I was searching for information on the McConkey's Ferry line of the McConkey family and found the following newspaper article:
From the Schenectady (NY) Gazette, Sept. 9, 1932. Page 5
"Washington’s Delaware Pilot Forgotten by Celebrators
A Drab Headstone Near Charleston Marks Resting Place of River Ferry Operator
The grasses grow in wild profusion there, brushing fronds caressingly against the worn stone, and a' tree casts calm, cold shadows across the mound. Only the caretaker and few of history’s initiated know the story beneath.
Pageantry, trumpeting her gilded splendor through the state in the year of Washington’s bicentennial, passed far to the north of the Wykoflie church cemetery, near the Village of Charleston in southern Montgomery County. Pageantry passed along the main highways, turned all unknowingly from the grave of one who played a lead role in a turning point of Washington’s career.
“William McConkey,” the words are traced easily with a finger point, “died Sep’ 10, 1825, aged 81 years, 7 m. and 15 days.”
Staunch colonial that he was; capable of subdueing (sic) personal gain and that bugaboo, religious prejudice for patriotism, McConkey probably wished his grave inscription to read as it does.
A mere incident to him, if a proud one, was that wild Christmas night along the Delaware with the dozens of small boats drawn up at his ferry slip. There were whispered groans that night. Shaded horn lanterns cast their flickers against the snow to show the bloody footprints of men. A tall, cloaked figure strode to the dock to be greeted by the officers. “A horrid night, Excellency.”
McConkey, the ferryman, then pulled his boat out into the current, while the same figure from the prow muttered imprecations – muttered and wondered if this wild march to Trenton would lead to victory or final defeat for himself and the end of the confederation.
That, the picture of December 25, 1776, has an ending in the other – the quiet graveyard at Charleston.
The Irish Ferry-Man
William McConkey was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, on January 22, 1774 (note: this is a typo in the original article; it should be 1744), the 15th generation from Donnachaide Reimhar MacAonghus of Scotland. With a thousand others he despaired of living conditions there and listened longingly to the tales of America and her opportunities. Finally, he embarked, arrived in New York and journeyed to New Jersey to settle nine miles north of Trenton on the banks of the Delaware river.
In time, a road was built to the spot and William McConkey, grasper of opportunities, built a ferry and docks. A comfortable living came to him, through the farthings and half crowns from those who journeyed between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The ferryman married, built a large stone house and settled down to family life.
The ferry became not only his source of income but a main interest in life. He took to the work as a student – a deliberate, slow Scotch-Irish student studying each mood of the river; learning the shifts in currents and whirlpools between the high waters and the low until he had satisfied himself that he could outguess the Delaware under any condition.
Echoes of the war boomed down through New Jersey to break the monotony for 31-year-old McConkey, his wife and small children. His sympathies lay with the colonials and, staunch Presbyterian that he was, he probably spent many an hour upon his knees entreating the Almighty for colonial victories. Enlistment, however, was out of the question. Ferrying was too heavy work for Mrs. McConky. The oldest child was five and another was coming.
Continentals in Retreat
Strong was his sorrow as the colonial forces drew down from New England to meet defeat New York with barely enough strength left to hold lines of communication through the Hudson valley and Connecticut to Boston.
The King’s Hessians, with their brass grenadier hats, their greasy mustaches and swaggering, braggadochio manners, settled at Trenton. McConkey was courteous and let it go at that. On the Pennsylvania side appeared occasional bodies of colonial scouts – uniforms non-descript, ragged, some with feet bound with rags.
The summer of 1776 with its glorious yet uneasy news of the Declaration of Independence soon passed. Autumn came on, and winter. Early in December colonial officers approached McConkey to learn if he might be trusted to take men across the river for the attack on Trenton.
Washington realized that to make the attack a success it was necessary to control all the ferries on the Pennsylvania side. Thus he made advances to McConkey and further upstream, opposite Trenton, let Patrick Colvin, an Irish Catholic, in upon the secret. Catholic and Presbyterian labored hand in hand during the next week to collect all boats available. These were hidden in coves and woody fastnesses along the shore.
On December 24, at a council of war, it was decided that Colonel Cadwalder should cross the river at Dunk’s Ferry to Burlington on Christmas night and beat up the British posts at Mount Holly, Columbus and Bordentown. Washington, the same night, with a detachment of 2,400 from the main army and 18 pieces of artillery would make a direct attack on the 1,200 Hessians at Trenton.
Ready for the Crossing
By 2 o’clock on Christmas morning decision had been made to use McConkey’s ferry for the crossing of the main body. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon all detailed for this service were on the march, tinting the light snow with blood from their frozen feet. Each soldier had three days cooked rations and 40 rounds of ammunition.
McConkey and others set to work preparing the Durham boats, row galleys and other craft for the trip across the river. Things seemed to be going splendidly when Old Man Delaware decided to take a hand. By noon the river, which had been previously clear, was filled with moving, grinding cakes of ice. Currents became swift and dangerous.
At 6 o’clock that night, Washington sent the following note to Colonel Cadwalder:
25th Decem’r, 1776,
“Dear Sir –
“Notwithstanding the discouraging accounts I have received from
Below, I am determined, as the night is favorable, to cross the river and make
an attack on Trenton in the morning. If you can do nothing real, at least create
as great a diversion as possible.
I am Sir,
Yr most obt. Servt.
Preparations continued until midnight. A storm of hail and snow had begun by that time. Washington, grim, tall, paced back and forth near the landing – wondering. There had been few successes under this leadership to date. Defeat at Trenton might lead to his resignation: wholesale desertion of the troops; the possible end of a nation not yet six months old.
Carefully, then, the first boatload put out from the shore. It seemed comparatively smooth. There were little sighs of relief, save from McConkey. But near mid-stream, the boat was swept suddenly around. Cakes of ice bore downstream, struck the stern thwacking blows and creaked away.
McConkey at the Helm
McConkey stepped to the officers in charge, asking if he might give instruction or aid to the boatmen. The request was accepted. All that night he worked, leading a string of craft out into the stream. They followed him carefully, quietly – uncertain goslings in the wake of a sure mother. They gave way before this cross current – cut diagonally across the midstream then edged into the New Jersey shore.
Washington himself rode with McConkey on one of these strips (sic). Daylight was breaking before the last crossing was made. Many officers advocated abandonment of the attack. They had depended upon surprising the Hessians under cover of darkness. Furthermore, the ammunition of many of the men was wet; others dropped by the road, unable to walk further upon the aching, bleeding feet.
The leader was determined. Orders went out to rest awhile and take breakfast. Washington set an example by entering the McConkey home where the ferryman’s wife had prepared a meal. A child toddled toward him with outstretched arms. He lifted her to his knees, kissed her cheeks, and talked, playfully, as he ate.
Then, with the first streaks of sunlight touching the white countryside, he bade the men arise. His plan was wise, as history has shown. The Germans had indulged in intoxicants to excess the night before and were unfit for battle. The victory was comparatively easy.
And that was the high spot in the life of William McConkey. His ferry business carried on in normal monotony after that. At the end of the war he sold it, was paid in Continental script, found that the money was worthless.
Homestead Still Stands
With wife and children he migrated to New York state, settling in the Town of Charleston. He is said to have built the first hotel in the Village of Glen. The building is still standing and was used as a hotel until the late 1870’s, when it was run by a Mr. Saltsman.
William and his wife were buried side by side in the old Wkyofite church yard. The daughter who had been held by Washington, Mary McConkey, married an Able Close. The couple lived in the last house on the south side of the road in Glen, leading to Mill Point. It is still standing and is owned by Eugene F. Quirl. Their only son, Stuart D. Close, became a prominent physician in New York city. In memory to his parents, he paid for construction of the first flagstone sidewalk and curbing in the village. Mary Close died May 22, 1865, and is buried in the family plot in the cemetery at Glen, on the east side of the orad leading toward Charleston.
Another daughter of William McConkey, Lydia, married a Mr. Simpson and had one son, Marcus D. L. Simpson, who graduated from West Point, entered the army and rose to the rank of brigadier-general before retirement. He died in Riverside, Chicago, shortly after 1900.
McConkey’s Crossing has been renamed. A sleepy hamlet of a few house, a gasoline filling station or two, it is known to map-makers as Washington’s Crossing. The old McConkey home is still standing, a subject of feature interest for young newspaper reporters from Trenton. A covered bridge across the Delaware replaced the ferry and a stone bridge has replaced that, but two shafts of stone and granite mark the site of McConkey’s docks.
This, then, is the story of a patriot who has been forgotten in the valley. The tale hidden by the weaving grasses and sheltered by the calm, cold shadows of trees – the greatness behind the simplicity of “William McConkey died Sep’ 10, 1825, aged 81 years, 7 m. and 15 days.”
There is a sidebar story to this one, accompanied by a photo of the headstone described in the story. The heading over the cut of the grave stone says: Marks Grave of One of Forgotten Heroes.
The sidebar story reads:
McConkey’s Story is Traced by Historians
The detailed information on William McConkey in the accompanying article is made possible through the investigation of Melvin Lethbridge, 7 Perkins street, Amsterdam, and Irving H. McConkey of 404 Glebe street, Johnstown.
Mr. McConkey is a descendant of the Delaware boatman, and has prepared a history of the entire family.
Mr. Lethbridge, one of the most active historical investigators of the Mohawk valley, is a corresponding member of the New York State Genealogical and Biographical Society; past state historian for the Spanish-American war veterans and a correspondent for the state historical society.
He is devoting much of his time at present in determining the graves of war veterans in Montgomery county and through his labors several hundred markers have been placed by the Montgomery county board of supervisors."
I just thought it would help those researching this line. I don't know if it actually ties into my McConkey line or not. Only time and further research will tell that. But at least the information is here for everyone to see.
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