Daniel Johnson Pratt.

Biographical notice of Peter Wraxall online

. (page 1 of 1)
Online LibraryDaniel Johnson PrattBiographical notice of Peter Wraxall → online text (page 1 of 1)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook





SECRETARY OP Indian Affairs fok the PRO^^NCE or New York, and of the first

Provincial Congress held in Albany, in l'r54; Aid-de-Camp to Sir Wji.

Johnson during the Crown Point Expedition of 1755; etc.

[Commmiicated to the Albany Institute, April IG, 1866, and May 81, 1870 .J


, /c




Seckktauy of Indian Affaiks fok the Province op New York, and of the first

PiioviNCiAi, Congress held in Albany, in 1754; Aid-de-Cajip to Sir Wm.

Johnson durino the Crown Point Expedition of 1755; etc.

[^Communicated to the AllMuiy Institute, April 10, 18GG, and May 31, 1870.]


Wraxall is both a parish and a family name in England,
and may readily be traced in one line, as far back as 1731,
and much further, doubtless, by those who have access to
local genealogical records. The first volume of the Gentle-
man's Magazine, published in 1731, and a number of the
subsequent volumes, contain obituary, marriage, business,
and literary notices of persons more or less eminent,
bearing this surname, among whom the most conspicu-
ous is Sir Nathaniel William "Wraxall, who was made a
baronet in 1813, in consideration of some service in the
British East India Company, but whose reputation is
more largely due to the authorship of several biographical
and historical memoirs, written in an easy and engaging
style, and regarded by reliable judges as w^orks of positive
merit, despite the severe criticisms of an Edinburgh re-
viewer and other zealous defamers. Little is known of
the immediate family of Peter Wraxall, or of his relation-
ship to the Wraxalls before referred to, except that his
ftither, John Wraxall, was a resident of the city of Bris-
tol, Avhcre most of the persons of that name seem to have

resided, in tlio absence of authentic records, it may be
presumed lliat Peter Wraxall belonged to the generation
next succeeding Sir IS^atbaniel, and that tlie two may have
been as nearly related as second cousins. Nothing has,
as yet, been ascertained concerning the early life, educa-
tion and adventures of the subject of this memorial. We
can only infer that lie received a respectable though limited
education, and that he may have joined either the army or
navy and first visited the new world in this capacity. He
seems to have come hither by the way of the West Indies,
where lie probably remained some time, as he afterwards
sends his compliments to Admiral Boscawen, whom he
says he knew intimately in Jamaica. By some means he
accpiired a knowledge of the Low Dutch language, which
proved of value to him in his subsequent researches among
the manuscript Indian records of this province. The ear-
liest ascertained mention of Mr. Wraxall occurs in the year
1746, at which time he was probably not far from twenty-
five years of age. During the year just mentioned, he
commanded a Long Island company raised for the proposed
expedition against Canada, but which marched no further
than Albany, the expedition having proved a wretched
faikire on the part of its leaders, despite tlie abundant
exertions of the colonies. During the next year, 1747,
Captain Wraxall asked and obtained leave from Gov, Clin-
ton to visit England on pressing private business, also
bearing dispatches from the governor with a highly com-
plimentary letter of introduction to under-secretary Andrew

After a lay)se of five years, during which no re-
cord of Mr, AVi-axall appears, he was commissioned by the
crown as secretary or agent for the government of New
York to the Indians, and also as town clerk, clerk of the
peace and clerk of the common pleas, for the city and
county of Albany, Having formally assumed the secretary-

ship of Indian afiairs, ho applied to the mayor and common
councillors of Albany to be inducted into the clerkship
above mentioned, then held by Ilarme Gansevoort, under
authority of a commission granted a few months previously
by Gov. Clinton. The mayor and council spent sometime
in deliberating upon the rival claims of Gansevoort and
Wraxal], and finally compromised their action by administer-
ing the oath of ofHce to Mr. Wraxal 1, but leaving him to
obtain possession of the papers pertaining thereto, by pro-
cess of huv. The consequence was an appeal to the Lords
of Trade, who recommended to the lords justices tbat the
commission granted to Gansevoort by Gov. Clinton be
revoked. The lords justices, willing, perhaps, to excuse
themselves from any decisive action, left the matter, as we
presume, to take its course in the provincial courts. The
consequence was a protracted suit, in which Mr. Wraxall
spent no small amount of money without ever obtaining
any redress for himself, but which his successor, Mr. Witham
Marsh, brought to a successful issue.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wraxall assiduously devoted himself
to the duties of the office of secretary of Indian affairs, and
added to his ordinary labors the preparation of an abridg-
ment of the records of Indian affairs, contained in four folio
volumes, transacted in the colony of New York from the
year 1678 to the year 1751. This abridgment was designed
for the special use of Lord Halifax, and has, almost by
accident, been rescued from destruction, and is now pre-
served as a manuscript volume in one of the secure cases
of the New York State Library. These abridged records
are the more valuable, from the fact that the original four
folio volumes have disappeared from the archives of the
state, and it is feared are no longer in existence. The pre-
face to the abridgment furnishes much valuable informa-
tion, on various subjects connected with Mr. Wraxall's

Aside from bis official attendance at several Indian
conferences in New York and elsewhere, the next
mention of Mr. Wraxallis in connection with the first pro-
vincial congress, held at Albany in 1754, of which Peter
Wraxall was secretary, and Benjamin Franklin and Stephen
Hopkins, both subsequently signers of the Declaration of
Independence, leading members. In the spring of the
following year, 1755, after the council held at Alexandria,
under the call of Gen. Braddock, to arrange the plans of
the then opening campaign. Gen. (afterwards Sir Wm.)
Jolnison having been assigned to the command of the
Crown Point expedition, wrote.to Peter Wraxall earnestly
soliciting him to accompany him as his secretary, assigning
as a reason, his need of the best service in that capacity,
and his entire confidence in Mr, Wraxall's fitness for the
position. The invitation was accepted, and Mr. Wraxall
entered upon a very laborious and faithful period of service,
not only as secretary, but also as the general's aid-de-
camp and judge advocate. Sir AVilliam testifies in scores
of letters to various officials at home and abroad, to the
untiring, unrewarded and invaluable labors of this his
most valuable friend and ally. Capt. Wraxall was present
at tlie memorable battle of Lake George, on the 8th of
September, 1755, at which the French general, Baron
Dieskau, was taken prisoner, and for the results of which,
as narrated by his secretary, the commanding general was
rewarded by the English government with a baronetcy and
a donation of ,£5,000 sterling.

Captain Wraxall's health seemstohave been permanently
impaired by this campaign, and although he persevered in
his official rehitionship to Sir William, he was much of the
time unfit for the field, and some of the time for attendance
upon the numerous Indian conferences which, as super-
intendent of Indian allairs. Sir William had occasion to

During the summer of 1756, part of which he spent
in New York, Mr. Wraxall mentioned, in a letter to Sir
William, his intention of forming a matrimonial alliance,
should health and official duties permit. This intention
was carried into eflect on the Dth of December, 1756, and
Miss Elizabeth Stilwell became his bride. The ceremony
was performed b}^ the Rev. Dr. Auchmuty, as we learn
from the records of Trinity parish, a transcript of which has
been kindly furnished bj' the present rector. Rev. Dr.
Morgan Dix. This union seems to have been, so far as the
lasting affection of the parties was concerned, a most happy
one, though probabljamblessed with children. Mrs. "Wrax-
all continued to reside in New York, in the hii-cd house
which had been provided, while Captain Wraxall spent
his time, partly athome, and partly with or near Sir William,
and Lord Loudoun, the new commander-in-chief, who
would have made Mr. Wraxall a member of his military
family, had he been disposed to abandon his former
superior. His faithful and efficient service was not, how-
ever, to be long enjoyed, for on the 11th of July, 1759, after
a few days of renewed and painful illness, he closed his
eyes in death, probably at the age of about thirty-eight or
forty years.

Mr. Wraxall left an undated and unsigned will, a copy
of Avhich is tiled in the State Hall, from which several items
of information have been gathered, and from which it
appears that he was possessed of a moderate fortune, ample
for the relief of his needy sisters, and to satisfy " the
well regulated temperance of her" (Mrs. Wraxall's)
"wishes and the wise relish she has of this world," quoting
from the will.

Mrs. Wraxall lived in widowhood until June 11,
1763, when she was married to John Mauusell, an
officer of the British army. His name, Mauusell, has be-
come the prasnomen of several other surnames, as for


example Maunsell B. Field, Mannsell Van Rensselaer, etc.,
and is found to have been derived in some of these cases
from the husband of Elizabeth Wraxall. We have found
mention of two brothers-in-law of Captain Wraxall, one a
Capt. Smith, who seems to have been atthe time stationed at
Oswego, and the other Peter De Visure, a merchant of New
York city, whose letter to Sir William on the death of
"liis dearest and ever beloved brother, Peter Wraxall," is on
tile among the Wm. L. Stone portion of the Johnson manu-
scripts, in the State Library. Another interesting letter
appears in the Cooper portion of the manuscripts, from the
bereaved father of the deceased, dated Bristol, Sept. 15, 1760.
Mention is made in this letter, and also in a subsequent
letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Wraxall to Sir William, of an
unfinished manuscript, written by Peter Wraxall during his
last years, entitled " Some general thoughts upon the
security, the cultivation and the commerce of the northern
colonies of America," written in answer to some queries
proposed to him by Dean Tucker. It would be a satisfac-
tion to find this manuscript among the Johnson papers,
where it doubtless once belonged, but as yet we find no
trace of it in any of the several collections whicli have been
procured for the State Library.


Albany Instiiute, May 31st, 1870.

Referring to the biographical notice of Peter "Wraxall,
coninninicated to the Institute April 16, 1866 {Proceed-
ings, vol. I, pp. 28-33), the recording secretary (Mr. Pratt)
stated that he had endeavored to gain additional facts re-
specting Mr. Wraxall's early life, and especially the date
of his biith, having made formal inquiry through the N'otes
and Queries of May 19, 1866, to which no ans\\;er had
been furnished ; and having also enlisted the services of
Z. Eastman, Esq.. IT. S. consul at Bristol, Eng., who kindly
examined the parish records of that cit}', and made inquiry
through a local newspaper ; but that nothing had been
reported by him, beyond the discovery of the church yard
where the Wraxalls were buried.

It further appears that a present member and officer of
the Institute, Mr. Joseph W. Russell, vice-president of the
third department, is related, through the maternal line, to
Mrs. Wraxall, and that he has inherited several books which
seem to have belonged to Peter Wraxall, some of which
are inscribed ''Elizabeth Wraxall" or "Elizabeth Mauu-
sell," or both.

The subject of the foregoing sketch being an ancestor,
by marriage, of several families now residing in this State,
seems entitled to a place in our genealogical as well as
historical memorials.




014 114 046 2



Online LibraryDaniel Johnson PrattBiographical notice of Peter Wraxall → online text (page 1 of 1)