A Catskill Catalog: July 22, 2009

By Bill Birns
At the high point of Delhi’s Woodland Cemetery, a memorial obelisk to Osman Steele rises. Along the stone wall of the Halcott Cemetery, a blue sign indicates the burial place of Warren Scudder. Steele was the county lawman killed in the line of duty, on August 7, 1845, while conducting a forced sale to raise rent due on Moses Earle’s Dingle Hill farm. Scudder was the leader of the men who shot him.
The Catskill Mountaineers’ dual allegiance: the up-rent respect for law, for good order, for established authority, and the down-rent sympathy with the underdog, resentment of elitism, rebellion against class division. Steele and Scudder, names intertwined in history’s deep echoes.
These days, I’m not sure if there are any Steeles left in the mountains, but there sure are a lot of Scudders. When I first taught in the public school, I had a kid named Scudder in four out of five classes. Turns out, they are part of a distinguished American family whose Anti-Rent War action was a mere moment in a much larger story.
David Scudder, of Roxbury, is moving out of the mountains, seeking the public transportation and convenient services that seem to thrive closer to sea level.
David discovered his own Scudder family heritage when he inherited the home of Mary Katherine Scudder, teacher, farmer and David’s great-aunt. She had the Roxbury house built in 1930, after her husband ran away from their Lew Beach farm with the schoolteacher boarder. Mary Katherine became a schoolteacher herself, a very good one, who conducted school over in Wolf Hollow and up Dingle Hill.
When David got the house, back in the late 70s, he discovered trunks full of family papers. It was in those trunks that he discovered the Scudder Association a nonprofit, worldwide, family association. It is a testament to the work David has done in family genealogy and research, in the intervening years, that he was, in 2007, named “Scudder of the Year” by the Scudder Association. Annual association dues fund educational grants and scholarships for medical outreach, social work and Christian ministry.
The Scudder Family traces its history back to Kent, England. Two brothers emigrated from there to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600s. One, Thomas, settled in Salem, and, then, a whale man by trade, relocated to Huntington, Long Island. His descendant, William Smith Scudder, lost two fingers and the use of his hands in Revolutionary War service, receiving a disability pension in 1778. William Smith Scudder followed his son, Jotham, to Roxbury in the 1790s. His son had cleared a farm in 1794 on the hill above Roxbury, where the Shephard Hills Golf Course is now.
Warren, the anti-rent agitator, was the youngest son of Jotham. He was elected chief of the Roxbury tribe of calico Indians, as the anti-rent forces were known. At the Moses Earle farm sale that August morning, Warren was in command of the combined force of Anti-Rent calicos, better than 200 men. Who shot the under-sheriff? We’ll never really know, but we do know that Warren Scudder was in command.
At the Delaware County Courthouse, David Scudder has read the testimony of Jotham Scudder during the investigation of his rebellious son. Much as he may have sympathized with the tenants’ plight, it must have been painful for the Old School Baptist Church Deacon to have his son a wanted fugitive. There is, after all, a bit of Steele in all of us.
It has been in medicine and ministry that the Scudders have been particularly fruitful. Six generations of Scudders have been overseas missionaries, through the Reformed Church of America, focusing on medical and social work in India. John and Harriett Scudder went to India in 1819 and worked there for 30 years. Thus began a 188-year history of Scudder ministry to the people of India, over 1,000 person-years of service to the poor.
Dr. Ida Scudder’s story is, perhaps, the most compelling. She is the subject of several books, including Dr. Ida by Dorothy Clark Wilson (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1959) now out of print. As the daughter of missionaries, Ida witnessed the death, in childbirth, of three Indian women who would not consult western doctors simply because they were men. She vowed to gain the training that would allow her to help. She became a doctor.
Ida Scudder first made local news 110 years ago. “A large and attentive audience was in attendance at the Gould Church Tuesday evening, July 18,” The Roxbury Times reported in 1899, “incident to listening to the lecture delivered by Miss Ida Scudder, M.D., who gave an informal talk on her successful work in India.” Notice how Dr. Scudder is referred to as Miss Scudder, M.D., the announcement of her marital status evidently trumping medical school.
Dr. Ida’s successful work in India was bringing modern gynecological medicine to patients whose husbands would only consent to the examination of their wives by a woman. Her clinic grew into a major hospital and – here’s the simple and revolutionary idea – a medical school for women, so female Indian doctors could bring modern western medicine to poor Indian women. Vellore Christian Medical College & Hospital still thrives in Vellore, India, today.
© William Birns