By Daniel T. Weaver
It was a summer night in 1765 at a tavern in Stone Arabia (now the Town of Palatine, New York), and Guy Johnson had drunk all his companions under the table. One of them, Capt. Cornelius Cuyler, was so drunk he “gott into bed with the Landlady…She Cryed out—alarmed the Family—& sett us all a going!” So wrote Lord Adam Gordon in a letter to Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern Division, on July 2, 1765, in which he apologized to Johnson for the behavior that had occurred. Johnson was there but slept through the “riotousness.”
Gordon was one of several notables at the tavern that night. A colonel in the British army and a member of Parliament, he was in America looking for land to purchase. He wanted Johnson to help him find land in the Mohawk Valley being very fond of “this Back Country.”
Gordon “made off, before Sun Rise” the next day because he wished to avoid Lady Susan, the daughter of the first Earl of Ilchester, and the wife of well known Irish actor, William O’Brien, who was also present. William and Susan had eloped because her parents didn’t approve of the marriage. The social scandal of their elopement forced them to find refuge in America. William, who was portrayed by Nicholas Irons in the 1999 BBC miniseries, the Aristocrats, had, according to Gordon, “a weak back,” meaning he couldn’t hold his drink. Gordon was also embarrassed about the young mens’ behavior because Sir William Johnson’s daughter, Ann (Nancy) Claus was present at the tavern.
25-year-old Captain Cornelius Cuyler who had drunkenly got into bed with the landlady was a member of the prominent Cuyler and Schuyler families of Albany. His grandfather, father and brother were mayors of Albany. Gordon’s letter also implies that Colonel John Vaughan was present at the tavern.
A humbler set of men met in a Stone Arabia tavern on August 27, 1774. The tavern, run by John Adam Loucks, might have been the same one Johnson and his friends stayed at nine years earlier. William Johnson knew Loucks well and appointed him a justice of the peace in the newly formed Tryon County in 1772. If this was the same tavern, then the unidentified woman whom Cuyler climbed into bed with in 1765 was Catherine Elizabeth Snell. Johnson had purchased a farm in Stone Arabia from the Snell family.
The men who met in 1774 were members of the Palatine District of the Tryon County Committee of Safety. Some of the men at that meeting were Christopher Yates, Isaac Paris, John Frey and Andrew Finck, Jr. During the meeting of August 27, 1774, the committee passed many resolutions. They declared their loyalty to King George but protested “taxation without representation” and the blocking of Boston harbor. They pledged support for the inhabitants of Boston, and also pledged to abide by decisions of the Continental Congress.
The Revolution completely separated those present at the Stone Arabia tavern in 1765 from those at Louck’s tavern in 1774. The war changed their fortunes. Of the men at the 1774 meeting, Yates would go on to be a member of the committee that ratified the Federal Constitution, a member of the NYS assembly, and the first clerk of Montgomery County, whose beautiful handwriting can be seen on old county wills and deeds. Paris died at the battle of Oriskany. Frey was taken prisoner at Oriskany. After the Revolution, he served in the NYS senate and assembly, among other things. Finck fought at the Battle of Saratoga and also later served in the state senate and assembly.
William Johnson died in 1774. Guy Johnson and Nancy Claus fled with their families to Canada in 1775. New York state confiscated their estates in Amsterdam’s west end. Lord Gordon settled for land in East Florida, was promoted to Major-General and appointed Commander-in-Chief of Scotland. Captain Cuyler became a baronet and a General in the British army. Vaughan became a member of Parliament in 1774. He too was promoted to Major-General and was knighted in 1792. Cuyler and Vaughan fought against the Americans in the Revolution. Both were at the Battle of Long Island.
William O’Brien and Lady Susan avoided the Revolution altogether. Her parents forgave them, and they were reunited in England. Their elopement turned into a long, happy marriage. Following her husband’s death, Lady Susan, overcome with grief, told her niece that her husband had been “the object of my thoughts, affections and anxieties since nineteen years old, and must until death be the object of my regrets.”
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An earlier version of this article appeared in the Recorder when owned by Mcleary Media LLC.