Many people think that history is dull, stale and boring. The Allegany County Historical Societies Roundtable has found a cure for people who are not fascinated by history. They have found ways to make history come to “life.” Unlike many, I have always found history intriguing and interesting. Fortunately, everyone can enjoy and learn from history when it is well presented and vibrant. That is what happened this past week.
Our local historians have worked for months to offer us a rich banquet of historical information. They brought us the replicas of the “Hamilton-Burr” dueling pistols. Those pistols have significant connections with our County. “Angelica” Schuyler Church (for whom the Village and Town of Angelica were named) was the daughter of Philip Schuyler, mother of Philip Church, and sister of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, wife of Alexander Hamilton. The pistols belonged to her husband, John Church. He was present at the duel in which Alexander Hamilton was killed. The same pistols had been used a year earlier in another duel in which Hamilton’s son (Angelica’s nephew) was killed. The Church and Schuyler families had close contact and relationships with most of the important leaders in the American Revolution and early years of our nation. They were friends and associates of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and numerous others. The Church family spent time in Europe and were instrumental in encouraging the Du Pont family to settle in this area. They later moved to Delaware. The Churches were instrumental in the settling and early history of Allegany County, serving as Judges, political and social leaders.
Our County has numerous other distinguished citizens. The lives and voices of some of these individuals were brought to life at a program entitled “Voices From Our Past.” It was held at the Palmer Opera House in Cuba, NY, on Sunday afternoon, September 25th at 2:00 p.m. More than thirteen local residents (names in parentheses) portrayed various notable Allegany County residents from different eras. These included Angelica Schuyler Church (Kay Heaney), Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (Heidi Temple), Anna Matilda Church (Rebecca Budinger), and others. Here are some highlights:
* Finn Heaney played the part of an unnamed pioneer boy whose family settled in our area.
* Cherokee Indians captured Mary Jemison (Aidan Heaney) in Pennsylvania and brought to New York State, and Allegany County. She lived most of her life here, and became renowned as the “White Woman” of the Seneca Indians.
* Reverend Calvin Fairbanks (William Heaney) grew up in Pike (then part of Allegany County). He helped at least 47 slaves escape from their bondage. He spent more than 17 years in prison, and reportedly received more than 35,000 lashes. He was finally released from prison through the personal intervention of President Abraham Lincoln. He visited the White House and preached a message on the evils of slavery to Lincoln and the members of his Cabinet, just before Lincoln’s assassination.
* Alvan Richardson (Richard Baker) settled the Village of Richburg, which was later named after him.
* Laura Ingalls (Connie Doyle) was the grandmother of the author of the Little House on the Prairie books, and an early resident of Cuba.
* Peter Keenan (Bob Riggs) was a Union cavalry officer who died in the Battle of Chancellorsville.
* O.P. Taylor (Kelly Lounsberry) was a Confederate cavalry officer who settled in Allegany County and founded our oil industry, after many failures and setbacks.
* Naomi Bradley (Sylvia Bosworth) told of her family heritage including participation in the Temperance Movement.
* Nelle Davis recounted the experiences of a child sent to Allegany County on an Orphan Train.
* John L. Sullivan (Brendan Heaney) described his training and victory as Bare Knuckle Boxing Champion.
* Gabby Hayes (Dr. Joseph Felsen) told of his career in acting and vaudeville leading to becoming the “Sidekick” of many of the preeminent cowboy stars of Hollywood.
History truly comes alive when you hear it from the participants, and in their own voices. Our talented neighbors and friends served up a special treat for us this past weekend.