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WHY would I spend YEARS trying to bring this woman from three CENTURIES ago back to life? WHY did so many of my plans for her turn into crumbling headstone dust?

What did she want from me?

Was I really her incarnate? I don’t think so, literally, but I do believe that it’s possible, under the right circumstances, to tap into previous lifetimes of others.

I think that’s what this might have been.

But why now? Why am I finally finishing this as less than the book I meant to write, as never the live performance I so wanted to do? Why now in 2013?

..because I am dying myself.

My arms have become as painfully thin as hers were the day she died and nearly took me with her. It is August, not March. I’m in Oregon, not New York. But all I keep thinking about is the River. How I long to just give up all the pain and misery of struggling with colon cancer and join with the River and eventually join with Everything and be free of this particular earthly life.

She DID everything she came to do. Have I? Well, I did THIS.

She left 13 grandchildren behind, outlived all of her children save Francis and buried Roger many, MANY years earlier. I am leaving one daughter, three grandchildren.

But she STARTED something and watched it flourish and died with the peace of knowing it would go on. She lived her life HER way, by HER values, and invested in what was most important to her.

Her story has so far been told as ‘Portrait of a Colonial Businesswoman’. I hope beyond hope that I was able to touch upon the WOMAN she was, on how deeply she loved those around her and the land she lived on.

Catharyna, I’m glad you got your wish to be buried beneath the pulpit of your church. I shall have half of my ashes scattered upon the Mighty Hudson River that played such a huge role in your life and called out to me to DISCOVER what I could about you. I hope I did you justice.

What I have yet to go through will somehow be easier because you allowed me to witness your death, that peaceful sleep, that sinking into the soft bed with you. It wasn’t yet MY time to go, but it will be soon. I only hope that when my time finally does come that I carry that same sense….. that I did all that I came here to do………

LadyB August 17, 2013


I sat and talked to my hypnotherapy teacher, Paul, quite a bit about the ‘project’, my frustrations with just not being able to find things out, things that everyone says NOBODY knows….

He takes some notes, I give him a very basic timeline, so he’s a little familiar with family names and who was born/died when….

He asks if I’m asking him for an actual channeling (that would be inviting someone else’s essence into your physical body) and I say no, neither of us believes that’s a good way to go, nor is it wise. He asks if I want to do this like a Past Life Session and I say yes, that makes sense to me.

As SOON as I close my eyes, even before he comes back in to begin, I get an image of the Brett Homestead and the curved cedar shingles USED to be whitewashed every year which preserved them quite nicely, but now they’re COATED in thick, cream-colored paint. Yuck.

We’re double mic’d so both voices can be heard very clearly. The entire session is on audio cassette, so for this, what Paul actually says on the tape will be in bold, what I actually said will be in italic, and the notes I typed up immediately upon returning home of what I was seeing but not saying aloud will be in [brackets].

…timeline of events….Going back now to explore that connection, those significant events around the life of Catharyna Brett. lady b takes a deep breath  Going back in time now…ten…nine, back in time…eight, going ALLLLL the way back…seven…back in time, six…five…back in time….four….three, back in time, two……one and be there now…..allowing the scene, images, impressions, events, to unfold naturally, easily and effortlessly, that’s right. Trusting what you see, sense and feel…and when you’re there, just let me know…

{I went to a place behind my eyes, quite out of my body and with Paul’s suggestions to be there, I saw the Homestead yard and was very pleased to see FIELDS instead of suburban Beacon which signaled that I had indeed ‘arrived’ in a different time. I see these fields beyond the brook that goes around the yard and I see the slaves working in the fields. I see my boys playing in the yard, they’re dresssed in very dark colors. I’m sitting on the porch, doing something in my lap as I watch the boys play…

that’s right….now just breathing…letting go….allowing it to unfold…And when you’re ready, you can describe to me what you’re…experiencing there, what you’re recalling….[Paul coughs and clears his throat. There is a very long silence. I am seeing this whole scene but cannot seem to SAY so. On the tape you hear me breathing deeply as though trying to breathe out the words…they’re not coming]

Yes??   Remaining deeply relaxed, you can respond to me verbally and can describe the scene you’re experiencing….

[still deeply breathing, trying to find my voice]

Mmmm. what to you want to say?

There are FIELDS.


The fields are beyond the creek.

Mmm hmm,

And the roadway’s over there to the right. And all the boys are playing by the house. [another long silence]  And they play there, but I don’t want them to go across the brook.

And why is that?

Because that’s too far, that’s out in the fields.

Mmm hmm, And where are you in relation to these boys playing?

[breath] On the bench….at the side of the front door. On this….little porch….And I can sit there and I can see them.

And would you describe what it is that you’re wearing?

[I look down and clearly see this dress]

It’s long, lots and lots of skirt and it’s dark brown and it has very tiny flowers. And an apron over that, that’s just pinned to the front of the dress [I also see that I am DOING something in my lap, but don’t say so]

Mmm hmm, And this bench on this small porch in front of this house, is this the house where you live?


Mmm hmm And about what age are you?


And is this your house?


And…do you live alone, or with other people?

I have my four sons, and Roger, and we have the negroes who work in the field and the carpenter. And the carpenter helped Roger build this house. [I clearly see this young man off to my right]


And you can reach out the front window…..and pump water! Mmmmm.

That’s convenient.

[ I laugh] Roger thought of that!

Hmmm. Where is Roger?

[another pause while I look around] He’s at the mill.


And Francis is with him.


Our oldest….and the three little ones are with me….No……Only two boys are with me [I felt very troubled]

Ohhh, and where’s the third?

[she gets sad and troubled] Thomas died already.

He died?

[she nods]

I’m sorry. How did he die?

[long silence]…he got sick. All the boys got sick. And Thomas couldn’t get well again. And their faces all turned red when they had the fever, and Thomas’ face didn’t turn red when he had the fever.

his didn’t…..

[she begins to cry]

hmmmm. Remember to breathe, it’s OK…..[Paul breathes to get me to do the same] He was your youngest?

No, the oldest.

Oh, the oldest

But even when he was here I always thought of Francis as being the oldest because Thomas was LITTLE.

So Francis was your second, and he’s with his father at the mill, and Thomas is gone, and the other two?

Robert and Rivery are with me [I see Robert rather playing quietly and Rivery is all OVER the place. I have a strong sense that Rivery is FOUR.]

And you husband? Roger? How old is he?

[long pause…..] He’ll be FORTY.

And when do you celebrate his birthday?

[another LONG pause….I am looking around and around a circular calendar, feeling something about October, but I say]….June.

June what?


This is the day he was born?


Now, just take a breath…..relaxing a bit deeper…..And how long have you two been married?

[she chuckles] a LONG time….Mmmmm…..12 years, 13 years?

mmmm hmmm….and let’s move to some significant event in that life….that will help us even more, just knowing that the right occasion, event or experience will come, moving there now…..five, four, three, two and one…..and be there now…….

[there is a LONG pause. I am inside, I am trying to get ready to go out. I’m aware that this is the first time I am going ‘out’ after losing Roger. Out to face everyone, out to deal with the business things and I am not AT ALL ready for this. I’m not at ALL sure that I can do it. I can’t even seem to get dressed.

and please describe to me what you’re observing

[she breathes heavily] I am going to go out [her voice is thin]


I have to take CARE of things….and I’m having trouble getting ready

And what do you have to take care of?

I have  to go down to the Mill…..and see to the business.

Why is that?

Because Roger is gone and I have to DO it!

What happened to Roger?

[long pause, the tears well up] Roger drowned in the river [a most ragged sigh]

I’m so sorry.

[she cries]

And how are the boys?

They’re scared….they’re scared of thunder and scared of the river and they’re scared to get in boats anymore and they just want to stay home. [she cries]

And you manage the Mill business now?

I have help. I have to meet with that man today [sigh]

And then what happens? Just moving it forward a bit now, three….two….one……

[another long silence as I float into a totally different space. Suddenly I feel confident, comfortable, totally OK with myself. It’s amazing how different it is. How she looks FORWARD to going out every day in her carriage. She knows her position. She knows what she’s doing. It’s really wonderful. [deep breath produces an audible Mmmmm]

And what is it that’s happening?

I get into my CARRIAGE [deep breath] And I go to the Frankfort Storehouse.


and there’s lots of people there now, and LOTS of boats…..Things come up and down the River now and people come and buy them.

And can you tell me a bit about how you’re dressed?

[I look down] It’s a LARGE black dress, with white sleeves underneath the black sleeves….and a satin bonnet….It’s not what I wear at home.

what do you wear at home?

[the tiniest chuckle] a SMALLER dress…..But I DRESS when I go out….and they LISTEN to me.

Mmmmm, who listens to you?

The men and the merchants. And most of them are very good and very fair, but sometimes they’re not…..[at this point I am just beginning to drift….to start feeling my agedness]

And what is it that you’re going to do? Going to that Storehouse in your carriage?

We watch the things that come up the River in boats. And this is where the new people come up.

New people?

There’s LOTS of new people….and they NEED things.

They need things?

They’re building houses and they’re starting farms and they’re planting orchards.

Yes. And you have something to do with this?

I sell them my land.

Hmmm so you sell land…..

And the piece we live on gets smaller and smaller…..and that’s OK…..[here’s where I’m beginning to realize what’s happening. My voice is getting weaker, almost sleepy, I am feeling how thin she is, how wrinkled, my arms begin to get cold. I think on that LAST land sale….I know what the time is….my heart begins to beat very oddly, more slowly. I listen to my heart beating its last…..I’m ready to go. It’s totally OK. She did what she came to do and she’s totally willing to let go…]

And how long is it now that Roger’s gone?

Loooonnnnnngggg time [voice is very thin and tiny]

LONG time?

Rivery’s gone and Robert’s gone….


….and I’m TIRED…..

Hmmmm. What happened to Rivery and Robert?

[Now I’m struggling to answer. I just want to GO]  Rivery went off into the woods…..[I don’t want to THINK about this]  like he always did…and he fell off a mountain….and he fell very, very far…..[the voice is barely audible…..little whimpers….my heart is bothering me]….and I like to think he flew away….mmmmm……And Robert died just last year. He was sick.

And what year is that?

Seventeen and……sixty-three. Mmmmmm [I’m becoming really uncomfortable]

How did you learn of Rivery’s death?

[I’m growing more uncomfortable, my heart is acting up badly, I’m becoming aware of real pain in my bladder…] Mmmmmm. [I may have my hand over my heart at this point]   I was on the front porch reading…and I dozed off….and I dreamed that I was flying [noisy breath] and it was September and you could smell apples everywhere…..and then Coban called me for supper and Rivery wasn’t home….but sometimes they did that…..[breathing is growing very shallow] and after supper I went upstairs and I was sitting by the window…..and I looked out into the woods and I saw the lanterns swinging…..


And it was the boys….coming back….but something was wrong….[tears are coming now]…And I rant downstairs …and only three Indian boys were standing there and they had a travois behind them….

they had a what behind them?

A travois that they pulled…..[and she cries]…..and Rivery’s friend….came forward and told me that Rivery was standing on the edge and the rock let go and he fell and he tried to catch him and he tried to catch him and he went too fast and he fell all the way down [she breaks down and sobs – Paul BREATHES to get me to BREATHE]  And Francis  WASN’T there….


had to tell Francis later, but Robert was there.

and who was Rivery’s friend who told you of this?


A boy from town?

No, the Indian boy from the Village [she’s trying to control her sobs]

Remember to breathe….And why is it that you never really spoke of this again?

[change takes place here…she pulls herself back together…her voice is all different] It was OVER….Things were very, very bad between the settlers and the Indians….and there would be TROUBLE. So we buried Rivery in the woods, very quietly.

You buried him in the woods?

Next to Roger

I see

And next to Thomas….

Didn’t people ask?

[huge sigh] I told them he FELL. And that’s all. He fell [breathing is becoming pained…I turn sideways in the chair somewhat]

And moving forward…..and relaxing deeper……

[no way, my body won’t take any more]

How is it that your life…..

[I suddenly open my eyes]

Oh! You OK?

My heart’s fluttering. [I say in my totally normal, physical voice]

and Paul turns off the tape recorder.

I am aware that my bladder is about to burst, which is ridiculous, we’ve not been at this for even 45 minute, and my heart is acting up badly. I tell him so and he says my body is just welcoming me back. It is VERY hard to stand up and go down the hall to the rest room. I go back into the room and sit cross-legged on the chair, just FASCINATED with what just happened. I tell Paul in incredible detail about being IN her dying body and he knows EXACTLY what happened, that my real body kicked in to pull me out. It’s actually very reaffirming that we’re completely safe in these journeys. But I’m in AWE of how READY she was to go. We (she and I) were LISTENING/FEELING her heart flutter and flutter and it would have STOPPED. She died alone, I know it. In her bed. She was DONE. But she was in a wonderful space when she died. That’s so good to know.

And it took a few days and a few listen-throughs to realize that the grief I hear as she describes in this helpless, squeaky, failing voice how Rivery REALLY died is not the deep grief she felt when it happened. It is a RUSH of relief at FINALLY telling the story the way it happened. Not a bad thing to do just before she dies.

My sense of the boys is consistent – Robert looks like his father with black hair. Francis looks like one of her parents, with a far broader, almost square face and lighter brown hair. Rivery has a very pointy nose and mid-brown hair. Roger’s hair is black, Catharyna’s hair is darker than mine, though not quite black.

She was very THIN when she died. I most definitely felt my tiny, thin arms very wrinkled and growing cold. her sense of family was very deep and quiet. Her sense of community was HUGE. Maybe that’s what she ‘used’ the Church for….as a place to lay her personal burdens at God’s feet so she could carry on. And it worked.

She and Roger were a GOOD team, but she really came into her own without him. I don’t doubt, now that I’ve felt the uncertainly with which she faced that first trip OUT without Roger that it might have been tempting to marry again, but no one held HER vision for this land. I can see her viewing each suitor as even LESS close to her vision than Roger was (and he certainly wasn’t perfect) I need to get timelines for her guardians…did any of THEM come and advise her after Roger died? Who WERE the available suitors?

She was, during her entire life, a woman in a man’s world. so much younger than her half-siblings, there really was no bonding with any of them; her mother was EXHAUSTED and was all too willing to shuffle Catharyna off with the older ones. Her father leaves her education and estate in the hands of four, wealthy, powerful men. Heaven knows Lady Cornbury was no Motherfigure….and there’s ROGER and she has FOUR SONS. Just men all OVER the place and she learns to ‘keep these things and ponder them in her heart’ (I remember that much from Church).

But now I have the info I so needed. 11 years difference between them. I’m good with that. Now that I’ve got my info, will I ever be able to write the entire book….the blending of the very human story of them, the accurate depiction of the area and time they lived in, and my hunting for them.

By 2005 I move to Oregon to be with MY grandkids and the research is packed in a box and her costume is in a plastic bin on a closet shelf…………………………………

I kept trying to get into the archives that I was sure were stored in her house, but the DAR ladies would have none of it…or me. Upon hearing that the house’s cellar had been given a new concrete floor without any archeological dig had me about done with THEM. I endured a Christmas party at the house listening to a handful of ancient women sing Christmas Carols in the key of screech JUST to spend some time REALLY close to Catharyna’s father’s Grandfather Clock. That came over on a boat way earlier in the 1600’s. Somehow the bottom it looked/felt very familiar as if Catharyna played near it as a small child. I looked in the glass museum case that allegedly contained her belongings and felt very strongly that the doll (a grown up lady doll, not a baby doll) was hers, but the shoes….no. They were guessing. I always found it amusing that the Homestead cat, whose name was Catharyna, hissed at me every time she saw me. What. You see someone standing behind me

At one of the libraries where I was driving the historical librarians quite mad, I came upon a folder that actually had contact info for a few direct descendents of the Brett family. With a whole new surge of enthusiasm, I began writing to them. One returned a very disappointing letter that she had nothing of the family’s as she’d donated it all to the Homestead where she felt it belonged.

Another had a phone number in NYCity, so I got all brave and called, stopping just short of leaving one of those “You don’t know me, but…..” messages on her answering machine. I realized I honestly couldn’t EXPLAIN why I was so obsessed with her family, assumed I must have sounded like a major wing-nut, and figured I’d never hear back from her.

But I did. She was DELIGHTED and called me (just as that strange woman all dressed in black at the homestead that very first day) ‘an answer to a prayer’. She had recently been lamenting that she HAD all this stuff from Roger’s side of the family and nothing was being done with it and she just couldn’t scrape up the energy go write the book.

So back there in 2003 we exchanged a flurry of emails where she told me about going to England and actually visiting Roger’s family’s CASTLE and seeing the coat of arms and how she owns the pewter tray he sent for when he decided to remain in America. Oh, how I wanted to just TOUCH that tray. I figured that she, of ALL people would have the DATE of Roger’s birth. She didn’t. I was astonished. Seems that since Roger was the SECOND SON, he counted for virtually nothing. The first son (that would be Richard) inherited everything and the second son was merely expected to join either the clergy or the military, and records simply weren’t kept on them. Suddenly for Roger to lose HIS first son and watch Francis, his SECOND SON go on to outlive everyone and be the eventual head of the family must have been just life-rattling for him.

Betsy Brett Webster and I kept trying to make plans to meet in person, but somehow just never pulled it off. She was off to ‘summer in the Hamptons’ where she kept a big trunk of family stuff, but somehow we just lost touch…..

I simply could not believe that no one had the year that Roger was born, and therefore, I had no way of finishing the love story here. If he was 25 years her senior, that changes everything. All references I could find merely alluded to ‘quite a bit older’. Catharyna was 16 when they married and 31 when he died.

If any records existed at Trinity Church in NYCity where Roger was a deacon for a few years, they were all destroyed in a fire. This was going to drive me mad.

Another long night of internet research unearthed, of all things, a dictionary of Royal Naval Slang from the later 1700’s and I scribbled pages and pages of notes as now, FINALLY, Roger had a voice. He had phrases. I now knew that HE would have saluted with his LEFT hand every time he stepped off a boat. I knew that the family would have held the superstition that when the glasses on the table start clinking together, it means a sailor is drowning and now I had the ‘scene’ for the suddenly stormy day that he died. I knew that he would have to spend at least 3 years in the Royal Navy before attaining the level of Lieutenant. But the vocabulary was fascinating and kept me up for hours. They had a HALF-HOUR glass and measured time as ‘we should finish in 3 glasses’ which would be 1 ½ hours.

Canteen medals” were food or drink stains down the front of your clothing.

A DUTCHMAN was a German ship, but a HOLLANDER was a Dutch ship.

Pieces of Eight” (I never knew this) were old Spanish silver coins with 8 reals; and each real was worth a sixpence.

A matter of fancy waistcoats” was a nicety of detail of no importance to the major issue.

Floaters in the Snow” were sausages in mashed potatoes.

To “Knock the gilt off the gingerbread” was to spoil the best part of the story (referring to both the bakery cake and the guilded décor on a ship)

Officers wore brown leather gloves, not white.

 The word JURY referred to the Jury-mast and to ‘jury-rig’ means temporary.

Back then, the men would cheer “Hip, Hip, HORRAY” (not hurrah)

If someone is ‘copper-bottomed’ that means they are well-to-do

A telescope was a ‘look-stick’.

The men did not sport mustaches without beards. (who knew?)

They had a drink called a Prairie Oyster which was a morning-after reviver made of Port wine, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper, mustard and the unbroken yolk of an egg.

Way back then they had PERKS…PERQUISITES….allowances that came with the job.

Roger would have called each of his new sons his SPROG, a new entry or new, small son.

This was all just FASCINATING, it would flesh Roger out, but what EVER shall I do about not knowing how much older he was than Catharyna……without that, I just can’t write their story properly……….

In spite of all the disappointment over never getting the caretaker position and not even being allowed to be a docent due to my attitude over JOINING the DAR (did some research, WASN’T pleased with what I found), I worked on her dress for this performance. $100 worth of material and supplies later, I had whatever Butterick felt was an accurate 1700’s ladies’ dress (although I did use strips of mini-blinds for the corset stays as I was really stuck on finding whalebone)


What stalled the whole thing, even though I did wear it out to a “Self-Employed Group”s monthly dinner, was the HAT. The HAT, my research told me, was ALL wrong. For a Dutch woman of her stature, she would never have left the house with that classic little ‘mob cap’ that Butterick had come up with. And SHE, as a widow, would most likely not have worn a WHITE cap. I half-heartedly dove into research on clothing of the early 1700’s but this project was just running out of steam.

So perhaps I never will ‘play’ her. Perhaps the BOOK I need to write is ABOUT not only her life and times, but about my hunting for her. So hunt I did. Nights were spent on the computer pouring over Internet research trails that led me through the streets of New Amsterdam during the time she was living in what is now NYCity. I dug and dug to get a sense of what it was to be raised in a Dutch family, especially as a female. It was VERY different from being French or English. Dutch girls were raised to understand business and keep financial records and think for themselves. This was all important, it made her who she was.

Her father did appoint 4 male businessman guardians for his only daughter child when he died. That alone was pretty remarkable. They were carefully chosen and took an active role in Catharyna’s education from what I could find

At one point I careened over into chasing the Wappingers Indians, with whom she was close, despite the disapproval of her neighbors, to learn just everything about them. (Wappingers meaning “The opossum people” and opossums were often tattooed on bodies or painted on buildings.) While this trail of research strengthened my conviction that the reason we can’t find any record of how Rivery died was that, at the time, there were horrible reports of entire white settlements being massacred by various Indian tribes and if word got out that Rivery died while in the presence of the Indian boys he so often spent time with, there would be dreadful trouble. However, the eldest Indian boy would NOT be the Daniel Nimham who became the best known of the Wappinger chiefs, as Daniel Nimham would have been 5 at the time that Rivery died.

I repeatedly went back to the Henry Cassidy book, “Catharyna Brett: Portrait of a Colonial Businesswoman” where he states early on that he is NOT writing the historical novel. That’s what I wanted to write; the historical novel – the story of THEM, of HER. Not getting all bogged down in land deeds and dates.

So I sat up late into the night on the computer and spent days prowling about Fishkill getting so frustrated that I wanted to tear up all the blacktop with my bare hands to FIND her from 300 years ago.

I spent a lot of time at Denning’s Point which is very near to Fishkill Cove where Roger died. One afternoon, I was standing at the edge of Fishkill Cove, looking at the trails of currents that could be seen through the water vegetation, when I was treated to exactly the sudden, black sky, screaming wind STORM that would have caused the boom to come loose on the sloop and knock Roger into the water with its massive weight. I stood there absolutely wide-eyed as the sky changed, my hair danced every which way and the winds suddenly screamed through the trees ONLY THERE. Everywhere else that I could see the sky was clear, the trees were quiet, and the storm was over in minutes. I left with quite the case of goosebumps.

That same summer, I was able to join a former high school classmate on a trip up the Hudson on his boat. We started at the 72nd street boat basin in NYCity


and boated all the way up to New Hamburg where I was attempting to open a doomed herbal center in a tiny RiverTown that just didn’t WANT me there. Whit and I watched current maps and charts as I tried to figure out why Roger’s body couldn’t be found for entire days. Sure enough, we could see a current that went right from Fishkill Cove out and back to Denning’s Point. We all slept on the River that night. That’s the only time I’ve ever been able to do that and it was wonderful. Rocked to sleep by the mighty Hudson. I awoke right at sunrise to see the colorful, elaborate Sojourner Truth sloop right outside my window.


We felt the eerie silence near West Point where the River becomes frighteningly deep.


All in all it was a wonderful trip, something I just needed to do.

At some point, I also decided to attend a service at HER Church.

So for all the goosebumps I got upon seeing her signature on the Frankfort Storehouse document, THIS was going to have me more in her ~presence~ than anything yet. Folks at the Church immediately spotted a new face and greeted me, I told them I was doing research on Madam Brett for a book and they mostly seemed pleased at that. I slid into a pew on the left side of the Church where I could gaze at the plaque that noted where she was buried. What happened next I was NOT prepared for.

As the congregation began to sing a Hymn, tears began pouring down my cheeks making me very glad I’d tucked myself into a corner on the far left side of the pew. I couldn’t stop them and I had no idea why this was happening. I glanced down at the hymnal in my hands and caught the date that this particular hymn was written – during her lifetime. The next hymns that were sung had so such effect on me and sure enough, checking the dates, they were all written after she’d died.

Again, tears of recognition. This is where research is truly SEARCH.

What does this woman want from me? Why am I being shown things about her?

Yet again, one of those tiny sign-post things happens where I’m just going through research papers and make note of the date…Nov 25, 1703….their wedding anniversary. And as, at the time, it was late November of 2003, this would be their THREE HUNDREDTH Anniversary. I set about immediately to write an article for the tiny local paper hoping to get it in before the fact:

“On November 25, 1703, In Trinity Church in NYCity, 16 year old Catharyna Rombout and Lt Roger Thomas Brett were married, which officially began one of the greatest love stories the Hudson River has known. Although Catharyna’s father died when she was only 4, he left to her a tract of 28,000 acres that under the guidance of herself and her husband would become what are now Dutchess and Putnam counties. She came into possession of this land upon the death of her mother which left her holding exactly nine pence and the deed to a massive piece of land far away, as well as the first of the four sons she would bear.

Catharyna and Roger left the life they knew in NYCity and set out for virtual wilderness, with Roger going ahead for months on end to build their house and a grist mill. The very River that connected them to their former lives in NYCity (a mere five hours’ sail if the wind was good) would eventually become the birthplace of their fourth son, aptly named Rivery. He was born on the River, in a sloop returning from the City when Catharyna was 25.

But that very River that helped to birth their son, took the life of dashing Lt Roger Brett of the Royal Navy a mere six years after Rivery’s birth. In June of 1718, on of those sudden storms blew up (as we all know the Hudson does sometimes) sending the boom of the sloop Roger was sailing back from NY suddenly around and striking him, knocking him off the boat. The River currents took hold of his body which wasn’t found until days later. In spite of heartbreak we can only imagiNe, the 31 year old Catharyna buried her husband in the family plot, in Beacon where South Avenue, Tioranda and Newlin’s Mill Rds all meet. There, he joined their first son, Thomas, who had died at the age of nine.

In 1718 it was unheard f for a woman to stay widowed for more than a few months, especially one with wealth and children to raise,. But Catharyna never married again. She raised her boys and kept her land, ran her multiple businesses, built the First Reformed Church at the intersections of 52 and Route 9 in Fishkill and died in her 70’s a most revered, well-loved and respected woman.

I’ve been investigating her life for a few years now and only just spotted this date again…Nov 25, 1703. As we all stand on what they built together, it seems only fitting that we should make note of their three hundredth anniversary…..all these years later.”

I knew exactly what I was doing here….trying to rekindle some interest in the entire tale, but somewhere within fax problems and having to email the article in, it was never printed. But somehow, I needed to do MORE. By now a friend of mine had bought a house right next to the burial ground, so I had access from his yard. I dressed up because I felt like it, and bought a bunch of white roses to lay on the porch of the homestead mostly to freak the DAR ladies out.

But once again, I wanted to just WALK the burial grounds. THIS time I very much felt a strong pull to the BACK of the property. When I stand there, in my mind’s eye, I see SHAPES of the mourning family members. First I see Catharyna with just Francis and Robert clinging to her as they bury Thomas. Roger stands a few steps away.

Then I see a different shape, with Catharyna standing with her THREE boys clinging to her they bury Roger. I feel the tension in her body as she wants to just collapse with weeping, but must stay the pillar for these three young boys.

And then the final shape. She stands between Francis and Robert, 22 and 20 respectively, both of whom are far taller than she as they bury Rivery. I tell my friend all this and he listens most respectfully. When I leave the burial ground, I bring my roses to the homestead and lay them on the small ‘back’ porch. The Homestead cat hisses at me as she always does…….


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”

Once I had laid the flowers on the place where Roger had been buried, whether the exact spot or not seemed not to matter so very much, I felt I had come to a place where I could put a bookmark. I laid the whole project down and went off to North Carolina to help put together my daughter’s wedding. Although I brought the book with me, and a laptop computer for writing, I found myself in a different enough space that I didn’t do any work on it at all. I had far more pressing things to attend to.

At the end of the three weeks’ visit, the night of the wedding actually, I began to tell an old friend of my new son-in-law’s family about this ‘project’ and found myself getting both of us truly swept up in it. I found myself looking forward to getting back to Beacon and continuing.

I figured my mother’s inheritance money would be waiting for me as would the opportunity, since I had made the DAR ladies such a SPLENDID proposal, to become the caretaker at the Brett Homestead. Neither of those things happened. It seems that the New Regent agreed to pass my proposal on to the Board, but she could pretty well bet that they would take their typically HIGHLY conservative route and choose to keep everything the way it was. She added: “So unless you know something that I don’t, the present caretaker will be staying for the length of his contract.”

I was devastated. They have NO FUNDS for caring for the gardens and I had just offered to DO that for the SAME ‘price’ that they’re paying this young man to NOT do it???? I was willing to do it all for just the roof over my head. I was truly flabbergasted.

I found myself hard-pressed to gear up to the level of obsession with which I searched for Roger’s grave. I did spend an afternoon going through everything at the Beacon Library Local History room, where I finally read the Alice Crary Sutcliffe book. It was interesting how I simply could not stay interested past the point where Catharyna dies. I need to create HER. THEN I’ll deal with what came after. There were two things that struck me in the Sutcliffe book. One was perhaps just a musing on Alice’s part about how surely Catharyna mourned deeply for the death of her youngest son, Rivery, as she buried him IN THE FOREST. I could only assume that Rivery is buried in the same place as Roger and their first son, Thomas, who died of an illness when he was only nine.

The other thing that tugged on me was Alice describing going out into MADAM BRETT’s garden and listing the plants there – a Trumpet Vine and “Seven Sisters” roses in particular. I was MAD to make sure those things are growing on the property, even if the formal garden is the Marion Brinkerhoff Foster garden. I am truly puzzled as to why the Fosters are being honored so, since they were the ones ready to give the house to the wrecking ball simply because they didn’t WANT it anymore. It was the historic preservation people in Beacon who got the attention of the DAR to buy the house and preserve it.

Another thing I found at the library in Beacon was an article written for Ms Magazine back in the early 70’s praising Catharyna Brett as a champion of businesswomen. However this entire article painted Roger, dear Lieutenant Roger of the Royal Navy, as a gold-digging FOOL who just FELL  off some boat. I was INCENSED!!! That’s my HUSBAND they’re talking about! (oops!) I ‘knew’ it wasn’t true. they had painted Roger unfairly. He was a fine man, I’m sure of that, and Catharyna loved him dearly.

Later, I got a book out of the Fishkill Library about the Sloops of the Hudson River. I needed to see just how big a boom might have been at the time. Good God, of COURSE it would have killed him if it had swung around suddenly. the boom was more than half the length of the entire boat. If a fierce wind sent it swinging, absolutely.

But now my obsession is with how Rivery dies.

I found myself, suddenly one morning, sitting down and beginning to write the ‘script’ for this live portrayal. I started out with the actual performance in mind, the setting being myself sitting by her huge fireplace in the original kitchen, with a small audience close at hand and perhaps half an hour to tell the whole amazing story.

So I began it as a very personable, simple narrative. but as I wrote, I suppose one could say it began to get away from me, or more accurately it began to run away WITH me. I just let my fingers type where they wished, and the next thing I knew, entire conversations were evolving among these people. I was in quite the altered state and I typed through tears at the keyboard as I watched what came across my screen:

My name is Catharyna Rombout Brett and I lived here, in this house, a very, VERY long time ago. let me see…..Three Hundred Years ago, I was….yes, 14 years old, living in New Amsterdam as it was called earlier, what you call New York City now. My, my, it was EVER so lovely back then, especially the side of Manhattan Island we lived on. I think you all call it Battery Park now?

Well, back then, I lived in a wonderful, big house with my 7 half-brothers and half-sisters on what is now the corner of Broadway and Rector St. Behind out house was the most wonderful peach orchard that went all the way to the River. When I was much younger, I would play there all the time. I had a special rock I sat on, and I so loved to watch the water change and move. I always wondered what was up that huge River, beyond where I could see.

The first time I went to the River all alone was after my Papa died. I was only 4 years old and not allowed to go all the way to the River by myself, but I was very sad, and felt very alone and the River comforted me. You see, I was the only child of my Papa who had lived. My real brother and sister both died when they were very little (these things happened all the time back then) and all my other older brothers and sisters came from other Papas. But Francis Rombout was just MY Papa and I missed him so terribly. I needed some place to cry. Mama was very cross when she couldn’t find me for so long, and thought I’d run away.

But three hundred years ago, I was a young lady, in beautiful dresses, going to wonderful parties and dinners and church gatherings and it became hard to find time to go to the River just to sit and dream….

We even spent time at the Governor’s mansion, some of my sisters and I. My Papa was the Mayor of New Amsterdam  back in 1679. In a way, we were Ladies in Waiting to Lady Cornbury, the Governor’s wife. She was such an ODD woman! Did you know, that if she came to visit your house, she would simply TAKE anything that caught her fancy? You should have seen the way we would HIDE things if we knew she was coming. Poor thing, she was so very sickly, she died when she was only 34 years old.

But it was during those years, when we would spend time at the governor’s parties, that I met my Roger. Lieutenant Roger Thomas Brett of the Royal Navy. I didn’t fall in love with him right away, I really didn’t! I just watched him, and spoke to him little, and wondered why he had never married at his age. He was lovely to dance with and I did so enjoy his tales of being on the big ships out at sea, and of England and of being in the Navy. But he also listened to me when I spoke, and I cannot say that was true of many of the men there. I suppose it rather surprised me when I realized that I had fallen deeply in love with him. He was a very good man, and a solid man, and by the time I was sixteen, we were married.

We both moved into my mother’s house, there was plenty of room, as my older siblings kept getting married and going out on their own. But when Mama died, and her will was read, she chose to leave me only nine pence – a few coins. Everything else that she had was divided between her six OTHER children from her two OTHER marriages, so none of them had very much either.

What I had, from my Papa, was an enormous piece of land, twenty-eight THOUSAND acres, far away up the Hudson River. But Roger and I didn’t even have the money to MOVE up there, much less build a house, and we couldn’t afford to keep up Mama’s house with all the servants, and by the time Mama died, our first son, Thomas had been born. I didn’t know WHAT we were going to do.

I worried….and Roger THOUGHT. Roger was very smart, and careful and solid. He did what needed to be done. We mortgaged the house on Broadway so we could buy supplies, Roger made sure we knew what part of the Rombout Patent was ours, and oh my…….UP the River we went.

I remember being so excited and so scared at the same time, and I remember clinging to the sleeve of his deep blue jacket. Somehow, Roger was MORE solid on a boat than on dry land. Do you know how long it took to travel from New York up to our property by boat? SOMEtimes as little as FIVE hours if the wind was good.

By 1708, Roger was making that trip up and down the river with men and supplies, building a grist mill and a small house for us. By then, Thomas was 3, Francis was 1 and I was pregnant with Robert!

We arrived late in the year of 1708. Dear me it was different from New york, and I was so very grateful for Peter DuBois and his wife who were our only neighbors. They had lived near Denning’s Point even before we arrived. They were squatters, had just come and settled, but that was fine with us. They were good company and I gave Peter a Life Lease to the land he lived on. Peter raised a fine, large family, helped us to build the mill and the house and was so valuable to everyone who came to live up here. He was our surveyor, a merchant (did you know he used to WALK to New York from up here?), he was a brewer, a cooper and of course, a sloopman. Our son Francis married one of the DuBois girls, Catherine.

And so, in 1709, we built THIS house. People often asked why we didn’t build it RIGHT on the River. Because we KNEW the River and we knew that at times….she can turn truly mean. Sometimes her winds can just push you away. So Roger first thought we should set the house back a bit and when I first set foot on THIS land, I knew he was right.

My Papa was a Walloon. Ever hear of them? He was a Protestant who fled from Holland to this country in 1653. His people spoke Flemish instead of true Dutch and even earlier, when the very first Walloonse arrived her in 1624, they called it New Netherland. Well, these folks knew wondrous things about land, and rocks and minerals; they even built themselves underground houses when they first arrived. My Papa always reminded me that I was part Walloon and could probably find water underground without a rod. I knew what he meant when I first stood on this land. Perhaps that is why this house stands these nearly 300 years later. (well that, and the good DAR ladies saving it from becoming a Supermarket!)

When we first built this house, it had only 4 rooms on this ground floor, there was a kitchen down in the cellar, and the second floor was unfinished. Every one of my descendants who has lived here for 200 more years has made additions and changes to suit the families they raised here. At one point, the front door was facing Fishkill Creek, but later, as the city of Beacon began to grow out THAT way….they turned it around.

But Robert was born that year in 1709, and all of us – roger, myself, Thomas, Francis, baby Robert and out three servants all moved in just in time to celebrate our first Christmas together here.

We DID have slaves. I know that seems terrible to you all now, but that’s the way life was back then. We were good to them and they helped us so much. Samuel was Roger’s manservant and Molly and Coban helped me and the boys.

I am so very glad that Molly was with me that day two years later when Roger and I were to return home from New York on the Sloop. We’d left the boys home with Coban and I was very, VERY pregnant with my fourth child. I remember lying in the cabin of the sloop, listening to the seagulls and feeling the waves rocking and rocking the boat. The rocking was so soothing I must not have felt the contractions starting until the pain began. At first I was terrified that this baby was coming ON THE BOAT!

Roger was so calm. God bless him, and Molly and Samuel hopped right to it as best they could. I remember Molly’s voice saying “Let the River help you, Mistress Brett, let the River help you”. The rocking of the boat did soothe me between the pains and I prayed as hard as I could that the River help me have a healthy baby.

The Mighty Hudson as my midwife – I cried out into her wind, and gave the pain to her depths and pushed out my beautiful baby into her waiting arms. And the River rocked us both when it was done – rocked us BOTH.

Molly went out to get Roger who rushed in and took my hand and kissed me and kissed me with tears in his eyes. We both looked down at this  beautiful child. This beautiful, magical RiverChild.

I laughed and said, “We should call him Rivery.”

Roger laughed, “We SHOULD call him Rivery!”

And Rivery it was. My beautiful boy, born in the middle of the Hudson River.

How surprised the boys were when we walked in that day with this tiny new  baby wrapped in nothing but Molly’s shawl. How many times I had to explain to Robert that we had not BOUGHT him in New York City.

So. Now there were four boys, and us, and new people moving up to our land. I let roger handle the business of running the Mill, and leasing pieces of land to keep the money coming in as I rather had my hands full. And thank the Lord for Molly and Coban, I don’t know HOW I could have managed without them. And Thomas always so sick, poor dear, he just never WAS strong and healthy like the other boys.

The Wappinger Indians were dear and gentle people and good friends of ours. I always told them they could live on our land, undisturbed, just as my Papa had done. The boys played with the Indian children whenever we were invited to go to their villages. They even gave us some of their medicines that winter when Thomas had the fever.

He just wasn’t strong enough to fight it. The other boys had it too, but they got well. Thomas didn’t. He grew weaker and weaker and wouldn’t eat and he died when he was only nine. Roger tried so hard not to let the boys see him cry. I think I cried for both of us. And Roger told me I shouldn’t cry so, for the boys’ sake…”The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. In His WISDOM…” It was time for Thomas to go.

I swore I would never understand why it’s ever time for ANY child to go, but so many people lost children back then, and so often much younger than Thomas. We buried him in our little family plot down where South Street and Tioranda and Newlin’s Mill Rd all meet now. It was very sad and I know the other boys were a little scared. Roger was so good with them. I could hardly contain my grief.

For the next four years, everything GREW. The boys all GREW, the community GREW, and we had begun to actually SELL our land outright instead of just leasing it. When folks only leased the land,  by the law, they could not hand it down to their descendants, because they didn’t OWN it. This caused some folks to not build things or plant big orchards, because the land wasn’t theirs and that seemed wrong. When we sold the farms outright, the people on them seemed so much happier and worked so much harder and really felt like it was HOME.

And jus tEVERYone came to the Mill. folks from across the River, the Indians would come bringing furs and things to trade for meal, there was always someone to talk to down at the Mill. Live was very good.

Although we released the mortgage on the house in NYCity, Roger often went up and down the River to buy things and sell produce for us and bring back news. It was in June of 1718 when he and Samuel went down on the sloop loaded up with our first spring crops. I didn’t go with him as there was SO much to do here at home.

Roger and Samuel were coming back, the next day, when one of those STORMS suddenly blew up the way the Hudson does sometimes. They had made it JUST to the mouth of Fishkill Creek. Samuel told me the sky just turned BLACK and the winds began to scream and everything on the sloop was crashing around and he HEARD a sound in the midst of all this and turned around to see the huge boom of the sloop strike Roger and knock him into the water. Roger was a GOOD seaman, a VERY good seaman, but in a storm like that, the boom can swing around SO suddenly…..

My Roger drowned that day.

Samuel tried and tried, but he could not find Rogers body until the days later when it washed up on the shore. I did not sleep one bit thoses nights. I’ve never prayed so hard in all my life. I’m a devout Christian woman, but that night I prayed to the River itself to please, PLEASE give me my Roger back. DON’T take him from me.

I’ve never seen a man cry the way Samuel did that day. Nor did I ever suspect that my heart could BREAK the way it did that day. The River that birthed my baby had taken my husband. Left me alone with three small boys and all this land, and this mill and all these things I depended on Roger for. But most of all it took the one man I ever loved or ever would love.

I hated the River after that. I stayed away from it. there was no comfort for me there. I tried to find my comfort in Church. I tried and tried to find “His WISDOM” that Roger spoke of after Thomas died. I tried to be strong for my boys. Everyone was telling me to just pack up and move back to New York City.

I looked around at all we had, this whole community, all the people who depended on us, all the things Roger was brave enough to create, and I heard Roger’s voice when we first thought about moving up the River – when we realized we had NOTHING but that land.

I remembered Roger saying, “Well, what do we do NOW?”

It made me laugh then, as he truly expected an answer from SOMEwhere. I remember so clearly the first day we set foot on our land. Roger took my hand as I stepped out of the boat and said to me, “The land will support us, just as we’re standing on it,” And he said that many more times whenever we found ourselves in financial difficulties. He truly believed it.

I found myself now asking the same question, “What do we do now?” And the answer was clear – “You keep ON, you keep on.”

And I did. I had George Clarke to help me with the business dealings, and he helped me a great deal, but this was MY land, and I cared greatly for it. One of the things I so admired Roger for was that as he grew to understand and truly enjoy the business of land-dealings, it was always done not for personal gains, but to give these people the opportunity to make a good life. Roger wasn’t just selling off our land, he was building a community and I swore I would continue. Three hundred years later, it breaks my heart to see that in some places, that has NOT continued along this beautiful River.

Now you MUST understand, my running my businesses was unheard of for that time. No woman had any say in business dealings, ever. I suppose Roger spoiled me, LISTENING to me, and allowing me to speak my mind, and I continued to do so. I was very good with numbers, always had been, and I knew how to treat people fairly. I learned these things from my Papa and from the GOOD men he named as my guardians when he died: William Teller, my grandfather on my mother’s side; Peter DeLaNoy, the mayor of New York at that time; Dr Samuel Staats, a New York doctor who had studied medicine in Holland; and Paul Richards, a wealthy wine merchant and proprietor of Long Island vineyards.

In Dutch households, the girls WERE allowed to learn skills and to listen to business dealings. And so, I took the reins of my businesses, I raised my boys, I kept my house and my land and I kept my broken heart deep within my breast and I smiled again.

However, I never did marry again, and that was considered very foolish for that time. No woman remained a widow for more than a few months, especially one with wealth and children to raise. I spent much of my time in the company of men, I was comfortable among them, but I never needed anyone to take Roger’s place, especially if that meant that a new husband would OWN these lands instead of me. I was well-loved for the 15 years we were married and I needed nothing more. Each of my parents was married three times. I would marry but once.

The winter after Roger died, I gave away most of his clothing to the folks who needed it except one jacket – one favorite wool jacket I simply couldn’t part with. There were times, when I would grow so very lonely and miss Roger so terribly, that I would just need to touch the sleeve of that jacket, as I had so many times when he was still here. I remember clinging to that sleeve the very first time we sailed up the Hudson to our new home, but Roger’s arm was around me.

Roger died in June of 1718. Rivery was only 6, Robert 9, Francis 11. They did love their father so. He called them Admiral, Captain and Sailor, according to their ages. Once, we both stopped dead in our tracks when Roger went down the roster only to have Francis ask, “What does that make Thomas, Papa?”  Roger thought very quickly and said, “the Crown Prince, which has taken him far away.”

And sometimes, I think perhaps we mentioned Rivery’s being born on the River a bit too often, as more than once we’d heard him ANNOUNCE: “I’m Rivery and I was born IN the River!”

Roger would stop him gently with his “Hold on now, there sailor, you’re no Shad fish! You were born ON the River, not IN the River.”

Sometimes I do believe Rivery would make his announcement within earshot of Roger just to get him to recite that answer.

So Roger died in June, and I could not bring myself to sit by the River for the rest of the year. The older two boys felt some fear of the River after their father drowned, but poor little Rivery felt it most of all. The next spring, after a long and very lonely winter, on one of those glorious spring days when everything is waking up, I took the boys for a walk to the River. Rivery would not come, so I allowed him to stay behind with Coban. Molly, Francis, Robert and I went to a favorite spot, where the boys could climb down the rocks and play at the edge of the chilly water a bit. They did what boys do at the River – looked for treasures, and skipped rocks. With Molly watching over them, I sat on my rock and looked out over the water to the barely greening hills on the other side. At first every movement of the water brought back such floods of memories that my heart just ACHED. I thought that perhaps this had been a bad idea.

But with each caress of the waves, the pain in my heart eased. I don’t know how the river does that, but it does. I knew then, that Rivery needs to come and know this. I found myself rocking with the waves ever so slightly and I found myself feeling to be in love. I know Roger is no longer here, but being in love with him is. I left with tears in my eyes AND a smile on my face.

Late the next day, I just asked Rivery to take a walk with me. Not even Molly came with us. Just my little Riverboy and me. We didn’t go straight to the River, we just walked a bit. He is basically a joyous child, always has been, so it breaks my heart all the more to see him still so sad about losing his Papa.

He doesn’t miss a thing, not a bug nor a newly opened flower. He was so busy hopping around that he didn’t even notice that we’d come within view of the River. He stopped and I took his little hand to keep him going. I told him I had a talk with the River yesterday and She wanted to see him. We climbed over the rocks, holding his hand in my one hand and holding my skirt in the other. We sat, and at first he was all curled up, with his arms crossed in his lap.

Finally he threw a stone in the River. Then another. And another. Each throw was angrier than the one before, and though I said nothing, I could see tears welling up in his eyes. Finally he said with all the rage a little boy can summon,

“My Papa drowned in that River! I hate that River!”

He burst into tears with his hands over his face. I pulled him over to me and let him sob his heart out in my skirts. As I rocked him, I pleaded with this River to help me say the right thing. When his tears subsided some, I asked if he remembered what his Papa used to say when he’d tell someone he was born IN the River.

“Papa said I wasn’t a shad fish.”

I nearly laughed in spite of myself. “And what else?”

“Papa said I was born ON the River and not IN it.”

“That’s right. And your Papa was killed ON the River, my sweet boy, not IN it. The boom of the boat killed him.”

Rivery lay with his head in my lap for quite awhile as I stroked his hair and rocked gently. He was looking out over the water. After a bit, without lifting his head, he said simply,

“The River CAUGHT him, Mama.”

I closed my eyes and just let the tears go. I knew he would find his answer. Who knows if it’s true, if Roger could have survived had he not fallen in the water. it didn’t matter. My little boy had an answer that would ease his heart some.

We sat there all the way until the sun went down. We watched that River on the River, that trail of light that grows thinner and deeper and more orange as the sun sets. As soon as the sun dipped below the hills, we got up and hurried back to the house before the sky lost its light too.

I didn’t have to say anything to Molly and Coban and Samuel when we came back, they could see that all was well.

As the years went by, the boys continued to grow, Francis and Robert quite tall like their father, Rivery a bit shorter like me. I schooled them at home as was done for me, we all attended Church each Sunday, and they helped with the farm., Our house seemed always full of people – visitors, people come to the Mill, the Wappinger Indians. Not everyone agreed with my letting the Indians come into my house as they pleased, but they were very gentle and good company and I was so fascinated with the way they could weave and spin and make things differently than we did.

We added a saw mill to the grist mill and I took great satisfaction at how that helped the settlers with their building. I always laughed whenever I heard someone say “All Roads lead to Mistress Brett’s Mill”.

Did you know that NO ONE called me MADAM Brett while I was alive? It was always Mistress Brett and sometimes Widow Brett, but my descendents made me MADAM Brett.

Although I greatly appreciated George Clarke’s help in making land sales when I needed to, after awhile I began to do them entirely on my own. I certainly knew how to do this by now. I made sure that boundaries were clear, and because I found the owning of land to be such a fine, personal, life-building prospect, I made sure that my own wishes for the new owners were added to the dry and boring deeds that were drawn up. At first the men laughed at me, but I stood my ground.

Yes, the years went around and everything grew. The trees we planted were so much taller than they were, there were more boats upon the River, more merchants, more people in the churches.

Two years before Roger died, construction began on the Dutch Reformed Church in the middle of Fishkill. We had donated the land for the church to be built, and it took seven years to complete. We could have put it closer to OUR house or closer to the River, but we had so many friends farther to the north and east, this seemed like a good location. After awhile, folks began to call the road, what you call Route 52, Mistress Brett’s Road as it ran from my house to my church. Going to church was very important to me. VERY important. Before this church was built, I used to cross the Hudson River by canoe to get to the Lutheran Church across the River, back when it was the only Church around.

Somewhere between the Church and the River was all the strength I needed to carry on. There was much to need strength for. Winters were hard, doctors were few, and could only be summoned if someone went to FIND them. When sickness hit, there was always the fear that someone would not survive.

The small children were most at risk, so if you could get them past being eight or nine or so, you felt pretty confident that they’d live to be adults, especially if they were strong and healthy to begin with. So that year, when Francis was 22, Robert was 20 and Rivery was 17…………………………………..

I stopped RIGHT THERE.

I simply would not continue. I realized I was ‘setting up’ the next story to have Rivery die just as Thomas had, but I just don’t buy it. There’s no way. Rivery was STRONG. He wouldn’t just NOT recover from some general illness. And yet, if it had been something DRAMATIC or truly TRAGIC, don’t you think something would have been WRITTEN about it??? This was the most well-known, well-loved, revered woman in the entire area.

Back to the library…The town historian found a hand-written letter, obviously dated MUCH later, that described in relatively horrifying detail how a brother eventually died of lockjaw from merely having fallen on a rusty barrel nail by the other brother who witnessed his death.

But no. While I suppose that’s possible, it STILL doesn’t feel RIGHT………………….


I am not sure that anyone acknowledges tears of recognition – tears of certainty – but I certainly do.

My elation at being able to purchase the orange booklet I’d been taking notes from at the library for a mere $20 plus tax, (the Portrait of a Colonial Businesswoman one by Henry Cassidy) was offset by seeing the ‘map’ Evelyn had as soon as she entered the Homestead. It was of the location OF the cemetery, not where Roger is buried IN it.

And I’d bought flowers and everything.

I tagged along on one of the house tours and was astonished and delighted to go up the stairs from the kitchen to the old upstairs. There WAS Madam Brett’s saddle (in a totally climate uncontrolled, very HOT room); and in what they now call the sewing room were a number of spinning wheels and there, on a wicker dress form, was The Flaming Red Cape.  No one knows for sure that Catharyna actually DID tear about on horseback wearing THIS Flaming Red Cape, but the sign on the cape said that it ‘belonged’ to a grand daughter. The dates given said the grand daughter was born in 1765, the year AFTER Madam Brett died, but that it may have been passed down to her. What was notable was that it was made ENTIRELY on this property – sheep to fleece to yarn, to dying, to weaving, to the very thread. How beautifully the color has held up. The hood is lined with shredding satin, probably, but the rest was entirely unlined, unfaced and minutely and flawlessly whip-stitched for every inch of the edge. I simply HAD to touch it and found it INSANELY scratchy! But the mere sight of this was incredibly exciting. So too was being told that a few of the cupboards in the old kitchen actually WERE hers. Again, I needed so much to TOUCH the well-worn places that centuries of touches had worn down so. I know there are seven generations to be honored here, and that a good number of the objects are not ‘native’ to the Homestead at all – just donated by other families to add to the museum. But all I was interested in at the moment was HER.

Again, as has happened already so often, a woman appears, quite by chance. She just randomly came for the Sunday tour, but it JUST so happens that she owns the old brick house directly across the road from this old burial ground I’ve been visiting. She runs home and comes back with copies of newspaper letters to the editor adding what locals seem to ‘know’ about that cemetery (and also expressing their dismay that is is so uncared for). These are from 1997, and one is SO wrong that it speaks of a house that madam Brett built for her DAUGHTER (when we know she never had any girls at all). It may merely be a typo, having neglected to say GRAND daughter.

But one line strikes me regarding Roger’s death:

“His remains were found after several days and carried by boat up the creek to the family burial ground.” – what struck me at the moment was Catharyna suffering so from the HOPE that the River might NOT have taken him – that he might still be alive and then to find him agonizing DAYS later. This is truly heart-shattering.

So, disappointed  and frustrated again, I leave, busy convincing myself that it doesn’t really matter if I can be sure of the exact SPOT where Roger’s remains lie beneath the ground. It is enough to know that the act of Laying Him To Rest happened THERE. I will bring my roses to that place, it’s enough.

And so over I go, again in long pants and high red rubber boots against the poison ivy with my two lavender roses from which I have removed all the 21st century wrapping and water tubes.

I wade once again into the woods and just go up to the LEAST marked of the stones that have had wooden crosses added to them. It doesn’t matter if this is Roger’s STONE. As I stand there looking down at the roses, I KNOW I’m in the right spot, at least ON the right piece of land, and that IS enough.


I don’t stay long for GLARING at the caricature of suburbia whose lawn machinery RACKET is grating on my nerves a few houses down. Armed with the property map, I try to figure the actual boundaries of this burial ground, am pleased to see good, healthy Motherwort plants growing along the road’s edge, but am so distressed at the broken bottles, the shrub branches and the chunks of blacktop that have been thrown here. Evelyn so bemoaned just NO FUNDS to buy fencing for this place. I simply can’t imagine that a post and chain fence could be so very expensive.

It all seems pretty anti-climactic, I just needed to do this for me (and I guess for THEM) and I go back to my car, hoping to connect eventually with this David Miller that Evelyn mentioned who has been working on this place.

The road that curves around this burial place splits at a fork. Twice now, I have taken the lower fork, a dreary road that parallels the train track, beyond which lie dead and crumbling factory buildings and too many cats. Today, even though it sports a sign that says NO OUTLET, I take the OTHER fork. I go down a hill and around a small curve and am met with a view of the Hudson that simply makes me burst into tears – just stop the car and cry. I KNOW what I am looking at. I KNOW this is the right place. “They brought his body up by boat….” Of COURSE they did. Right from HERE.

What I’m not prepared for is the fact that I cannot seem to STOP crying. I drive slowly through small populated streets with my hand over my mouth so perhaps no one will notice. They’re not sad tears, not even happy tears. That’s all I can call them – tears of recognition.

But now I REALLY need to be alone. I REALLY need to go back to my bench by the River and write. I managed to dash back to the house and change out of my boots and grab my new book and clipboard and water bottle and zip off to the park undetected. I’m not ready to talk to anyone just now. Knowing it’s always cooler by the River, I grab my jacket, but once I get there, I leave it behind as the car has warmed a lot.

At first I’m unhappy that the end bench is occupied and the side bench is in the shade just now, but within a few minutes I realize the end bench is facing due West and the sun is absolutely blinding on the water. I begin to scribble furiously, oblivious to all the activity around me, although I’m a little surprised that there are so many people here at dinnertime.

The RiverWind turns rather suddenly cold and blustery. I feel pretty foolish not to have KNOWN that it would at this time of day. As I’m writing, I’m thinking about how one of the first things I puzzled about was that the Brett Homestead was not ON the River. didn’t even have a VIEW of it. They probably knew more than I do when they chose the location for the house. This River can get suddenly cold and mean.

I also thought back to the conversation I had with the florist in Pawling when I bought the roses on Saturday about the Stone Dwellings. He told me how the Celts were the ones given credit for having brought stone-cutting and vibrational location skills to other civilizations, and how the underground stone dwellings all over Putnam and Dutchess counties are very like ones found in the MOST ancient parts of Europe and actually, all over the world. I remembered reading about how Catharyna’s father in some references is identified as a Walloon, in others, a Hugenot. But if her father was indeed a Walloon, they did live below ground when they first got here a mere handful of years after the Pilgrims did. I found myself wondering if Catharyna had inherited any of her father’s innate abilities to find vibrationary locations. It is noted that she kept the mineral rights to all the land she sold, where would she ever have gotten THAT idea?

But mostly, at this point, I found myself getting truly cold and clutching my clipboard against this new RiverWind that had suddenly changed the color of the water, the texture of the water, the MOVEMENT of the water and was intent on driving me away. The River definitely calls the shots. That’s something ELSE I’m sure of.

When I do return home at the end of the day, all chilled and tired, the small boy who lives in the same house pops over the fence of the deck and asks in all seriousness…..“LadyB, did you FIND Roger?”

Today I am obsessed with finding Roger’s grave. I have to. Pure and simple. I begin to hit dead ends with  calling Evelyn, who, when I finally GET her, says she’ll give me a map of the cemetery on Sunday that shows me where Roger is buried. She doesn’t tell me where the cemetery is.

Early this morning I asked the woman at the deli if she knew Beacon. She answered proudly that she’s lived here all her life. People really DO live here, I’ve found….anyway, she begins puzzling about really OLD cemeteries and says if I just go down Washington and take that LEFT fork (that’s real near to where I live) that road will take me way up behind the obvious cemetery and there’s an old one up THERE. But then, if I take Liberty Ave off of Washingtnon the OTHER way, there’s another old one out THERE. Those are the only two she knows of. I’m feeling really confident that I’ll just FIND it.

I am JUST heading out the door when Kim appears, ready to go off PLANT hunting at a nursery. Hmmmm. Best we get the plant hunting done first before her three year old melts down for lack of a nap. So off we go. I see things I want to plant of Roger’s grave, but not having a clue as to where it is, it’s foolish to buy anything….but I do anyway. I buy a white Moth Mullein, as I know it will survive just about anything and leave wondrous seed stalks standing.

We come back, I check messages and emails, there’s a message from Evelyn that she has some information for me, but she’s not there when I call back. That’s OK, I really want to do this myself.

Off I go, take that left fork and begin winding my way up and around. I am seeing NOTHING remotely resembling any cemetery. WAY up at the very top of East Main Street, I come upon a guy washing his four-wheel motorbike thing. I begin to ask him about old cemeteries….REALLY old. He tells me about Fairview, but it isn’t even really a cemetery, just a bunch of old headstones, but he’s never seen anything from the 1700’s, just mid 1800’s and he’s been going through there since he was a kid. (I TOLD you people really do live here) But when I explain Evelyn’s bemoaning the lack of care of THIS particular cemetery, he begins to talk about the ‘dummy light’ in Beacon…..ah yes, THAT one – an ODD blinking light right after you go over these train tracks and everyone is supposed to go AROUND it…THAT light. Well, he says to turn RIGHT there and go to Verplanck Ave and turn left onto that (you’ll see some historic bar that has had the FOR SALE sign in it forever….) and stay on Verpklanck past the school and then you’ll get to Brett Ave…..OK, now THAT sounds truly promising.

And off I go again. Verplanck Ave never seems to have a Brett Ave crossing it, but when I see Walnut Street I begin to think the DeliWoman may have mentioned something about that. I have a car on my tail and miss Walnut, but manage to double back through side-streets. I’m about to give up, having seen nothing but houses RIGHT next to each other with little postage stamp yards.

I’m coming to another intersection and truly do not know which way to turn. I just RELAX – stop TRYING so hard…..and look up. There, RIGHT across the next intersection is a sorry-looking old cemetery…..Bingo.

I pull my car over, get out my camera and start walking. There are SO many broken stones, missing stones, stones with writing so faded that I simply cannot tell what they say at all. Most of the stones I CAN read are from the mid-1800’s. I am just beginning to  get discouraged that I am NOT going to be able to find Roger’s grave when I come upon a monument, rather than a stone, with the name BRETT at the bottom


– an obelisk, with a separate top on it, but not Roger’s name. Just BRETT at the bottom and a B at the top….there IS writing on three sides of this obelisk, but try as I do, I simply cannot READ it. I try and try to read the beautiful script, but it’s too worn, too faded.


I even try to ‘read’ it by running my fingers over it, but I can feel microscopic crumbs of stone coming off on my fingertips and I know that I MUSTN’T do that, but still I MUST.

I begin to grow very, VERY sad…these stones just will not TALK to me. There ARE three stones to the right of this monument, or foundations for stones, anyway.Image

One is missing altogether, one has a stone atop it, but the name seems to be HARRIET BRETTImage

….which makes no sense to me, and the third stone as well is just missing. There is a stone flush with the ground on which I can see the name BRETT, and I’m almost ready to say DAUGHTER….but I just can’t read it. A whole section of that stone is missing too. I MAY just be looking at a whole wrong generation here. I just don’t know, and THAT is making me sad. I would have been happy to find Roger’s grave, to care for it and plant something there, but I just don’t know WHAT I have found. And that is terribly sad. I wanted to KNOW. I wanted to feel it just by BEING there. I want the monument to be for Roger and the three stones to be their three sons, but nothing will tell me.

I take photos and eventually leave, sad and discouraged. It’s dreadfully hot today for early May.

I come back home, help Kim and Jyasi plant the herb beds and finally go in to call Evelyn back around 6. This INFORMATION is merely that the aerial photography couldn’t be done of the Homestead today as it was so hazy, so it’s on for Monday in which case, if I was planning on doing anything with the gardens, that would NOT be the day to do it. They don’t want any cars on the property. But while I’ve GOT her, I tell her that I think I found the cemetery on Walnut Street. No, she says kindly, you couldn’t be farther from it. Wrong side of town. However, she isn’t aware that there seem to be Brett stones in there and certainly Harriet Brett rings no bells with her. I ask her to explain where the cemetery is that she KNOWS Roger is buried in. She explains about the intersection of Wolcott and Teller, then turn on Sargeant, then onto South Ave and past the radio station building., Count three or four houses and it’s right on the bend in the road. Fortunately, she warns me not to expect an actual cemetery and to not to expect to be able to SEE the stones as they’re really BURIED. It’s really sad, but when the folks in that neighborhood clean out their OWN yards, they dump the debris on THAT piece of property.

Again, she expresses her dismay that it never has been cared for, marked off; there are 150 DAR members in this chapter, but only a handful do the work.

Well, now I’m ALL excited again and my disappointment from this afternoon vanishes as I announce to Kim and Jyasi that I am OFF TO LOOK FOR ROGER! I take all the turns Evelyn tells me, but all I see past the 3rd house are woods. I go AROUND that bend, see that it is Newlin Mill Road, which is promising as one other source said it was near the Newlin Homestead. I turn around and come back up the hill and notice orange flagging tape in the woods with wooden crosses inside. At the foot of the wooden cross I see a PORTION of a headstone. This can’t be IT! PIECES of headstones buried in the woods? Now I’m REALLY discouraged. I get out of my car, peer at the first one I see…it says Stephen, possibly Kessler, and the date is 18-something.,…oh no. I see a few more headstones marked this way but I truly CANNOT get to them as the entire piece of land is well-guarded by Poison Ivy.

I am determined to find Roger and so I drive all the way home, don baggy long pants, socks and my high rubber boots and drive back. I wade into the poison ivy and can read NOTHING of the other two stones. There is one stone lying flat towards the back that is for Marta, wife of Martin Wiltse who died in 1797 at the age of 33…but that’s still nearly 80 YEARS after Roger.

I can see places where someone else has pushed aside the myrtle that carpets the dry ground to expose a very natural looking stone, not truly looking like a proper headstone at all. There are quite a few of those. I even try to do some ‘testing’ as I stand at each of these, but with each one, my body pushes back, telling me NO. I am growing more discouraged and sad by the minute. I so wanted to FIND him. I really feel that he’s here SOMEwhere and Evelyn has a map that will tell me for sure, but I SO wanted to find him myself.

But this is WOODS. The floor of the forest builds upon itself. Everyone buried here is buried deeper and deeper with each passing year., Roger was buried 283 years ago. He’s way more than SIX FEET UNDER. How am I EVER going to find him? I wander and wander, scuffling around in the weeds. I’ll never find him like THIS, he could be ANYwhere.

But I feel a tremendous sadness here. I keep getting flashes of this young widow with three young boys, the eldest of which is only 11. Catharyna was 16 when she married Roger and 31 when he died. I still don’t know how old HE was, but they were married for 15 years, nearly half her life. And suddenly he’s gone.

I may, in my reading tomorrow, find out that she’d leave the boys with the servants and come and talk to Roger alone. Or just come and lay flowers at his grave. I am quite sure she is NOT pleased with her love’s grave being unrecognizable now, far beneath a dumping ground for suburban scruff.

The whole concept of her not re-marrying at a time when no woman in her right mind would remain a widow for more than a few months, either points to incredible stubbornness, or to truly loving him. I have a feeling she did not want to do what her mother did, which was to Marry Again just in order to support her seven children. Catharyna’s parents were each married THREE times.

I stayed in the woods until the light was truly fading, trying to go wherever my body was pulling me, but I could not find him. Now I will have to wait ’til Sunday when Evelyn says she will give me a map that will tell me EXACTLY where Roger is buried. Looking at this, I can’t imagine how anyone could know for sure. After all these years, all these CENTURIES, he could be under one of those huge old trees.

But no, if Catharyna’s ghost is anywhere around Beacon, she’s NOT pleased about this. And if I possibly can, I will whatever it takes to honor where her love is buried.

I like to think that her eventual dashing sense of style, the uncharacteristic flair she possessed for a woman of her time came from having been well-loved and simply not needing ANOTHER man. She’d had Roger’s love for the 15 years before the River took him and that was all she needed, although I still cannot imagine how she ever managed to bury Rivery without Roger by her side.

Just can’t imagine.

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……

I was like a little kid that Sunday morning, all antsy, waiting for one o’clock. NOW I was going to GET somewhere. It takes me perhaps five minutes to get over to the Brett Homestead from here and I was headed for my car at 25 to. I MADE myself stop.

I STILL got there about 10 to 1, walked around the back of the house and saw a woman sitting on one of the two, small back porches. She greeted me with a smile, I assumed she would be Laura the incoming Regent. She was all dressed in black, which seemed odd for this early-warm, sunny day at the end of April. Her hair was short and black, her face very full and round and she wore a simple pendant around her neck. She almost looked like a modern-day nun. She introduced herself, but her name escaped me immediately. She explained that she SAW that this was an historical site and wondered about the garden she saw in the back.

I looked out over the garden that I was only looking OVER for the second time and pronounced:

“It’s not HER garden, I can FEEL that.”

Although she agreed, she seemed to know nothing at all about the house, the family or certainly about Madam Brett at all. That’s all *I* needed to hear. I realized by her dress that she certainly wasn’t here for the Knotweed Obliteration Project (nor was anyone else yet), so I LAUNCHED into my STORY of how I was finding out so much about this astonishing woman. She hung on my every word, going wide-eyed every time I’d speak in CAPITAL LETTERS the way I do. She kept exclaiming “You’re the answer to a PRAYER!” (what an odd thing to say).

Eventually we were joined by another woman who turned out to be Laura and when this woman in  black exclaimed that I’d been entertaining her with such a vivid HISTORY of the house I felt, for the first time, like an intruder. I immediately introduced myself, figuring Laura would have heard from Diane that I was the one who wanted to PLAY Madam Brett and she softened some.

Laura offered how the small porch where we were sitting used to be the FRONT of the house (and the other PorchWoman and I agreed wholeheartedly that this FELT like the front of the house). One of the descendents, upon realizing that the town was being built over THERE changed THAT to the front of the house. Interesting.

Again this woman in black introduced herself to Laura and AGAIN her name slid right out of my head. By now some of the Knotweed Obliteration Squad had appeared and I announced to Laura that due to vast amounts of poison ivy in the woods I had volunteered to get into THIS garden and she was perfectly pleased. I walked out to begin, and the very next time I looked up the woman dressed in black from the porch was gone. No goodbye, no “It was so nice to meet you”, no coming to look at the garden, just GONE.

My first chore in this garden was to extract last year’s dried and fainted-over-the-support-hoops foliage from this spring’s new and tender peony growth. It was like a cross between surgery and pick-up sticks. Tedious stuff, but satisfying when it was done. Everything looked all brand new and ready for blooming. More tedium came from trying to judge the onion grass from the grape hyacinths, both were EVERYWHERE.

I have to say, I was amazed at my own energy. Laura eventually called us in to take a break and only then did I realize that HOURS had gone by and I’d barely blinked.

Another woman came by to talk to me after she spoke with the caretaker boy. I had HEARD that our caretaker here might be ATTACHED to someone in the organization, and the closeness of their conversation led me to believe that THIS might be the connection. I came to be introduced to Evelyn, the head of Housekeeping, who lives very nearby. She spoke rather sadly of how the funding for this garden’s care has just dried up and how they TRIED to clean out one of the other beds….we looked out over the garden which was just a sadly neglected-looking mess.

I told Evelyn what I was hoping to do by way of portraying Madam Brett and she was just delighted. I BEGGED her to TELL me what became of Rivery and she squinted and tapped herself upon the head, saying she KNEW once, but had forgotten. She shook her head and thought it might have been an illness, and infection of some sort. Then she went RIGHT on to rather explain to me that they didn’t have antibiotics back then and they were probably lucky not to have lost the entire family to it! Anyway, she certainly seemed pleased to have me in the garden and when Laura saw us talking, she came right out and took some photos of us working in the garden. I asked Laura at that point if there were ANY pictures of Catharyna at all. She said no. Nothing. No drawings, no paintings, absolutely nothing. Just one painting of a great-granddaughter. I laughed and said that we’ll just have to ASSUME that she looks JUST like me! Laura laughed and said that now, as least they have MY photo!

I spoke some more to Evelyn, told her about the Brett headstones I saw in fishkill. She said they know where Roger is buried, but (and she got a truly pained look on her face) they just can’t GET to cleaning up his grave and it’s SUCH a mess. (sounds like a field trip to me!) Of COURSE I should go clean up Roger’s grave…..SHE would have.

Our break had us going into what Laura calls The Ladies’ Kitchen with it’s wonderful LOW ceilings and huge ceiling beams. We all drank instant iced tea and there was some activity around a tin of cookies. Tea and cookies, this IS the DAR, after all. The next room over, utterly closed off except for doors with windows in them was HER kitchen. I caught my breath again. The fireplace was SO huge you could nearly walk into it. The room, of course, was set up like a museum, with large wooden shoes set carefully on the floor. There is a sweet spinning wheel off to the side. Laura pointed out that the original floor was brick and we don’t know when they changed it to wood. She called this the ‘working’ kitchen and noted that the Bretts DID have slaves. Immediately my head goes in a dozen directions, seeing black women in those white colonial caps cooking at this fireplace – perhaps Madam Brett never cooked at all. Perhaps she had a slave-woman with her on the sloop who helped to birth the baby. That’s pretty possible.

Laura is more intent on getting application/genealogy worksheets into my hands for me to apply for membership. Another younger woman is sure one of her aunts was a member, which I believe makes her eligible as well, so Laura gets another worksheet for her. She asks us both if we want to come upstairs with her. Now we see how the house has truly become a hybrid museum. Each room displays some ‘collection’ from a different era. The bedroom we pass with the costumed dress form in the corner and the sweet blue and white bed with arched canopy is the Slocum room. This family never lived here at all, just donated everything in the room from Craig House, the psychiatric center elsewhere in Dutchess that is closed now.

As Laura can see that I am enjoying the sweeping stairway we come down, she advises that THAT was changed too. She gives us the name of WHICH descendent re-built the stair way, WHICH one added the oddly ornate moldings to the ceilings….each family was intent on modernizing the house as they took possession. I asked which part would be the most ORIGINAL and she said the KITCHEN was always built first.

After the break, I’m back out in the garden for a few more hours, knowing I MUST come back during the week, I’m barely making a dent here.

By 4pm Laura is ready to pull in the troops, but the Knotweed Gang out in the woods must be able to see light at the end of the tunnel and wants to FINISH (as if you can ever use the word FINISH in the same sentence with KNOTWEED). Evelyn and I had that discussion too, when she was saying some other women were talking about just getting the garden DONE. Evelyn and I sighed and joined forces in the concept that a garden is never, EVER “done”. That was probably a really good place to join forces with Evelyn, if it comes to my becoming the caretaker. I’m glad she understands that.

The longer I worked in those gardens, the more I saw the huge need for some consistency. Too many hands have been making too many decisions and it shows. I may be releasing the poor peonies from last year’s foliage, but who will deadhead all those tulips? I wailed back all the Out Of Control Montauk daisies, but who will pinch them all summer so they’re not flopping all over again by next fall? Already I’m noticing that if we don’t get some rain SOON, SOMEBODY is going to have to get out here with a hose before things start suffering. I know from my days as an estate gardener, THAT takes someone who checks EVERY DAY. Someone willing to water FIRST and THEN go start their day. I sure hope I can pull this off.

I leave that Sunday a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to get AT any of the archives. But as Laura is ready to leave, I tell her I’ll come back during the week and just make sure the garden is at least PRESENTABLE for the first tour on Sunday. She’s very grateful for that.

Already I notice how much less exposed this back/front yard feels from the very first time I saw it, now that the trees are leafing out…..

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November 09