and clearly printed at the bottom of Lemuel’s will, we know that his son Selah Cook was alive when Lemuel Cook Sr. died and that Selah was residing in Flint, Michigan (Lemuel Cook, 1). For unknown reasons, Selah Cook has not left any fixed sum of money in his father’s will, as all of Lemuel Sr.’s other heirs had been given by him (Lemuel Cook, 1). Selah Cook was only bequeathed by Lemuel Cook Sr. some of the monies collected from the sales of the great patriarch’s chattel properties (Lemuel Cook, 1). All of the Senior Lemuel’s progeny in the 1866 probated will are listed as living in upstate New York (Lemuel Cook, 1), with the two exceptions of Selah Cook (who is listed as being a resident of Flint, Michigan) and Lyman Cook, who is documented in Lemuel Cook’s will as being a resident of Buffalo, Wisconsin (Lemuel Cook, 1). Gilbert Cook (as the executor of his father’s will) seems to be the greatest recipient of Lemuel Cook Senior’s estate, receiving the sum of $400.00 dollars (Lemuel Cook, 1), which is two hundred dollars more received than most of Lemuel’s other heirs (Lemuel Cook, 1). Gilbert Cook profited even further from the benefit of his father’s settlement, as in the case of the elder Lemuel’s daughters, Electa and Esther (Lemuel Cook, 1), with Gilbert being awarded $390.00 dollars more than each of them. We may only speculate as to why Lemuel’s two daughters (Esther Coleman and Electa Tousley) each received only ten dollars in his will (Lemuel Cook, 1).

With Lemuel Cook’s death in May of 1866, one of America’s final living bridges to the War for Independence had forever vanished. But, we do not see Lemuel Cook as some tragically orphaned, anachronistic ghost. Rather, we must see Lemuel Cook for what he was. The exceptionally long-lived Revolutionary War private was an incarnate example of America’s greatest possibilities. We have several historically authentic photographs of him and three authentic verbatim personal commentaries of his left to us, which reveal much about Lemuel Cook to our minds and to our spirits alike. Most importantly, modern America has Lemuel Cook’s great life as leaving behind a rich legacy. This is one that expresses American values at their best. Such a heritage is entirely immune to the destructive power of passing time, and (because of this) Lemuel Cook outlives history.

About the Author: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, NY. A graduate of both Suffolk County Community College (A. A. in Liberal Studies) and SUNY at Stony Brook (B. A. in English literature), Michael’s work first appeared in the Brookhaven Times Newspapers and in the Village Beacon Record. His current work (poetry and prose) may be found in The New York History Review and elsewhere. Mr. DeBonis is dedicated to studying and to learning the history of the great State of New York. 



1) Biography.Com, Washington Irving: A Life, 2015-2020, copyright 2022, The Editors.

2) The Brookhaven Times Newspapers, Under Tallmadge’s Command: The Last Surviving Culper Connection, The TBR Staff, August 19, 2016, Setauket, NY, copyright 2022.

3) Gerald M. Capers, The Encyclopedia Americana, volume 27, pages 561-579, copyright 1970, New York, NY, The Americana Corporation.

4) Frank Cook, Lemuel Remembers Washington, circa 1855-1864, Clarendon, NY,, copyright 2022, Burr Cook.

5) Frank W. Cook and Holly Cook, The Cooks: A Family Genealogy (1978-2013),, copyright 2022, Burr Cook.

6) Lemuel Cook, Last Will and Testament, 1855-1865, Clarendon, NY,, copyright 2022, Burr Cook.

7) Fred Harvey Harrington, The Encyclopedia Americana, volume 27, pages 545-561, copyright 1970, New York, NY, The Americana Corporation.

8) Elias Brewster Hilliard, The Last Men of the Revolution, copyright 1863-1865, Hartford, Connecticut.

9) Thomas Jefferson, The United States Declaration of Independence, paragraphs 1-8, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 4th, 1776.

10) The Rochester Union Advertiser, Obituaries, May 22, 1866, copyright 1866, Clarendon, NY, The Editors.

11) Alexander Rose, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, copyright 2006-2007, Bantam Dell/Random House Publishing, New York, NY.

12) Benjamin Tallmadge, Memoir of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge, Forgotten Books/Dalton House Publishing, copyright 2015, London, England.