The Newburgh Daily News – Sep 22, 1915
History by Mr. Hilton
One of the party had picked up a printed leaflet bearing the caption “secretary Report”. It was dated 1887 and signed by William H. Hilton. Mr. Hilton, reviewing the history of the Newburgh Horse Thief Detecting Society, had written as follows:
“The Newburgh Horse Thief Detecting Society was organized at the court house, in the City of Newburgh, August 17, 1861. The following officials were at the time elected: President, Mr. Sands Belknap; vice-president, Mr. Eli Hasbrouck; secretary, Mr. Thomas George; Treasurer, Doctor James Low. The membership fee was two dollars. No annual dues were collected until 1866. At a meeting called by the President, August 5, 1865. At the hotel of Jacob O. Terwilliger, at New Mills, it was resolved, that on and after January 1st, 1866, each member pay an annual due of one dollar in advance; and at the same meeting it was resolved, that a fine of fifty cents be imposed on each officer and twenty-five cents on each member for failure to attend the annual meetings of the society.
When the society was organized, riders were appointed semi-annually. At the August meeting, in 1865, this article of the by-laws was amended so as to read “annually” instead of semi-annually”. At the annual meeting held in the court house, Jan. 15, 1867, the resolution imposing a fine of fifty cents on officers and twenty-five cents on members, was rescinded. At the annual meeting held at the Orange Hotel, Jan. 22, 1874, the 8th article of the by-laws was amended so as to read: “The membership fee to be five dollars instead of two as heretofore”.
A special meeting was held at the Orange Hotel on the 7th day of February, 1874, for the purpose of re-organizing the society under the State act of 1862, as amended by the Act of 1870, a committee composed of the following gentlemen: Mr. Wm. R. Brown, Mr. A. S. Cassedy, and Mr. F. F. Corwin, was appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws to be reported and acted upon at a meeting held at the Orange Hotel, Feb 24th, 1874. At this last meeting, the constitution and by-laws were adopted and the society was called “The Newburgh and New Windsor Horse-Thief Detecting Society”. Three trustees from the town of Newburgh were appointed: Mr. B. K. Johnston for one year; Mr. John L. Aderton for two years, and Mr. C. Gilbert Fowler for one year. Three trustees were also appointed from the Town of New Windsor: Mr. Aymar Van Beuren for one year; Mr. John Appleton for two years, and Mr. Wm. W. Patten for three years. Three trustees were also appointed from the City of Newburgh: Mr. James R. Dickson for two years, and Mr. G. W. Peters and Mr. Daniel A. Weed each for three years. As their terms of office expired they were each unanimously re-elected, except Mr. Wm. Patten, who declined in favor of Maj. Thos. Morton, and all trustees who were elected as above stated still hold the office, save those who have been removed from our midst by death.
Its Early Officers
“At a special meeting at the United States Hotel, Feb. 24, 1879, Mr. Daniel Barnes was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the death of C. G. Fowler, and at the annual meeting, Jan. 10, 1881, held in the Common Council rooms, Dr. P. M. Barclay was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Mr. James R. Dickson, and today we are called upon to fill another vacancy, death having claimed another member, Major Thomas Morton. I think it fitting to say here none had the interest of the society more at heart than did Major Morton. For the last 13 years, ever since I have been treasurer, Major Morton never missed a meeting without writing me to say he could not be with us, and always wished me to let him know what had been done……
“The first meeting of the trustees was held in the Orange Hotel, Feb. 28, 1874, and they have held one annual meeting ever since and several special meetings……
“The first president, Mr. Sands Belknap, was elected Aug 17, 1861, and re-elected Sept. 27, 1862 and Sept. 26, 1863. He declined re-election again, and Mr. Hasbrouk succeeded him. Mr. Hasbrouck was re-relected Jan. 16, 1869. Then our present president, Mr. Beverly K. Johnston, The Old Reliable, was elected president, and not withstanding he has frequently expressed the wish to step down and make room, as he says, for someone else, for almost a score of years he has been unanimously chosen to preside over our meetings; and, more than that, he has not in all these years been absent from an annual nor special meeting, save once, when he was subpoenaed as a witness in a suit at Cooperstown, Otsego County. I think you must all agree with me when I call him Old Reliable, as you see nothing but the strong arm of the law has been able to keep him from his place at our meetings and I trust he may be long spared to come in and go out with us as president……
Total of Members 365
Concluding his resume, Mr. Hilton said:
“Since the organization of the society we had a total membership of 365. Of this number 143 have been removed by death; 55 have ceased to be members for various reasons, such as removal from the city; and 42 have been stricken from the roll for reasons unknown to me.
“We have collected from membership fees, fines and dues, $2,929; from interest on money in bank, $1,475.33 –making a total of $4,404.3. We have paid out $2,220.11, and have on hand $2,184.22. All the facts and figures I have given you are as I find them y carefully going over the records of the society for the past twenty-five years. The society having been organized twenty-five years lat August, and as this meeting is about our quarter-centenial, I have prepared a few statistics from which I trust some one may derive information, which, if they do I shall consider myself repaid for gathering them.
Thieves Run Down
“As the name indicates, the Newburgh and New Windsor Horse Thief Detecting Society was organized to protect owners of horses against theft. At that time there were many fine horses in Orange County, may fine sires were bred and thefts were frequent, even of animals of only ordinary value. The only means of communication was the telegraph, but this was imperfectly developed. Railroads were few and police protection in adequate. Whenever a horse was stolen the members bent every effort on corralling the thieves. A large reward was offered, riders spread the alarm and the hunt was pressed with every resource. The result of this was that very fact of man’s membership in the society had a salutary effect in deterring the unscrupulous from attempting to make away with his horses.
Nevertheless, the society was called upon frequently to carry out the purpose for which it existed. The records show many instances of thefts, the capture of the culprit and a conviction. There is one remarkable reference of the stealing of two horses from Daniel Barnes’ stable in Middle Hope. This was in 1898. The thieves set the buildings on fire and escaped. The fire destroyed the barns with much live stock. Eventually the responsible persons were brought to justice. There were two of them, James Plew and Walter Wells. In 1913 Plew was electrocuted in Connecticut for murder.
Aside from the enforcement of law and order, the horse Thief Detecting Society was a social organization, too. The annual dinners were elaborate affairs “Bev” Johnston who was long president, a prominent figure through-out Orange County, established the custom of giving an annual dinner at his inn in Coldenham. “Bev.” Johnston’s dinners always attracted a great throng, including relatives, friends, and enemies of the members.
Modern methods of communication and transportation have reduced the function of the society to a minimum. It is hard now to steal horses and get away with it. The last member to have live stock stolen was Samuel D. Stewart, who lost a pair of mules in 1910. With no rewards to pay every now and then, the society finds itself able to pay substantial dividends. There is about $2,500 in the treasury, which is invested. Aside from this its existence is perfunctory.
William H. Hilton joined the society in June, 1867. He was made secretary in 1874 and five years later treasurer. The duties of both offices were combined. The length of Mr. Hilton’s service as an officer is remarkable. It is an odd coincidence that his successor, David W. Jagger of this city is cousin of Major David Jagger of Orange Lake, who was prominent in the organization from its infancy till his death. Aymar Van Beuren, a trustee at present, is the only living charter member of the society.
Newburgh Horse Thief Detecting Society 2012 Update:
The NHTDS was once a vigilante justice group in the community — today it’s a social club that meets at a historic tavern in Newburgh. Everyone is welcome to come by to hang out. If you would like to be a member, receive a pin and membership card — then send a tax-deductable donation of $50.00 to the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay & the Highlands, 189 Montgomery Street, Newburgh, NY 12550.
Meetings held on the last Friday of each month at the North Plank Tavern. The first meeting will be on July 27, 2012, because we are waiting for the tavern to reopen after the restoration work that’s being done now.
President, Jeremiah V. Ventry-McGee
Vice-President, Zachary Costa