Old Mr. Banyar*

Among other curious subjects that attracted my attention during the early part of my residence in Albany, was a blind old man led about the streets by his colored servant. It was Goldsborough Banyar, a most intelligent, wealthy and respectable old gentleman. He was the most perfect type of the Anglo-American then living. He was the last of a race, or class of men, now totally extinct -- born in England, grown rich in America, proud of their birth, and prouder of their fortune.

He had been a secretary of state under the colonial government, and at the breaking out of the war of the revolution, very naturally, and the prospect considered, very wisely, took sides (but not arms) with the mother country. He was a royalist in feeling, and doubtless in principle -- the feeling, it is believed, underwent no change; the principle, in the course of time, became temperately, and I may add, judiciously, modified by his interests. He had, while in his office of secretary, obtained from the crown many large and valuable tracts of land. These lands were the source of his wealth. With the eye of intelligence, sharpened by the peculiarity of his position, he watched the course of events, and like a skilful pilot, steered between the extremes.

He wisely kept a friend in either port, and had always an anchor out to windward. In short, he preserved his character from reproach, on the other side of the water, and his lands from confiscation on this. His mind kept pace with the intelligence of the age. He became an American when America became triumphant, -- thought better of republicanism as it approximated to power; and finally, without abating one jot of his love for the land of his birth, came quietly into our political arena under the banner of Mr. Jefferson! In all this he acted, as we think, wisely and prudently. He was no American at the commencement of the war, but an Englishman, born and bred, with the badges of office and of confidence still in his possession. Yet he took no part -- gave no aid, and but little comfort to the enemy, for when secretly applied to for advice, he sent by the messenger a basket of fruit -- and when for information, the return was a basket of eggs! He was therefore, no Tory, but merely a judicious politician: in which character, if he acquired no fame, he at least preserved his reputation and his property, and merited the thanks of those remembered in his will.

He must have been somewhere about three score and ten years of age when I first saw him in the streets of Albany. He was a short, stout built man, English alike in form, in character, and in aspect: and at the period to which I refer, infirm, gouty, and nearly blind; but still sound in mind and venerable in appearance. The colored servant, by whom he was led, was no unimportant personage. He was his man Friday -- his man Peter -- his all in all -- for without his aid locomotion was impossible. What was not a little remarkable, was the fact, that Peter resembled his master in almost every particular, save his gout and his blindness. He was of the same height and make, as well dressed, nearly as old, and quite as gray. He was, moreover, as independent, as important and as irritable. At a little distance, it was indeed difficult to tell which was master and which was man.

Nothing could be more amusing than their conversation and disputes when moving together, arm in arm, down Pearl street and across State, to Lewis's tavern, -- a haunt, to which they resorted daily, whenever the weather would permit. It was indeed the haunt of a good many other distinguished individuals of those days. All the quid nuncs, news mongers, segar smokers, and back-gammon players, together with a long list of worthies, who were constitutionally thirsty between twelve and one o'clock, made Lewis's their head quarters. Could the old gentlemen have seen all the company there assembled, listened to their language, and witnessed their libations at the bar, he would probably have relished their society something less than he did.

But, be that it may -- in his frequent peregrinations to and from the celebrated tavern, it was my special pleasure (boy like) to throw myself a few paces in his rear, and listen to the dialogue that was sure to take place between him and his man Peter. It was generally in a pretty sharp tone of voice, and almost always upon a disputatious key. In crossing State street one day, on their return from Lewis's, it commenced thus: -- Peter, said the old man, you're leading me into the mud. There's no mud here, says Peter. But I say there is, retorted the old man fiercely. I say there ain't, said Peter. D___t it, sir said the old man, giving his arm a twitch and coming to a full halt, don't you suppose I know the nature of the ground on which I stand? No, says Peter, don't spose you know any such thing; you only stept one foot off the stones, that's all. Well, well, come along then; what do you keep me standing here in the street for? I don't keep you said Peter; you keep yourself. Well, well, come along, said the old man, and let me know when I come to the gutter. You are in the gutter now, said Peter. The devil I am! Said the old; man; then pausing a moment, he added, in a sort of moralizing tone, there's a worse gutter than this to cross, I can tell you Peter. If, there be said Peter, I should like to know where 'tis; I have seen continued Peter, every gutter in town, from the ferry stairs to the Patroon's and there isn't a worse one among 'em all. But the gutter I mean, said the old gentleman in a lower tone, is one which you cross in a boat, Peter. 'Tis strange, said Peter, that I should never have found it out; -- now, lift your foot higher, or you'll hit the curb stone, -- cross a gutter in a boat! Ejaculated Peter, 'tis nonsense. 'Tis so written down, said the old man. Written down, said Peter; but I don't believe a word on't. I'm thinking said the old man, they put too much brandy in their toddy there at Lewis's. I thought so too, said Peter, when you were getting off the steps at the door; and since you've mentioned that boat, I'm sure of it. What is that you say? Said the old man, coming to a halt again, and acquiring himself round; you thought so did you? What right had you to think anything about it? I tell you, Peter, you are a fool!

The attitude and appearance of the parties at this moment was so whimsical -- in fact, so ridiculous, that I could not restrain myself from laughing aloud. Who is that? Said the old man, taking quietly hold of Peter's arm again. Don't know him said Peter; surpose he's one of the new comers. New comers! Said the old man, repeating the phrase. Is he old or young, Peter? Young said Peter. Then I forgive him, said the old man; and after a short pause, added, in a lower tone of voice, May he never know the misfortune of blindness or the gout. Never in the course of my life did I feel so ashamed of myself as at that moment. A blow from a cane could not have hurt me half so much. My first thought was to walk directly up to him, take him by the hand and make him an ample apology. But to entertain a just sense of what we ought to do is one thing to do it, quite another. In the present case, I was apprehensive that my apology might not be accepted; besides, it was at his infirmities I laughed, but at the singular oddity of the scene. I imagined, moreover, that Jeremiah himself, had he been present, would have laughed at the ridiculous dialogue and still more ridiculous attitudes of the parties.

It is impossible, I think, to reflect one moment upon the position which Mr. Banyar occupied during the war of the revolution, and the manner in which he sustained himself in it, without conceding to him a thorough knowledge of the world, great sagacity and great address. It is said by those who knew him personally, that his manners were those of a gentleman, and that he possessed no ordinary share of talent and of wit.

Among other curious things that attracted my attention in the ancient city of Albany, just prior to the extinction of Dutch dynasty, was the disproportionate number of old people. Pearl street in particular; was lined with these remnants of the olden days. The population of the city was evidently undergoing a thorough revolution. One whole generation nay, one whole race was then on the very eve of passing away, while another, of an entirely different character and aspect was coming in. But the most attractive picture to my eye, were the aged members of the retiring race.

Could Solomon have paid a visit to Albany in 1803, or 4, he would have acknowledged (notwithstanding his former assertion to the contrary), that there were many things " new under the sun." He would, I think, have found something to admire as new and original, even in the antique through unclassic model of.


Lewis's tavern was, at that time, either on the corner of Washington, now South-pearl and State Street, or on the present site of 78 State Street. Robert Lewis died June 17th, 1798, aged 73, and was succeeded by his son, Stewart Lewis.

*Goldsborough Banyar died 4th Nov. 1815, aged 91. He was born in England, but came to this country in early life, where he ever after resided. For many years prior to the revolution, he was deputy-secretary of the province, and as the secretary was absent, the important and laborious duties of that office were performed by Mr. Banyar in a manner highly honorable to his talents and integrity, and very advantageous to the province. Through him very long life he was considered a man of strict and unimpeachable integrity, punctual and faithful in the discharge of his public duties, and virtuous and amiable in the private relations of life respected by his numerous acquaintance, and affectionately esteemed and beloved by his father and friends. His funeral took place at St. Peter's church, when a sermon was preached by the Rev., Timothy Clowes.

Printed in Random Recollections of Albany, pp. 112-19. Worth's memoir contains many graphic descriptions of street life in the early nineteenth century boomtown!

Transformed by JP

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first posted: 9/15/02