Weatherman Abraham Hasbrouck

Abraham Hasbrouck House Green Street Kingston-Author

A frequent refrain in my household is, “when will the cold and the snow end!” Weather forecasters proclaimed this winter to be the worst in the history of the Hudson valley. A bold claim for sure. Though unofficial, Abraham Hasbrouck recorded in his diary winters that seemed to be as bad if not worse during his lifetime.

There are several copies of Abraham Hasbrouck’s diary. Some sources report that the original diary has been lost, and some believe that General Henry Sharpe was the last person to have the original manuscript. He was married to the daughter of Abraham Bruyn Hasbrouck.  A.B. Hasbrouck was the grandson of the original keeper of the diary.

The two most popular transcriptions of the dairy belong to The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, and one that appears in the Kenneth E. Hasbrouck Sr.’s mammoth genealogy on the Hasbrouck family in America. This copy, according to Kenneth E. Hasbrouck Sr.’s, was transcribed from Joseph E. Hasbrouck of Modena. One of the difficulties when working with these various documents is that transcribers sometimes omitted parts of the diary, while others corrected spellings, and in some cases, added their own words.

Abraham Hasbrouck, who started the diary, was born in 1707, in Guilford, New York, just outside of New Paltz in Ulster County. He was the grandson of one of the founders of New Paltz, who shared the same name. In order to differentiate the many Abrahams, the founder of New Paltz is known by local historians as the “Abraham the Patentee,” a reference to the patent (land grant) that he helped secure. Abraham the Patentee’s family had fled Europe because of religious persecution (they were Protestants in a largely Catholic country) and they arrived in Esopus in the 1670s, settling at what became New Paltz. His first son Joseph married Elsie Schoonmaker in 1706, shortly after securing a large grant of land in Guilford. Abraham Hasbrouck, the keeper of diary, was their first son.

Today, the diary is mostly used by genealogists in order to ascertain birth dates, relationships, families, death dates and other information about family members or events related to the Hasbrouck family. There is an interesting aspect of the dairy often overlooked or not included. Abraham Hasbrouck made observations about the weather most notably unusually harsh winters. The three harshest winters that Hasbrouck recorded were the winters of: 1740/1, 1779/80 and 1784/85. They were characterized by their long duration, cold and large amounts of snow.

The winter of 1740/41 started in December. This winter was characterized by the large amount of snow and the extreme cold. Snow was not measured in inches, but instead in feet. In many places in Kingston, where Hasbrouck lived, the snow was 4 to 5 feet high. He continued that drifts were so high that citizens had to shovel roads through snow to get from one place to the other. During this winter the Hudson was frozen solid enough that Hasbrouck was able to ride his horse and sleigh on the River until March 20th 1741. The winter of 1740/1 was etched in the memories for many years to come until the winter of 1779/80.

Abraham Hasbrouck recorded from his residnence on Green Street, that like the hard winter of 1740/1 this winter too started in Decemeber. It would be remebered not so much for the snow, but for the severe cold. It was “so severe a cold for most part of the winter that the like has never been known by the oldest living in the country.” It seemed to surpass the Cold Sabbath of 1778; called such because the cold came on suddenly on a Sunday in January. Once the low temperatures set in, mills did not run and firewood ran low. The populace suffered during this winter as suppplies ran low.

In response to the dwindling firewood and supplies, indivdiuals used the frozen Hudson to journey by horse and sliegh to New York City as well as Staten Island. Some even crossed the Long Island Sound, which was frozen solid, from New London, Connecticut to Long Island in search of firewood to keep warm. Eventually warmer temperatues and a thaw came to Hasbrouck’s world in late March 1780. Between 1780 and 1785 the winters appear to be typical because Hasbrouck does not mention them. This changed in the winter of 1784/85.

Unlike the winter of 1779/80, this next hard winter was to be remebered not for the cold, but like the Hard Winter of 1740/1 for the large amount of snow which started in December 1784. Hasbrouck recorded that he was able to ride his horse and sleigh across the Hudson at the mouth of the Rondout until April 9th. It would continue to snow in Kingston until the 19th of April 1785. There was still snow on the ground until April 23, 1785. He commented that the snow during the winter was mostly “stiff and hard and not great for sleighing.”

Abraham Hasbrouck’s Diary is a good source for investigating the weather in Kingston, New York. However, it does have its limitations as a record of weather events. We do not know exactly how cold it was because there is no actual number; just severe cold. It also does not shed light on how much snow was actually on the ground or how it was being measured. One thing is for sure, I have never witnessed the Hudson River completely freezing over from Kingston to New York City or the Long Island Sound completely freezing over to allow for horse travel.

A.J. Schenkman, Historic Huguenot Street’s Consulting Historian, teaches history in the Lower Hudson Valley. He is the author of numerous books and articles. His most recent books include “Murder and Mayhem in Ulster County,” “Wicked Ulster County: Tales of Desperadoes, Gangs & More,” and “Washington’s Headquarters Newburgh: Home to a Revolution.”  A.J. has columns in both The New York History Blog, and is a history blogger for The Times Herald Record. He has been featured in numerous publications, venues , radio, and television.

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    AJ Schenkman

    A.J. Schenkman is the author of numerous books and articles. He is Consulting Historian for Historic Huguenot Street and Town of Gardiner Historian. Read Full

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    Elizabeth Werlau is an English teacher in the Hudson Valley and is the historian for the Town of Plattekill in Ulster County. She has authored and contributed to several books on regional history, including her most recent publication, Murder and ... Read Full

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