On May 18, 1850, the president of the New York State Agricultural Society, Ezra P. Prentice wrote a letter to Zachary Taylor, the 12th President of the United States. Prentice wanted President Taylor to visit the New York State Fair that was being held the first week of September in Albany on Troy Road (now Broadway in North Albany). The president always took a liking to agriculture and regretted not being able to make the New York State Fair the year prior in Syracuse.
First, a little background. Ezra P. Prentice arrived in Albany at the age of 29 in 1826. In just two years he had become a successful fur trader with Williams, Packer & Co. Eventually Dennison Williams left the company and you guessed it, it was renamed Packer, Prentice & Co. In 1840 the company was presumably bought out and Prentice received a small fortune and retired at the age of 43. Prentice would then hold a whole host of titles; president of the Albany-Susquehanna Railroad, trustee of the Albany Female Academy, trustee of the Dudley Observatory, president of the Albany Commercial Bank and of course president of the New York State Agricultural Society in 1850. He died in his home on Kenwood Road at Mount Hope on July 10, 1876 after a long illness. He’s buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.
Mount Hope still exists. It sits south of Cherry Hill and I-787 and just north of the Normans Kill. To the west it’s flanked by Southern Boulevard and to the east, South Pearl Street. A housing redevelopment in this area bears the name, “Ezra Prentice Homes” in his honor.
A little over a month goes by without word from President Taylor. Prentice decides to write him again, this time offering up his home as a place for the president to stay during his visit. Ezra Prentice was indeed a squeaky wheel.
Fast forward a week later to July 4, 1850. Zachary Taylor is at the Washington Monument to witness dust from Thaddeus Kosciuszko’s* tomb being placed inside the unfinished monument. He then stayed at the service and listened to numerous speakers for an additional two hours in the hot sun. He returned home to the White House at 4:00 pm, and instead of eating dinner he drank water, chilled milk and ate a bowl of cherries. Taylor then had what was described as, “an uncomfortable night.”
The following day, President Taylor decided to write Ezra “Squeaky Wheel” Prentice back about his attendance to the New York State Fair. Obviously, Taylor wouldn’t know if he could actually attend the fair until closer to September but he did hope to make it. However, he wouldn’t be spending the night with Prentice. He would be placing his head on Governor Hamilton Fish’s pillows instead. The letter was then placed in the mail and started its slow trip north to Albany.
President Taylor’s condition started to worsen by the end of that day. During the evening, army surgeon, Dr. Alexander Wotherspoon was called to check on Taylor. Wotherspoon diagnosed the president with cholera morbus, prescribed some opium and calomel and went on his merry way. The President of the United States was dead four days later.**
A day later, on July 10, word hit Albany that President Taylor had died. Ezra Prentice mourned. The city mourned. This wouldn’t be the end of Zachary Taylor for “Squeaky Wheel” Prentice though. The letter was still on its way from Washington, DC. Ezra Prentice received it shortly after learning of the president’s death. Prentice had just received the last letter President Taylor ever wrote, effectively making it a letter from “beyond the grave.” We can only imagine what Ezra Prentice’s face looked like when he opened it up to see the “Z. Taylor” signature staring right back at him!
Where is the letter now? Has it been lost to history or is it still kept as a token in the Prentice Family line? For every mystery, there is someone, somewhere, who knows the truth. Perhaps that someone is reading. Perhaps it’s you. If you have any information on this letter, write to us. You need not give your name.
* Thaddeus Kosciuszko should be a familiar name with almost every Capital Region commuter. The Twin Bridges on I-87 were named in his honor.
**Sidenote: Albany native and father of modern electricity, Joseph Henry, rode in Zachary Taylor’s funeral procession on July 13 as an officer of the Smithsonian Institute.