Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mayor Richard P. Hart and the 1837 St. Patrick's Day Riot of Troy, New York

Richard P. Hart
from History of Rensselaer County
Richard Philip Hart, the second child of Philip and Susannah (Akin) Hart was born in Hart's Village, Dutchess County, New York on February 11, 1780. He went to work for his brother-in-law, Jacob Merritt, husband of his sister Mary, in Troy, New York. From there, he became a business man in his own right, making a great deal of money selling supplies to the U.S. Army and Navy during the War of 1812. This was in the tradition of his father Philip supplying the blue cloth for the uniforms of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War.  Richard went on to amass a fortune in banking, railroad, real estate, and other industries. Interestingly, Richard P. (as he was always known), was elected to the New York State Assembly for the 1820 to 1821 session as the representative for Rensselaer County. His first cousin, and my three times great grandfather, Stephen Hart, was also elected to the New York State Assembly for the same term, but from Lewis County. This was the only term either man ever served in state government. As Richard benefited commercially from the construction of the Erie Canal, the terminus of which was close to Troy, I imagine that he was likely of the same party as the governor of New York State, Dewitt Clinton, the driving force behind the canal's construction. Richard's brothers Philip Hart Jr., Jacob Akin Hart, William Hart, and Isaac B. Hart, were also a part of the political and economic development of the City of Troy, but none to the extent of Richard.

Richard P. Hart first married Phebe Bloom on January 10, 1800, and had a daughter Phebe Bloom Hart, born in 1800, who died at the age of twelve. The mother passed away on May 9, 1801. He then married Delia Maria Dole on February 10, 1805, who died five months later of tuberculosis. His marital fortunes were to change when he married his first cousin once removed, Betsey Amelia Howard, on February 10, 1816, daughter of his first cousin William Howard and Rebecca French (White) Howard. (William was the son of Richard's aunt Phebe Hart Howard). Betsey was born December 9, 1798 in Dutchess County. They had fourteen children: Mary Amelia, Harriette Howard, Phebe Bloom, William Howard, Elizabeth H., Jane Rebecca, Richard, Joseph Moss, Susan, Caroline, Julia Ann, Frances, Sarah Wool, and Austin Spencer.

Richard and Amelia lived in a mansion in the city of Troy, which was built for them in 1827 as a wedding gift from her father to the couple. It still stands today, referred to as the Hart-Cluett House, and is the home of the Rensselaer County Historical Society and museum.

Richard was the mayor of the city of Troy from 1836 to 1838. In 1837 he helped quell the St. Patrick’s Day Riot in that city, which had started with a group of men hanging St. Patrick in effigy to insult the local Irish people. He went to the scene of the riot and ordered the crowd to disperse. He later ordered in the Citizens’ Corps, the local militia. Their entry into the fray “caused the participants to retire without compulsion”. One newspaper account described how the “Mayor and Recorder” “acted with great decision—were personally in the midst of the disturbances—and in several instances seized and handed over to the watchmen with their own hands, those who were turbulent, insolent or riotage”.

Richard was also a patron of the arts and sciences in the city of Troy. He was a founding trustee of both the Troy Polytechnic Institute, the Troy Female Seminary, and the Troy Lyceum of Natural History. He was also a lover of literature and attending many lectures. His charitable interests also included the Troy Orphan Asylum.

While Betsey and the children were travelling in Europe, Richard was the victim of a terrible accident. He had been home with a bad cold, and was taking a “vapor bath”, when apparently the curtain around the bath caught on fire. A newspaper story states that a servant threw some liquid on him, thinking it was water, which turned out to be alcohol. He died related to his burns on December 27, 1843.

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