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Biographical Sketches of Wealthy Men of the Colonial Era in New York


William Axtell 1720-1795 Landowner

William Axtell was born in Jamaica, the son of a successful sugar trader and plantation owner. His father, Daniel Axtell, had also acquired a large land tract in New Jersey, which the young man inherited, along with the rest of his father's large estate. In 1746, the twenty six year of heir came to New York, with the intentions to dispose of his New Jersey land and make some useful acquaintances with the city's leading merchants. He enjoyed New York's colonial society and was particularly attired by young Margaret De Peyster, whom he courted and eventually married, settling in a comfortable mansion on Broadway. She was the daughter of Abraham de Peyster jr and through her mother, a Van Cortlandt. William Axtell was well appreciated for his lavish entertaining, both at his Broadway mansion and on his country seat, "Melrose Hall" at Flatbush, Long Island NY. Nicknamed "William the Gay" (when that word still meant joyful) in his younger years, he gained a decidedly more sinister reputation during the Revolutionary War. A member of the Governor's Council in 1776, he was commissioned Colonel and commander of a Loyalist regiment known as the Nassau Blues and much feared for its exaltations against those who embraced the patriot cause. Melrose Hall allegedly became the scene of tortured rebel prisoners, whilst still retaining its fame for lavish entertainment, now limited to the Loyalist Elite. No wonder, the Axtell properties were prominent on the list of estates to be confiscated, according the New York Act Of Attainder of 1779. When they were sold in 1784, "Melrose Hall" was acquired by 'Colonel' Aquila Giles of the Continental Army. He offered the place to his newly wed bride, the former Elizabeth Shipton, who happened to be the adopted daughter of William Axtell and Margaret De Peyster, who had no children of their own. Giles had fallen in love with Elizabeth in the pre-revolutionary days, when he was a frequent guest at Melrose Hall. But the Independence War had separated the lovers. William Axtell returned to England and died at Beaumont Cottage, Surrey, in 1795. Like other Tories, he had been partially indemnized for his losses due to the American Revolution. But most of his estate had anyway always been in England and the West Indies.

Nicholas Bayard 1644-1707 New York City Merchant and Landowner

The youngest son of Anna (Stuyvesant) Bayard, widow of Samuel Bayard and sister of 'Governor' Peter Stuyvesant. He came to New Amsterdam in 1647, along with his siblings and their mother, who educated the children in trade. In his public career, Nicholas Bayard much benefited from his relation to Governor Stuyvesant, who provided him with his first appointment as clerk of the Common Council in 1664 and soon thereafter made him his private secretary. No longer governor after his surrender of the colony to the British, Peter Stuyvesant nevertheless remained an influential man, notably involved in the regulation of trade and in Manhattan land deals. Nicholas Bayard benefited greatly from Stuyvesant's mentorship and advanced both, his political career and the building of his personal wealth. In 1672 he became provincial secretary and in 1685, he served two mandates as Mayor of New York. His military career, started as a lieutenant in the Dutch militia in 1672 peaked a year after the end of his mayoralty, when he became Commander in Chief of the New York Militia. In this position and as one of three resident members of the Governor's Council, Nicholas Bayard became a personal target of Jacob Leisler, when the latter conducted his rebellion in 1689. He fled to Albany but was imprisoned on a visit to his son in New York. The Leisler regime was short-lived though and upon restoration, Nicholas Bayard became a councilor of 'Governor' Sloughter.

 By that time he was a wealthy merchant and the owner of about 200 acres of Manhattan farmlands (Bayard Farm). But his career as a landowner had just started. In 1694, he received a license to buy 4'000 acres along the Schoharie Creek from the Indians. These were the times of the notoriously corrupted 'Governor' Benjamin Fletcher, who made a personal fortune of £40'000 with fraudulent land grants and protection money from pirates, and Nicholas Bayard was one of his most trusted allies. When he chartered his purchased land, the original 4'000 acres suddenly became a tract forty miles long and thirty miles broad on both sides of the Schoharie Creek, some 768'000 acres. For this he was granted the Manorship of Kingsfield by 'Governor' Fletcher in December 1695. For all this he had paid the Indians goods valued less than a hundred pound, an outrageous bargain, even in these times. There is no surprise the Indians were unhappy and promptly repudiated the deal. They found an ally in 'Governor' Bellomont, who replaced Fletcher in 1697. Doubtlessly driven more by the objective to recover land for the Crown than by the Indians complaints, 'Governor' Bellomont revoked some of Fletcher's most outrageous land grants, including Bayard's. The latter did not relinquish his claim on these lands and joined other landlords in their campaign to have their grants reconfirmed by the Lords of Trade. Queen Anne later granted the same land to a colony of Palatine settlers, who moved to the Schoharie valley in 1713 and were promptly challenged by Bayard's heirs. Unable to prevail against the settlers the Bayards sold the land to the "Seven Partners" who eventually managed to force the Palatine settlers to pay quitrents or leave the land. Nicholas Bayard married Judith Varleth in 1666. She was the sister of Nicholas Varleth, the one time (Dutch) ambassador to the colony of Virginia and also the third husband of Anna (Stuyvesant) Bayard. In her younger years, Judith Varleth had been sentenced to prison for witchcraft in Connecticut. They had one son, Samuel Bayard II.

Wilhelmus Hendrickse Beekman: Merchant and Landowner 1623-1707

The founder of the Beekman family in New York City, William Beekman came from Holland in 1647, on the same ship as Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of New Netherlands. Two years after his arrival, he married the daughter of Hendrick De Boogh, a wealthy settler of Beaverwyck (later Albany). They settled on Corlaer's Hook, the former property of Jacobus Van Corlaer, which Beekman had acquired by the time. His close acquaintance to 'Governor' Stuyvesant helped him get two lucrative offices, which were crucial to his pecuniary advancement. He was first made resident treasurer of the Dutch West India Company and later appointed vice-director of a colony of Swedes on the Delaware river. After the surrender of new Netherlands to the English, he moved to Esopus, where stayed until 1670. Returning to New York City, William Beekman then bought the property upon which the large Beekman fortune was founded. This property was a large farm, formerly owned by Thomas Hall and stretched along the East River along what later became Beekman Street. The property was later extended to the South to incorporate Cripple Bush, henceforth known as Beekman Swamp and eventually a valuable piece of New York City real estate. Along with the farm, William Beekman acquired a brewery, which he continued to operate with great success. He expanded this business, built flour mills in and around New York and became one of the city's largest wholesale merchants. As such he soon owned ships and invested in ship-building, bills-of-exchange and other mercantile assets, the typical interests of a large colonial trader. By 1695, he was counted among the richest New York merchants and had at least two sons, already well established in the city too. In true Dutch tradition and against British law, he split his real estate evenly among his surviving children and offspring of a pre-deceased daughter. Each of them notably inherited a 60 feet wide (and probably over 100 feet long) tract of what later became New York's prime real estate property. Among William Beekman's descendents, those who did most to increase the family fortune were his son Hendrick, who in 1703 acquired the 240'000 acres Beekman Patents in Dutchess County, and a grandson Gerard Beekman, who along with his own son and namesake, grew the Beekman mercantile operations manifold. The Beekman children also married well, notably daughter Maria to Nicholas William Stuyvesant, heir of the late governor's extensive Manhattan real estate properties.

John Cruger 1678-1744 Merchant and Colonial Mayor of New York City

John Cruger was a merchant and colonial mayor of New York City, probably originally of the Netherlands. In 1696 he was recorded as a factor for European merchants in partnership with Ouzeel Van Swieten. Both were then among New York's wealthiest merchants. In 1698 he was employed as a slave trader by the owners of the ship "Prophet Daniel" and sailed from New York to the African Coast. From this operation and the proceeds of privateering during Queen Anne's War, John Cruger built a substantial fortune, which he invested in merchant ships and real estate, notably in Westchester County. In 1702, John Cruger married Maria Cuyler, of another prominent Dutch American mercantile dynasty. Together they had three sons who joined the family business and built up Cruger Brothers, with establishments in New York, Bristol and the West Indies. They also had four daughters, of whom one married Nicholas Gouverneur, also a man of great wealth. As a merchant, John Cruger naturally took an interest in city politics. In 1712 he became Alderman of the Dock Ward, a position he was to keep for 22 years. Then in 1739 he became Mayor of New York, the first to reside in the official Mayor's residence on Broad Street. He kept the office until his death in 1744. His son Tileman Cruger, who represented the firm in Curacao, died unmarried in 1730. His second son, Henry Cruger, settled in Bristol and took care of the English side of the Crugers' far flung trading operations. John Cruger jr succeeded his father in New York, both in business and later also as mayor (1757-66). The Crugers operated a very successful international trade between New York, Bristol, Amsterdam and the West Indies, specialized on flaxseed, ginseng and potash.

Stephen (Etienne) De Lancey 1663-1741 Shipping Merchant

Etienne De Lancey was the descendent of a noble family of Protestants in France. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) forced the French protestants to leave their country or deny their belief. Most of these Huguenots, as they were called, resettled in Switzerland, Belgium or Holland. Many of them emigrated to America, as Etienne De Lancey did, taking the oath of allegiance to James II in London, prior to his crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in the spring 1686. He arrived in New York on June 7, promptly anglicanized his first name into "Stephen" and started a mercantile career without a peer in the colony. His starting capital was made up of a share in the De Lancey family jewels, which he sold for £300. He then sought association with the most powerful of the assimilated Dutch American merchants, including Stephen Van Cortlandt, who became his father-in-law, and Adolphe Philipse. These established merchants still enjoyed a lucrative fur export monopoly to Amsterdam in the aftermath of the English conquest. Stephen De Lancey soon joined them in their most lucrative ventures, which included "legalized" smuggling and the financing of piracy. His rising wealth favored his political career, which he started as a city alderman in 1691. His wife Anne Van Cortlandt, whom he married in 1700, brought him additional wealth and social standing, as well as a large number of children, some of whom would rise to even higher (political) positions as himself. He served in the New York Assembly for a total of twenty four years, notably from 1710 to 1719. There he opposed attempts to enforce taxation and duties by governors Bellomont and Hunter. In his later years he supported the political career of his eldest son, James De Lancey, who was appointed to the Governor's Council in 1729, became Chief Justice of New York in 1733 and eventually became acting governor of the province. By 1713, Stephen de Lancey was among New York's leading shipping merchants, the sole owner of at least four ships and a partner in many other vessels. Besides two or three annual voyages to London, in which his cargo exceeded the one of his peers in both weight and value, his ships plied between New York and the West Indies, South Carolina and occasionally Ireland. His exports to London included furs, copper ore and leather goods from the province and commodities from the West Indies and the Southern colonies. He imported dry goods, bricks, wrought iron and silks, mostly through Dover and Perth Amboy, where undutied goods could be easily legalized through the influence of corruptible customs officials. Although furs were enumerated after 1722, Stephen de Lancey continued to export them directly to Amsterdam, on his own account or on behalf of associated merchants. The outstanding profitability of his ventures as well as his longevity in the trade, allied Stephen De Lancey to amass a fortune of £100'000, the largest of any New York merchant at the time. This he handed down to his five sons and two daughters, when he died in 1741. Besides ships, wharves and other real estate in New York City, the de Lancey estate also contained large country landholdings, mostly in Westchester County. Stephen De Lancey is credited with paying for the city's first town clock and importing the first fire engine to the province of New York.

Robert Livingston "1st Lord of the Manor" 1654-1728

Scottish born and Dutch educated pioneer fur trader and Secretary of Indian Affairs in Albany, New York. He acquired land and was granted manorial rights for his Livingston Manor in 1686, a 160'000 acres property in nowadays Dutchess and Columbia counties. He married Alida (Schuyler) Van Rensselaer, daughter of Philip Pieterse Schuyler and widow of “Dominie” Nicholas Van Rensselaer, a younger brother of patroon Jeremias Van Rensselaer. To ascertain his wealth and social position, Robert Livingston held numerous public offices, including town clerk and rent collector of Albany, as well as eight terms in the New York Provincial Assembly of which he was a Speaker for eight years. Livingston descendents became the probably most prominent family of Colonial New York.

Frederick Philipse III-New York 1720-1786

The last lord of the manor of Philipseborough, Frederick Philipse III also became one of the most famous Loyalists during the Independence war. Along with some two hundred other loyal subjects to the Crown, Frederick Philipse III signed a Declaration of Dependence, laying open his faith in king George III. Philipse's stand was obviously on the wrong side as subsequent events proved. Arrested on orders from George Washington, Philipse escaped to England, where he died in 1786, a broken man, his vast properties having been seized and auctioned off by the New York State Legislature.

Peter Schuyler Landowner 1657-1724

The eldest son of Philip Pieterse Schuyler and Margaretta Van Slichtenhorst, Peter Schuyler was also the most prominent, both in colonial politics and in business. He followed his father in the fur trade and thanks to his mastership of the Iroquois and other Indian tongues, he was even more successful than his forebear. Among the white settlers of Albany, he was one of the most trusted by the Indians, who called him "Quidder" or "Quidor", which was either an Indian word for brother or as close as the natives could pronounce his first name, Peter. His prominence as a merchant and frontier diplomat, as well as his excellent family connections, brought Peter Schuyler to the forefront of local and provincial politics. In 1686, he became the first mayor of Albany, when the city was chartered by 'Governor' Thomas Dongan. He kept that office until 1694 and as a consequence headed the influential Commissioners of Indian Affairs, along with his brother-in-law, Robert Livingston. In 1692, Peter Schuyler was the first Albany man to be made a member of the Governor's Council. Besides the fur trade, negotiations with the Indians covered the subjects of defense (against the French) and land acquisitions. Peter Schuyler played a key role in both, as a colonel of the Albany militia and as the extensive landowner he became. His most noticeable land transactions were made in 1696, when he received deeds for large land tracts in conjunction with 'Reverend' Godfriedus Dellius, Evart Bancker and Dirck Wessels. The first was a seventy miles long and twelve miles deep stretch on the Eastern side of the Hudson river, North of Albany. The second, a fifty miles long and four miles wide tract in the Mohawk valley. Governor Fletcher confirmed the deeds, but they were invalidated in 1699 by 'Governor' Bellomont, on the oath of two Christian Indians, who swore they had been secured by graft. 'Dominie' Dellius was revoked and returned to Europe, but Peter Schuyler and the two other partners eventually ended with large landholdings in Northern New York nevertheless. The peak of Peter Schuylers career as frontier diplomat and politician doubtlessly came, when in 1710 he took four Iroquois Chieftains to England and introduced them at the Court of Queen Ann as North American kings. Peter Schuyler was married twice and had nine children. Both his wife's were members of the emerging local aristocracy and particularly his second marriage, to the daughter of the Patroon of Rensselaerswyck and sister of the Lord of Courtlandt Manor, added much to his and his family's prestige.


Website: The History
Article Name: Biographical Sketches of Wealthy Men Of The Colonial Era In New York
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A Classification of American Wealth; History and Genealogy of the Wealthy Families of America
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