5. The Maternal Homestead
I WENT down from this ancient grave place eighty or ninety rods to the site of the Van Velsor homestead, where my mother was born (1795,) and where every spot had been familiar to me as a child and youth (1825–’40.) Then stood there a long rambling, dark-gray, shingle-sided house, with sheds, pens, a great barn, and much open road-space. Now of all those not a vestige left; all had been pull’d down, erased, and the plough and harrow pass’d over foundations, road-spaces and everything, for many summers; fenced in at present, and grain and clover growing like any other fine fields. Only a big hole from the cellar, with some little heaps of broken stone, green with grass and weeds, identified the place. Even the copious old brook and spring seem’d to have mostly dwindled away. The whole scene, with what it arous’d, memories of my young days there half a century ago, the vast kitchen and ample fireplace and the sitting-room adjoining, the plain furniture, the meals, the house full of merry people, my grandmother Amy’s sweet old face in its Quaker cap, my grandfather “the Major,” jovial, red, stout, with sonorous voice and characteristic physiognomy, with the actual sights themselves, made the most pronounc’d half-day’s experience of my whole jaunt.
For there with all those wooded, hilly, healthy surroundings, my dearest mother, Louisa Van Velsor, grew up—(her mother, Amy Williams, of the Friends’ or Quakers’ denomination—the Williams family, seven sisters and one brother—the father and brother sailors, both of whom met their deaths at sea.) The Van Velsor people were noted for fine horses, which the men bred and train’d from blooded stock. My mother, as a young woman, was a dairy and daring rider. As to the head of the family himself, the old race of the Netherlands, so deeply grafted on Manhattan island and in Kings and Queens counties, never yielded a more mark’d and full Americanized specimen than Major Cornelius Van Velsor.