Selah Reeve (1741-96)

By Dennis Wepman

The Reeves first arrived in this country around 1660 from Wales and established a farm in Long Island. James Reeve was born in 1679, and named his second son Selah (a common name at the time, from the Hebrew blessing used after the verses of the Psalms and thought to mean “forever”).

Before the Revolutionary War, another Selah of that line, born in 1741, built a farm near the family estate in Long Island. When the British took Long Island, Selah refused to take the oath of allegiance to the King. Instead he abandoned his property and fled with his wife Keturah (named for the Biblical Abraham’s second wife) and their infant son, also named Selah. The family made its way to Connecticut, and in 1784 bought a farm about three miles north of Newburgh, where their two later sons, James and Joseph, were born. Selah died at the age of 55 in 1796; Keturah lived until 1829, reaching the ripe age of 84.

The Selah who was carried as a child from Long Island was born in 1769 and was presumably the one who occupied the 1780 house on the corner of South and Montgomery Streets.


A successful miller in New Windsor in the late 1790s, he moved to Newburgh, where he became one of the city’s most prominent merchants. He was a manufacturer of brown earthenware, an important industry at the time, and owned a large crockery and glass store on Broadway. He was also a part of the first Newburgh fire department, serving in Company No. 2 with his brother Joseph, the future Congressman Jonathan Fisk, and other pillars of the society. As the Newburgh Telegraph reported in his obituary in 1837, “In sustaining churches, and schools, the organization of banks, the construction of roads, and other enterprises, he devoted a large share of his time and capital.”

Selah married Elizabeth Van Duzer, a niece of Colonel Tusten, the hero of the Battle of Minisink. They had 11 children (the last of them, inevitably, named Selah), and most of them married well and prospered. Their first son, Christopher, married Maria Hasbrouck, of the family that provided its house to George Washington as his headquarters. Christopher was a “forwarding merchant” and owned the first steamboat in the Newburgh trade, the Baltimore. He sold a half interest in it to David Crawford (whose house on Montgomery Street now serves as the headquarters of the Historical Society) in 1830, and the next year relinquished the other half to Crawford & Co.

His brother Joseph (1771-1828), an adjutant in the War of 1812, was a successful manufacturer of whalebone whips, for which he held the patent. It was said of him that “his whips were in the hand of every person in town and country who rode a horse or drove a carriage.” Unfortunately, his excellent whips did not save him from becoming one of the first recorded victims of a mugging in Newburgh, dying, according to the report, “from an injury on the head caused by blows inflicted by two ruffians in the street.” He is buried with his wife Eunice (1773-1857), who, like her mother-in-law Katurah, lived to be 84, surviving her husband by almost three decades.

The Old Town Cemetery is full of Reeves, spanning three generations. The first to be buried there was the original Selah, buried with his long-lived wife Keturah in grave #380 in the Middle South Section; the last was their grandson Anthony D., son of Joseph, buried at #30 in the same section in 1877. The last-born Selah of whom we have any record, the third in line from the one who first settled in Newburgh, disappears from history in 1859, when he was reported to be in the lumber business in Chicago.

The name Reeve appears 21 times in the official OTC inscription list, but Adeline A. (wife of Charles F. V., son of the crockery-merchant) and their son Richard (gathered to his maker at the tender age of five months in 1836) are both named twice, so there are probably only 19 of them. But it isn’t by numbers that a family’s importance is to be measured. The many descendants of Selah Reeve--merchants, manufacturers, importers, lawyers, clergymen, and public servants--are not the largest family in Newburgh’s Old Town Cemetery, but they include some of the most distinguished citizens of the community.