Collection consists of correspondence, business records, personal papers, and other materials of the Constable, Pierrepont and Clarkson families and of William Bell. Constable papers contain personal and business correspondence (including letterbooks), 1774-1803, of William Constable and a few letters of his wife, Ann; accounts, 1773-1803, including cash books, journals, ledgers, memo-books, and waste books. There also are field books of land surveys, papers relating to land speculation and development in northern New York (including Macomb's Purchase), New York City, and various frontier states; and papers compiled by his brother James and his son-in-law Hezekiah Pierrepont relating to his estate; the land papers, 1762-1772, of his father, John Constable; and the letters and land papers, 1798-1807, of his brother James.
Biographical/historical: The bulk of the papers are those of William Kerin Constable and his son-in-law Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont, both of whom are representative figures in the history of post colonial mercantile capitalism in America. In addition both men contributed significantly to the growth of New York City and to its rise to preeminence in the political economy of the nation. William Constable was born at Dublin, Ireland, in 1752. He spent his childhood in Montreal and Syracuse, N. Y. before returning to Dublin to attend Trinity College. During the War of Independence he served as aide-de-camp to Lafayette and after a brief partnership with his brother-in-law, settled in Philadelphia as a partner of James Sea prove. Following the war he moved to New York City to join Robert Morris and Gouverneur Morris in the firm to which he gave his name. The Morrises had established regular trade with China, and the new company soon expanded its operations to India and the intervening coastal countries. Lucrative trade in tea, textiles, spices, and furs, and at home, the provisioning of British troops in the West Indies, land speculations in northern New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, and Virginia, made Constable one of the wealthiest men in America. In partnership with Alexander Macomb and Daniel McCormick he acquired some 4,000,000 acres in northern New York which he tried (enlisting the aid of his friend LaFayette) to sell in Europe. It was which he was there on one such land-selling trip that the company he had formed with his brother, James, defaulted on notes James had endorsed for Nathaniel Ingraham. As a result upon his return to New York in 1801 William Constable was detained for a short period in debtor's prison. The company ceased to exist and much of his landed interests were used to liquidate the debt. He died in 1803.
Hezekiah Pierrepont was born at New Haven, Conn. in 1790. After a youthful apprenticeship as a bookseller went to New York City in 1790 to work in the Custom House. A year later he moved to Philadelphia where he made a small fortune speculating in government debt. Three years later he returned to New York to establish with his cousin the firm of Leffingwell and Pierrepont. The firm quickly prospered running the British blockade to deliver supplies to revolutionary France. When the seizure of vessels by both belligerents increased in number and threatened to become a serious obstacle to assured profits the firm abandoned this trade and turned to the Far East. Pierrepont met his future father-in-law, William Constable, while in Europe engaged in a lawsuit over the taking by the French of the ship Confederacy during its return voyage from the Orient. This gapless pursuit convinced Pierrepont that under the prevailing conditions foreign commerce was too hazardous; consequently the firm was dissolved in 1800. The exploitation of real property then became his main concern. His other interests included mines in the mid-west, the development of a brewery in Brooklyn which he had bought from Philip Livingston, he sale, settlement, and improvement of his lands through contractual tenancy, schemes for canals in New York state which would enable garden produce from his up-state lands to be transported to the markets of the expanding city, the cutting and hauling of timber the transformation of his Brooklyn harbour-front property. These lands were extensive, and, with the lands of the Livingstons, comprised a large part of what is now Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill. When in 1815 Brooklyn was incorporated as a village Pierrepont persuaded the village to adopt a plan for new streets and blocks which had been prepared by a surveyor in his employ. This plan remains the basic grid structure of the present Brooklyn Heights. Pierrepont died there in 1838.
Content: The papers are separated into four groups: Constable papers; Pierrepont Papers; William Bell Papers; and, Clarkson Family Papers. The Constable Papers contain personal and business correspondence (including letter-books) 1774-1830, of William Constable and a few letters of his wife, Ann, accounts, including cash books, journals, ledgers, memo-books, and waste-books. There are also field books of land surveys, papers relating to land speculation and development in northern New York (including Macomb's Purchase) New York City, and various frontier states, and papers compiled by his brother, James, and Hezekiah B. Pierrepont, relating to his estate, the land papers, 1762-1772, of his father, John Constable, and the letters and land papers, 1798-1807, of his brother, James, complete this section. The largest group of Pierrepont Papers is composed of the personal and business letters, 1795-1838 of Hezekiah Beers Pierrepont, letters and papers relating to French Spoliattion Claims, some correspondence of his wife, Anna Maria Constable, the accounts of Leffingwell & Pierrepont, papers relating to Hezekiah Pierrepont's speculations in land, field books of land surveys; notes on the trade with China, India, Pulco Pinang, and the Malay settlements; the account books of his father, John Pierpont; and correspondence, accounts, land papers, field and plat books of his sons, William C. Pierrepont and Henry Evelyn Pierrepont This section also includes some letters, accounts, and legal papers of later members of the Pierrepont family. The remainder of the collection consists of the papers of the Clarkson Family, and the papers, 1806-1856, of William Bell who was a friend and business colleague of William Constable and Hezekiah B. pierrepont; and some accounts of Pfister & Macomb, and Wells & Wagenen. The Bell Papers include letters, account books compiled on trading journeys to the Orient, land papers, accounts, letters, and legal papers relating to his estate, poems and other writings, and news clippings.
Acquisition: 1941-1942, Received from Anna. J. Pierrepont and Robert Low Pierrepont