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.

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