Papers document the career of Jacob Schieffelin as merchant landowner and Loyalist; travels and literary activities of his wife, Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin; and the careers of their son, Richard Lawrence Schieffelin, and grandson, George Richard Schieffelin.
Biographical/historical: Jacob Schieffelin (1757-1835), prominent New York merchant and landowner and founder of a mercantile house which has born the family name to the present day, was the son of Jacob Schieffelin (1732-69) of Weilheim-an-der-Teck, Duchy of Wurtemburg, who emigrated to the Province of Pennsylvania in 1746. The Schieffelin (or Scheuffelin) family, a branch of which located in Geneva in the 16th century, has been traced as far back as the 13th century to Nordlingen, Germany. Jacob's grandfather, Jacob Schieffelin (1702-46), had visited the province earlier in the century but had returned to Germany. Jacob's father, a merchant, settled in Philadelphia where he married (1756) Regina Margaretta Kraften Ritschaurin (d. 1816). In 1770 the family settled in Montreal. Following his father's death Jacob, who was the eldest of three surviving sons (the others being Jonathan and Thomas) was apprenticed to a Montreal merchant. In 1776, at age seventeen, he went to Detroit and entered the mercantile business forming with Thomas Smith the firm of Schieffelin & Smith.
Although it was merely a small stockaded outpost in the western wilderness at the beginning of the American Revolution, Detroit controlled access to the rich lands of the Ohio Valley which were claimed by Canada and coveted by the Americans. Its lieutenant-governor, Henry Hamilton, became acquainted with Schieffelin and was so impressed by his character and capacities that he appointed him secretary to the government in the Indian Department and granted him a commission as lieutenant in the Detroit Volunteers which had just been formed to defend the Western lands. The commission may have been partly in recognition of Schieffelin's prior services for he appears to have participated in the Battle of Bennington (August 1776). In any case his rank and pay were equivalent to that of an officer in the regular army.
In 1778 Sir Guy Carleton, the commander of British forces in Canada, ordered Governor Hamilton to undertake an expedition to New Orleans and en route to capture the American forts in Illinois. Leaving Detroit in October with Lt. Schieffelin, the Detroit Volunteers, and a detachment of regular troops, Hamilton recaptured Ft. Vincennes on the Wabash which had been taken by the Virginia Rangers under George Rogers 'Clark. However, while awaiting reinforcements there Hamilton's forces were surprised by Clark and taken prisoner to Williamsburg, Virginia. The following spring Schieffelin escaped and made his way to New York which was then under British occupation.
In New York he obtained (through General Clinton's staff) an introduction to a young lady by the name of Hannah Lawrence (1758-1838) a talented poetess, and daughter of John Lawrence, a Quaker and merchant, whose forbears held royal patents to Flushing and to Lawrence, Long Island. Impressed with his new acquaintance Schieffelin contrived to obtain billeting in the Lawrence residence on Queen (later, Pearl) Street. There the two fell in love and after a brief courtship, and despite the remonstrances of Hannah's father, were married on August 18, 1780. The bride was a lady of strong character and of forceful and determined views. As a Quaker she was opposed to war and as a patriot, to the British occupation. She purportedly deposited in the street in front of Trinity Church on Broadway, a favorite promenade, a poem which she had written denouncing the character of the British officers, which, when discovered by one of them, caused considerable consternation. After the war many of her poems were published under the pseudonyms "Matilda" and "Cornelia" in New York newspapers. Some of her poems displayed her anti-slavery sentiments.
Although Sir Henry Clinton offered Schieffelin an appointment as lieutenant in the Queens Rangers he declined, requesting instead to be allowed to return to Detroit to settle his business affairs. Accordingly, he and his bride, armed with despatches for General Haldimand at Quebec, joined the exodus of other Loyalists who sailed from New York in December of 1780 on the Ship "Harlequin" bound for the St. Lawrence. After a long journey through the wilderness with stopovers at Quebec and Fort Niagara, they arrived in Detroit the following spring. There Schieffelin built a house on land purchased from William Macomb, resumed his duties as secretary to the government and settled his mercantile affairs which had suffered during his absence, dissolving his partnership with Smith. He also obtained compensation for the expenses incurred during his escape from Williamsburg and speculated in lands obtaining from the Ottawa Indians a deed to a substantial tract of land on the south side of the Detroit River.
Following the disbandment in 1784 of the provincial troops Schieffelin returned to Montreal, was appointed government auctioneer, and became a very successful merchant. During the winter of 1788-89 he traveled alone to London in an effort to secure compensation for his military services.
In 1794 he returned to New York, purchased the drug business of his brother-in-law, Effingham Lawrence, which was established in 1781, and with another brother-in-law, John Burling Lawrence, founded the mercantile firm of Lawrence & Schieffelin, wholesale druggists, on Pearl Street.
The business began at an auspicious time. The nation's finances had been stabilized by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay had just concluded the treaty which restored commerce with Great Britain, preparing the way for New York to emerge as a leading commercial center. As the more aggressive partner, Schieffelin soon became engaged in commercial ventures of high risk involving staples and sundries in addition to drugs. This caused Effingham to withdraw from the partnership in 1799 and to establish his own firm, Lawrence & Keese, a few doors away.
Although many of Schieffelin's shipping ventures proved very successful and brought large profits some were affected by the disruptions to commerce brought on by the Napoleonic Wars. One such venture involved the Ship "Brunswick" which had left Point a Pitre on June 1, 1808 for New York with a shipment of clayed sugars valued at $20,280 sent by Joseph Deville to Schieffelin & Son in payment for drugs, medicines, glassware and other goods. Although the Embargo Act had suspended commerce from American ports, Schieffelin had obtained permission from the Collector of Customs at New York to send a vessel to Guadaloupe laden only with ballast for the purpose of transporting the goods owed to him. On June 2nd the "Brunswick" was seized near Antigua by a British man-of-war and taken to St. Johns where a vice-admiralty court ruled its cargo a war prize. Although the ruling was reversed in 1810 by the High Court of Admiralty in London, indemnification was delayed until the outbreak of the War of 1812, whereupon the property was once again declared a war prize. Despite the provisions of the Treaty of Ghent and an attempt by Schieffelin to secure the aid of Congress, compensation was never granted. Earlier, Schieffelin's cargos on the Ship "Dean" and Brig "Resort" had also been confiscated by the French at Amsterdam.
In 1786 Schieffelin took his son, Henry Hamilton Schieffelin into partnership and the business continued to flourish under Schieffelin family control for the remainder of the 19th century and beyond. After 1799 the firm was named successively Jacob Schieffelin (1799-1805), Jacob Schieffelin & Son (1805-14), H.H. Schieffelin & Co. (1814-49), Schieffelin Brothers & Co. (1849-65) and W.H. Schieffelin & Co. (1865-94).
Like many merchants of his day Schieffelin invested a portion of his mercantile profits in lands. He held important tracts and parcels of lands in New York City, in up-state counties and in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Manhattanville in the 9th Ward was largely laid out by him in 1807 and it was there that he built his large country estate, "Rooka Hall" on the banks of the Hudson River near what is now 144th Street. Nearby, his friend, Alexander Hamilton, had built his own country seat on land purchased from Schieffelin.
Schieffelin was a member of the German Society and a director of the Washington Assurance Society. He was one of the founders and wardens of the St. Mary's (Episcopal) Church in Manhattanville which was built on land donated by him. The church conducted the first free school in New York for children of all denominations.
Jacob Schieffelin died in New York on April 16, 1835 of apoplexy and was buried in the family vault at St. Mary's Church. The Schieffelins had six sons and one daughter: Edward Lawrence (1781-1850), Henry Hamilton (1783-1865), Anna Maria (1788-1845) Effingham (1791-1863), Jacob (1793-1880), John Lawrence (1796-1866), and Richard Lawrence (1801-89).
Biographical/historical: Richard Lawrence Schieffelin (1801-89), the youngest son of Jacob and Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin, named after his maternal grandfather, was born in the family residence on Pearl Street in New York City. After graduation (1819) from Columbia College he studied law with his brother-in-law, Benjamin Ferris and was admitted to the bar in 1823. Until his retirement (1843) he practiced chancery law. He administered the estates of his father, of Benjamin Ferris, and of his father-in-law, George McKay.
At age eighteen he joined the militia and upon retirement from it held the rank of Brigadier-General in command of the 82nd, 197th, 236th and 274th Regiments of the New York State Infantry. Although he took little active part in politics, in 1844 he was elected alderman for the 15th Ward and held the presidency of both the Board of Alderman and of the Common Council. A steadfast opponent of Tammany Hall he published in the local press numerous articles against the practices of that "secret oligarchy" as he called it. He was present as secretary at the meeting in 1823 which founded St. Mary's Church and at the time of his death was its senior warden. He held numerous properties in New York City and a summer cottage at Southampton, Long Island. He was a member of the German Society and a trustee of the East River Savings and of the Gebhard Insurance Company.
In 1833 he married Margaret Helen McKay, daughter of Capt. George Knox McKay (1791-1814) of the U.S. Artillery. Their children were Sarah who married Rev. Cuthbert Collingwood Barclay; Margaret who first married William Irving Graham and after his death, Alexander Robert Chisols; and George Richard Schieffelin.
Biographical/historical: George Richard Schieffelin (1836-1910), the youngest son of Richard Lawrence and Margaret Helen (McKay) Schieffelin, was, like his father, a graduate of Columbia college and an eminent New York attorney. In 1866 he married into the prominent Delaplaine family of New York. His wife, Julia Matilda Delaplaine (1841-1915), was the granddaughter of John Ferris Delaplaine (1786-1854), a wealthy New York shipping merchant. Her father, Isaac Clason Delaplaine (1817-66), was a member of the House of Representatives during the civil war. His wife's great uncle, John Ferris Delaplaine (1815-1885), was secretary (1866-83) to the American Legation at Vienna. The Schieffelin's had four daughters and one son: Julia Florence (who married Joseph Bruce Ismay, an owner of the White Star Steamship Co.); Margaret Helen (who married Henry G. Trover); Matilda Constance; Sarah Dorothy; and George Richard Delaplaine Schieffelin who married Louise Scribner.
Content: The Schieffelin Family papers reflect the lives of Jacob Schieffelin (1757-1835), prominent New York City merchant, landowner and Loyalist who founded a successful wholesale drug business which bore the family name throughout the 19th century; and his wife, Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin (1758-1838), daughter of a New York merchant and Quaker, John Lawrence; their son, Richard Lawrence Schieffelin (1801-89) and grandson, George Richard Schieffelin (1836-1910) both of whom were prominent New York City lawyers who specialized in chancery and real estate law.
The papers provide sporadic documentation of Jacob Schieffelin's early life as lieutenant in the Detroit Volunteers and as merchant in Montreal. About one half of the papers relate to his real estate transactions and land holdings in New York City and State and in Ohio and Pennsylvania, including parchment deeds, mortgages, indentures, and land maps. Included are papers relating to the founding of St. Mary's (Episcopal) Church in Manhattanville of which he was a warden; and papers relating to the mercantile firm of Jacob Schieffelin (later, Jacob Schieffelin & Son) including correspondence with the London firm of Effingham & Lawrence, and papers relating to the seizure by the British of the Ship "Brunswick", the confiscation of its cargo, and the resulting claim for indemnification.
The papers of Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin consist of literary manuscripts and notebooks of poems, and a manuscript narrative of her journey (1780-81) with her husband to the St. Lawrence and through the wilderness of Canada to Detroit in which she describes places visited, including Niagara Falls, encounters with British officers, Indians and Indian Chiefs, reports of atrocities and massacres, and social life and conditions on the frontier.
The bulk of the papers of Richard Lawrence Schieffelin and his son George Richard Schieffelin reflect their law practice and real estate interests in New York City. Included are ledgers and account books, relative to the estates of Jacob Schieffelin, Benjamin Ferris and members of the Delaplaine family; deeds, mortgages, land maps, indentures, bills and receipts and some personal miscellany. There are also literary manuscripts and notebooks of Richard Lawrence Schieffelin containing his articles, essays, poems, autobiographical and other writings, an orderly book which reflects his service in the New York State Infantry; and correspondence from John Ferris Delaplaine (1815-85) to George Richard Schieffelin relating mainly to real estate matters. There are also genealogical papers, photographs and miscellaneous papers of members of the Schieffelin, Blair and Scribner families and a few issues of 19th century newspapers published in New York City.
Funding: Digitization was made possible by a lead gift from The Polonsky Foundation.