Focus on history: Life and times of Anthony ‘Dixie’ Veal

An African-American slave who joined up with New York state troops marching through Georgia in the C

An African-American slave who joined up with New York state troops marching through Georgia in the Civil War was eulogized when he died for having become one of the best-known citizens of Amsterdam.

When Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union army was in Georgia, young Anthony “Dixie” Veal fled the plantation where his family lived at Spring Mountain near Atlanta and joined the 134th New York Volunteers. Veal’s last name was that of the owners of the plantation where he was born. Veal became a servant for Capt. Perry McMaster of Middleburgh.

When the war ended, Veal went to Middleburgh with McMaster. Veal started working in Central Bridge, and for nine years was a porter, handling baggage at a Central Bridge hotel. He then moved to the Hotel Augustan in Cobleskill, owned by Morgan D. Lewis, and worked as a porter at that hotel for nine years.

When the Warner Hotel was built at East Main and Walnut streets in Amsterdam in 1881, Lewis became the proprietor and Veal began a 20-year career as porter there.

In later years, the hotel became the smaller Amsterdam Hotel and also included Lurie’s Department Store.

In 1882, Veal married Lavina Hunter of Central Bridge.

They had one daughter and lived near the Warner Hotel at 15 Walnut St.

A formidable man, Veal once was reported to have persuaded the owners of the city’s Opera House housed in the Warner not to go on stage with an insulting black face impersonation of Veal as a porter.

When Veal died, the Recorder wrote, “Few people in Amsterdam were better known than he, and for years he had been considered the leader of his race in this section, being prominent in the affairs of St. Paul’s A.M.E. Zion church, a liberal contributor to its welfare and people, and a leader in all colored social events.”

His mental and physical health began to decline in the spring of 1903.

On Nov. 3 of that year, he was forced to give up his job because of his apparent mental illness. On Jan. 23, 1904, he was sent away to the state mental hospital in Utica, where he died that April 6. He was buried in Central Bridge.

Money mystery

The Recorder reported that Veal was presumed to have laid away a great deal of money during his many years at the Warner. He sometimes earned as much as $10 per day and lived modestly.

When Veal died, his wife did not know what had become of her husband’s savings or money realized from the sale of farm land Veal owned and then sold in Central Bridge.

The Recorder wrote, “Now It seems as if ‘Dixie’s’ mystery of a secret hiding place has died with him.”

Letter from Georgia

Veal had shown the newspaper a letter received in 1903 from the current proprietor of the former plantation where he was born. The letter had an update on Veal’s brothers and sisters and said descendants of the original plantation owner were involved in several pursuits including a granite quarry Veal reportedly wanted to go back to Georgia for a visit and “grasp the hands of the family members whose name he bore” and inform them of the prosperous life he was living in Amsterdam.

The Recorder wrote, “Throughout the state no hotel attaché was better known, and even now inquiries are daily made at the Warner and the [New York] Central passenger station as to the welfare of the veteran porter who so long and so carefully looked after the baggage of the Warner’s patrons until he seemingly became as much a fixture as any department of the hotel.”

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