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Commemorative biographical record of Dutchess County, New York online

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ernor. General de Pevster had been selected
as an educated soldier, and did not profess to
understand the underhand workings of politi-
cians. He would not submit to men who in-
duced the Governor to do many things in his
guilelessness which his Adjutant-General could
not endorse, and would not enforce, as con-
trary to right and propriety. On taking leave
of him, the Governor gave him the strongest
testimonials of his esteem and confidence, and
again and again, at a later date, expressed his
regret that he had not listened to the advice
and warnings of his Chief of Staff.

In 1 86 1, when the Rebellion broke out,
General de Peyster, in spite of the advice of
his physicians and medical friends, proceeded
to Washington to offer his services as Briga-
dier-General with three regiments. He had a
long and very extraordinary interview with
President Lincoln, and it*is greatly to be re-
gretted that all who were cognizant of the facts,
as well as Senator Harris, who introduced the
General to the President, and was present
throughout the interview, are dead. President
Lincoln had just called out 75,000 volunteers,
and said he did not want anymore troops, but
offered to take into consideration the General's
offer of his personal services. The only testi-
mony of what followed is the memorandum
left by Mr. Halstead, of New Jersey, whose in-
timate relations with the White House were
well known at the time.

According to that President Lincoln in-
tended to take General de Peyster as Chief of
his Personal Staff, which he purposed to or-
ganize; but he was induced to give up this
idea, as it was urged that the influence thus
brought immediately to bear upon him might
contravene and subvert the plans and interested
projects and arrangements of other parties.

Perhaps it is sufficient proof of the confi-
dence placed in General de Peyster's military
judgment, that Gen. Kearny wanted his cousin
(whose eldest son and namesake was a volun-
teer and aide-de-camp on his staff), to come on
to Washington and draw up a plan for the en-
suing campaign. General de Peyster answered
that a fixed plan would not be capable of suc-
cessful execution; because with the number of
traitors and spies at headquarters, it would.be
betrayed to the enemy, who would be thus en-
abled to meet, anticipate and defeat it.

Curious to say, it was only while this
sketch was being written, that it was discov-
ered that this was exactly the reply of the
famous Suworrow to a similar proposition.
He said "that the best conceived plans are
exposed to the gravest difficulties or disadvan-
tages, because it is impossible to calculate in
advance the modifications which the resistance
of the enemy or his counter projects, knowing
the fixed plan, may bring to bear in opposition ;
secondly, that plans digested and committed
to paper, and thus known to different indi-
viduals on whom it was necessary to rely, in-
evitably would be betrayed to the enemy, who
would at once take measures to meet and de-
feat the movements which had been divulged



by some traitor or spy." [See " Thiebault's
Memoirs, " II., 143 to 177 — same idea, " a fixed
plan always betrayed."]

After General de Peyster's return from
Washington, the haemorrhages from which he
had long suffered became so profuse, that he
could scarcely make up each day, by the aid of
devoted phj'sicians and remedies and food, for
the daily loss of blood. This condition lasted
for many years, and has not been entirely over-

Notwithstanding the miserable condition
of his health, Gen. de Peyster returned to
Washington late in the fall of 1861, to offer
to the Government two regiments, instead of
the three at first proposed, which he could
still raise in Duchess and Columbia counties,
provided he was appointed to command them,
with the rank of brigadier-general. He was
well-acquainted with Mr. Thomas Scott —
afterward president of the Pennsylvania rail-
road — then assistant secretary of war, who re-
ceived him very kindly. The General was
offered by Senator Harris the command of the
First Regiment of cavalry, which bore that
gentleman's name, and also a regiment of light
infantry by Edwin D. Morgan, the governor of
New York, with the rank of colonel; but he
told them that he was not in a condition of
health to discharge the duties of such a posi-
tion, recalling the remark of the famous Gen.
Wolfe, "that he was grateful for promotion to
the rank of major-general* (equivalent to brig-
adier-general), because it enabled him to com-
mand those comforts and resources without
which, in his feeble state of health, he could
not undergo the hardships of active service,
and do his duty thoroughly."

As in his previous interview with President
Lmcoln, he was told that the Government did
not want any more troops nor general officers.
He afterward learned that at this time, the Gov-
ernment, with a want of foresight incomprehen-
sible, were actually disbanding regiments which
had cost so much to raise, and could not be
replaced without far greater expense and irre-
parable loss of time when fresh calls were
made for troops. He also had an interview
with Gen. McClellan, who told him "they
had no need of testimonials; that his reputa-
tion was sufficient. " On returning to the War
Department Gen. de Peyster saw the Sec-
retary, Simon Cameron, who was very po-

*" Thiebault's Memoirs." II. 233. Major-General under Na-
poleon, equivalent lo General of Brigade.

lite, but assured his visitor that his proposi-
tion was altogether inadmissable, because the
Government had no need of more troops or
officers. This decision was confirmed by Mr.

It is needless to proceed further with such
reminiscences; and refusing to make further
visits to officials. General de Peyster re-
turned home, repeating the remarks of Maj.-
Gen. Mansfield, U. S. A., that "if such was
the course pursued towards men worthy of
attentiort, Jefferson Davis would some day be
warming President Lincoln's chair."

In 1863 Gen. de Peyster was invited by the
Historical Society of \'ermont to deliver a War
speech in the State Capitol of Montpelier, the
Capital of that State. He chose for his sub-
ject, "The Sonderbund; or. Secession War in
Switzerland in 1846," a perfect parallel to the
American Slaveholders' Rebellion down to the
smallest details, its genesis and termination,
with this difference: the Swiss loyal States
appreciated the incalculable value of time, and
the necessity of determined action, which ours
did not. They called out the whole available
force of the loyal Cantons or States, and over-
whelmed the revolution before the neighboring
monarchs, anxious to interfere on behalf of the
rebels, had time or opportunity to interpose.
The whole affair was over in thirtj'-two days,
about one-third of the term Secretary Seward
erroneously declared from time to time that
our rebels would be crushed, whereas, hostili-
ties lasted over four years. The conclusion of
Gen. de Peyster's oration was a perfect pro-
phecy, fulfilled to the letter. These are the
exact words spoken:

Here we should observe a few facts extremely perti-
nent to our own situation. Notwithstanding the extreme
defensibleness of the mountains of Switzerland — particu-
larly those of the original Forist Cantons, embraced
within the limits of the SONDERBL'.ND — as soon as Lucerne
(corresponiiint; to the Riehmoud of the United States
Rebels) had yielded, the Rebel leaders, at once, acknowl-
edged that the fate of the Swiss secession depended upon
the possession of the large fortified towns and upon
the maintenance of the masses about them. This should
be a consolation to those who fear that a guerilla war in
the South can lead to any successful result or defer for
more than a short period its entire subjugation. The
Sonderbund generals saw at a glance the game was up,
after their armies had been dissi])ated and the principal
jilaces taken. So it will be with our Southern secession.
It will collapse at once when the armies of Lee, Bragg,
Beauregard, Johnson and Magruder are destroyed.
I Page BS of •• .Secession in .Switzerland and in the L'nited
States Compared ;" being the .Annual .Address delivered
20th October, 18H;3, before the Vermont State Historical
Society in the Hall of Rejiresentatives, Montpelier, by J.
Watts de Peyster. Catskill : Joseph Joesbury, Printer,
Journal office, 1864.]



Nevertheless, General de Peyster was not
inactive, and his support of the Government
was so influential that his efforts were ac-
knowledged in the most striking manner by the
Legislature of his native State, in 1866. Since
he could not be brevetted by any existing law,
by ''Special Act," or Concurrent Resolution
of the New York State Legislature, the brevet
of Major-General, after investigation and de-
bate, was conferred upon him. In this, Sec-
retary Folger (afterward U. S. Secretary of
the Treasury, and so cruelly slaughtered at the
polls when running for Governor of the State
of New York against Grover Cleveland in 1881),
then a stranger to the recipient of the honor,
made an address which was conclusive.

There is no instance in the history of this
country of such an honor having been con-
ferred upon any citizen by the Legislature of
any State. Only one case resembles it in de-
gree; and that was far less complimentary in
the manner, and a general's commission con-
ferred under a totally different condition of

The General's gifts and benefactions to
public institutions, or to found public institu-
tions, have been a characteristic and notable
feature of his life. He has given a number of
special libraries to educational institutions or
library associations — special libraries e.xhaust-
ive of the subjects which they present, and
which were gathered together by him in
furtherance of the laborious investigation which
has always preceded his published works on the
various themes which he has elaborated. Fol-
lowing his published studies of the characters
of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Earl of Both-
well (which studies included a drama inspired
by this theme which elicited the highest enco-
miums, in addition to the five well-known his-
torical analyses of character and of the times),
he gave the library which he had collected on
this subject to Columbia College. Some of
his other gifts to this university have already
been mentioned. To the New York Historical
Society, in addition to the invaluable "de
Peyster family papers," he gave special libra-
ries collected during his studies upon many in-
teresting and little-known phases of Dutch his-
tory (of which a partial catalogue, Part i,
January, 1868, constitutes a pamphlet of 24
pages), together with a library on Napoleon and
the campaign culminating at Waterloo. Of
this society his father was long the honored
President, as he was also its generous bene-

factor. The special libraries donated to the
New York Society Library* and to Franklin and
Marshall College have been referred to. Thou-
sands of volumes have also been distributed
miscellaneously in various directions, including
many valuable books given to the Cazenovia
Lyceum and to the Order of the Brothers of
Nazareth of Unionvale, Duchess county,
which books were destroyed in the conflagra-
tion which consumed the original institution,
and valuable volumes donated to the College of
St. Stephens, also of Duchess county.

General de Peyster has given a number of
works of art, of superior excellence and repre-
senting the expenditure of large sums of money,
to New York City, the City of Hudson, and
various public institutions. Several of these
are statues of heroic size in com.memoration of
historic members of his own family. The most
striking object which salutes the eye of the
visitor to the famous Trinity Churchj'ard, on
lower Broadway, New York City, is the bronze
statue, heroic size, of the General's eminent
grandfather, Hon. John Watts, Jr. This
notable statue has been characterized as one
of the most artistic of the monuments which
adorn the various parks, squares, and public
places in New York. It is the work of George
E. Bissell, the well-known sculptor of Pough-
keepsie. Duchess county, N. Y. The "Year
Book and Register of the Parish of Trinity
Church in the City of New York," for 1893,
contains the following, as introduction to an

*Xe\v York Historical Societv.

At a Stated Meeting of the Society, held on Tuesday evening
May 3. 1892, the President submitted and read a letter from Gen. J,
Watts de Peyster, presenting to the Society a collection of Family

The following Resolutions presented by Mr. Edward F. de
Lancey were unanimously adopted :

JitriOhtil : That the thanks of the New York Historical Society
be and hereby are given to Gen, John Watts de Peyster for
the 'od'pfe and mo.'if rahuthle gift of the ancient historical manu-
scripts, documents, maps and deeds, so long in the possession of
this distinguished New York family, of which he is a well-known
representative; a gift which illustrates in the clearest and strongest
manner New York as a Dutch Colony, an English Province, an Inde-
pendent Sovereignty, and the greatest member of the Republic of
the United States of North America,

Ji€80lrfd : That this collection be added to that formerly given
to this Society by the donor's honored father [Frederic de Peyster],
one of its Presidents, and that in honor both of the father and the
son. the joint collection be denominated " The de Peyster Papers,"

Extract from the Minutes. [Signed) ANDREW WARNER,

RtcoriHng Strretnry.

Came early, hoping to see you and to thank you in person for
your most generous and acceptable gift. It was highly appreciated by
the Society. (Card) JOHN A. KING,

[1th May, 1S92,] [Prfsiclenf X. Y. H. S.]

My dear General : 4th May, 189>.

I had hoped to see you this morning. but you were an earlier bird
than myself, and were already on the wing. I wanted to tell you
how gratified the Society was with your generous and noble gift, and
of your still continuing remembrance and friendship, De Lancey
wrote the Resolutions at my request, and the Society welcomed the
gift with universal applause. Again thanking, and hoping we may
always remain fresh in your memory. I am, Verv truly vours,
[Signed,] JOHN A. KING,

Gen. J. Watts de Peyster, [Presiddit X. Y. H. S.\



account of the family and public career of John
Watts. *

Another munificent gift to the city of New
York is the bronze statue, also heroic size, of
Gen. de Peyster's famous ancestor. Col. Abra-
ham de Peyster, who was one of the most
eminent and public-spirited citizens during the
Colonial period of the history of the city and
State of New York. This gentleman was a
friend of William Penn, the most intimate
friend and adviser of the Earl of Bellemont,
perhaps the best of the Colonial governors,
was mayor of New York City from 1691 to
1695; colonel, commanding the city troops in
1700; Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court the
same year; president of the Council and acting
Governor of the Province of New York in
1 70 1, and was Treasurer of the Provinces of
New York and New Jersey from 1706 to 1721,
holding this trust until his death. The beau-
tiful statue of this notable benefactor of early
New York is likewise the work of Mr. Bissell,
and comprises the chief decoration of the
famous square on lower Broadway, "Bowling
Green." Opposite this square Gen. de Peyster
was himself born, in the handsome old resi-
dence. No. 3 Broadway, of his grandfather

To the city of Hudson the General also
gave the beautiful bronze statue of " St. Win-
efride Evoking the Fountain Which Feeds the

*The Bronze Statue of John Watts.
During the past year there has been erected in Trinity C'hurch-
yard, by Gen. |onn Watts de Peyster, a statue of bis distini^uished
ancestor. John Watts, the last Royal Recorder of tlie City of New
York. This tine work of art stands to the south of the churchyard,
nearly on a line with the porch toward Broadway. The statue and
pedestal are together about fifteen feet high. The inscription on the
base runs as follows ;


BuKN IN THK ClTV OF NkW YukK. .\t'(:i'ST 27. 1741) [U. S.) AXI> DlElJ

THKut; Sei'tk.muku :(. l.ssii iN'. s.)

LASTRt>YAI, HECOItDKll OK THE (JiTV OF NEW YoltK. 1774-1777 — No

OF THE State of New Yokk. .lANt'Auv .i. 17111. to

.lA.M'AKY 7. 17114; Me.miikh of (Jo.vghess. 171l;i-17;)3;

KlllST Jt'J>GE OF WesTCHESTEII Co.. IStU*.; I-'ot'N-





New YoiiK Ui.si'ensary. 1821-

is:«i. &,(■.. Ac.

His Kemaixs lie in His .Vimatent Family Val-lt in this



CHILI) OF Ills YofXGE.sT H'illl.I) AX1)J IlAfliHTEH.

.\lAitY .IrsTiXA Watts (de I'eysteh],
.loHN Watts de I'eysteh.

Gen. de Feystcr's idea in erecting this statue was, as stated to
the writer, that there might still be in this city, as there had been for
many years, a visible memorial of liis grandfather. His name has
long been connected with the well-known pharity. " The Leake and
Watts Orphan House." which was a noble and sulficient monument
to him ; but when that building, witli the site, was sold to the trus-
tees of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the memorial disap-
peared through the removal of the institution to Vonkers. Therefore
his descendant conceived the idea of erecting a statue of imperish-
able bronze, and placing it in some position in which it might stand
for ages, keepinj^ the name and good deeds of an eminent citizen in
view of the public.

Holy Healing Well. " This exquisite work of
art (the adjective is well-deserved | was origi-
nally intended for a site in Duchess county,
the " pinetum " surrounding Gen. de Peyster's
new Home for Consumptives, in the town of
Unionvale. But the methods of those for
whom the gift was designed, and who had
been the recipients of numerous and extensive
benefactions, changed the destination of the
donation. It now adorns the beautiful foun-
tain in the city of Hudson which issues out of its
rock pedestal. The pedestal itself is a mass of
natural, moss-grown rocks taken from Beacraft
Mountain, in the Lower Claverack Manor, near
the city of Hudson, of which Gen. de Peyster
was the last patroon.

Another statue, also of the distinguished
mayor of New York (e.xecuted in Paris, and
pronounced even finer than that which stands
in Bowling Green), has been completed and
but awaits the selection of the proper site for
its reception. If it can be said, on the one
hand, that few Americans can boast an ances-
try so illustrious and so upright, concededly,
in public estimation, as that of Gen. de Pey-
ster, it is equally certain that no one could be
found who more truh' appreciates his ancestral
heritage and venerates the memories of those
who have preceded him and rendered the fam-
ily name so notable. The philanthropic spirit
of his ancestors he has likewise emulated by
linking their names with memorials which are
lasting public benefactions.

The Home for Consumptives in Unionvale,
before referred to (a donation to the Methodist
American University), was conceived as a
monument to the virtues and gentleness of
those whose memories are dear to the General,
as the following tablet for the Home testifies:

Ekected u\

as a .MEMOItlAl. OF

Thuee Exe.mi'lahy Wo.MEX:


.Iaxe de Lance^',


Hon. .Iohx Watts:

His .\fXT.

Eliza iiETH W.\tts,


Hexky I.aight;

His .Mothek.

Maky .Ii"STix.\ Watts,


Fkedekic de Peysteh.

The General's donation of the extensive
lands occupied by the Brothers of Nazareth,
of Unionvale, has been already mentioned.
More than 130 acres of his ancestral domain,
besides an adjoining farm, a purchase, were
given for this purpose, while the Training



School represents a still more generous outlay.
This school is one of the landmarks of that sec-
tion of the county, and is a model, both for
architectural beauty and in respect to its ar-
rangements and appointments. The inscrip-
tion above the exquisite marble mantel in the
hall of the Training School is as follows:

This Brii,])iNG,

St. Pai'i/s Tkaixixg School fi)k Hovs.

WAS Erected Hehe ox Prospect Fak.m ok Hu.l. which



AS A Memohtal ov His Father.


AXD OF His Mateuxal Graxdfatheu.



Leake and Watts Urphax' Hoi'se ix New York.
Mr. OX'oxxor. Htdsox. Architect.

It is not generally known that the estab-
lishment of the Order and institutions of the
Brothers of Nazareth within the borders of
Duchess county was entirely due to the gen-
erous gift of land by the General, at a time
when the thought of location in this county was
so far from the mind of the authorities of the
Order as even to be deemed at first utterly im-
practicable, the county being rejected as too
remote from New York City.

To Gen. de Peyster, Duchess county, and the
Methodist Episcopal denomination in particu-
lar, is indebted for the handsome church-build-
ing erected in the village of Madalin.^ This
gift called forth the following resolutions from
the Methodist Conference:

This beautiful edifice the General built as a
memorial of his daughters. Upon the outside of
the church is a tablet containing the following:

This Methodist Episcopal CnrucH. dedicated to God.

THE Savior. AXD the Holy Spirit, the Comforter,

IS Erected by


AS A Memuki.^l of His Datghters,

EsTELLE Elizabeth Pri'dexce


Maria Beata.

*The New York Annual Conferenxe
of the Methodist Episcopal Church, assembled at Tarryiown. N. Y.,
April 8. 1893, ordered the following minute to be entered upon its
Journal :

W^erfcts, Gen. de Peyster has presented to the Methodist Epis-
copal Church at Madalin a church editice. as a tribute to the mem-
ory ot his daughters, free from debt, beautiful in architectural
design and wisely adapted in all its appointments for church work;

Whereas, Gen. de Peyster, with a benevolence not prompted by
a denominational relation with Methodism, as he is not a member of
our Church, has not only presented this well-equipped Christian
temple to Methodism, but has also built and paid for, and presented
to the Church at Madalin a parsonage: therefore,

Rfsoiffil, That this Conference extends to Gen. de Peyster its
sincere gratitude for his large and generous benefactions, and assures
him of its earnest prayers that he may share in time and in eternity
the blessings of the Christian faith which his dedicated gifts will
perpetuate on earth, and that the memory of his beloved daughters
may always be associated in his and in our memory with the preach-
ing of that Gospel which comforts the sorrowful and pardons the

Resolved, That the Secretary of this Conference be instructed to
prepare two engrossed copies of this action, signed by the presiding
Bishop and the Secretary, one to be presented to Gen. de Peyster.
and the other to the Quarterly Conference of the Church at Madalin.
[Signed] [Signed]

C. W. Millard, John M. Walden.

Secretary. Presiding Bishop.

Upon a tablet within the church appears
the inscription appended:

This Chi'Rch was Desigxed by Johx Watts de Peyster.

Embodyix*; Si'ggestioxs by its Pastor. Rey.

Thomas Elliot. The Plans were drawx


THE W()RK Carried ott axd Com-


the sl'perixtexdexce of
Mr. O'C'onxor. Arc't.

This church has been the object of much
admiration as one of the most picturesque
country church buildings to be found anywhere.
Another notable example of important benefac-
tions in Duchess county is the General's gift
to the Methodist denomination of the large
home for friendless girls, known as the *' \\^atts
de Peyster Missionary Home ", with its build-
ings and extensive grounds at Madalin. This
gift inspired the following acknowledgments.^

Important gifts by the General have also
been made in other parts of the country, in-

Online LibraryJ.H. Beers & CoCommemorative biographical record of Dutchess County, New York → online text (page 29 of 183)