Settling in the North Country
When I applied for the Program Coordinator position at the Kent-Delord House Museum, the knowledge I had about the Kent-Delord House came from the War of 1812. I knew that Henry Delord and his wife, Betsy, lived in this nice little house near the mouth of the Saranac River right in Plattsburgh with a fantastic view of Plattsburgh Bay on Lake Champlain. I also knew that Henry Delord was a merchant in Plattsburgh. During the War of 1812, General Alexander Macomb asked Henry Delord to allow the army men based in Plattsburgh who were not being paid to buy goods on credit at his Red Store in Plattsburgh. Then, when the Battle of Plattsburgh started in September 1814, the Delords fled their home and the house was used by the British for their headquarters. Besides learning that Henry Delord was never repaid what he sold on credit to the soldiers, I knew very little about the Delord family and their history.
Image from Battle of Plattsbugh Reenactment
During my first day of work at the Kent-Delord House Museum, I was bombarded with the Delord history as I was given my first tour by a young female docent named Marlee (even though I have museum experience, docent was not a term I was familiar with. The best way to describe a docent would be an informed volunteer, someone who is trained to give tours to visitors and answer any questions about the Museum). I quickly learned that there were so many interesting facts to learn about the Delords, their patriotism, and their philanthropy. Everything about the Delord history describes the community values that exist in the North Country; a tradition of giving back and helping your neighbor is prominent in their lives.
However, you might first be confused about the Kent-Delord name in this House Museum, especially as I only discuss a Delord family. Well, this gets a bit complicated but I think I can break it down for you quite simply. Kent is the name of the family that owned the house when Henry Delord decided to buy it in 1810. The Kent’s did not build the house, nor ever live in it. The house was built by local merchant William Bailey in 1797. Bailey had a few stores, and he decided to sell his Plattsburgh house so he could move closer to his store in Chateaugay, New York, northwest of Plattsburgh. Bailey sold the house to his father, Colonel John Bailey of Dutchess County, New York. Colonel Bailey then deeded the house to his daughter Elizabeth Kent, who was married to the prominent lawyer James Kent in Albany. The Kent-Delord House received its name from the deed that sold Henry the house, although there is no evidence that any Kents ever resided here. A more accurate name of the house would be Bailey-Delord House. However, after using Kent-Delord House as a title for almost a century, it will stay as the Kent-Delord House Museum.
Ourgoal at the Kent-Delord House Museum is to focus on the people who once lived here, the Delords and their descendants. But there is a lot more to the story than just how Henry Delord purchased the house in 1810. In fact, like many Americans Henry Delord started out his life in the United States as an immigrant, coming from the islands of Martinique and St. Lucia in the French West Indies during a very conflicted time of the French Revolution, which killed most of his family in France. Henry Delord, who was actually Henri until he “Americanized” his name, was born in France on July 15, 1764 and moved to the French West Indies at the age of twenty in 1784 to work with his Uncle at a sugar plantation. During his time in the Caribbean, Henry learned how to run a business, and became involved in the Masonic Lodge, serving as the first secretary and one of the charter members of the Masonic Lodge in Micoud, St. Lucia. Both business and masonry would help in Henry’s success in the United States. However, before he finally left the French West Indies, he was detained more than once by the British government. But after all these hard times, Henry Delord immigrated to the United States in 1796.
First stop, New York City! Henry Delord arrived in New York City after leaving St. Lucia in October of 1796, at the age of 32. There in New York City, he started planning for his life in the United States. It is difficult to know exactly what he did to settle in America because he did not leave any documentation behind that explicitly states his experience, but our best guess is he utilized business contacts he made in the business world of the French West Indies, and utilized contacts through his Masonic membership. Just after a few weeks in the city, Henry started his trip to Northern New York to work for a prosperous merchant and fellow Mason, Bernardus Swartout, as a land agent. Remember, traveling in 1796 was no easy feat and took days to venture up north from New York City. By the end of 1796, Henry Delord found himself settling in the Quaker Union of Peru, New York.
Portrait of Henry Delord
I graduated from Peru High School, located in Peru, New York and my 4th grade teacher covered the history of the Quaker Union quite extensively. Our unit in our Social Studies class was complete with a walking tour of Peru, going down the old Goshen road ok the Quaker Union on the Little Ausable River. The fact that I remember this field trip so well can be attributed to a job well done to my teacher who worked endlessly to make us at least like history if not love it. I was one who loved it. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading about the Delords was the connection to the Peru Quaker Union and my fond memories as a ten year old eating up history.
When Henry moved to the Quaker Union at the end of 1796, he most likely rented a building to open a store. Because of alien laws at that time, Henry was unable to own property until his name was cleared through legislative acts which often cleared immigrants individually. The act that included Mr. Delord was passed on April 3, 1797. With this act, Henry was able to buy the store, expand it into a tavern, and create a large farm. In the forthcoming years Henry expanded his business and became involved in the community. Mr. Delord served as the postmaster of Peru and established the post office in his store. His political career started with postmaster, and throughout his time in the area he was active in Republican politics, even serving on boards for the state, along with serving as one of the county supervisors. In 1800 Henry was appointed Justice of Peace, a position he held until he moved away from Peru. His biggest honor was serving as one of the three judges of County Court of Common Pleas, a position he held in all years between 1804-1815, except in 1807. Leading up to 1810, Henry was saving money from his business, renting his property, and property investments while rising as a one of Clinton County’s prominent citizens.
What is surprising to most people from the Northeast is that Henry Delord owned slaves. When I learned about the Civil War, slavery and abolition, I remember believing that slavery only existed in the south. It was not until I was in High School taking AP U.S. History did my teacher reveal to me that slavery did exist in the north in the beginning of our nation’s history. Then I learned about abolition’s true history, starting in the north, and ultimately leading up to the Civil War. My teacher was always adamant about how there were registered slaves in Clinton and Essex County, where we live. Mr. Delord was one of the men owning slaves in Clinton County. According to the U.S. Census, Henry owned 3 slaves. Eventually Henry got rid of his slaves, years prior to a mandate for gradual emancipation and after years of living in an Abolitionist Quaker Society. However, Henry Delord did own many indentured servants, taking advantage of that source of cheap labor.
Mr. Delord was quite the bachelor in the North Country, complete with his French accent. It took three years for him to get married; in December of 1799, Henry Delord married Elizabeth Ketchum. Elizabeth Ketchum was only 15 while Delord was 35, however it was during different times (if you wish to read more about cultural differences, click here). She was born in Red Hook, New York in 1784, and settled in Plattsburgh with the first settlers who came as veterans of the Revolutionary War in 1785 with her father who was a veteran. It is most likely that Betsey, as she was called, met Henry while she was visiting her sister who had married and moved to the Peru Quaker Union. Until 1810, Betsey and Henry made their home in Peru, when they decided to move to Plattsburgh after getting tired of the constant 3 hour trek to Plattsburgh for business and political duties.
Portrait of Betsey Delord
The Delords departed Peru to start living in Plattsburgh. After buying the house from Mr. Bailey, the Delords decided to renovate it to their taste, making the house more symmetrical and more suitable for the Federalist style that was popular at the time. The renovations included adding a new parlor, new bedrooms upstairs and downstairs, and a dining room. Around 1812 the house was complete and the Delords were officially residents of Plattsburgh. While the Delords did sell most of their property in Peru, they did continue to rent out property in the Quaker Union while living in Plattsburgh.
While in Plattsburgh, the Delords were lucky enough to have their first and only child. Frances Delord was born in October 1813. Unfortunately for Frances, she was born into a very chaotic time in the Champlain Valley during the War of 1812. During her first year, the Delords had to flee their house twice. The first time was during Murray’s Raid of 1813 when the British traveled down the coast of Lake Champlain from Canada, burning and looting all along the way in retaliation of a misguided attack by American troops in Quebec. The other time they fled their home was during the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. Both times the family fled to Peru. However, there is an old tale passed on for decades about how Betsey buried the family’s silver before fleeing to Peru. There is no documentation that supports this, but it is a living legend in the North Country.
It is unfortunate that the Delords moved to Plattsburg at such a troublesome time. As I mentioned before, Henry Delord was one of the only merchants who had enough patriotism to allow the soldiers based in Plattsburgh to buy supplies on credit. Delord never was repaid for this act of kindness, and in fact had to sell his house to pay off his debts. Thankfully it was a family friend who purchased his house and allowed the Delords to still live there and even deeded the house to Betsey eventually. Although the Delords faced hard times while in Plattsburgh, they are an important aspect to the local history in this area. I find this type of history fascinating, especially because it connects so much to my day to day life living in this great community. Just the other day when I was driving home I passed a Delord Street that I did not even know existed. Now I know how the Delords came to be a North Country neighbor and a legacy of patriotism for Northern New York.