And let me the canakin clink, clink,
And let me the canakin clink.
A soldier’s a man;
A life’s but a span;
Why, then, let a soldier drink.
The reason James Fenimore Cooper strode into Hustler’s Tavern has disappeared into the hazy mists of history. By 1821, his life had been less than pristine. Kicked out of
Yale after three years as a trouble-maker (he blew up a classmate’s door), the son of a (probably embarrassed) Congressman who founded the City of Cooperstown did what any other lost teenager trying to find himself did in the early eighteenth century – he joined the Merchant Marine.1
Perhaps he remembered his earlier, albeit brief, stay in the Niagara Frontier just before the War of 1812.2 Serving mostly overseas, he saw some of his best crewmates taken from their ships and forced to serve aboard British warships against Napoleonic France. Like the rest of America, he detested the idea of England treating his country like some nautical farm team. He joined the Navy, fought for his homeland, married his loyal sweetheart and… and what?
Just a year earlier, in 1820, his wife challenged him to write a better novel than the one she was reading. He did. But only she thought it was better. His first novel, Precaution, failed.3 So bad was this initial effort years later his eulogist would purposely ignore it during Cooper’s funeral.4 Contemporary critics condemned his choice to model his characters on his European acquaintances and thought the novel “to be an unpatriotic vein.”5 Maybe, just maybe, they felt Cooper, as children so often do, was rebelling against his patriotic father. He wasn’t. But just what could he do to confront these detractors?
So he found himself in the Town of Lewiston in Niagara County during the summer of 1821. This was no ordinary town. Before the Erie Canal later in that decade would grant Buffalo the title, Lewiston was considered the Gateway to the West.6 Since the time of the French traders, it had been considered a strategic port city. The French were good friends of the Seneca, especially after the latter wiped out the Huron and the Erie Tribe to gain control of the Niagara Peninsula. In 1719, the Seneca granted permission to Chabert Joncaire to build a trading post in Lewiston.7 When the British booted the French as a result of the French and Indian War, the peace treaty also stripped the famous “Mile Strip” (or “Mile Reserve”) along the banks of the Niagara River from the Seneca and ceded it to the British.8
As we’ve seen in our chapter on Pre-Emption Line, the Revolutionary War left many questions unanswered in terms of Greater Western New York. Even the Treaty of Hartford in 1786 failed to address the issue of ownership of the Mile Strip. Eventually, the Jay Treaty of 1794 would determine the international border between the United States and Canada was the middle of the Niagara River, and the British finally abandoned Fort Niagara and Lewiston to the Americans. Until the Jay Treaty, many British Loyalists, including their Seneca allies, continued to reside along the Mile Strip, though after the Jay Treaty was signed, they began their exodus to Canada.9
The Jay Treaty only delayed the inevitable war with Britain. The first engagement of the War of 1812 would occur along the Niagara River. But it was that fateful battle of December 1813 that would deal Lewiston a cataclysmic blow. Remember our earlier story about the burning of Buffalo? That was revenge for the Americans burning the Canadian city of Newark, at the time the capital of the British province and today called Niagara-on-the-Lake. Unfortunately for Lewiston, it fell directly in the path of the vengeful British on their way to torching Buffalo. The march from Canada left Lewiston in ashes, an omen to what was about to happen in Buffalo.
Like Buffalo, one building was spared – Thomas and Catherine Hustler’s inn.10 Maybe that curious fact prompted Cooper to visit the bar. We’ll never know. Today, Hustler’s Tavern no longer exists, which, as we shall see later, is too bad.
If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind about Lewiston is the bridge into Canada. The second thing that comes to mind is the New York State Park named in honor of Earl W. Bridges. You might recognize it by the name “Artpark.” It may have come about to fill the void left by the Chautauqua Institution (remember, the Institution’s renaissance was still a few years away). Dedicated on July 25, 1974, it was meant to be the summer home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the venue for important artistic events and cultural history. By way of example, the opening night featured actress Cicely Tyson and comedian James Coco and finished with the Buffalo Philharmonic’s rendition of the 1812 Overture, complete with canons.11
Today, New York State has contracted with a private firm to run the shows, some of which are free and open to the public. Artpark contains several historic sites including a Hopewellian Indian Burial Mound (this culture dates from the birth of Christ to 500AD), remnants of the Oak Hill Mansion (the home of the “old and eccentric” Starkweather sisters, said to be the model for their one-time guest Joseph O. Kesselring’s play Arsenic and Old Lace),12 the original location of Joncaire’s trading post (it’s a parking lot now) and Owen Morrell’s “Omega” (actually, the 1981 sculpture isn’t the historic part, it’s the two stone support columns of the old Queenston-Lewiston Suspension Bridge that offer historic value).13 Artpark continues to be the site of popular celebrity acts and its placement overlooking the Niagara Gorge is spectacular.
That very view might have inspired James Fenimore Cooper to write his first – and America’s first – best-selling fiction novel The Spy.14 To appease critics, its set during the Revolutionary War and in many ways it’s a tribute to the many unheralded patriots of that day. And, as he would do again in future, even more successful, novels, he heeded the advice of his friends following the debacle of Precaution and chose people he met in real life as models for his characters.15
Thomas and Catharine Hustler earned a place in The Spy as Sergeant Hollister and Betty Flanagan.16 Cooper’s characters Hollister and Flanagan resemble the real life Thomas and Catharine with eerie precision. During the Revolutionary War, Thomas was a soldier and Catharine was “sutler” specializing in the provisioning to the soldiers their daily allotment of liquor.17 Sutlers were civilian merchants who followed the army with a peddler’s wagon and sold necessities to the soldiers. In The Spy, Hollister was regular army while Betty followed the troops in her wagon filled with liquor. It is Betty’s character that holds our interest. Here’s a short piece from the novel describing one of her talents:
Added to these, Betty had the merit of being the inventor of that beverage which is so well known, at the present hour, to all the patriots who make a winter’s march between the commercial and political capitals of this great state, and which is distinguished by the name of “cocktail.”18
Indeed Catharine Hustler is credited with inventing the term “cocktail” to describe mixed drinks. She concocted a “gin mixture” that “warms both the soul and the body and is fit to be put in a vessel of diamonds.”19 For effect, she placed the tail feather of a male fowl in the glass; hence, the name “cocktail.”20 The term cocktail (specifically pertaining to a mixed alcohol drink) first appears in 1806,21 coincidentally the same year the Hustler’s moved to Lewiston to open their tavern.22 It’s been suggested the invading Britains, possibly remembering the fine times they had sipping Catherine’s mixed drinks at Hustler’s Tavern, left it unscathed in hopes of quenching their collective thirsts at the conclusion of their raid.
Is there any question that James Fenimore Cooper left that same Tavern duly impressed with the quality – and perhaps the quantity – of the libations so served? It’s very plausible Catherine has earned her place in the history of mixology, however circumstantial the evidence may be. One thing we’re sure of, Betty (or Betsy) Flanagan did not invent the cocktail outside New York City while serving George Washington and his troops during the Revolutionary war. You’ll find many sources claiming this as fact, but we know it as fiction written by James Fenimore Cooper in The Spy. One wonders if the wordsmith left something more than a tin coin in the tip jar of the famous barmaid.
The wording on Catherine’s gravestone is hard to read, but with patience you can decipher it:
“Traveler, as you are passing by –
As you are now, so once was I –
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.”23
As travelers pass, so, too, do eras. And along with the currents of time, the spirit of those bygone days grows thinner and thinner. Our next hidden gem reflects one man’s successful attempt to capture the essence of a then vanishing, now vanished, classic American epoch before the revisionists forever tarnished all that was great about it. Strangely, though given plenty of opportunities to choose a more appropriate venue, he opted to keep his memorial right here in Greater Western New York. Most conveniently for you, dear reader, I have translocated that memorial to the very next pages.
If you like this story, you’ll love Chris Carosa’s new book 50 Hidden Gems of Greater Western New York. You can order it right now by clicking this link that takes you to the publisher’s Amazon.com CreateSpace store.
1 “Biography of James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851),” James Fenimore Cooper: A Literary Pioneer, University of Virginia, http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug02/cooper/cooperbiography.html |
2 Phillips, Mary Elizabeth , James Fenimore Cooper, John Lane Company, New York, London. p.56, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=so4DAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA56 |
3 Lounsbury, Thomas R., “James Fenimore Cooper,” American Men of Letters, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, 1886, p.28, http://www.mohicanpress.com/mo08002.html |
4 Ibid., p.17
5 (uncredited), “The Spy,” Old and Sold, ca. 1900s, http://www.oldandsold.com/articles25/cooper-2.shtml |
5 “Autos: Year of the Coffee Break,” Time Magazine, June 26, 1964, http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,898199,00.html (subscription only)
6 “History of Lewiston,” Historic Lewiston, New York website, Historical Association of Lewiston, Inc., much of the content being attributed to: Lewiston: A Self-Guided Tour; by Barbara I. Hill, Janet M. Domzella, Kenneth Tracey; published by Friends of the Lewiston Library, Inc. 1986 http://www.historiclewiston.org/history.html |
11 “Artpark Dedication – A Transfigured Night,” BPO Archive website, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, July 25, 1974, http://www.music.buffalo.edu/bpo/art-ded.htm |
12 “Images and Pictures of Lewiston, NY,” Historic Lewiston, New York website, Historical Association of Lewiston, Inc., http://www.historiclewiston.org/pictures.html|
13 “Installation,” Owen Morrell website, Owen Morrell, http://owenmorrel.com/installationsandstatment/ |
14 Phillips, p.84
15 Lounsbury, p.28
16 Farley, Douglas, “The First Cocktail,” Niagara County Bicentennial Celebration website, Niagara County Bicentennial Committee, 2008, http://www.niagara2008.com/history99.html |
17 Lewis, Clarence O., “Wife Served with ’76 Soldier,” Niagara Falls Gazette, Wednesday, December 17, 1958, p.28, http://fultonhistory.com/newspaper%208/Niagara%20Falls%20NY%20Gazette/Niagara%20Falls%20NY%20Gazette%201958%20Dec%20Grayscale/Niagara%20Falls%20NY%20Gazette%201958%20Dec%20Grayscale%20-%200672.pdf |
18 Cooper, James Fenimore, The Spy, a Tale of the Neutral Ground, pp.180-181, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=TXE4AAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA181 |
19 Robson, Margeret, Under the Mountain, H. Stewart, Buffalo ,1958, http://openlibrary.org/works/OL7527545W/Under_the_mountain |
20 “History of Lewiston”
21 “The Origin of the Cocktail,” The Museum of the American Cocktail website, Museum of the American Cocktail, http://www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org/museum/thebalance.html |