Over two days’ time, I had appointments with people who had INFORMATION. Lunch was with Jonathan Kruk, our area’s Storyteller Deluxe who does lots of Historic Hudson Valley Lore.

Jonathan was rather amazed at my repeating that I’d heard that there is simply no pictorial representation of Madam Brett anywhere, as he has quite the sense of her. While I have been trying to piece together this DUTCH COLONIAL woman, Jonathan has this image of her as being extremely stylish, even flamboyant, and he finds himself trying to not quite say “Isadora Duncan”. He read about her tearing around Dutchess country in her double-axle carriage which was unheard of for the time (both the woman tearing around AND the double axles on the carriage!

At one point he launches into this MAD tale of Captain Kidd and his pirates having buried treasure on her land and coming back to claim it. Already I’ve heard from the DAR ladies that Catharyna did NOT like her land messed with. So Jonathan goes on with much flinging about of hands (between the two of us, we are dangerous at a lunch table),  about how her three boys got upon each other’s shoulders, with Rivery at the top as he was the smallest. They draped themselves with sacking cloth and swung a broom around frightening the pirates away. The story goes on to say that naturally the boys couldn’t WAIT to go dig up the treasure themselves, but their wise mother, upon seeing that all the dirt had been magically replaced right down to the very last bit of moss, pronounced that there would be NO more digging here.

But this is a Master Storyteller I’m dealing with here. It is his TRADE to blur the lines between historical fact and a splendid performance. As we end our lunch, he promises to get what information he has into my hands.

The next evening I have been told that the Historical Librarian will be on duty at the Fishkill library. I go over, am sent up to the Archive Room and somewhat foolishly find myself just assuming that she possesses the answers to every one of my questions. She’s a librarian. She knows WHERE to look for answers.

So she points me towards an entire book about Madam Brett that neither I nor the downstairs librarian knew existed. While I dive into that and find myself not getting through too many pages for scribbling notes just as quickly as I can, she begins to look through huge old volumes of local history books. One book gives me the information and inscriptions on every single headstone in that Old Dutch Church cemetery in Fishkill. The Robert I saw there was a grandson. None of her immediate family is buried there. But as I went through the information, it was heartbreaking to see how many of the headstones belonged to young children. Seems in these times of the Brett family, either you didn’t make it out of childhood or you went on to live into your seventies or eighties. All save Matthew, a grandson, I believe who died at the age of 28. One couple, John and Sarah, lost two little ones on the same day in January of 1850, and James and Hellen lost a total of 4 children all under the age of 8.

Off the top of her head, Toni, the librarian, knows that Madam Brett wasn’t MEANT to be buried beneath the pulpit of the church, it rather happened by accident. Only the ministers were buried  beneath the pulpit, but she really WANTED to be, so they buried her beside the church, right by the wall. When the church was later enlarged, she WOUND UP beneath the pulpit anyway! Very ‘Catharyna’ I’m coming to realize…

Rivery is eluding both of us. He’s just merely mentioned, but not on any of the official lists. Most of the cemetery listings are again, mid 1800’s. But I do find out that Cathryna’s father died and left her all that land (28,000 acres, I believe) when she was only 4. Bit by bit, her marriage to Roger is looking more and more like one of love than of convenience or wealth. For all she owned all that land, they had to mortgage it heavily just to pay to move there. When Roger died, she was in dreadful debt and that started her selling off portions of her land. Most other land owners had tenant farmers who didn’t actually OWN the land and therefore could not pass it on to their heirs. Catharyna would sell hers outright, encouraging the farmers to truly settle the land they were on. There’s an interesting note that Catharyna would add a wish to the end of the deed hoping that the purchaser “may at all times hereafter freely and quietly possess, enjoy and keep the said tract.”

It seems that Catharyna was also dispensing healing advice to the ladies by letters, which delighted me no end. Toni actually found a transcript of a letter Catharyna wrote giving such advice and the odd mix of Dutch and English made for an almost Chaucerian start, but soon I found myself reading it aloud and making some semblance of sense. The letter was actually from the husband of a woman suffering from istrics (hysterics, aka menopause).

Very early in the Henry Cassidy book, “Catharyna Brett – Portrait of a Colonial Businesswoman” there was mention of Catharyna tearing about on horseback making her ’rounds’ to her farms wearing a flaming red cape, so Jonathan was right about that!

The book also points out, right at the VERY beginning that Catharyna Brett never did refer to herself as Madam, not did any of her contemporaries. That was a title give to her by her descendents. While she was alive, it was MISTRESS Brett and later, WIDOW Brett.

My evening in the Archive Room ends ALL too soon, I’ve not even STARTED some of the books that Toni has found for me, but she’s willing to leave them there, with my name on them and whenever I come back, one of the librarians can go up and get them for me.

This is truly frustrating, but I will be back……

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