New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects

New York's Capital Region in 50 Objects


Each region of the nation has its own distinctive history and identity. The New York’s Capital Region—consisting of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga Counties—is no different. But what best identifies the region? What events, objects, people, and ideas have contributed to its character and uniqueness?

To learn the answers, we presented these questions to the numerous museums, historical organizations, libraries, and residents of the Capital Region. The fifty objects that were ultimately selected present an exciting history of the Capital Region, including well-known favorites but also unexpected surprises. Some of the fifty objects characterize very broad topics like the textile industry and the Hudson River School of art, while others embody large populations of people who shaped the character of the region, such as the Dutch and the Iroquois. Many objects represent specific people or events, such as writer William Kennedy and the Battle of Saratoga. In some instances, the objects represent themselves, like the GE Monitor Top refrigerator and Albany’s beloved Nipper statue. A complementary image accompanies each of the fifty objects, providing context and additional information.

Overall, the fifty objects clearly demonstrate that this narrowly circumscribed part of New York State has played an astonishing role in shaping the history of the nation and, in several instances, the world beyond the confines of our national borders.

Colonel Elmer Ellsworth (1837-1861), 11th New York Volunteers

Born in Malta, New York, in 1837, and raised in nearby Mechanicville, Elmer Ellsworth moved to Rockford, Illinois, in 1854 and then to Chicago in 1859. There he formed the United States Zouave Cadets, which, under his command, popularized the colorful Zouave uniform and acrobatic drill after a six-week Eastern cities tour during the summer of 1860, including stops across New York State. After the tour, Ellsworth moved to Springfield, Illinois, and joined Abraham Lincoln’s law office. At the start of the Civil War, he returned to New York City to recruit a Zouave regiment, the “1st New York Fire Zouaves,” or the 11th New York Volunteers, from the city’s volunteer firemen.

As Union forces, including Ellsworth’s 11th New York Volunteers, departed Washington, D.C., on May 24, 1861, to wrestle Alexandria, Virginia, from Confederate hands, Ellsworth decided to remove a large Confederate national flag from atop the Marshall House hotel. With a small party, Ellsworth climbed to the roof and cut down the flag. On his way down, the hotel’s proprietor, James T. Jackson, shot and killed Ellsworth, who was wearing this double-breasted gray wool frock coat. Ellsworth’s death made him a martyr for the Union cause and inspired recruits from across New York State to become “Ellsworth Avengers.”

Officer’s Frock Coat worn by Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, 11th New York Volunteers


Wool, brass buttons

Courtesy of New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center

A Requiem. In Memory of Ellsworth

Composed by George William Warren

Printed by Sarony, Major & Knapp, New York City

c. 1861

Lithograph on paper

Courtesy of Private Collection

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