Monday, July 12, 2010

Benjamin Dyckman: The Man and the House He Built


In 1662, Jan Dyckman arrived in the Dutch settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam as an immigrant from Bentheim, Westphalia, an area in Germany adjoining the Dutch border. As did other settlers eager for farming land, he soon traveled north along the East River to the new settlement of Haarlem located near the present 125th Street. One hundred years later, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren could be found in northern Manhattan Island, on Long Island and in Westchester, which then included what is now the Bronx.

One of those great-grandchildren was Benjamin Dyckman, whose first job was as a post rider carrying mail and dispatches to and from Albany and the Mohawk Valley. Appropriately, he would make his home along the Albany Post Road. He was also a sometime soldier and a lifelong farmer. South of the fortieth milestone, his house still stands along Route 9A between the hamlets of Crugers and Montrose.

Ben Dyckman was one of the six sons and two daughters of Harlem tavern keeper Jacob Dyckman. He was named for his mother's brother, Benjamin Benson, a prosperous Harlem miller.

Jacob Dyckman's children were all familiar with the convivial life of taverns, having been brought up in the two inns operated along the Post Road, the main highway leading north from the city before splitting into branches to Albany and Boston. The first inn was located near the northern end of the city's present Central Park and, after 1758, the second was at Marble Hill, near the King's Bridge.

Jacob Dyckman died in a fall from his horse in 1774. After the British captured the city in 1776, his widow and her two younger children, 15-year-old William and 7-year-old Catalina, fled to Cortlandtown. Four of her older sons had already settled in that part of Westchester. In descending order of age, they were Sampson, John, Benjamin and Garret. Another son, States, who would later gain a fortune and build Boscobel, was working as a clerk in Albany at that time.

Their sister, Maria, had married John Clark in 1771 in Newtown, Long Island, and lived in Fordham Manor. Younger sister Jane remained in New York City and married John Vredenburgh in 1777.

Post Rider and Soldier
Wealthy Sir William Johnson, the Crown's Colonial Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Mohawk Valley, employed 17-year-old Ben as a post rider in 1769. A letter dated December 5 in that year from Ben's father to Sir William took note that Sir William had said he "was pleased with the appointment."

A year later, as a witness to the marriage bond between older brother Sampson and Rebecca Odell, a third cousin, Benjamin Dyckman identified his occupation as "post rider." [Marrying a cousin was not uncommon in the small, tightly knit Dutch-American community of the lower Hudson Valley.]

Benjamin Dyckman did not leave us a diary. Much of what we know about his activities during the Revolution comes from the pension application he filed many years later in 1832. According to this document, he began serving in the militia in 1776 and continued off and on until 1780. In 1776 Ben was 24 and unmarried.

He became an "orderly sergeant" in Captain James Cronkhite's Company of Colonel Samuel Drake's 3rd Westchester County Regiment of Militia. James Cronkhite, known familiarly as "Cronk," was elected captain by the men of his regiment. He lived on South Street in Peekskill in the shadow of Cronk's Hill. Later the hill became known as Drum Hill and was the site of a school by that name. According to J. Thomas Scharf's 1886 two-volume History of Westchester, Drum Hill "derives its name from the curious fact that the ground when trodden or stamped upon in certain places gives forth a sound as if it were hollow, and resembling the subdued roaring of a large drum."

Ben was in charge of a unit that patrolled from Verplanck's Point to Teller's Point (today's Croton Point) and up the Croton River, which marked the southern limit of the American forces. Below the Croton was a no-man's land where mayhem and murder were common.

His younger brother, William Nagel Dyckman ("Billy"), served with him in this patrol duty. In his own pension application, Billy described their mission as “not only constant but extremely dangerous and exposed, being much of it guarding the shores of said rivers in small parties during the night time."

On his first assignment in the spring of 1776, Ben's unit marched to Tarrytown, site of an expected British landing. When no incursion occurred, his militia unit remained in the area to replace an army unit serving elsewhere. In October of 1776, he began a six-month tour of duty at North Castle, where he saw Washington's beaten troops arrive from their defeat and humbling withdrawal from White Plains.

The Attack on Fort Independence
Four months into this service, he participated in Maj. Gen. William Heath's unsuccessful expedition to recapture Fort Independence, located in what is now the Bronx but was then part of Westchester. Originally called Fort No. 4, Fort Independence was the largest in the chain of eight forts laid out by Maj. Gen. Charles Lee in 1776. When American troops retreated to White Plains from New York City in October of that year, they abandoned all eight forts.

Fort Independence was garrisoned by Hessians and by a Tory detachment, the Queen's American Rangers. On a prominent ridge, it commanded both the Albany Post Road and the Boston Post Road, which branched off from the Albany road just below the fort. The vital King's Bridge across the Harlem River near the present West 230th Street, the only remaining link between the island of Manhattan and Westchester, was also within range of its guns.

Maj. Gen. William Heath, a Massachusetts farmer, militiaman and politician before the Revolution, commanded American troops defending the Hudson Highlands and the eastern side of the river, with headquarters in Peekskill. Throughout his memoirs he refers to himself in the third person with self-effacing modesty as "our General," and describes himself as "of middling stature, light complexion, very corpulent, and bald-headed."

Heath was a self-taught student of soldiering from an early age, having read every military work he could lay his hands on. With Joseph Spencer and George Clinton, Heath was the third of the triumvirate that voted to defend New York City in 1776 and opposed the withdrawal to Harlem Heights. Plain-speaking Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall later described the three as "a fool, a knave and a stubborn, honest man."

When Congress made Spencer a Brigadier General in 1775 and gave incompetent Israel Putnam the higher rank of Major General, a petulant Spencer had foolishly packed his bags and impetuously went home. Clinton, first governor of the State of New York, later showed that he was a better politician than field commander with his loss of Forts Clinton and Montgomery and his failure to keep the British from burning Kingston.

As a result of this trio's impractical advice, the Americans took a terrible beating trying to hold the city. With 3,600 killed or wounded and another 4,000, including 300 officers, as prisoners of the British, thousands of militiamen simply went home in disgust or despair. Patriot forces also lost a mountain of weapons, equipment and ammunition.

After his defeat at White Plains, Washington moved across the Hudson into New Jersey. Suddenly fresh from the heady winter victories of his surprise raids on British forces at Trenton and Princeton, he decided to take pressure off himself. On January 5, 1777, from his winter quarters in Morristown, he wrote to Heath:

"The enemy are in great consternation; and as the present affords us a favourable opportunity to drive them out of the Jerseys . . . you should move down towards New York with a considerable force, as if you had designs upon the city; that [place] being an object of great importance, the enemy will be reduced to the necessity of withdrawing a considerable part of their force from the Jerseys, if not their whole, to secure the city."

Heath’s one chance for distinction as a field commander resulted in his botched diversionary attack against Fort Independence, an American fort in the Bronx that had been seized by the British. On the night of January 17, 1777, Heath started three divisions moving toward the neighborhood of the King's Bridge. In a complicated maneuver, the three columns were to converge simultaneously on Fort Independence at dawn. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln's force moved south from Tarrytown over the Albany Post Road through what is now Riverdale and occupied the wooded hills north of today's Van Cortlandt Park.

David Wooster and Samuel Holden Parsons, two Connecticut Major Generals, led their forces south from New Rochelle and East Chester via the Boston Post Road, crossing the Bronx River at Williams Bridge, named for John Williams, who owned a farm nearby.

A center column made up of troops led by Brig. Gen. John Morin Scott marched from what is now Scarsdale through Mile Square in Yonkers to the vicinity of today's Gun Hill Road and Bainbridge Avenue.

Except for a few seasoned artillerymen, green militia troops made up the entire force. Initially, the plan went smoothly, and all three columns arrived on schedule just before dawn. Coming across the present Van Cortlandt Park, the men of Lincoln's column surprised an advanced guard north of the Van Cortlandt house and captured them.

Moving over Woodlawn Hill, the center column approached the stone house of blacksmith Isaac Valentine that also served as an advanced guard post. (After the Revolution, the house was sold to butcher Isaac Varian. Now called the Valentine-Varian House, this historic building houses the museum of the Bronx Historical Society.) To capture this post, a detachment quickly moved to get between the house and the fort.

Wooster's column, coming from the east along the Boston Post Road from Williams Bridge, stumbled on two troopers from a British cavalry patrol. The Americans shot one horse and captured its rider. The other managed to escape to the fort, crying, "The rebels! The rebels!"

With the advanced posts in American hands and his troops surrounding the fort, Heath demanded its surrender, offering generous terms. The enemy commander ungenerously responded by firing at the Americans with heavy artillery Heath did not suspect he had. Having only light artillery pieces to answer this vexing bombardment, Heath ineffectively fired on the fort and sent a messenger to White Plains with an urgent request for heavier guns.

On January 19, Heath ordered troops to cross frozen Spuyten Duyvil Creek and attack the detachment of Hessians in Fort Prince Charles on Marble Hill, also overlooking the King's Bridge. Unfortunately, the weather turned warmer on the 20th, the day scheduled for the attack. Heath canceled the operation because the ice was unsafe.

An Ignominious Retreat
A torrential rainstorm began on January 24, wetting American troops' ammunition and making it useless. Unable to fire their weapons, they withdrew. Ignoring the mud, British troops emerged from the fort the next day and headed south for DeLancey's Mills in Morrisania, where they routed the American force holding that sector.

"Emboldened by this success," Heath later wrote in his memoirs, the enemy then attacked the Valentine House, cleared the Americans from it and from the Negro Fort (a bastion at the end of today's Grand Concourse, built by blacks from Virginia) and pushed on "with great impetuosity," scattering Heath's troops before them.

The British followed the retreating Americans to Williams Bridge, where a bitter engagement took place. Casualties included two Americans killed and several others wounded. The skirmish gave the name "Gun Hill" to the hill and to the road west of the present Williamsbridge railroad station.

Two guns arrived from White Plains on the 27th and were trained on Fort Independence. After a few rounds were fired, however, the 24-pound cannon sprung its carriage and was disabled. The other gun was a squat howitzer for which no ammunition was available.

To maintain the impression that the American intrusion was serious, Heath sent a detachment south along the Harlem River to Morrisania, where they assembled flat-bottomed boats and lit fires along the shore. These actions alarmed the British troops stationed on Montressor's (Randall's) Island, causing them to set fire to the buildings and retreat to Manhattan.

On January 29, a severe snowstorm began. Heath and his generals decided to withdraw from the vicinity of Fort Independence and lift the aborted siege. The comic opera was over. It was not the militia's finest hour. The British found the performance of the Americans laughable. Douglas Southall Freeman, Washington's biographer, called it "this serio-comical affair." Recognizing Heath's limitations, Washington afterwards posted him to quiet sectors where a major threat was unlikely and he could do little harm.

Col. Timothy Pickering, Washington’s adjutant general, who was present during the failed attempt to seize the fort, observed that Heath, "in the estimation of every discerning man, acquired nought but disgrace." In a letter to Heath, Washington wrote, "your conduct is censured . . . as being fraught with too much caution by which the Army has been disappointed, and in some degree disgraced." We can only wonder what young Ben Dyckman thought of the humiliating episode.

On a Sunday morning in the spring of 1777, while patrolling near Verplanck's Point, Benjamin Dyckman watched powerlessly as a small fleet consisting of a British frigate, four transports and various naval support craft anchored near Peekskill. About 500 British troops and four light cannons came ashore in Lent's Cove, between Charles Point and Indian Point. After they set fire to warehouses and supplies in the village, Col. Marinus Willett repulsed them and forced a retreat to their boats.

Marriage and a Family
In his pension application, during Benjamin Dyckman's five months' service in 1778, he mentions only patrol duty on the Croton River. Intermittent militia service was not so demanding, however, as to hinder marriage. Early in 1778 he married 26-year-old Martha (or Mettje) Lent. [Ryck Abrahamse bought land between Dickey and McGregory's brooks in 1685. He later changed his surname to Lent. The Lent name has been applied to Lents Cove and to Lents Flats at the mouth of Dickey Brook in Peekskill where members of the family were brickmakers in the 1800s. ] This was a few months before Ben was made a lieutenant, with a commission dated June 25 of that year and signed by Governor George Clinton.

The first child of this marriage, named Jacob after his grandfather, was born November 22, 1778. In the next eight years, Martha Lent Dyckman would bear four more children, three boys and a girl: William, Jane, John and Sampson Benson Dyckman.

In 1779, Sir Henry Clinton and an even larger British fleet sailed up the Hudson and occupied both sides of the river. Some 6,000 troops landed near the King's Ferry and seized Fort Lafayette on Verplanck's Point. The garrison, consisting of one officer and 70 enlisted men from North Carolina, surrendered on June 1, 1779, to British Major John Andre, Clinton's Aide-de-Camp. [Andre would be back in the same area a year later during his attempt to reach the British lines after his fateful meeting with American Gen. Benedict Arnold.] This attack was a diversionary move; the actual British target was on the west bank of the Hudson--the uncompleted American fort at Stony Point, which the American garrison abandoned on seeing the size of the British force.

Until the British withdrew their troops from northern Westchester, Ben and his regiment retreated inland to Crompond and actively hunted down foragers and protected Americans and their property from raids by marauders.

On June 10 a British cavalry unit mauled Ben's regiment, killing some and taking others prisoner. In his own pension application, brother Billy added the information that the British pursued him and Ben for two miles on horseback, before they managed to escape. Governor Clinton ordered a reorganization of the tattered remnants of the militia regiment, and Ben and Billy Dyckman remained with it until December 1st.

His last tour of duty extended from April to June of 1780. Stationed near Pine's Bridge, a vital post on the upper Croton River, he guarded the lines in northwestern Westchester, "which was then very much exposed to the attacks of the enemy." Pine's Bridge took its name from a family who lived nearby. The bridge was at the south end of today's Pines Bridge Road, near the Somers-Yorktown line, a half-mile east of the present bridge. It was an important crossing of the Croton River during the Revolution and strongly defended.

A few months after Benjamin Dyckman completed his tour of duty near Pine's Bridge, on September 23, 1780, British Major John André--traveling under a pass issued by traitorous American General Benedict Arnold in the name of John Anderson--would cross that bridge on his way to a fateful rendezvous with his American captors at Tarrytown.

After the Revolution, Benjamin Dyckman continued to serve in the militia. When Governor Clinton reorganized New York's militia in 1786, Ben became a captain in Lt. Col. John Hyatt's regiment. Younger brother Garret was a lieutenant in this regiment. But military command was apparently not his forte, and in 1787 he resigned his commission.

In the early part of the 19th century, this part of Cortlandtown was "Dyckman country." The six Dyckman brothers owned or worked on farms in an area extending eastward from the Hudson below the present Veterans Hospital along Furnace Brook to the Colabaugh area, where Sampson, Garret, and their sister Maria and her husband, John Clark, all lived.

The Benjamin Dyckman House
Of the many 18th-century Dyckman farmhouses once dotting this corner of northwestern Westchester, only the Benjamin Dyckman House remains, largely overlooked by architectural historians. According to tradition, it was built before the Revolution. Of post-and-beam construction, its eight-inch-thick walls are insulated with straw and brick between sturdy eight-by-eight-inch hand-hewn posts. The rafters, also hand-hewn and numbered with Roman numerals, are joined to other members by hand-cut pegs. Mortise-and-tenon joints are used throughout the house. What nails are used are all hand wrought. The front and rear dormers and the broad front porch were added during the mid-19th century. As was the practice at the time, the heavy labor was probably done by slaves.

One of the interesting features of the house can be seen in the west wall not covered by clapboards: The massive west fireplace is constructed of locally fired bricks and backed by a wall built of red Triassic sandstone not native to the area. This is the same sandstone, called “brownstone,” that would be quarried and become the preferred facing material for row houses in New York City in the latter half of the 19th century. The sandstone used in the Benjamin Dyckman house could easily have been transported from New Jersey by boat.

The Town of Cortlandt lists the “Lieutenant Benjamin Dyckman House” among the Town's many sites of historic interest. It stands on the east side of the Albany Post Road (Route 9A) just north of Crugers Station Road, facing to the south, with Metro North’s main line almost at its doorstep. The rail line, which hugs the Hudson’s east bank below and above here, swings inland to the east at this point and then north to bypass Verplanck and Buchanan.

Census Records
According to the 1790 Census, Benjamin Dyckman's household consisted of one male 16 or over (himself); four males under 16 (his sons Jacob, William, John and Samson Benson); three females (his wife, his daughter Jane and an unidentified female); and one slave. By the time of the 1810 Census, all but one of his sons, 25-year-old John, had married. His household then included three slaves and two free servants, a sign of growing affluence.

Ben's children all attended the local district school taught by John Beaty in 1790. Twelve-year old Jacob attended for 25 days; William, age 10, for 29 days; John, age 5, for 22 days. Even "Sam'l" (Samson Benson), three years old, attended briefly. In 1797, the No. 4 School had Ben's 14-year-old daughter Jane and sons John and Samson Benjamin, then 12 and 10 respectively, as students.

Family members often turned to Ben for aid and advice. He and States Morris Dyckman were named executors of their brother Samson's estate when he died in 1792 at the age of 48. Two years after Samson's death, his only surviving heir, his daughter Cateline, married Matthias Valentine in Ben's house. The Rev. Silas Constant, untiring and wide-ranging pastor of the Yorktown Presbyterian Church from 1783 to 1825, performed the ceremony.

In the Rev. Constant's journal, he recorded marriages, baptisms and deaths, plus the services he performed in local homes, complete with the texts of his sermons. Published in Philadelphia in 1903, his Journal is a treasure-trove of vital information about the post-Revolutionary period.

The Rev. Constant stretched the bounds of his parish to include nearly all of Cortlandtown and preached at the homes of Ben's brothers Sampson and Garret. E. Clowes Chorley in his 1935 History of St. Philip’s Church in the Highlands, described Presbyterian pastor Constant as that church's "most formidable personal rival," noting that he frequently held services at the homes of St. Philip's Episcopal vestrymen.

Besting Daniel Hale
Ben showed his mettle when he came to the defense of his youngest sister, Catalina, who was suffering at the hands of her overbearing husband. We know the details of his efforts on her behalf from material in the States Morris Dyckman papers.

In 1783, at the age of 14, Catalina married grocer Daniel Hale of Albany, who claimed to have been "a Major in the Continental Service, although that service is not substantiated by any extant records. The marriage was troubled almost from the start. After the birth of their first child, her physician, the famously incompetent Dr. Samuel Stringer, recommended laudanum, a tincture of opium, as a painkiller. She later became hopelessly addicted to the drug. After several years of addiction, she managed to overcome her habit with the help of a Boston specialist hired by her brother, States Morris Dyckman.

In 1794, Hale hired Josiah Ogden Hoffman, a leading New York lawyer, who threatened to start divorce proceedings for his client. There were ugly rumors that the grounds would be adultery. Because their sister was living with relatives in Harlem, brothers Ben and Billy went down there to help her. Discovering that Hale was about to leave for Tarrytown, they found him aboard a stage waiting to leave and called him outside.

It was an encounter Hollywood would have loved. Both were brawny farmers, and both were provoked. When he saw them, Hale "appeared ready from terror to throw himself at their feet." Impetuous Billy, who had grown up with Catalina, told Hale that he "was determined to protect her . . . even at the risk of my life against the insults of you or anyone who dare attempt it." Ben reinforced this sentiment.

Hale assured them that he "believed it." The brothers insisted on knowing what was the evidence attorney Hoffman had stated "would entitle Hale to divorce." For his part, Hale assured the brothers he "wished to his soul" that he had not encouraged Hoffman to write his letter.

"He acknowledged that he had no evidence but of her general bad temper and her taking laudanum; that he had no doubt of her fidelity." He added, "There were other means of obtaining a divorce."

The brothers told Hale to go ahead. If he did not "either bring on action . . . or do her justice in another way," they would persuade her to bring suit against him for his "cruelty" and "barbarity" by spreading false charges and insinuations about "the character of his wife."

We know of this exchange from a note to his lawyer Hoffman hastily written by Hale at the stagecoach and given to the Billy and Ben: "Since speaking to you, I have conversed with Messrs. William and Benjamin Dyckman on the subject of Mrs. Hale’s situation, and I have agreed with them that Mrs. Hale is to remain under their direction."

But Hale changed his tune as soon as he had put distance between himself and the two Dyckman brothers. He wrote a letter to them repeating "the long stories our family has been troubled with" and threatened to seek a divorce in Connecticut.

Billy responded, "If you intended to insult me why did you not do it when we met at Harlem, and show yourself a little more a man of spirit?" He told Hale that if he ever again heard Hale's "pitiful falsehoods" against Catalina, he would demand "such satisfaction as none but a coward would refuse to give."

Ben endorsed Billy's letter and added, "After our meeting in Harlem when you had an opportunity of stating what you pleased, I was in hopes we should no more be troubled with you." These strong words frightened Hale. The man who had claimed to have been a major in the Continental Army apparently had no stomach for an encounter involving dueling pistols.

This exchange marked the end of the matter. There was no divorce, but Catalina was quit of her husband. Hale remained in Albany, where he died in 1821. Catalina established herself in Harlem, with frequent visits to family members in Cortlandtown, and survived her husband by eight years.

Glimpses of Ben
We get insights into Ben's personality from the States Morris Dyckman papers. Here is a letter written by States Morris Dyckman's wife, Betsey, to her husband, who was in England between 1800 and 1803:

"I went to Ben's the day before yesterday for the first time since you have been away. Ben is an odd mortal. One does not know what to make of him. He comes here but seldom but it is when he thinks he can be of use. When he heard my dear Lefty was no more [her daughter Leticia Catalina, who died July 20, 1800, at the age of 13 months] he came here immediately and stayed till after she was buried and took the whole management of the funeral on himself. This was some relief to me as it would have been an additional distress to me to have to attend to it myself."

After States Morris's sister, Jane Dyckman Vredenburgh, died in 1802, his wife wrote to him in England that his dead sister's only child, John, had gone to live with Ben and that they had formed a partnership to build a sloop that John intended to sail on the Hudson.

Benjamin Dyckman was no unsophisticated yokel oblivious to what was happening in the world. In a letter to his wife, visiting her grandfather, Peter Corne, in New York City, States Morris Dyckman wrote that he "sat down to Tea by a good fire at 4 o'clock. Ben came over and kept me in Russia and France till about 10."

He added a postscript: "Tell Mr. Corne Ben said last night he did not care a D--n how the Elections go here if the Russians will only help the English to send Bonaparte to the Right about." The reference to elections was to the 1804 presidential contest that pitted incumbent Thomas Jefferson against Federalist candidate Charles Pinckney, who was defeated handily. England had been unsuccessfully urging Russia to join her in a coalition against a Napoleon Bonaparte rapidly gobbling up large portions of Europe.

Ben and his wife were members of the Cedar Hill Dutch Reformed Church up the Post Road from their house. In 1793. he was named a church deacon and reelected three years later. Two of his sons married the daughters of church elders; Jacob married Margaret Post and John married Leah Goetschius.

In 1827, because he was a veteran, Ben served on a committee to dedicate a monument in St. Peter's churchyard in Van Cortlandtville. Erected by the city of New York, it honored John Paulding, one of Major John Andre's captors. Other committee members included Pierre and Philip Van Cortlandt, St. John Constant, Dr. Peter Goetschius, and other local dignitaries

He applied for a veteran's pension on December 13, 1832, giving the year of his birth as 1752 and his birthplace as "York Island," a common name for Manhattan. Because Ben apparently knew no clergyman in his neighborhood then to vouch for him, Justice of the Peace Robert McCord and Abraham H. Lent, both of Cortlandtown, testified to "his character for truth and veracity and their belief of his service as a soldier in the Revolution."

Although he could write, he signed the application with an X. Edward Kemeys, a judge of the Westchester Court of Common Pleas [The family gave its name to Kemeys Cove in Ossining.], attested in a sworn statement that Benjamin Dyckman was blind and too feeble to attend court.

On August 25, 1833, a scant eight months after applying for his pension, Benjamin Dyckman died in the house he had built. The inscription on his gravestone in Cedar Hill Cemetery inexplicably shows his age at death as "82 yrs., 4 mos., 23 days." By reverse extrapolation, this could mean he was born on April 2, 1751.

Ben's Last Will and Testament
Except wealthy States Morris Dyckman, the Dyckmans--like most 19th century farmers--were land-poor, owning large tracts of mortgaged land but lacking capital to improve them. Ben's will directed that the farm occupied by his oldest son Jacob and his wife, Margaret Post Dyckman, be sold in whole or in part to pay off its mortgage and any estate debts. Jacob and his wife also received a life interest in the residue, which would go to their surviving children on their deaths.

Jacob's farm was described as "on the southerly side of the Post Road in Smithville near the Verplanck gate." [The late Richard M. Lederer, Jr., whose hobby was diligently tracing every place name in Westchester, never identified the exact location of the Smithville of Ben Dyckman's will.]

To his wife, Martha Lent Dyckman, Ben left a life interest in the farm on which they lived and in the farm occupied by their youngest son, Samson Benson Dyckman. Two-thirds of the residue of his estate remained in trust for his wife and one-third went to their only daughter, Jane. Martha Lent Dyckman's portion was to be divided after her death. Younger sons John and Samson received a life interest in one part with the residue going to their children. Because Ben's son William was successful and owned a large farm in Cortlandtown, his father did not name him in his will.

When Ben's widow, Martha, died in 1835, she was buried near her husband in Cedar Hill Cemetery. The house and farm passed to their feisty 52-year-old daughter, Jane Dyckman, who never married, and is remembered for the warmth of her hospitality and for her fierce battles with the Hudson River Rail Road in the late 1840s. Using the power of eminent domain, the railroad had cut a wide swath through the Dyckman farm, laying its tracks right in front of her house.

Ben's 22-year-old granddaughter Martha Margaret Dyckman married John Wilmot Gallaher in 1839. When he died seven years later at only 30 years of age, Jane took in Martha Margaret and her three sons, Theodore, William and Benjamin, who remained with her until Martha Margaret married James M. Williams in 1852. The three Gallaher boys served in the Civil War and wrote frequent letters to "Aunt Jane." William wrote to her in 1865 from Alexandria, Virginia, to say he was waiting for his discharge and offered to work on her farm. Even after Jane's death in 1870, the Gallaher boys continued to consider the old house their home.

Later Years
In an article in the Peekskill Evening Star, December 19, 1936, local historian and Peekskill dentist Dr. George P. Wygant described the history of the Benjamin Dyckman House. "It has been said that it is over two hundred years old, but that can hardly be," he wrote, pointing out that would place the date of its construction as at least 15 years before Benjamin Dyckman was born. Dr. Wygant's article added, "the hill running past the building was and still is known and spoken of as the 'Jane Dyckman Hill.'"

Upon Jane's death the Benjamin Dyckman house and farm passed to Martha Margaret Dyckman. Ownership apparently was given up by Dyckman descendants before 1924. On July 16, 1952, when the Peekskill Evening Star again wrote about the house, it was owned and occupied by William L. Cosgrove, who died in 1968, at the age of 86. The house was later bought by the present owner, Bob Tall, who planned to restore the house, but has since moved to Florida. It should be noted that the wagon wheel high up on the west wall of the house is a highly inappropriate decoration for an 18th-century Dutch Colonial house.

No portraits of the Benjamin Dyckman family exist. If some itinerant artist traded his artistic efforts for food and lodging by painting portraits of Ben and Martha and the family, these have long since disappeared. But there is always the house, the grand old Benjamin Dyckman house. It is no Boscobel, the wealthy States Morris Dyckman's Adam-style Palladian mansion built from plans in architectural books imported from England. Rather, it is a carpenter-built workaday farmhouse alive with memories of callus-handed Dyckmans long since gone to dust.

We can only wonder how many quiet summer evenings Ben and Martha sat outside their house and watched golden suns go down in the west. How often did their spinster daughter Jane Dyckman later shake her fist at trains belching smoke and cinders as they chugged their way through her front yard? And does her restless shade angrily stomp the floorboards of the Benjamin Dyckman house at night whenever a train passes? The present owner of the house claims it is haunted by Jane's ghost.

Ben and Martha Dyckman sleep in the serene peace of Cedar Hill Cemetery, where their descendants and other Cortlandtown Dyckmans and Lents also are to be found. One generation passes away and another arrives on the scene, but--as Ecclesiastes tells us--the earth abides forever. With any luck, the house that Ben Dyckman so fondly called home for six decades and hosed other generations of Dyckmans will also endure the ravages of time and developers who care nothing for history.

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