Printed in Emessay, July 2003 issue, the magazine of
The Masonic Service Association of North America
The Ulster County Gazette – A Masonic Primary Source C.F. William Maurer
Once an historian begins to research a particular incident in the past, he finds that many other authors have passed that way before. The more insignificant the studied battle, person or subject is, the greater the tendency to find in the first checked and general resource, the same facts, easily and carelessly quoted from the same original source. Letters, diaries, journals and newspapers, then, become important as primary resources. Each of these sources recorded the event of the time. Even the bias sometimes seen in these sources have value to the researcher.
Now, with all this said, a fine primary source newspaper for researching the death and burial of Brother George Washington is known widely for another reason. The Ulster County Gazette, dated Saturday, January 4, 1800 is also the most copied and faked antique newspaper in history.
The Ulster Gazette was established in 1798 at Kingston, NY by Samuel Freer and his son, Samuel S. Freer and was printed until 1840 when Samuel S. died. When Washington died on December 14th, 1799, the Freer’s reported the account in their newspaper on December 28, 1799 and on January 4 and 11, 1800.
R. J. Brown and the Newspaper Collectors Society of America have compiled a list of newspapers where a famous date and lead story have been copied from the original and then reprinted many times. These sometimes quite old copies are available through antique shops and auctions for research and general interest for the collector. For the purist of ephemera and antique newspapers the counterfeit artifact is greatly reduced in value and often considered worthless.
Only two original copies of the Ulster Gazette of January 4, 1800 are known to exist. Since the early 1800s apprentice printers have copied this particular issue to learn type setting, printed it for anniversary events of Washington’s birth, and death, and to sell on patriotic holidays. Hundreds of thousands of copies were subsequently printed and are available with little search. Why so many copies? Probably because it would be a “relic” and “collectable” reminding us of the life and death of George Washington.
To a Mason, the information contained in this “first” report of the death and burial of Brother Washington is of great interest. But as Masons the newspaper is too often viewed in another light. For example, this newspaper may have been found in an attic trunk, saved by the family years ago. When discovered, the date and therefore, the presumed age – and Masonic content – might have a Brother rushing the newspaper down to the Lodge room and suggest it be displayed in a place of honor within the Lodge. Often there is the suggestion that the treasure be sold to the highest bidder on the antique market and the funds be used to preserve the building for years to come.
The masthead of the paper reads,
Ulster County Gazette.
Published at KINGSTON, (Ulster County,) BY SAMUEL FREER and Son.
SATURDAY, January 4, 1800. [Num: 88.}
Studying the contents is enjoyable. The paper consists of four pages. The front page has articles on The American Congress, Tuesday, December 10; An English account of the battle of Zurich from the London Gazette; an extract of a dispatch from Lieutenant Colonel Ramsay to Lord Greenville, dated September 30 and a Reply to the Senate by the President of the United States, John Adams on December 10th. In the center section, in eight columns spread across the two pages, the columns outlined in black, is where the story of the death, burial and the tributes for Brother George Washington are found.
After reports from the Napoleonic War, an article entitled, CONGRESS, House of Representatives, Thursday, December 29, carries the remarks that Brother Justice John Marshall made in the House: The melancholy event which was yesterday announced without doubt, has been rendered but too certain. Our Washington is no more!
Marshall adds, However public confidences may change and public affections fluctuate with respect to others, yet with respect to him, they have, in war and in peace, in public and in private life, been as steady as his own firm mind, and as constant as his own exalted virtues. These thoughts were quoted in a later memorial by Brother Henry (Light Horse Harry) Lee as the famous, First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.
President John Adams answered the condolences sent from the House about the melancholy and afflicting event in the death of the most illustrious and beloved personage which this country ever produced.
The Senate’s condolences to President Adams are contained in the fourth column. The final paragraph of their letter reads, Thanks to God, his glory is consummated. Washington yet lives upon earth in his spotless example – his spirit is in Heaven. Let his Countrymen consecrate the memory of the heroic General, the patriotic statesman, and the virtuous Sage; let them teach their children never to forget the fruits of his labours, and his example are their inheritance. Adam’s printed answer is twice as long as that to the House and the date of his response is December 22nd.
Following Mr. Adam’s remarks is a section, Washington Entombed, dated, George Town, December 20. The funeral procession and the burial are described here. The Cavalry, Infantry and Guard – all with arms reversed – led the way. The Music followed by the Clergy preceded the General’s horse. Next came the six pall Bearers, all Brother Masons, – save one, Col. Marsteller who was personally asked to participate by Mrs. Washington -, carrying the coffin. Next came the Mourners, the Masonic Brethren and the Citizens.
A poem The Death of General Washington by a young Lady is two columns wide and about four inches long. She ends her ode with, Rejoicing Angels, hail the heavenly sage! Celestial spirits greet the wonder of the Age!
And then the paper quickly returns to the everyday world. Peas are sold, mail is still unclaimed in the post office, and the announcement to all that Jacob Van Voorhis is insolvent. On the back page are some thirty-four legal notices, advertising and want ads. The Sheriff, Peter Ten Broeck of Ulster, had ten property sales listed. A Saw Mill in Rochester was for sale, along with some Pinewood, and also A stout, healthy, active Negro Wench. A boy was wanted as an apprentice for the Clothier’s Business; sleighs, guns, dry goods and groceries were all for sale – often for cash or country produce. Mr. Matvs Van Steenbergh reminds the neighbors in a second notice, that all persons whatever are forbidden to harbor or keep his wife Hannah as I am determined to pay no debts of her contracting. The world went on.
Antiques magazine reported in 1931 …that Mrs. James Lydon, Jr., of Suffern, New York, asked for an opinion concerning three copies of the Ulster County Gazette, it was only the magic three that differentiated her request from hundreds of others. When Mrs. Lydon’s package was opened, it revealed copies for December 28, 1799, January 4, and January 11, 1800.
Mrs. Mary Crawford Lydon was a descendant of Peter Decker, a Revolutionary War soldier who lived on the northwest side of the Shawangunk River in Ulster County. As a Kingston residence, the family would certainly be a subscriber to the newspaper. Having served under Washington, it was probable that Lieutenant Decker would save those issues that told of the last days of his beloved Commander in Chief.
Mrs. Lydon’s package contained three “straight” issues with the rare copy between the preceding and following dates. How exciting! So with this newspaper and one found a few years later there are now two originals of the newspaper. Caveat – If you happen to be a novice collector and check out website auctions, you will find there, on a weekly basis, dealers selling THE Ulster Gazette.
There are not many antiques that you can become an expert about by reading an article. You will be an expert by finishing this article. Once you handle a copy of the Ulster Gazette, you can quickly give your expert opinion. It is definitely a copy! Bet on it. ( If it happens to be a genuine copy, you will quickly be able to tell about that too.)
The paper of the Gazette you handle will prove an easy test. The original was printed on rag paper, pliable and rough in texture. You may quickly eliminate any “Gazette” of new paper or parchment. If the condition is too pristine, be wary. If the paper is brittle and a dark brown, beware. The paper stock was called “laid paper” and you should see slender parallel lines running from top to bottom. There should be “watermarks” throughout. The identification of Mrs. Lydon’s “Gazette” was fortified when the watermarks on all three were found to be the same double fleur-de-lis.
The print has the ‘long s” or the “f” looking letter throughout. Don’t think it is old and rare because of this. It is important to look at the print. Mr. Freer’s hand press had worn and hand inked type, causing unclear and some indistinct letters. If the printing is good and clear, watch out.
The first place to check, though, and one that is also the easiest, is the masthead. The title should be in Italic capitals, and measure 6-15/16 inches in length. The second line should not have a comma after the word “County” as in our example above. The American Antiquarian Society suggests a single, conclusive test. Unless the first line of the fourth column of page 1 reads, “command the town, and not withstanding,” it is not an original.
The New York Public Library has had so many calls on this paper, that in 1951 a publication authored by R.W.G. Vail – no, that’s his name, not a title – called, The Ulster County Gazette and its Illegitimate Offspring was distributed. Here Mr. Vail (1890 – 1966) collected and examined many different copies and compared these with the originals. Should you still have questions after the short primer above, check there. You may need to acquire the booklet so that you may explain to a Brother when he brings this rare newspaper he found in the attic with grandpa’s books and is not convinced that you really are the expert you claim to be! The newspaper is interesting reading and does belong in your Masonic collection. Have fun with it.
A copy of the Ulster County Gazette printed in 1932 by E.W. Edwards & Sons, Syracuse, NY as a handout.
 This list may be found on http://www.historybuff.com/library/refhotlist.html from R. J. Brown and the Newspaper Collectors Society of America, Additional explanations and ways to authenticate each paper are listed.
 The Ulster County Gazette and its Illegitimate Offspring, New York Public Library, NY, 1931, page 37.
 Archival Chronicle, March 2001: Volume 20, Number 1, A New Series: Famous Fakes
The Ulster County Gazette, January 4, 1800, http://www.bgsu.edu/colleges/library/cac/ac0103.html