Thursday, November 28, 2013

Evelyn Sampson’s Pilgrim Fathers

Evelyn Sampson

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers, and to everyone else.

Today, I am honoured to present a poem written by my beautiful mother-in-law, Evelyn Sampson, who died in 1974, long before I met her son. Her gentle and loving spirit has been with us always. She was a poet as a young adolescent, and many of her poems were published in Chicago newspapers. Recently, when I was reading her poetry, I came across one about the pilgrims, which gave me chills considering that her only child was to be born on American Thanksgiving, and that her grandson would be a Mayflower descendant.

Pilgrim Fathers

They came for peace and happiness,
The sisters, sons, and mothers.
For freedom in a far-away land
They came, those Pilgrim fathers!

Much they suffered and endured
For liberty’s dear sake.
And many loved ones were laid to rest
From a sleep they would never wake.

But in them was a spirit true,
And tho the bitter cold made them numb,
They determined in, stay and pave a way
For the generations to come.

Ah, gone are they now - gone forever -
‘Neath the cool green grass for many a day.
Yet the spirit so true that has sprung from them
Shall never fade away.
                                By Evelyn Sampson

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Phebe Bloom Hart, David Thomas Vail, and Abraham Lincoln

From The City of Troy and its vicinity,
Phebe Bloom Hart, the third child of Richard Philip Hart and Betsey Amelia Howard, was born June 30, 1819 in Troy, New York. She was named after her father’s first wife, and after his first daughter by that wife, who died at the age of twelve. Like most of her sisters, she attended the Troy Female Seminary, and her biography also appears in the book, Emma Willard and Her Pupils, having attended from 1827 to 1837. She married David Thomas Vail on November, 20, 1838 at the age of nineteen. They travelled in Europe for a year after their marriage. They had four children, Howard Hart Vail, who died at the age of one, Rev. Richard Phiip Hart Vail, Jane Eliza Vail, and Phebe Hart Vail.

Her husband, most often referred to as “D. Thomas Vail”, was born September 18, 1814 also in Troy, New York. He was from a prominent family in Troy, and his uncle Henry was a U.S. Congressman, who was also a “close friend” of President Martin Van Buren. David Thomas graduated from Williams College in 1834, and then went into his father’s mercantile business. He became the director of the Merchants and Mechanics’ Bank of Troy in 1847, and in 1850 succeeded his father as its president. He had many other business interests including railroads and manufacturing.

Abraham Lincoln, 1860
Matthew Brady photograph
from Wikipedia Commons via Library of Congress

One of the high points of his life may have been that in 1861 he was given the honour of playing a role in Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Troy. The following is from The History of Troy:

The reception of Abraham Lincoln by the people of Troy, on the 19th of February, is thus described: “Abraham Lincoln, President-elect of the United States, arrived in this city this morning a few minutes past nine o’clock. The Central railroad cars brought him over the Rensselaer & Saratoga road from Albany via the Junction, on account of the swollen condition of the river, the passage across it in a boat at Albany being considered unsafe. The train consisted of six cars, filled with the suite of the President, the members of the New York Press, the Troy Committee of arrangements, the Albany Burgesses Corps, and several gentlemen from Albany. The depot was filled to its utmost capacity by men of all parties, to do honor to the President-elect. There was one vast sea of heads, and the noise and enthusiasm were beyond description. There could not have been less than thirty thousand people present in the depot. The Hudson River car prepared to convey the President to New York stood on the middle track with a platform car covered with matting drawn up in the rear, on which the reception ceremonies were to take place, in the presence of this vast audience. The Citizens’ Corps, Capt. H. L. Shields, which had been ordered out to do duty, were drawn up on both sides of the open car, to keep back the crowd. The train ran in the depot to the east of the New York train, and a plank being laid from the rear end of the train to the platform car, Mr. Lincoln soon appeared upon it in company with Mayor McConihe. His appearance was the signal for applause never before equalled in this city. Mr. Lincoln bowed in response, and replied in brief terms. While he was speaking, his suite embarked on the Hudson River Train, and Mr. Lincoln, upon conclusion of his address, was conducted by Vice President D. Thomas Vail, of the Troy Union Railroad Company, the platform of the rear car, where, as the train moved away, he stood with uncovered head and bowed his acknowledgments to the plaudits of the people. While the train was coming over the Rensselaer & Saratoga railroad bridge, a detachment of the Troy City Artillery fired a salute of thirty-four guns in honor of the President”.

Phebe Bloom Hart Vail passed away on October 25, 1870, at the age of fifty-one. Her youngest daughter was only thirteen at the time. Her husband’s fortunes took another turn for the worse when in 1878 he was indicted for a fraudulent business deal while President of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank of Troy. This subsequently resulted in the failure of the bank. Reviewing the newspaper accounts of the time, I find that the following seems to put the affair most succinctly:

The Stark County Democrat
Canton, Ohio
, December 5, 1878
(accessed on Genealogy Bank)

In the course of time other family members were implicated, including his son-in-law and his brother-in-law. Although he was allowed not to go to jail due to his apparent imminent demise from ill health, he lived another four years. However, he remained mainly confined to his house for the last three years of his life due to “heart disease”, which was “aggravated” by his “financial troubles”. He died on February 5, 1882. It is reported in his obituary, “About two weeks since his complaint assumed a more serious phase, and since then he has been gradually sinking. His death, however, was not anticipated so soon. He bade his daughter “good night” about midnight Saturday, and said he thought they would all have a comfortable night. She visited his bedside occasionally after that, but thought him sleeping. At length, at about 5 o’clock a.m. Sunday, alarmed at his perfect quietude, she called assistance, and it was ascertained that Mr. Vail had peacefully closed his book of suffering and trouble, which he had uncomplainingly endured with manly resolution and Christian fortitude. By the death of Mr. Vail Troy loses a citizen who has ever been active in the promotion of its various local enterprises, and a zealous co-laborer for the welfare of its educational and charitable institutions”.

He and Phebe are buried at the Oakwood Cemetery, which he had helped to found.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Descent into Descent’s Blogiversary

Today I am celebrating the one year anniversary of the creation of this blog, My Descent into Descent. I am so excited that I have been able to keep this blog going for this long, although I have definitely not blogged every day as I had planned. I have discovered that for the type of blog this is, telling stories of interest from my family tree, the amount of research required for each blogpost makes publishing daily unrealistic. In addition, I enjoy just spending time researching without having to be focused on what I am going to write. This often leads to discoveries which I share with you later. When it comes to writing and research, I operate very much on the pleasure principle.

I have recently written about my blogging experience to date, which I invite you to visit for my personal joys of blogging. What I would like to share with you today are my most popular blogposts. These include:

William Cook 1849-1908, Saskatchewan Pioneer. This is the story of my great great grandfather William Cook and his experiences homesteading in Saskatchewan. I have been surprised and delighted by the response of my Cook relatives to my writings about this line in general. They have inspired me to write more about the Cooks.

Stephen A. Hart: The Singing Surveyor of Goodhue County, Minnesota. I believe the popularity of this blogpost is due more to the response of people interested in local history than of family history buffs, as Stephen’s children did not survive past childhood. Writing about Stephen has shown me that family history writing can be a special type of historical writing, which gives a deeper genealogical perspective to the events of history.

The Infamous Nicholas Hart (1610-1654?) I am fascinated by my mysterious first Hart ancestor to come to America. I don’t think most Hart researchers knew about his connection with Sarah Dudley, the governor’s daughter, before this. I’m glad to share.

William Cook Senior and the Case of the Purloined Ferret. This was the result of my explorations into British newspapers, and was a lot of fun to write. It was wonderful to find some confirmation for family stories about William Junior, too.

Lily Elizabeth Newton Cook Arnold 1881 - 1965. See what I mean about my Cook cousins? They have really supported this blog. Making contact with Great Grand Aunt Lily’s descendants was one of my main purposes in starting this blog in the first place. It took a little time, but they really came through. My contact with them has been one of the most gratifying results of writing MDID.

My own favourites are little different. They are:

All of my blogposts on my great grandfather Herbert Charles Saunders, which were my first. My journey discovering Herbert’s story has been the most profound of my research to date.

All of my blogposts on my great great grandmother, Emma Green Cook, one of my favourite ancestors, whose picture adorns this blog.

All of my blogposts about Melvin J. Hart, another of my great grandfathers, and also one of my favourite ancestors. The single greatest joy of my research to date is finding his Civil War photo on Ancestry. This year I was able to obtain a better copy of the original from the owner. How cool is that?

The Marlow Centennial – 100 Years in Canada. Imagine receiving a newspaper article written by one of your great aunts, exactly one hundred years before, describing her family’s recent emigration to Alberta. This was just spooky.

And, off the top of my head, all of my blogposts from my family history road trip this summer. Words cannot express the experience of walking in the footsteps of your ancestors. It was fun to blog from the road, too.

Oh, and I have to say that I’m pretty excited about the current series I am doing about the family of Richard and Betsey Hart, of Troy, New York—the Hart line I wish I had been born into. I lack the silver spoon.

I would love to hear what your personal favourites are. Thanks to all my “gentle readers” for their support throughout the year.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Harriette Howard Hart, Lieutenant Ezra Thompson Doughty, and Lafayette Again

Lafayette about 1820
Wikipedia Commons

Harriette Howard Hart, the second child of Richard Philip Hart and Betsey Amelia Howard Hart, was born on May 11, 1818 in Troy, New York. She, like her sister Mary, attended the Troy Female, but from 1827 to 1834. At the age of eighteen, on September 29, 1836, she married the naval lieutenant, Ezra Thompson Doughty, who was seven years her senior. They had three children, William Howard Doughty, born 1837, and it seems that the last two children were twins--Ezra Thompson Doughty Jr. and Richard Hart Doughty, both possibly both born on February 14, 1839. Harriette and Ezra appear to have made Troy their residence their whole lives. Ezra died at the young age of thirty-one on April 27, 1843, and Harriette passed away on September 10, 1870 at the age of fifty.

Harriette’s husband Ezra T. Doughty’s naval career is of interest to us for two reasons, first that he wrote a journal of his voyages, and that he was aboard the USS Brandywine when it transported General Lafayette back to France after his 1824/1825 visit to the United States.

Ezra’s diary is now located at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan. According to the website, “Ezra T. Doughty's diary entries pertain to his experiences onboard the USS St. Louis and USS Grampus during the ships' voyages in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico in 1832 and 1833. Doughty, a midshipman who became sailing master of the Grampus in December 1832, recorded detailed descriptions of Haiti; Veracruz, Mexico; and Havana, Cuba, and reflected on several aspects of navy life”. It also gives the following biography for him:  “Ezra T. Doughty became a midshipman in the United States Navy on May 3, 1824, and was stationed at the Norfolk Training School in 1830. In the fall of 1832, he sailed on the St. Louis from New York City to Pensacola, Florida, via Haiti and Cuba. In December 1832, he became sailing master of the schooner Grampus for its cruise from Pensacola to Norfolk, Virginia, via Veracruz, Mexico, and Havana, Cuba. On March 3, 1835, Doughty was promoted to lieutenant, and he later served onboard the Vandalia”.

USS Brandywine about 1831
Wikipedia Commons

When Ezra was a midshipman in 1825, and aboard the USS Brandywine with the Marquis de Lafayette, he and the other midshipmen signed an address which was made to the aging general as he was about to disembark at Le Havre. Many of the of the sailors on board had apparently been chosen to be there due to one of their ancestors’ distinguished service during the Revolutionary War. Lafayette’s verbal response was as follows: “My dear young friends; I am unable to express my feelings towards you. Before I had the pleasure of your acquaintance, I considered it an honor to belong to the United States’ navy—since then my knowledge of you, as individuals, had added to my admiration of the chivalry of your profession, and rendered sanguine my expectations of its future achievements. Your country has reason to be proud of you; I part from you with regret—but should your duties or inclinations bring you again to France, remember that Lagrange is the home of every American. Farewell”.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Alice Alida Le Bourgeois Jaquet Durkee Hardy-The/Pierre de Coulevain: Continued

Illustration from Eve Victorieuse 1900
Internet Archive

I think I may have just discovered a heretofore unknown American writer from Louisiana, who was thought for over a century to be a French woman--first Mlle. Favre de Coulevain, and then Jeanne Philomene Laperche.

The more I look into Joseph H. Durkee’s wife Alice, born Marie Alida Lebourgeois, discussed in the previous blogpost, the more I believe that she is the true author of all of the works written under the pseudonym of Pierre de Coulevain. These include Eve Victorieuse, Noblesse Americaine, Sur la Branche, L’Ile Inconnue, Au Coeur de la Vie,  and Le Roman Merveilleux. In English, they are Eve Triumphant, American Nobility, On the Branch, The Unknown Isle, The Heart of Life, and The Wonderful Romance. It must be understood that although the writer known as Pierre de Coulevain was not considered to be a great author, her works were very popular, both in America and in Europe. Some went through many printings, and most received fairly favourable reviews. There were several articles in the press responding to the views expressed in the novels on Europeans and Americans, particularly American women, and she appears to have been widely quoted.

From what I have been able to ascertain, she was born Marie Alida Lebourgeois on September 20, 1861 in Opelousas, St. Landry, Louisiana, in the heart of Creole and Cajun country. Her parents were Louis Florian Lebourgeois and Marie Alida Beraud. Her family did own a plantation in Lousiana as she claimed, and continued to own it after the Civil War. She was part owner with her brother Raoul. Before she married Joseph, she married William F. Jaquet on September 30, 1880, a marriage which was described as “unhappy”.  After Jaquet’s death, she married the wealthy Joseph H. Durkee in New Orleans on January 20, 1894 on his thirty-second birthday. (This may have been done for her family’s benefit, as it was also claimed that they had married earlier in Paris). They spent much of their marriage living in Paris, where they may have owned an hotel near the Bois de Boulogne. As mentioned in the previous blogpost, she claimed authorship of the Pierre de Coulevain novels (and short stories). One newspaper account states that her husband Joseph had helped her with Noblesse Americaine, and that an Italian man had assisted her with Eve Victorieuse. Another account stated that she had “apologized” for her claims to be the true writer “Pierre de Coulevain”, who accepted her apology. Six years after Joseph’s death at sea, she married Lucien Hardy-The on June 30, 1904 in Philadelphia. Not only was he a French capitalist, politician and former newspaperman allegedly, he also sang baritone. Alice and Lucien were said to have met at one of her “musicales” in Paris, and developed their relationship over the Pierre de Coulevain authorship controversy. (One account states that he was an Englishman). She died of pneumonia on November 16, 1906 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. She had been on her way to Louisiana from Paris and fell ill in New York. In her will she left most of her fortune, estimated to be about half a million dollars, to her husband, her portion of the St. Landry plantation to her brother Raoul, and her jewellery worth upwards of $100,000 at the time to her niece, Blanche. There is no mention in the newspaper accounts of there being any reference in the will to her writings. A death notice states that she was “beautiful” and “accomplished”.

It appears that only one of the major works attributed to Pierre de Coulevain was published after Alice/Alida’s death, that being Au Coeur de la Vie in 1908. Several of the translations of her works were published post mortem, up until 1914. She may have had one French language manuscript ready enough for publication at the time of her death. It may be that all of the translations were written by Alice/Alida herself, but she was reluctant to publish them all while she was living due to having used recognizable American models for some of her characters. (The “translations” may have been the true originals of the works—the French versions could have been written second, and possibly not by her).  Judging by her surviving husband’s credentials, he may well have been capable of arranging for the posthumous publication of her work.

In the previous blogpost I mentioned that there was a newspaper report that a Mlle. Favre de Coulevain had expressed public outrage at Alice’s claims that she had written de Coulevain’s novels, and claimed to have been the authoress herself. In 1913 there were reports that Mlle. Favre, supposedly born in Geneva, had died in Lausanne, Switzerland on August twenty-second of that year.

Now, it gets a little more bizarre. It  now appears to be accepted  that Mlle. Favre was another pseudonym, and that a woman by the name of Jeanne Philomene Laperche was the real name of the author, which makes the newspaper reports referring to Mlle. Favre as a real person even more odd. It is said that Laperche, who died in 1927, made the decision to kill off the Pierre de Coulevain persona in 1913 and to stop writing under this name. This happened around the time the last English translations were coming out, it should be noted. Clearly, it could have been a rather convenient thing to do if the real author was now deceased.

My current theory is that Laperche, Lucien Hardy-The, and possibly Alice herself, were accomplices in the whole business of claiming that someone other than Alice was the true author of Pierre de Coulevain’s works. (I have not yet ruled out that Laperche could have written the French versions from English originals written by Alice). As I have suggested previously, Alice could have had good reason to remain anonymous but still have wanted it to be before the public that she was the author, thus her claims in the newspapers and the clues in the works themselves. This includes the clue described in the previous blogpost, that of her giving her heroine in American Nobility the same birthday as her husband and placing her on the same ship he died on, the Bourgogne, all in the same sentence. I will be looking for more clues in the novels as I read through them.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Joseph H. Durkee, a Shipwreck, and Noblesse américaine

S.S. La Bourgogne, accessed via

As we have seen, Mary Amelia Hart and her husband Harrison Durkee had four children, Richard P.H., Elizabeth A., Augustus White, and Joseph H. Among the sons, Richard was a lawyer, Augustus was a businessman and broker in the tradition of his father, and Joseph was a broker and a gentleman of leisure. Elizabeth married Jonathan Crane late in life, and as of yet I have found no indication that any of the Durkee children produced any offspring.

The youngest child, Joseph Hart Durkee, born January 20, 1862, is of interest to us for a few different reasons, including his love of travel, his collection of rare Indian and Roman coins, his death aboard the ill-fated S.S. La Bourgogne, and his intriguing wife, Alice. During his life, his travels seem to have taken him to places such as India and Europe. He and Alice, born Alida Lebourgeois, were living in Paris for several years before his death. According to a newspaper account, Alice was from a wealthy Louisiana family of Creole descent. On July 4, 1898 Joseph was returning to Paris to join Alice on the S.S. La Bourgogne when it collided with another ship in the fog. The initial impact was felt as slight by many of the passengers, but the ship took at most an hour to sink. Quite the opposite to the Titanic, none of the passengers in first class survived, possibly because they were reassured that all was well, and many who were not already sleeping did nothing to prepare themselves. One assumes that Joseph would have been travelling first class.

In his will he bequeathed his collection of rare Indian and Roman coins, worth twenty-five thousand dollars at the time, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can view some of the coins on the museum’s website. The rest of his estate seems to have gone to his wife Alice.

What is notable about her is that she claimed to be the author of several works, including the novels Noblesse américaine and Eve victorieuse, under the nom de plume, Pierre de Coulevain, and that she was made a member of the French Academy for writing them. Noblesse américaine is about the adventures of a New York heiress in France. Her wealth and beauty are the objects of desire for the local nobility whose families are in desperate need an influx of American cash. The novel was first published in French in Paris in 1898, the year of Joseph’s death. I am currently reading the English version, American Nobility, translated by an “Alys Hallard”, possibly another pseudonym. I must say that as a writer about America in the Gilded Age, Alice/Pierre is certainly no Henry James or Edith Wharton, but she certainly engages the reader. (The Portrait of a Lady by James has always been one of my favourite novels). De Coulevain’s writings have been attributed to a French woman, Helene Favre de Coulevain, but I would say that the novel seems to reveal a familiarity with society life in both New York and Paris, which would indicate that the author is intimately acquainted with both from both sides of the Atlantic, such as an American expatriate would be. I also strongly suspect that “Alys Hallard”, the translator, is Alice Durkee herself, as the the novel seems less a translation than an original work, particularly as the humour is so fresh and seems effortlessly integral to the text. I would have to read both the English and French versions in their entirety to be a better judge. So far, I have identified two specific clues that the writer was Alice, which I believe she deliberately placed there, and they are from the same sentence of the novel. On page 23, referring to the heroine she writes, "as she came of age on the 20th of January, she had taken her ticket on the Bourgogne, which set sail on the 25th". Here, she uses her husband Joseph's birthday, and the ship upon which he died.

Perhaps she wrote the original novel in French under a pen name and had it published in Paris because she did use people she knew as models, but her ego did not allow her to stay completely anonymous, hence the clues and newspaper claims. There was a reported meeting of Mrs. Durkee and Mlle. Favre, the other reputed writer of the novel, at a reception in Paris hosted by the Countess de Tobriand, "when the affair came to a crisis". Mlle. Favre supposedly expressed her outrage at Alice's claims of authorship. I believe this may well have been staged, if it happened at all, as a way for Alice to at once reveal herself as the author and also to maintain some doubt about it. It may have also led to the sale of more of her books.

I am finding American Nobility a joy to read from a family history perspective, especially in her descriptions of the personalities and mores of her turn of the century New Yorkers and how they are perceived abroad. One imagines that her writing may be informed by her acquaintance with Joseph and his family, and that some of the details are closely inspired by them. I wonder if the following passage, in which she describes one of the heroine’s suitors, also applies to Joseph in some way: “She had a secret preference for Frank Barnett. He was handsome, distinguished, and then he talked in an agreeable way. As he was wealthy, he had never been compelled to choose any profession and his long visits to Europe had added a certain refinement to his conversation and general education. For the last three years he had been Annie’s knight. He had kept her supplied with the rarest flowers and had always reserved the best place on his mail-coach and his yacht for her. For all this, he had been repaid, at least, by very sincere friendship. The idea that Frank might some day become her husband had often occurred to her and was not at all displeasing to her either”.

Alice remains a mystery. 

[Please see my next blogpost, Alice Alida Lebourgeois Jaquet Durkee Hardy-The Continued].

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mary Amelia Hart, Harrison Durkee, and Commodore Vanderbilt

Mary Amelia Hart, the eldest child of Betsey Amelia and Richard Philip Hart, was born  on November 17, 1816 in Troy, New York, ten months after her parents’ marriage, and when her mother was still just seventeen years old. She, like most of her sisters, attended Emma Hart Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, and her biography under her maiden name appears in Emma Willard and Her Pupils.  She was a student there from 1826 to 1831. She married Harrison Durkee on April 28, 1837 in New York City, and they had four children, Richard P.H., Elizabeth A., Augustus White,  and Joseph H.

Her father, Richard, was her husband Harrison’s mentor in business during his early years in Troy, which led to his becoming one of the earliest members of the New York Stock Exchange in the year of his marriage.  He also became the manager of the Howard Trust and Banking Company in Troy, which belonged to his wife’s grandfather, William Howard. The Durkees relocated to New York City in 1851 to allow Harrison to attend better to his business interests. Harrison apparently was an “intimate” of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and an associate of his in business.  (One imagines that this means that a Hart woman was part of the Vanderbilt social circle of the time, which seems quite fitting when you think about it). Harrison was vice president of the Western Union Telegraph Company for many years, and was also the director of the Erie Railway.

There are several newspaper articles pertaining to the race horses he possessed, including the famous horse, Dictator. He apparently owned a tract of land near Flushing, Long Island, which he converted into a breeding farm. There is an article from the New York Herald, dated March 15, 1896, by Hamilton Busbey, an associate of Harrison’s, about Harrison’s horses, titled Trotters and Racers of Bygone Days. In it, he includes some remembrances of Durkee, including the following vignette:

He also writes regarding Durkee’s culinary pursuits:

And finally, a story from the end of his life:

Harrison Durkee died at his home at 714 Fifth Avenue, of nephritis and heart disease on August 4, 1886, at the age of seventy-four, his wife Mary Amelia having predeceased him two years earlier on  December 19, 1884. They are both buried in the Oakwood Cemetery at Troy, New York.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Betsey Amelia Hart: A "Solid Man" of Troy

Hart-Cluett House
CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

Betsey Amelia Howard, wife of Richard Philip Hart, was the daughter of William Howard, and granddaughter of Phebe Hart, who was the sister of Jeremiah and Philip Hart. As mentioned before, Betsey was born on December 9, 1798 in Dutchess County, and was the first cousin once removed of her husband. Her father, William Henry Howard, appears to have been even wealthier than her husband Richard. He was the president of the Union Bank in New York City in 1811 at its incorporation, and was either its trustee or president until 1840. He and his family seemed to have lived in Manhattan for many years until his death in 1845, two years after the death of Betsey’s husband, Richard. Betsey and Richard received the Hart mansion in Troy, New York, as a gift from from her father in 1827 to provide room for their burgeoning family.

Betsey was either an only child, or was a de facto only child, as her reported brothers moved away from New York. In 1845, Betsey was now the inheritor of two fortunes, that of her husband and that of her father. She must have been a wise manager of money, and a tycoon in her own right, as when she died in 1886 about forty years after her husband and father, she was reported as “the richest woman in America”, her estate valued somewhere between seven and ten million. This was all accomplished in nineteenth century America by a mother of fourteen children. She was named in in an article published in several newspapers in various parts of the country in 1865, as one of the “solid men of Troy” due to her high income. She was the only person mentioned from an original list of several individuals, likely because it was so unusual for a woman to be so wealthy, and because she was listed as a man.

I could find several  references to her generosity to charities and serving as their trustee, including educational institutions such as the Troy Female Seminary, Troy University, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and children’s charities such as the Troy Orphan Asylum, Young Men’s Association, and the Day Home.

Her husband had been instrumental in bringing the Troy Female Seminary to the city of Troy, a school which was the first in the country to provide women with the same quality of education given to men. Most of their daughters attended this school, operated by Emma Hart Willard, the famous nineteenth century educator. Emma’s school was visited twice by the Marquis de Lafayette during his 1824/1825 visit to the United States, two years before any of the Hart daughters were to attend. However, it is likely that members of the Hart family saw the aging general during his sojourn in their city as it was a grand event.

Betsey was still living in her mansion when she died on August 23, 1886. Her fortune was dispersed among her children and grandchildren, and seeded their prosperity for decades to come. Her white marble mansion, after being sold to the Cluett family, and having been in their hands for many years, became the home of the Rensselaer Historical Society, and still stands as a rare example of this type of architecture in the late Federal style. Betsey’s bedroom with its Duncan Phyfe furniture has been decorated to appear as it was when she lived there. It is definitely going to be on my itinerary for my next family history road trip to New York State.