Back to the Fishkill Library I go on History Librarian night. I’d already left her a note earlier that I would be there in the evening and I MOST want to find out how Rivery died. When I arrive, she’s already pouring through books, but in the three hours we spend together, we do NOT find out.

We talk about it as we both go through books, I’m beginning to see the same information over and over now. We both agree that I probably need to hunt up some kind of death records for 1729, and if great numbers of folks died at the same time, it may well have been a siege of typhus or some disease that just took lots of people out at the same time. In which case, Rivery would have just been one of many. But I still don’t BUY it.

Toni began to talk about how her impression of Rivery is of a typical 17 year old, outdoors all the time, into everything…she rummaged through a bin of smaller publications and came up with a small book, all hand-written, which details the passing of some else’s younger brother from lock-jaw. The young man in question was merely 23 and had a minor scrape from losing his balance while standing on a barrel picking apples. I had no idea that lock-jaw was such a horrifying way to die. This young man dies in a matter of days and at that, it is merciful as he is in excruciating pain that opium will not quell and his life ends in fits of convulsions. Now, I suppose this could be a real possibility, sufficiently horrifying that even a strong kid like Rivery could not survive – also sufficiently careless, both on his part for sustaining what may have seemed like a very minor injury, but perhaps on Catharyna’s part for not paying more attention to that injury. Maybe she felt guilty and that’s why so little was said about it?

Because if you think about it, by 1729 she was well-known, very well-respected and well-liked by everyone in Dutchess County. Why would not the death of her youngest boy, especially one with such a legend about him, being born ON the River, not have been more noted?

As the Beacon History Librarian said, if I never find out how Rivery died, I will be free to make it up, as no one else knows either, and so no one can challenge me. I may get to the point where I can in no way historically substantiate it, but I will KNOW before i speak of it in the first person. If I have to have a ‘channeling’ session with my teacher Paul, I’m going to KNOW how this child died.

As soon as I began to question how Rivery might have died, it seemed that spiders were suddenly everywhere. A HUGE one went scurrying up the curtain RIGHT next to my bed in the middle of the night, my sister contacts me that she fears she’s been bitten by a spider, as she’s sporting a 3″ bruise-like bite on her rump for days on end, and I find ANOTHER very sizeable spider on the floor of my basement apartment. Eeeewwwww. I suppose that’s another possibility.

I also find myself thinking about how Catharyna would have used the Wappinger Indians’ wisdom about healing if anything happened to Rivery. The Native American treatment for lock-jaw was Lobelia inflata and Pink Lady Slipper. I certainly gave some thought to it being a time of year when these plants might not be available and perhaps there was none dried. It would seem that they would have plenty of treatments for snake or spider bites and Rivery most likely would have known them. This is driving me crazy.

[one YEAR later……..]

I puzzled at how a project that could have HOLD of me as this one did, could have just gone SILENT the way it did. Even with me moving to Beacon proper, even CLOSER to the Brett Homestead, I simply couldn’t get INTERESTED again.

Until now.

I finally re-read the script I started for the PORTRAYAL. I read it aloud from the very beginning and was astonished at how much I cried. And it just ENDS. Just STOPS mid-sentence with this vague build-up about scarcity of doctors, because at that point I didn’t BUY that Rivery simply grew ill and died at 17.

I’m very ready to ask for some help about any possibility of ‘channeling’ her to see if I can find out, although I am aware that it MAY, as other things have, come to me spontaneously.

As I stepped out of the shower (aka cosmic phonebooth) this morning, a thought struck me.


I let the thought play out. Rivery went off with the Indian boys, off in the woods, off climbing mountains, off doing what they ALWAYS did. And he FELL.

Something gave way and he fell. It feels right. It feels like the sort of thing she wouldn’t want everyone to make a FUSS over – that would be officially NOTED – something the folks would have kept a bit more quiet because he WAS with the Indian boys and not everyone approved of that, but bigger still, at this time there had been some horrendous massacres of white settlements by other Indian tribes. If people knew that Rivery was with the Indian boys when he died, there could be terrible trouble.

I do believe it was sudden. I do believe she had no time to beg the heavens for his life. I believe this was completely different from losing Roger or even Thomas. A complete SHOCK and yet, so like Rivery……..

“I remember sitting on the porch, one of those soft, golden, warm fall days, when everything smells of apples and dry leaves. I’d been reading and I let myself drift into sleep. I remember dreaming I was flying, I often did that. I was soaring through the soft, soft, golden autumn sunlight when I suddenly JOLTED awake. Some sound must have wakened me, but I just stayed in my chair with my book, and felt the most astonishing feeling of peace come over me, Like nothing I’d ever felt before….

But then I did hear Molly calling for me; the light was fading and supper was nearly ready. Francis of off in his own house with his wife and Robert was still home with me and Rivery was late. I began to worry as it grew darker, although he’d told me he was going out hiking with the Indian boys. Those boys could find their way out of the woods at night, they’d often done it before, but I always worried. Don’t forget, we had no telephones then, there was no way to even ask a neighbor if they’d seen him once it grew dark unless someone was willing to by carriage with a lantern. As it grew later, I was ready to ask Robert to take the carriage out to see if anyone knew where they were.

I was sitting by the window, looking out into the woods, when I DID see lanterns. But they were moving very strangely. Not the usual SWING to them of boys returning home from a hike. They were moving slowly. Oh, I do remember such a CHILL ran through me.

I called out to Robert and Molly and Coban and Samuel as I ran down the stairs and tore open the door. I saw three of the Indian boys, good friends of Rivery’s, but I did not see Rivery. Two of the boys were pulling a travois made of branches. The third boy stepped towards me and the very SECOND I looked into his eyes, I began to SHAKE. I felt as though I had been struck by a huge tree falling on me.

The Indian boy had tears in his eyes and he said just two words:


I just don’t know everything that was said after that. I don’t think I heard it. I remember Robert shouting. I remember the SOUND of Molly and Coban wailing. I remember everyone rushing around except Rivery’s one friend. He sat me down on the porch steps and just kept looking into my face. My eyes were dry. My body was shaking.

The boy said to me, “He did nothing wrong. The rocks gave way beneath him and he fell – very far. I tried to grab for him, Mistress Brett, I did try. It happened so fast. I could only stand and watch him fall so far. But Mistress Brett, you have to know, before he hit the rocks below he stretched his arms out like a bird. He did. I saw him.”

The boy took my hands in his strong brown ones and said, “His Spirit soars now.”

His words cut right through my shock, my grief, my utter disbelief that I could have lost my Rivery

Because he BELIEVED those words he said…..I did too.

Everyone almost seemed afraid of me right after Rivery died. Everyone knew how special he was to me and I suppose they feared that I would go quite mad with grief.

I didn’t.

I heard a bit of clucking behind my back, “There goes Widow Brett, who’s lost so much.”

Now, that’s certainly not how I wanted to be identified. We buried Rivery quietly in the forest that he loved so, in the same plot with dear Roger and little Thomas, though most of the other townsfolk were all being buried in the Churchyard by now. I remember standing between my two grown sons feeling so very small.

Many people thought I no longer wanted to SPEAK of Rivery, but we did. We spoke of him often, just not ]his dying. He was only 17. Such a beautiful BEAUTIFUL boy. I preferred to think that he flew away. For the rest of my life, I saw him in the sun sparkles on the water, I heard him in every breeze that whispered around in the trees. And I always felt his presence at the River. To this very day, I still feel his presence at the River.

My heart had been broken before, but now it was pierced clean through. That I knew and told no one.

I would not be destroyed by this, Rivery would never have wanted that. I don’t know why he left that day, but my life was so very blessed for having him in it. ………..

But I was Mistress Brett with much to do, and grandbabies coming and weddings to attend and new famiies to greet. There were border disputes to settle (oh those people in Poughkeepsie! The ones I caught trying to sell MY land as though it was their own!) and we had started a new venture on August the 6th of 1743 – The Frankfort Storehouse at Fishkill landing. They say that our starting that began commerce on this great River. Somewhere in all the historical papers you still have around, is a document with 21 signatures. Twenty men and myself.  My, my, that did start some talk. But this was all MY land, my Papa’s land, and would have a say. Although I was willing to sell parcels of land outright to people, I still wanted to watch it all grow. Once Rivery died, it was as though he passed his wonderful free spirit on to me and I found myself taking long rides alone in my carriage or even on horseback just going to see how my land was growing and how the families were thriving.

I spent a good deal of time among the Wappingers Indians, learning all I could from them. did you know they even helped me make a pair of leather riding breeches? I can ASSURE you there wasn’t another woman ANYwhere with leather riding breeches. and I can ALSO assure you, the breeches made riding horseback FAR more comfortable!

Towards the end of my life here, I’d lost SO many of my friends, it wasn’t very usual for a woman to live into her seventies back then. I wonder if I lived so long because I just had too much to DO to die. Too much to DO. I do remember how it felt to sell off the LAST parcel of land that year. In 1763, I’d written my will and left fine farms to my last remaining son and my THIRTEEN grandchildren. By the time it was time for me to go, I’d also lost my son Robert and only dear Francis was left to bury me. And dear me, he had a little trouble doing THAT.

I always said, “Francis, I BUILT this Church, I’ve SUPPORTED this Church and I mean to be buried beneath the pulpit!”

Well, Francis knew better than to explain to me yet again that only the PASTOR can be buried beneath the pulpit, because MY mind was made up.

I remember that last winter as the hardest, longest winter I’d ever been through. I guess I wasn’t well even then. Just worn out, I suppose. Though actually I recall stating in my will that I drew up the spring before, that I was ‘inform of body’…….How did it go?

In the name of God, Amen. I, Catharyna Brett of Fishkill, in Dutchess county and in the Province of New York, widow, being aged and inform in body but of sound and disposing mind, memory and understanding — thanks be given to Almighty God for the same — and calling to mind the certainty of death and the uncertain time thereof, do make and declare this my last Will and Testament in manner and for following, that is to say, first and principally I recommend my precious and Immortal Soul into the Hands of Almighty God who gave it, and my body to the earth to be decently interred at the discretion of my Executors, hereafter named, in hope of a Glorious Resurrection and as to such Worldly estate wherewith it hath pleased God to bless me with, I give, devise and dispose thereof in manner and form following…….”

Whereupon I left to Francis my Homestead, my single full share of the Frankfort Storehouse, one hundred pounds cash, dear wench Molly, five farms and one-half my remaining estate. To Robert’s children I left the other half of my estate and dear wench Coban, with notes that if ever they were to sell either Molly or Coban that they would be able to choose their own new masters.

Not long after I finished the Will, we had darling Hannah’s beautiful wedding. What a happy time that was. I gave to her my red cape. I was feeling too tired to be riding about the countryside on horeseback by then. Ah, Hannah hugged that cape as though I were still in it. I saw her do that again after I was gone.

We’d had a few of those oddly warm, springlike days very early on after that long, long winter in 1764, the ones that just quicken everyone’s blood.

But then it turned cold again. I know it did that in lots of years, but THAT YEAR, I just couldn’t stand up to it again. I remember just barely waking up, seeing that it was snowing again and just….closing ….my …..eyes.   I think that’s when *I* flew away. I never did quite make note of the date….

Poor dear Coban came in and stoked the fire in my room and let me sleep. Even she didn’t realize I’d flown away until hours later. Poor dear, I gave her such a fright. But now we had a bit of a problem. It had turned SO cold that they couldn’t dig my grave for quite a few days., No one was QUITE sure what to do. Now, folks died in the winter all the time, and they could be stored, pine box and all, until the ground thawed enough to dig a proper grave. But somehow, quite the fuss was to be made at the Church (which was good, they SHOULD make a fuss). You see, it wouldn’t have been a problem if they’d buried me beneath the pulpit as I wished. Poor dear Francis was doing the best he could. it was decided to bury me right NEXT to the Church wall. Ah, dear Francis, always finding a compromise. But the funniest thing was, by the time the ground thawed and they could HAVE this lovely burial, no one could quite remember which day I’d DIED on! I believe you can all back me up on this, nowhere is the actual date of my death officially recorded….just SPRING 1764, I find that very funny.

But funnier still is how I got my wish. Many, MANY years later, the Church was re-modeled and the pulpit was put in something of an alcove that came to rest directly above me. So I AM buried beneath the pulpit after all.

Yes, I’d flown away, but I didn’t fly far…..

Over the next TWO HUNDRED YEARS, I saw more and more babies come to our family; Francis and his wife had 8 children and Robert and his wife had 5. And my children had children and children and children….

And goodness, have I watched this HOUSE change! The front door moved to the back, each family added to it and put in stairways and moved rooms. some of the changes I liked, or at least found amusing, some just made an old woman shake her head.

But my, my what these walls have seen. What this LAND has seen. What this wonderful RIVER has seen.

And you may wonder why I ‘came back’ to talk to you. I just thought that if I could tell you how it all started, how much we loved this land and all the hopes we had for it, if you could get a sense of those of us who came before you, that you might feel differently about it.

Do take care of this place. This whole wonderful countryside, this MAGNIFICENT River. my whole family and so many dear friends and good people lived and died here, and our hearts are all here still……..Catharyna Rombout Brett”