The Autobiography of|
Robert Wynkoop Lansing
I'd like to express my grateful thanks to Ann Cardon,
firstname.lastname@example.org, of Houston, Texas for sharing Robert Wynkoop Lansing's "Autobiography" with me and her patience during the give and take of the transcription process. She supplied me with a terrific transcription to work with, (something not always achievable with handwritten documents, something I know a lot about!), and a generosity of spirit in re-examining questionable readings on both our parts. Finally, I'd like to thank her for her permission to post a copy of the "Autobiography", (plus the first page of the accompanying letter), here for the rest of us to enjoy.
This document only surfaced recently as Ann explains: "I have recently been going through old family letters and putting them onto my computer and ran across The Autobiography of Robert Wynkoop Lansing. It is written in his own hand. I thought you might enjoy it. It adds a little more information to the great things you have compiled."
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The Autobiography of Robert Wynkoop Lansing.
Sent to his daughter Margaret Elizabeth Butler September 15, 1878.
Robert Wynkoop Lansing
In writing an autobiography, one hardly knows where to begin, rightly, because of the many important incidents inseparably connected with it, prior to the first interesting facts to be noted.
From the selfish, cautious and parsimonious character of the early burghers, (Holland Dutch,) connected with their narrow hearted bestowals, and their gross ignorance of the worth of Education and progressive refinement, they were inclined to deny to their children more than a very common Education, (and that poor Enough at best,) so, that many otherwise bright intellects, remained listlessly unproductive for want of developement, and the children were left to grow up stupid, dull and ignorant, as their fathers before them. The dutch were kind hearted in some respects; but, their indulgences were of a mere sensual, gormandizing character, and so, to Eat, Drink, Smoke and be merry, was their only desire.
To be truthful to my ancestry, I must say, that they partook of this character, in no small degree.
I was born in the City of Albany, N.Y. on the 6th day of May 1800, in the old ferry house at the corner of Church and Ferry streets, and it was then occupied by my father as ferry master between Albany and Greenbush across the Hudson river. Scows and row boats, were the only craft, then and for many years after, used for transportation across this noble stream. This ferry house was then the south end of the City, and but very few and indifferent tenements, were put up in that vicinity, for many years after. My father owned two houses, the one at the corner of Church and Lydius streets, and the other at the corner of old Court and Lydius streets, and his family lived in one or the other tenement, at different periods of time.
Before my mothers death, the Church street house, (brick) was burned down, at night, taking fire from an adjacent barn, (a part of Mrs Whipples Estate,) and my youngest sister Sarah and myself were taken from the burning building, and properly cared for, she at one place and I at another. The intensity of my feelings for the safety of my sister, were such, that I could not be pacified until she was brought to me, at the Mansion of Henry Guest, abundantly able and willing to take care of us.
The ground was soon occupied by another 2½ story brick dwelling, and things than ran smoothly. The barn and our house, were the only buildings consumed.
I grew up along, a pretty smart, active boy, and being kept at school a good part of the time, I had but little time to be around mischieveans or to form bad habits. I will give him, (my father,) credit for compelling me to go with him to church every sunday. I had an early desire to be a minister, and right here, the shortsightedness of my father, coupled with his tight fisted parsimony prevented his properly educating me for some noted position in life.
When I was thirty years old, he saw it and felt it; but, it was then too late, as I had secured a profession, that of law, in a humble degree.
I think, the following incident of my boyhood life, was never known to any of my children.
Like many other boys of an inventive genius, for pasttime and sport, I formed a company of soldier boys, of about my own age, and we wore wooden swords and paper caps, and had a small cannon mounted on wheels. We trained every saturday; and, on one of those eventful days,
we were to go and train on the island opposite Albany, and for that purpose we had secured a large row boat, which held all of my company. We all got into the boat, arranged in order, the cannon being planted in the bow, pointing sternwise, and well loaded to fire a salute when we left the dock.
I held the match, and when about shoving off from the dock, I fired the cannon, but, in a moment, a cry of distress came from one of our noblest boys, who had imprudently placed himself in range of the gun, in the stern. I went up to him promptly, and saw that the ramrod which had been left in the gun, and overlooked by all of us, had entered and passed through his left thigh, It then split and entered half way into the thigh of his right leg, pinning his legs securely together. I became distracted, got out of the boat, and left all day perfectly crazy.
He was taken to his home, nigh by, and the ramrod was safely Extracted. Two inches higher, the Doctor said, would have killed him. His name was James Dutcher, he soon recovered, my father paid the Doctors bill, and this tragedy ended my aspirations for a military career. ----
My company was composed of good boys, well trained and orderly, and received the praise of every body. We once marched up to the Mansion of Gov. David D. Tompkins, formed in front of his door, fired our usual salute, and then hurraed for Gov. Tompkins, who made his appearance, invited us into his hall, and there treated us to wine and cake, thanking us for the honor done him, and giving us a few kind words. We then went out, formed again, gave three cheers, and retired with the utmost good feeling prevailing.
After this, Myndert Lansing, the son of a tinner, by that name, in Court Street, formed a large and well dressed, equipped & uniformed company, of large boys, of which company I became drummer. We had a large car, with a beautiful image, and all gaily decked, drawn by horses, and we had a place in all of the general processions. We drew bountifully on the public gaze, and all loudly applauded us.
I saw the first steamboat from New York to Albany, and all waited patiently, over two hours, after she hove in sight, coming up from the overslaugh, about three miles, until she landed at the dock. The people were highly elated at this unlooked for success of Mr Fulton.
When Martin Roaf, my sister Betseys husband, came from Canajoharie, to be married, I took him on board of one of our Steamboats, at Albany, and explained to him, the machinery, and the manner and mode of its operation, much to his surprise and satisfaction.
In 1812, at the beginning of the War with England, Uncle Sam located a cantonment, back of Greenbush Village, on the east side of the Hudson river, & about three miles from the river. Here, Col. Christie, of the 13th regulars was stationed for a while, with the best regiment that ever went to the frontiers. I went over there quite often, and being an expert with the drumsticks, I played & learned the boys there to play. Col. Christie saw me, and said, if I would go with him, I should become one of his military family, and all he wanted me to do was to learn the boys to Drum. It being mentioned to my father, he said he would drum me at the end of a knotted rope, first.
In 1810, I think it was, I went to Troy (6 miles) on foot to see & did see Winslow Russell hung for murder.
During my boyhood I played many pranks, too silly to mention. I could not associate with bad company; and, although I had every means in my power, to enable me to be vicious, dissolute and presumptuously wicked, what little wisdom
and intelligence I then possessed, induced me to resist temptation, and to take a nobler course of life.
When my dear Mother died, I lost my all of parental care and instruction, as my father was unfit, by education or habits, to take proper care of us, two tender children, and we were left to grow up, good or bad, as Providence directed our ways. Without a mother, and often, very often, without a sister or female friend, to protect, foster and govern us, our condition was a pitiable one, at least. However, we lived through it, and my youngest sister Sarah died in 1821, at Canajoharie.
If there ever was anything of merit in me, I owed nothing to my father for its possession. I paddled my own canoe, and by dint of application to study, (of my own selecting,) I obtained, by degrees, an ordinary education, and grew up to be what I am, a person of unassuming pretensions.
At about the age of fifteen, I was placed in the office of Sanders Lansing, (a brother of the Chancellor,) in Montgomery street, to learn to write, and to study the classics, in the latter which (latin,) I made some improvements. I did not remain in the office very long, as my father concluded to send me to Canajoharie, Montgomery Co, N.Y. to live with my sisters Elizabeth and Alida, thereby shirking the responsibility of my support.
My sisters were then married, the first named, to Martin Roaf, a graduate of Union College, Schenectady, N.Y. and the other to Martin I. Van Alstine, a farmer. The change, in some respects, was a godsend to me, although, unlike some other boys of discerning and generous parents, I was not allowed any spending money, to pay my honest way, among my associates; and so, beggar like, I lived along until I could earn something.
While in the office of Mr Lansing, he being then Assistant Register in Chancery, and having bills of costs against some of the most distinguished lawyers, and I being his lackey, must run, dun and return their payment, afforded me the pleasing opportunity of becoming acquainted with some of the most noted characters in the City, and among the rest, that of the great, but ill fated, Aaron Burr, whose history I need not relate, as you are, undoubtedly well informed of it. I saw him frequently, and the last time, on the day after uniting the waters of Lake Erie with the Hudson river, through the Erie canal, and boarded with him, all that time, at the Washington street Hotel, and sat opposite to him at table. I shall never forget with what gracefulness, dignity and gentlemanly deportment he, at all times, appeared, and with such a degree of modesty and pleasantness, as to win the admiration and confidence of his beholders. His Eye was as bright, keen and perspicuous, as when he drew
the fatal bead on the distinguished and lamented Alexander Hamilton. He treated me with uncommon civility and kindness; but, although a man of high literary and professional attainments, one could not avoid discerning, that Aaron Burr, was illy at ease physically, morally or consciously, and his latter end gave ample proof of his wretchedness. He could well exclaim, “peccavi.” Ohe! jam satis.”
(peccavi = sin or do wrong, Ohe! = Hey!, jam = now or already, satis = enough or in English; “sin.” Hey! already enough.” - A.C.)
I was present at the celebration of the uniting of the waters of Erie and the Hudson, at which Govr Dewitt Clinton, officiated, masonically, assisted by my Uncle Doctor Jonathan Eights, of Albany, he being most Excellent High Priest of the order. He was gorgeously caparisoned, and the little bells, at the end of his skirts, chimed in unison with the beating hearts of the multitudes in attendance, whose Exultation, at the successful completion of the grand and stupendous work of the Erie Canal, was loud, long and enthusiastic.
In this narration, order or form, are not to be Expected; and, as I write without notes, and have no manuscript but this, it must be taken with reasonable allowances.
The order for the requirements, at the Greenbush cantonment, to march to the frontiers being issued they were soon stationed in old Court street, and before they
formed in line, to leave for their destination, many of the
non-commissioned officers and soldiers who had been recruited in the City, looking about, and seeing their sweethearts and lovers, whom they were to leave behind, flying their handkerchiefs from the windows and balconies of their residences, in token of sweet remembrance, of their noble, brave men, who were going to offer up their lives, for their protection, the men, in the ranks, with one accord, and with unusual pathos, sang the following stanza, to wit.“Come! Philander, let’s be marching,
Drums abeating, fifes aplaying,
March! brave boys, there’s no Delaying,
“Chase your true love now or never,
& be sure to choose no other,” (omitted)
Love farewell! Darling farewell;
We’re all for marching, love farewell.”
Which was succeeded by such a shout from the throng, as made the welkin echo; and then, such a demonstration of sorrow, as the women coinced, in sobs and tears, was truly heart rending. The stentorian voice of the commander to March, was repeated along the line, and they left Albany, the bravest corps, that ever trod the soil.
I had four brothers in the War of 1812, towit, James, a Lieut, in 29th regiment regulars stationed at Plattsburgh. Gerrit, Cornelius and John, stationed at Governors Island, New York. At the conclusion of the war,
James went to New York City, received a Lieut, Cols commission under Petion, S. A, and after landing in Port-au-Prince, he wrote two letters home, one to my father, and the other to my Uncle James Wyncoop. This was the first and last, we ever heard from or of him. His last words, to us, were, “a duck or a halter.”
I saw the first circus, that came to Albany, the actors being of small account or ability. I often attended the Theatre, and sometimes took part as supernumery, - drummer of course.
My dear Mother was buried in the yard, set apart for that purpose, in Albany, a little west of the Capitol. I distinctly remember, that my brother Garry, marked the board fence, at the head of her grave, where several of our relatives were quietly sleeping, beside her. The recollection of the features of my mother is as plain to me, today, as when living. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Wynkoop. She had eight children, by my father, all of whom are dead, Except me, poor sinner as I am.
My mother (Elizabeth Wynkoop - A.C.) was the daughter of Jacobus Wynkoop after the city of New York, through whom we, her heirs, do justly lay claim to a part of the Trinity Church property, but which it holds by might and by wrong, and contrary to justice.
She was born, March 19, 1758, died Sep. 8, 1806. My father (Garret A. Lansing - A.C.) was born, Oct. 17, 1747, died, May 27, 1831, was buried at Canajoharie, Mont, Co. N.Y. with my sisters, Elizabeth, Alida and Sarah, and my brothers Cornelius, and John, & Garry, at Albany.
I was informed by my dear sisters, that our father had married three wives. By the one before my mother, I knew but one child he had, named Margaret. She married John Pruyn, and her only child now living, is an old maid, named Agnes Pruyn, whose was hale, hearty and smart, the last I saw her, 1864, at her house, No. 110 North Pearl street, Albany, as to the maiden names of my fathers wives, before my mother, I know nothing. Upon reflection, I think the one before my Mother, was named Truax; The other might have been a Van Schuylien.
At the foot of State Street, and partly in Market street north, stood an ancient stone church, which Edifice.
I well remember, as being the house where my parents and the low Dutch worshipped. We had to ascend three or four steps to get into the body of it. It had a bell in it, and the bell rope came down upon the floor, at one End of the church, near the pulpit. It was usually rung at 9 P.M. to notify the good burghers, that they must finish their suppawn and milk, and retire to bed. Some eccentric young burghers, one night, at 11 o’clock, got a bundle of hay, and put it into the floor, directly under where the bell rope hung, and they then went out, found a hungry cow, and by enticement got her into the church, and getting a taste of the fodder she felt herself at home, at her own crib, and while thus feeding, the boys, full of Cain and bent on fun, tied the rope around her horns, and then, at every plunge for the hay, the bell rung out its untimely peals, to the utter fear and consternation of the terrified Knickerbockers of that burgh, who supposed the day of judgment had come, until the bell ringer, defacto made his appearance, when he found that the devil had not taken his position as such, bell ringer, and soon removed the cause of the shocking alarm. There was but little sleep, that night, among the mynheers, as they must needs return to their suppawn and milk, to supply the chasm, the fright had made.
The dutch were a cowardly set of people, always keeping within doors after nightfall, and telling to each other, and their children, stories of ghosts, spooks, hobgoblins and indians, and thus perpetuated their fears of such illusory nonsense, on their succeeding generation.
I could add many sights, scenes and reminiscencies, of my boyhood days, of an unimportant, if not a frivolous nature, such as would be uninteresting to note in a biography; and, as it would be tedious in their recital, I will omit them. It is already sufficiently superfluous.
Without an instructor or constant friend to teach, admonish or care for a motherless child, left to himself, amid the wiles of a wicked surrounding, I was left, with untutored judgment and indiscretion, to make my way into the world, and to do, what nature alone instructed me was best. Intuition alone Enabled me to see and know the way to escape from the snares of vice surrounding me, I grew up wholly free from demoralization, and here I am, after many severe trials of the world, (through which I successfully passed,) the spared object of God’s merciful benefaction.
R. W. Lansing.
Madison, Wis. Sep, 15. 1878,
The preceding narrative is, I believe, all you asked me for; and, although incomplete and imperfect, and greatly wanting in the elements of a clear and comprehensive narration; yet, I send it to you, as a more desultory Emenation of a poor old man, whose pretensions to writing anything of merit or interesting, is mere mediocre, and of little or no value to others.
I have said nothing about my finally leaving Albany in 1816, and the more interesting period of my life, since then, and up to the present time, supposing you were well posted in many if not all of their incidents; but, should you wish to know them, I will have pleasure in making another effort, in that direction.
In reviewing the narrative, I feel almost ashamed to enclose it to you, because I am fully aware of its unmethodical manner and that therefore it is of no account to any one but myself.
I am honest in this opinion, and I hope you will not think I am, indirectly, praising my Effort, the most simple undertaking of my life, I know.
I may revise it, at some time hence, if you will preserve it, or, you may do so, if you do not criticise it too severely.
I can make it read some smoother, and perhaps, with additional items, make it more acceptable to the general reader. Receive it as it is, as the best offering of your well meaning, but somewhat distressed
Over, I answer your letter.)
Ann Cardon, ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
Notes from Richard Wynkoop's 1904 edition of Wynkoop Genealogy in the United States of America:
167. Jacobus Wynkoop, Captain, (Cornelius 51, Benjamin 8, Cornelius 1,) baptized March 3, 1725, Dutch church, N. Y. City: d. May 4, 1795 179: married Alida Koens Myers, born October 11, 1736, in Curacao, died October 16, 1794. She is recorded, at the baptism of her children, as Alida Koens---i. e., Koensze, daughter of Koen, the diminutive of Koenrad---but her descendants call her Alida Myers. Her name is written Cathlina, in the record of the birth of her son Cornelius, in her husband's Bible.
The tomb inscription suggests that Jacobus was born in 1721: but his parents were married in May, 1724, and he was baptized in March, 1725, and he described himself, in 1775, as fifty-one years old. He was known uniformly as Jacobus, and not as Jacob or James.
He was commissioned, June 28, 1775, as eighth captain of the 4th N. Y. Continental regiment, commanded by Col. Holmes. 180 He wrote to the Provincial Congress, August 15, 1775, complaining of his position: setting forth that he was fifty-one years old, and had served in the last two wars, by sea and land, and had been in many engagements: that Gen'l [Thomas] Gage had specially honored and trusted him, giving him command of a company, to which his baggage was entrusted: and that he had been offered a commission in the Royal Americans. 181
Gen'l Philip Schuyler, in a letter to Nathaniel Woodhull, March 8, 1776, expressed a high opinion of Jacobus's fitness to command certain vessels. It was ordered, in the Committee of Safety, New York, April 13, 1776, that Jacobus Wynkoop should enlist the number of mariners desired by Maj. Gen'l Schuyler, for service on the lakes, and should proceed with them to Albany, and there take Schuyler's orders, as to vessels on the lakes, until the Continental Congress should appoint him, or some other gentleman should arrive at the lakes, authorized to command. 182 The Committee of Safety, April 19, 1776, communicated with the delegate, at Philadelphia, urging the appointment of Captain Wynkoop to command on the lake, and mentioned him as bred a mariner; frequently master of mercantile vessels; as having
179 Tomb inscription, Annals of Albany, vol. vi., p. 198.
180 Dr. E. B. O'Callaghan.
181 Force's Amer. Archives, 5th Series, vol. i., pp. 76, 107.
182 Ibid., pp. 1276, 408.
served with reputation, in the last war, both in the land and sea service; and as an officer of merit. Gen'l Schuyler addressed Capt. Wynkoop, at Fort George, May 7, 1776, ordering him to repair to Ticonderoga, and take command of all the vessels on the lakes. Jacobus, in a letter to the Council of Safety, August 6, 1776, informed them that he had taken command, on April 18, as commodore of the vessels on Lake Champlain. Under advice of the commander of the Northern Department, he requested aid of the Council. The letter was referred to the Governor. 183
Gen'l Benedict Arnold, on August 17, 1776, ordered two schooners of the fleet, to proceed down the lake: Jacobus brought them to: Arnold went on board, and satisfied Jacobus of the necessity, and the latter ordered them under sail. Gen'l Arnold, on the same day, made report of the facts, from Crown Point, to Gen'l Horatio Gates, at Ticonderoga. Jacobus also reported the facts to Gen'l Gates, on the same day, and claimed that Arnold should not have issued orders to the captains direct: that he himself was to be independent of all, except the commander in chief [of the Department]. Gen'l Gates, on August 18, ordered Arnold to put Jacobus under arrest, and send him a prisoner to headquarters, at Ticonderoga. On the same day, he wrote to Gen'l Schuyler, urging the dismissal of Jacobus from the service, and, on the day following, he wrote again to Arnold, urging him to delay no longer, in the arrest of Jacobus. Meanwhile, on the 19th, Arnold had written to Gates, that he had ordered Jacobus to headquarters, and he wished that it might be considered proper, to permit him to return home, without being cashiered. Gates wrote to Schuyler, on the day following, that he had given Jacobus a pass to Albany; and that he must, on no account, be sent to Ticonderoga. Schuyler replied, from Albany, that Jacobus was to remain there.
Jacobus memorialized Congress, on the 27th, and Schuyler transmitted the memorial, two days later, stating that Jacobus was brave and industrious, and equal to the command of the vessels, which were on the lake, when he recommended him; but that he did not know him sufficiently to judge whether he was equal to the command of the vessels now there, and he, therefore, had heard of the appointment of Arnold with the greatest
183 Force's Amer. Archives, 5th Series vol. i., pp. 426, 1277, 1034.
satisfaction. Schuyler wrote to Gates, on the same day, in the same sense. 184 Jacobus was re-instated in the command, in March, 1777, and retained it until the evacuation of Ticonderoga. 185
Jacobus communicated with the Council of Safety, August 6, 1777, in relation to the arrangement of accounts, of himself, and of the men serving under him as commodore. 186
Jacobus was ordered, October 12, 1777, to take command of the cannon at Kingston: and in the autumn of that year, and the spring following, he was occupied with the raising of the Lady Washington galley, which had been sunk at Kingston.
He removed his family from Kingston to Albany, two weeks before the British burned Kingston, October 16, 1777.
In May, 1778, Gen'l Conway ordered Jacobus to Coeymans, to rig out, and put in readiness, the sloops and batteaux that were destined for the defense of the Hudson River. 185
In May, 1779, his pay was declared to be that of a captain of a Continental frigate. His pay was stopped July 25, 1780. The Continental Congress, by resolution of April 19, 1782, referred the subject of payment, to the State of New York. He claimed, January 24, 1783, that there was due to him £956, 6s, 8d. In 1790, he obtained from the State of New York, 500 acres of land in lot 51, township of Manlius; 500 acres in lot 53, township of Locke; and 500 acres in lot 59, township of Ovid. The petition was dated, Kingston, January 24, 1783. 185
It seems that this was the Jacobus who was master of the brig Esopus, owned by Dirck Wynkoop  and plying between Kingston and the West Indies.
Children of Jacobus and Alida Wynkoop:
416. Cornelius: b. Mch. 17, 1756: bp. Mch. 24, 1756, mother's name Alida Coens, Dutch church, New York City: d. in infancy.
417. Elizabeth: b. Mch. 19, 1758: m. Garret A. Lansing.
418. Sarah: b. July 27, 1760: m. 1st, Nov. 22, 1779, Isaac Fonda. Sara Wynkoop, widow of Yzac Fonda, was received to church membership, at Albany, on confession, March 5, 1790. She m., 2d, Aug. 25, 1801, Asa Douglas
184 Force's Amer. Archives, 5th Series, vol. i., pp. 1009, 1275, 1003, 1276, 1051, 1277, 1218, 1073, 1135, 1217, 1221, 1222.
185 Dr. E. B. O'Callaghan.
186 Force's Amer. Archives, 5th Series, vol. i., p. 495.
of Canaan, Conn., born at Plainfield, Conn., Dec. 24, 1739. She had no child. 187
419. Cornelius J.: b. Aug. 25, 1763: m., 1st, Dec. 12, 1789, Albany, Mary Forsey: m., 2d, Anne De Wendelaer. He opened a store in Albany, Jan., 1790, for the auction of dry goods, and furniture. 188 On Oct. 26, 1796, Cornelius J. Wynkoop, merchant, of Canaschary, Montgomery County, N. Y., and Mary his wife, daughter and heir of Mary Forsey, conveyed to Obadiah Peniman, a lot on State Street, Albany. 189
420. James: b. Mch. 9, 1769: m. Catalina Dunbar.
421. Alida: b. Sept. 8, 1772: d. May 15, 1849 190: m. Jonathan Eights, b. Nov. 26, 1773, Albany, d. Aug. 10, 1848, 191 son of Abraham and Catharina (Broecks) Eights.
417. Elizabeth Wynkoop, (Capt. Jacobus 167, Cornelius 51, Benjamin 8, Cornelius 1,) born March 19, 1758: married, December 26, 1776, Garret A. Lansing.
The record of the Dutch church, Albany, has this entry: Received to church membership, on confession, March 5, 1790, Elizabeth Wynkoop, wife of "Gerrit A. Lansingh." Births of the children are given in First Settlers of Albany County, page 72.
Children of Garret A. and Elizabeth (W.) Lansing:
744. Abraham Lansing: b. Dec. 6, 1777: d. in infancy.
745. Abraham Lansing: b. Jan. 3, 1782: d. in infancy.
746. James Wynkoop Lansing: b. Apl. 20, 1783: d. in infancy.
747. Gerrit Lansing: b. July 20, 1785.
748. Alida Lansing: b. Jan. 19, 1787.
749. Elizabeth Lansing: b. Dec. 30, 1788.
750. James Lansing: b. Apl. 2, 1791.
751. Abraham Lansing: b. Feb. 10, 1793.
752. Cornelia Lansing: b. Sept. 10, 1794, bp. Dec. 25.
753. John Lansing: b. Mch. 10, 1797.
754. Robert Lansing: b. May 6, 1800.
755. Sarah Lansing: b. Sept., 1802.