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Oak Hill & Vicinity: Manley B. Mattice’s life and career


By Mary Lou Nahas

For Capital Region Independent Media

Manley’s law office  in Oak Hill was in the Greek Revival building across from the Tripp Store. Contributed photo

A common idea is that the town of Durham was settled by people from Durham, Connecticut, and while that is true, that is not the whole story.

The town of Durham today has four hamlets — Durham, East Durham, Cornwallville and Oak Hill. J.G. Borthwick writing in the 1880s, nearly a hundred years after the first settlers arrived in 1784, comments in Beers’ “History of Greene County”: “It is interesting to think of these seven young men, who, leaving their homes in Durham, Connecticut, coming by boat to Catskill and then with their knapsacks, muskets and axes, making their way on foot to this town, and having chosen their location commenced clearing away the forests on Meeting House Hill.”

Besides the many dwellings on this hill, there have been two meeting houses, at least one schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, a store and public roads passing over it from the four points of the compass.

An article in the 1974 Greenville Local provides more of the story: “In 1784 nine men chose a hill in the Catskill Valley as the site of New Durham. They were sturdy people from Durham, CT. Their families joined them and soon a village stood on top of Meeting House Hill. The village grew, and people were born and others died. In 1806, it was decided to start a cemetery.  Over one hundred plots were sold at $1.00 each. There are more than 50 known stones in the cemetery, but many more were probably buried on this hill top… Finally, the people moved down into the valley to the site of the present village of Durham.”                            

While the settlers on Meeting House Hill were mostly English from Durham, Connecticut, many early settlers in Oak Hill were Dutch from Ulster and other counties. Contributed photo

 J.G. Borthwick in another section of Beers’ also tells us: “The first actual settlement commenced within the borders of the town [of Durham] was made at Oak Hill, by Lucas DeWitt, John Plank, Hendrick. Plank. …Lucas DeWitt Jr. was the son of Lucas DeWitt, who lived in the town of Hurley, Ulster County…. The exact date of this settlement cannot now be given, but it is certain that it was several years before the Revolution — probably about 1770, or 1772. Lucas DeWitt Jr. took possession of the farm now owned by his grandson, Israel DeWitt. His first house (a log building) occupied the plot of ground now used as a garden by his descendants. This settlement was found to be on a patent granted by George III to Colonel Richard Mainland.  The patent was granted June 23, 1767. By the terms of Mr. DeWitt’s lease, he was to pay a rent of ‘one ear of corn, and proportion of the King’s rent per year for five years.’”

“In 1776, the War of the Revolution came, the Indians became troublesome, the massacre of a family of whites at Shingle Kill took place, which greatly alarmed them, so that fearing for the safety of the wives and little ones, they were led to abandon the settlement, and return to their friends in Ulster County. Thus, ends of the history of the first settlement in Durham.” 

The next year, when Hendrick Plank came back to tend to his crops, he was abducted by the Indians and removed to Canada, where he died in captivity. The two remaining pioneers and Hendrick’s widow, who remarried to Leonard Patrie, all returned by about 1782 to re-establish their homes. 

The Maitland Patent, which was the first grant to lie exclusively in the future town of Durham, is historically significant as being the location for land described in the first known recorded lease in Durham and thus contains the first documentation for the initial settlement of the town. This patent of 5,000 acres was made to Colonel Richard Maitland, a British army officer of Scottish birth. The patent encompassed land that now includes the Oak Hill area as well as surrounding farmland leased by the earliest settlers.

The first known lease was to Lucas DeWitt, dated May 3, 1774, for property in “DeWittsburg.” The language of that lease suggests an occupation of the land by the earlier settlers, perhaps by 1771. In the early 19th century, Oak Hill matured into an industrial hamlet with highly productive mills and fashionable homes. What is also true is that these families from Ulster County were not Methodist or Presbyterian, but were members of the Dutch Reform Church and that before too long other Dutch families came to the area.

Diaries from settlers on Meeting House Hill contain entries about buying grain from the folks in Oak Hill. Some of the Meeting House Hill settlers moved to Oak Hill and settlers from other areas of the Catskills also came.

Different published accounts frequently contain differing dates and numbers (i.e., seven young men, nine young men) which I have not tried to correct but the general timeframe is likely accurate.

Actually, Dutch settlers played a large part in the settlement of the area, as is illustrated by the story of Manly B. Mattice, who was born on Dec. 29, 1828 [or in 1827 as some accounts say], in the town of Broome, Schoharie County. His paternal grandfather was an immigrant from Holland.  Manley’s parents were Adam and Nancy Winans Mattice. 

Manley B. Mattice

Adam was born in Blenheim in 1792 in Schoharie County, and Nancy, the daughter of the Rev. John Winans, was born in Rensselaerville. They had eight or nine children.

According to Manley’s obituary printed in the Catskill Examiner, Manley’s father could speak but little English when he married Nancy Winans, but by attending the district school with his eldest children, he learned to read and write and acquired sufficient knowledge of mathematics to enable him to successfully transact business as a merchant. He became a man of prominence in his community, representing his town frequently in the board of supervisors and also was elected sheriff and member of Assembly.

After obtaining a common-school education, Manly began reading law in the office of the Hon. Lyman Tremain, the district attorney of Greene County, who had been born in Oak Hill and was then a resident of Durham. In February 1850, Manly was admitted to the bar and licensed to practice in the several district courts.

At Oak Hill, in 1857, the young lawyer, who was fast making his way professionally and politically, was married to Cordelia (b.1837), only daughter of Peter Roggen, in St. Paul’s church, the only church in Oak Hill at the time, with the Rev. David Wright officiating. The marriage was a happy one.

Manley and Cordelia Roggen were married in St. Paul’s Church and buried in its cemetery. Contributed photo

Peter’s father, Jacob Roggen, was born about 1775, in Kingston, Ulster, the son of Petrus Roggen and Annite Matson. He married Nancy Thorp about 1800, in Kingston and they were the parents of at least 7 sons and 3 daughters.  Jacob had settled in Durham in 1806. He was town supervisor from 1812 to 1821 and assemblyman from 1816 to 1822.

The 1867 map of Oak Hill shows the Law Office of M.B. Mattice across the street from the Tripp store. The Roggens were living down the street in Oak Hill in 1867.

The Mattices and the Roggens and most of the other families in town shopped at the Tripp Store at that time. The store ledger shows that on July 3, 1867, the Mattices purchased 1 ½ dozen eggs, one bottle vanilla, sugar and salt. On July 4, another dozen eggs. On July 6, Mrs. Mattice purchased hair pins and coffee and on July 9 she purchased 4 yards cambric, one spool of silk, one spool of thread, one card of hooks and eyes. On July 10, she and Mrs. Roggen each purchased more fabric, muslin, silk, thread and salt.

On July 16, 1867, she bought blue vitriol and a box of bluing. On July 22, Jacob Roggen’s wife was buying silk worsted and velvet ribbons and Mrs. Mattice got starch. On July 23, more coffee and fabric. On Aug. 12, 1868, M.B. Mattice purchased one pound of coffee, one dozen eggs and a bottle of lemon extract. And so, it went.

In 1857, Manly was part of a group who associated themselves together as a manufacturing company, the Oak Hill Malleable Iron Company. Alfred Tripp, Jacob Roggen and Harvey Peck were the trustees who managed its concerns for the first year. Also in the group were Calvin Adams, Wellington Peck, John Crompton, George Grant, Lewis Banks, Dexter Stannard, Catherine F. Peck, Simeon B. Smith, Hiram Hurd, Mary M. Flower, W.B. Winchell, Mary R. House, Ezra Finch.

Manly, a lifelong Democrat, became one of the leaders in his party in the county and district.    He was elected in 1856 to the Assembly and in 1867-68 was a member of the Constitutional Convention. He represented the district in four national conventions. In 1868 he was a presidential elector.

In November 1870, he was elected a county judge. He was re-elected in 1876 and 1882.

Manly signed hundreds of wills in his role as surrogate. In 1867-68 he represented the Congress district composed of Ulster and Greene in the Constitutional Convention. In 1888, he was defeated by John Sanderson. In 1892-93, by appointment of Gov. Flowers [whose father had been born in Oak Hill and who was a relative of his mother-in-law, Julia Flower], Judge Mattice was one of the World’s Fair commissioners for this judicial district, and largely through his advice and efforts the district made a particularly good exhibit at that exposition.

In 1871, he moved to Catskill and purchased a home at the corner of Broad and Green. Possessed of considerable means, he invested them largely with a view to promoting the public’s assets well as his own welfare, his obituary says.

Manley was one of the first trustees and incorporators of the Catskill Saving Bank. He served as trustee for 26 years and was the bank’s fifth president, serving for the four years before his death.   At that time the business of the bank was conducted in the banking room of the Tanners National Bank of Catskill. He was a stockholder and director in the Tanners’ National Bank.

With the late Capt. Donahue, he purchased the Catskill gas works. With others he built the Hop–O-Nose Knitting Mill in Catskill.

“Of large frame and grand physique, and apparently rugged constitution, the judge had seldom or never been ill, and seemed destined for a long life. But last Spring his health began to fail. Although constantly under medical treatment, his decline was not arrested. And the death of her who had long been his companion and help meet seemed to accelerate it. Three days after the funeral of his wife he was confined to his room and never left it alive,” according to his obituary in the Catskill Recorder, Dec. 28, 1894. “Notwithstanding the hopes and prayers of his friends, the illness of Judge Mattice had a fatal termination: he died at 2 o’clock on Christmas morning; and funeral services were held at his late residence on Thursday afternoon, the Rev. E.P. Millett of St. Luke’s reading the impressive service of the Episcopal church. He was buried in the St. Paul’s Cemetery in Oak Hill.”

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