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Indulging somewhat in speculation, I can not refrain from saying, if Mr. Hammond's account of the whole number elected be right, it is fair to presume that the nine absentees were anti-federalists, unless they were kept away by some other cause than voluntary absence.
There is no doubt the Colonel was a great admirer of good horses, desired to possess those of the best blood and most improved breed, and if he did loiter a little from his place in the convention to indulge his fancy in examining Baron Steuben's stud, his vote could not have defeated the ratifying resolution had he been present. If we may now judge him by all the characteristics of his life he was the last man in the convention to swerve in the least from opinions once formed.
His friend, Governor George Clinton, was reelected in 1789, but his adherents were defeated in every direction, showing that the Governor had a strong hold in the confidence and affections of the people, and could stand up against the influence of a powerful party at home backed by all the influence of the general government, then directed by Alexander Hamilton.
Upon the organization of this county in 1791, Colonel Staring was appointed first judge of the court of common pleas, by Governor Clinton, which office he held many years. By the constitution of 1777, first judges of counties held their places during good behavior and until sixty years old. The selection of laymen for the bench at that early day in the history of the state was not unfrequent, and especially for the courts of common pleas, and even one of the justices of the supreme court organized soon after the adoption of the constitution, was not a lawyer. I allude to John Sloss Hobart, who held the office of United States senator, from this state, from January to May 1798.
Many amusing and curious anecdotes are still remembered and repeated of Judge Staring's mode of administering justice during his judicial career. He was an honest, straightforward man, but he entertained very peculiar notions of his powers and duties as a judge. Some of his decisions while on the bench were considered by the lawyers rather in the light of judicial novelties, than as chiming in exactly with common law precedents. The country was new, however, and the demands of justice comparatively small. He no doubt performed the duties of his station, notwithstanding his limited knowledge of legal principles and restricted elementary education, with quite as much success, and with as much satisfaction to the suitors and the public as many have done who filled like stations, at far later periods in the history of our country.
The story of the Yankee Pass, the fame of which had reached the farthest bounds of New England more than forty years ago, and which I heard repeated west of the Mississippi river in 1819, is no doubt familiar to most of the people in the county, and particularly to those of German extraction. I have been frequently told the whole story was fabulous, and got up to amuse our primitive fathers of the valley at the expense of the judge, or by some one envious of his promotion to such honors; for it must be remembered that no longer ago than the close of the last century the county was not exempt from party strife, nor destitute of men who felt themselves competent to fill any office in it within the gift of the people or government. Stripped of all embellishment, the story, as told, has this extent and no other. One Sunday morning the judge saw a man, on horseback, coming along the highway from the west, and presuming that no one would venture openly to violate the laws of the state, unless justified by the exceptions named in the statute, he asked the man to stop, and seeing he was a stranger, inquired of him reasons why he was thus disregarding his duty and the requirements of the law. The stranger, who is reported to have been a New England Yankee, did not excuse his conduct to the judge's satisfaction, and declining to stop over until the next day, the latter exacted the payment of the fine of six
York shillings imposed by the statute, for the infringement of this branch of it.
After paying his fine, the traveler asked the judge to give him a certificate to that effect, urging the necessity of it to protect him against being again called to account by some other magistrate. The judge had no doubt heard of dispensations and indulgences from the lips of his parents. He thought the request reasonable, and told the traveler to write one and he would sign it. This was done, and the stranger proceeded on his journey eastward. Some few months after this occurrence, the judge having occasion to visit the Messrs. Kanes, merchants, at Canajoharie, on matters of business, was requested by them to pay an order of twenty-five dollars which he had several months before drawn on them, as appeared from the date. It is said he was much surprised by this demand made upon his purse, and at first denied having given the order, but finding the signature to be his handwriting, and making particular inquiries in respect to the presentation of the order and the individual who brought it to the store, he came to the conclusion that the paper presented to him for payment was no other than the one he had signed allowing the traveler to continue his journey on Sunday, after paying his fine. It was then called the Yankee Pass, from a supposition that no one except a native of New England had the cunning and audacity to practice so keen and grave a joke.
The act to prevent immorality, in force at that time, contained several exceptions, and among them was one allowing any one to travel on Sunday twenty miles to attend public worship, and this fact was quite as likely to be known to the traveler as some others he was no doubt quite familiar with. He must have known Judge Staring and the Kanes, and was well enough acquainted in the Mohawk valley, and with the standing and business occupation of its inhabitants, to know that the judge's order on the Messrs. Kanes would be honored at sight, or he would not have attempted the cheat; and, besides, it was necessary for him, to prevent detection, to make the order payable as far distant as practicable from the judge's residence.
I do not make these suggestions from any disposition whatever, to shift the paternity of this joke from the Yankee traveler, if he was one, on to the shoulders of any other person, not claiming nativity in the far famed land of Yankeedom.
From whatever nation this individual may have claimed descent, foreign to the Mohawk Germans, he had been long enough a denizen to become quite naturalized, and familiar not only with the names of the principal inhabitants of the valley, but with the pecuniary standing of some of them. He knew that Judge Staring had dealings with the Kanes, and hence believed the order would be paid when presented, or we must award him the palm of being the most accomplished guesser that ever emigrated from the land of wooden nutmegs and bass-wood hams.
I have indulged somewhat in these speculations on the assumption that the story was founded in fact, and to give place to a new version as to the origin of this affair, which excuses the Yankee from being the projector, although it leaves him under the serious imputation of being what the law terms a particeps criminis.
The new version is this: One of the judge's sons had become enamored with a fair, blue eyed daughter of one of his father's neighbors, and had resolved, with her consent of course, to make her his frau, but found himself rather short, as the phrase now is, of the means to carry out the object of his desires in a manner befitting his standing and position as son of the first judge of the common pleas, who was a wealthy farmer, and a gentleman of standing and influence in the county. There may have been some Guelf and Ghibelline feud existing between the heads of the two families, that prevented the early accomplishment of the young man's wishes. At any rate, whatever may have been the cause therefor, the judge, it seems, kept the purse strings tied rather too tight on this occasion, and the son was thrown on his own resources to devise the ways of obtaining the needful to celebrate his intended marriage. The young man opened his mind to an Anglo-Saxon friend, relying upon his inventive genius to aid him in carrying out a suggested plan of relief. The son knew his father's credit was good for any amount he would give his name for, and that he had an open account with the Kanes; he knew his father's scrupulous regard for the maintenance of the laws to the very letter, and what he would do in case he found a man traveling on Sunday. The plan was matured and the thing was done. The judge's genuine signature was obtained to the celebrated Yankee Pass, the fame of which is known over this broad land. Necessity was in this case the mother of a successful invention, which has been unfairly attributed to the genius, or cunning contrivance of an individual who was supposed to belong to a peculiar American stock.
This relation was obtained from a source which I know is respectable, and I was assured that the origin of the story and the pass was based on the statements now given. Aside from the facts showing, as I think pretty strongly, that the intention of getting the judge's name to a paper of this kind was not prompted at the moment, and that the party who got it in the manner described, was quite familiar with all the peculiarities of the man he was dealing with, although he may have been wholly unknown to the judge; there is an additional fact worthy of some consideration in balancing probabilities.
The Messrs. Kanes were reported upright, fair dealers as merchants, but were as fond of jokes as they were anxious to sell goods at a large profit to their German customers, and it is not likely, even if they knew the fact in respect to the origin of the order and the purposes to which its avails were to be applied, they would divulge any secrets of that sort, while they would by no means aid a stranger to cheat an old and valued friend and customer.
Judge Staring lived to an advanced age, died in the town