Past voices to be heard at old fort


FORT JOHNSON -- When a young, well-educated 19th century woman from Minaville wrote to Marquis Lafayette, a famous French military officer, she hadn't expected a response. But when she did, she preserved it in a canvas envelope, and it's still in good condition to this day.

To celebrate NYS Archives month, Old Fort Johnson National Historic Landmark will read that exchange of letters, among several other archived letters and newspaper articles, during an event Saturday called "Voices of the Past."

"In the early 1820s, Lafayette was like this huge celebrity here in the United States because of all the stuff he had done in the Revolutionary War," Alessa Wylie, director of Old Fort Johnson, said. "He was looking to create a museum of American-made items at home in France."

Wylie said the woman, Betsey Reynolds Voorhees, daughter and wife of doctors, wrote to Lafayette, and the letter included a pair of handmade stockings.

"So we have her letter to him describing the stockings and how she made them and also how she had hoped to meet him the year before and it didn't happen and her sadness over that," Wylie said. "And then we have Lafayette's short little reply and she was so thrilled she made this little canvas envelope to carry it around with her."

That evening, candlelit tours, in celebration of archives month, will feature readings from letters, diaries, journals and newspapers.

Visitors will be led through various rooms of the old fort where they will stop and listen to excerpts from about five documents.

Another reading will be from Voorhees' son Capt. George Voorhees when he was in the Civil War.

"He was stationed at [George B.] McClellan's headquarters," Wylie said. "He describes the day that McClellan steps aside and is replaced by [Abraham] Lincoln, who orders him to step down."

Wylie said she stumbled on that letter in an old newspaper from 1862.

George Voorhees was a war correspondent and had been writing letters for the paper.

"We dig through archives and records and all sorts of things and we find some hopefully interesting ones that we think people might be interested in hearing," Wylie said. "It actually is really cool."

The guided tours will be given every half hour between 7 and 9 p.m., and the cost is $5 per person, $3 for Montgomery County Historical Society members.

Reservations are not required.

Tours will be given on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 843-0300.

"It's one of our favorite events," Wylie said, "because we get to sort of dig around in history and bring it out in the open."