THE 12.7-ACRE CEMETERY that surrounds the Reformed Dutch Church of Claverack, which celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2017, is a historically significant destination for the living, to the extent that it features its own self-guided walking tour. Visitors will come upon the graves of people such as General Samuel Blatchley Webb, who was George Washington’s aide-de-camp and a hero of the battles of Bunker Hill and Brandywine in the Revolutionary War, or William and Elizabeth Clum, parents of John Phillip Clum, an Indian Agent in 1874 when he led the capture of Geronimo without a shot being fired. Sergeant Joseph Robsky is also buried there. He was a demolitions specialist who was killed in 2003 as he attempted to defuse an improvised explosive device in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On Thursday, May 27 there was an unveiling of a newly fabricated stone for a Revolutionary War veteran who died in 1802. It is inscribed with the name of General Robert Van Rensselaer. Born at Fort Crailo December 16, 1740, he was named for his maternal grandfather and was the great grandson of Killiaen Van Rensselaer a founder of the Colony of New Netherland, which encompassed a good portion of the northeast United States. General Robert Van Rensselaer fought at Fort Ticonderoga in the battle of Kock’s Field. In his civic life, he was a member of the New York Provisional Congress and the New York State Assembly.
Gathered to celebrate the event were local historians and church trustees and representatives of the Daughters and Sons of the American revolution. The historian who brought the threads of this story together is Sal Cozzolino. He addressed the little gathering, quoting from an account of Van Rensselaer’s funeral originally published in a Hudson Paper called the Bee on September 21, 1802.
“The following is the order of the procession at the funeral of General Van Rensselaer, interred at Claverack last week:
Capt. Hogeboom’s Troop of Horse.
Music playing the dead march, drums muffled.
Captain Hathaway’s company of light infantry, with arms reversed.
Captain Jenkins’s Company of artillery.
Military officers of the division.
The clergy and attending physicians.
The CORPSE, the pall supported by 12 officers of the division.
Judges and officers of the Court of Common Pleas of the county.
The mayor and corporation of the city of Hudson.
Citizens and strangers.
A detachment of the artillery, placed near the grave, fired minute guns during the procession, and the infantry fired three vollies [sic] over the body when deposited. The whole was conducted with decency and solemnity becoming the occasion.”
The stone and new awareness of its namesake has another story. Years ago, when Mr. Cozzolino was town historian and church cemetery superintendent, hewas contacted by two different people, one from Texas and another in California, who were doing research and had read an account of Van Rensselaer’s burial in Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery in Claverack.
“They were looking for a photo of the Van Rensselaer stone and I couldn’t find it,” Mr. Cozzolino said.
And he couldn’t find a record of it. “But I knew that one of the previous superintendents had the church records at his house, and when he died, they were all thrown in the dumpster.”
“It makes sense that he would be buried there; his father donated the land for the church, which was built in 1767, and three of his children are buried there,” he said.
So with a bit of sleuthing through newspaper and published accounts, he found the notice of an elaborate funeral procession in Claverack, and that the original burial location was near the wall of the church. Mr. Cozzolino also knew that the church walls were extended in 1845, causing him to speculate that the original burial site was subsumed in the foundation of the church.
It was Columbia County’s Director of Veterans Services Gary Flaherty who facilitated the fabrication of an official veteran’s stone.
‘It makes sense that he would be buried there.’
Sal Cozzolino, Claverack
Former town historian
Mr. Cozzolino presented Mr. Flaherty with his research which Mr. Flaherty forwarded to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. The department conducted a search through its own records and corroborated the information with one difference: Van Rensselaer had been promoted from brigadier to major general.
In addition to Mr. Cozzolino’s account of the creation and placement of the marker, the dedication ceremony for the General Robert Van Rensselaer monument on Thursday featured comments by church board Chairman James O’Neill, an invocation and Pledge of Allegiance by DAR Chaplain Margie Laurie, and an account of the life of General Van Rensselaer by Claverack current town historian, Jeane LaPorta.
As a representative of the Sons of the Revolution, Elliott Bristol obtained a brass Revolutionary War flag holder.