William E. (William Edward) Verplanck.

The site of the Assay office on Wall Street, an illustrated historical sketch of the successive public buildings and men in public life connected with the site; interspersed with some family history online

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Online LibraryWilliam E. (William Edward) VerplanckThe site of the Assay office on Wall Street, an illustrated historical sketch of the successive public buildings and men in public life connected with the site; interspersed with some family history → online text (page 1 of 1)
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From the Report of the Director of the Mint, 1920.




an illustrated historical sketch of
the successive public buildings and
men in public life connected with the
site; interspersed with some >

FAMILY history




Copyright 1921 by
William E. Verplanck


This narrative is inscribed to the Honorable
Verne JNl. Bovie, Superintendent of the Assay
Office during the period of construction of the
new building, 1917-21, and the renovation after
the disastrous bomb explosion on September
16th, 1920, and to Messrs. York and Saw^^er,
architects of the new building, the narrative is
also inscribed.

William E. Verplanck.

Blount Gulian, Fishkill, X. Y.
November 1921.


The land on which the Assay Office stands has
been devoted to piibhc use or been the home of
men in pubhc service for nearly three centuries.

During the latter part of the Dutch Govern-
ment a wall or cingel ran along the northern
boundary of New Amsterdam from river to
river, as a protection against the Indians, and
also as some historians contend, against the
aggressions of the Yankees of Connecticut of
whom the burghers were equally apprehensive.
The term cingel was also applied to the passage-
way along the inside of the wall, details of which
are shown in Stokes Iconography of ^Manhattan
Island (published in 1918), particularly volume
II, plate 87.

The wall was removed soon after British rule
was established by the cession of Xew Xether-
land in 1673; for the Dutch had recaptured Xew
Amsterdam a few years before and the little
town had spread northward. Along the south

side of the wall a street was laid out which came
to be known as Wall Street, much as another
new street of this period became New Street.
This part of Wall Street, however, was a some-
what shabby one for some time. Frederick
Trevor Hill has written an excellent history of
this street (pubhshed 1908) : "The Story of a

The new City Hall which the English built,
under the Earl of Bellomont, Governor-General*
in 1700, in place of the former one of the Dutch
at Coenties Slip, was followed by the new
church of the Presbyterians where the Bankers
Trust Company now stands, with a belfry tower-
ing over the City Hall. All this made for a gen-
eral improvement of the neighborhood, but it
had few private houses of importance. The

* He was a reformer, and among other abuses in the Province,
he took measures to suppress piracy which had greatly increased
owing to the complicity of merchants and the countenance, as it
was charged, of Benjamin Fletcher who had preceded him as
governor. Whereupon Bellomont induced William Kidd, a man of
excellent repute in New York, to head the project. Kidd, how-
ever, turned pirate, having accomplices in prominent men. Al-
though Kidd was eventually captured and hung at London, an
inquiry into the profits and other phases of the affair was voted
down in the House of Commons, and, soon after, Bellomont died.
His successor was Viscount Cornbury, own cousin to Queen
Anne, and he had no zeal for reform. The Memorial History of
the City of New York (1892, 3 vols, illustrated) contains full
and fair reviews of the colonial governors, Dutch and British.


fashionable part of the town then, and for some
time later, was upper Queen Street, as Pearl
Street was then called, particularly what is now
Franklin Square. It was at the corner of Cherry
and Queen Streets that President Washington
lived during his first administration.

In 1761 Samuel Verplanck, on completing his
education in Holland returned home to New
York, bringing with him a rich wife from Am-
sterdam. He built his house on this site; land
which his father had devised to him by will. The
lot extended about 75 feet along the north side
of Wall Street. In the rear was the stable on a
tongue of land which extended to King, now
Pine, Street. On the west was a garden adja-
cent to the City Hall. One of the bastions of the
old wall had stood on the lot.

Samuel's house was a large one for those days,
occupying about forty feet of the front. Other
prominent people now began to move into the
neighborhood, Alexander Hamilton among them
and Wall Street became a rival of Queen Street.

Old prints exist showing the site, with the old
City Hall, later Federal Hall and its colonnade
over the sidewalk, where Washington was inau-
gurated in 1789 (now site of the Sub-Treasury) .*

* New York Mirror, 1830, vol. VII. Also Stokes Iconography
of Manhattan Island, plates in vol. I.


Samuel Verj^lanck had held office under the
British government and was one of the Gover-
nors of Kings, now Columbia College, where he
took his degree in 1758 with seven other students
in the first graduating class. He was also one
of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce.
When the Revolution opened, and, by the way,
open resistance to British rule began in New
York before the Battle of Lexington, in the en-
gagement at Golden Hill in 1774, (site of Gold
and John Streets), Samuel Verplanck espoused
the cause of the colonists and was a member of
the Committee of Safety, a body of citizens
chosen to take charge of the city government
upon the seizure of the public buildings in 1775.
His wife, on the other hand, leaned to the Brit-
ish side, and during its occupation of New York,
Sir William Howe, then in command, with other
officers were often entertained at the Verplanck
mansion. As souvenirs of the visits Mrs. Ver-
planck was given a tea-set of fine china and two
paintings* which are still preserved by her de-
scendants. Sir William Howe was relieved early
in the war by Sir Henry Clinton who prosecuted
the campaign against us with great vigor. Sir

* By Angelica Kaiiffmann, a native of Switzerland who went to
London in 1766 and became distinguished as an historical and
portrait painter.


^ £

William was quite a different man from his able
and energetic elder brother, Admiral Lord Howe,
who had made an attempt to effect a reconcilia-
tion with the colonies before hostilities began. A
portrait of Samuel Verplanck by Copley is owned
by ]Matilda C. Verplanck at Fishkill, N. Y.

In 1822 Daniel C. Verplanck, only son and
heir of Samuel, reluctantly sold the Wall Street
front of the property to the Bank of the United
States. The price, $40,000, was deemed a large
one at that time. He had been a member of
Congress, and later judge of Dutchess County,
where, after the sale, he went to live at Fishkill
on the Hudson River in a house known as Mount
Guhan, built a century earlier. The adjacent
land, several thousand acres in extent, had been
bought of the Wappinger Indians in 1683 by his
ancestor jointly with Francis Rombout, the In-
dian deed having been confirmed by patent of
James II. A portrait of D. C. Verplanck by
Copley, Boy with a Squirrel, is owned by the

In the next year, 1823,* the Branch Bank of
the United States was built upon the site, and
this building in 1853 became the Assay Office,
and pro2)erty of the United States, after the char-
ter of the Bank had expired under the veto by

* The year of President Monroe's famous "Doctrine."


President Jackson of the bill renewing it. The
building was recently removed to make room for
the present building. The Bank of the State of
New York and Bank of Commerce had owned
the property in turn between 1836 and 1853,
The corner-stone of the bank was laid April 17,
1823, and is now a mural tablet in the new build-


The inscription is:


The Corner Stone of the Branch Bank of
THE United States was laid this 17th day of

April 1823.

Isaac Lawrence. President.

Robert Lenox.
David Gelston.
Cornelius Ray.
Isaac Wright.
James Bogert Jun^.
Edward H. Nicoll.
Walter Bowne.
Campbell P. White.
William B. Astor.
Henry Kneel and.
John Haggerty.
Peter Harmony.

Morris Robinson. Cashier.

> Directors.


Born 1786. Died 1870
Prom a drawing l>.v I'aiil Diiggan at tlic fV-ntury Club.

The fa9ade of the former building is also pre-
served at the Metropolitan JNIuseum.

The Bank of the United States was then in a
flourishing state under the second charter of 1816
of a twentj^-year term, with Nicholas Biddle of
Philadelphia its president, elected in 1823; but
dark days came in 1829 in President Jackson's
first administration. At that time D. C. Ver-
planck's son, Gulian Crommelin Verplanck was
a member of Congress. He had been born on
this site and spent his youth there. On the death
of his wife in Paris, soon after his marriage, he
returned to New York after a sojourn in Eu-
rope and entered politics, and was soon sent to
the Assembly for several terms. In 1825 he was
sent to Congress by the Democratic party as the
former Republican party of Jefferson had now
become known. He never remarried, and his
two sons were brought up by his sister. He re-
mained in public service for more than fifty years
of his life.

Jackson, taking advantage of some abuses in
the management of the bank called for the repeal
of the charter. Its advocates retorted by passing
a bill renewing it for twenty years. Verj)lanck,
who favored the bank, urged delay, pointing out
that the charter would not expire until 1886.


Nevertheless the bill was passed, sent to the
President in 1832, and received his veto. All ef-
forts to override it failed. The Bank War was

Another source of bitter contention at this per-
iod was the attitude of South Carolina toward
the tariff. Verplanck, as chairman of the Com-
mittee of Ways and Means, had brought in a bill
for a substantial reduction of duties which had
the support of the President and of the Demo-
cratic party, except the Calhoun faction, who
threatened on the part of South Carolina, open
resistance to the Federal Government unless the
whole principle of a protective tariff was dis-
avowed. They became known as Nullifiers.
Whereupon Jackson dispatched General Scott
to Charleston to support the collector in the
event of obstacles being put in the way of col-
lecting the revenue. It looked like war. A com-
promise was at length effected under the leader-
ship of Henry Clay and other Whigs and an ex-
cuse was thus afforded for not proceeding to

Another controversy which caused even more
rancor in Jackson's administration was due to
Mrs. Eaton, wife of his Secretary of War. Now
+be Democratic party, outside of South Carolina,


Born 1769. Died 1828
From a silhouette at the University Club.

Born 1767. Died 1845
From a silhouette at the University Club.

as a rule supported the President, yet changes in
the Cabinet were frequent. Taney became At-
torney-General in place of Berrien, and Van
Buren gave up the State Department to Living-
ston to become Minister to Great Britain. These
were some of the changes which had excited com-
ment and which scandal attributed to Mrs.
Eaton.* The wives of the Calhoun faction as
well as some other ladies refused to associate
with her. The President, however, zealously
espoused her side, for her husband was an old
and intimate friend, and the storm raged. Old
Hickory triumphed in the end and preserved his
popularity notwithstanding the new enemies
which were made by the removal of deposits from
the Bank of the United States, after his reelec-

Jackson's administration was marked by main-
tenance of friendly relations with Great Britain,
and the settlement of long-standing disputes with
France, Portugal, and Kingdom of Naples. He
had the satisfaction of seeing the election of his
friend Van Buren to the Presidency in 1836 over
Harrison, White and Webster.

Verplanck, with others of his party, became

* In Martin Van Buren, by Edward M. Shepard (Houghton,
Mifflin & Co., 1899), this episode is treated at some length. Vide
pp. 181-184.


alienated from the Jackson wing of their party
over the affair of the United States Bank, an in-
stitution which he had consistently favored. Ac-
cordingly, at the end of his fourth term he retired
from Congress. The enactment of a law greatly
enlarging the copyright of authors, secured
through his efforts while in Congress, was the oc-
casion of a public dinner given him by the citi-
zens of New York, at which Washington Irving

In 1834 the citizens of New York were per-
mitted for the first time to choose their maj^or.
While under both Dutch and English rule the
mayors of cities were elected by the citizens, the
Constitution of 1777, bv which the Province of
New York became a State, deprived them of that
privilege and conferred the power u23on the Coun-
cil of Appointment, a body of State officers, cre-
ated in 1801, when the governor was stripped of
that and other powers. This body soon fell under
the domination of a small group known as the
Albany Regency. Among its early members
were Martin Van Buren, Benjamin F. Butler,
William L. Marcy and Silas Wright.

The Society of Tammany, or the Columbian
Order, to give the corporate name by its charter
of 1805, put in the field as candidate for mayor,
Cornelius Lawrence, while Gulian C. Verplanck,



Born 178;2. Died 1852
From a silhouette at the rniversity Club.

also associated with that body but fallen out with
it over the United States Bank affair, was nom-
inated on a sort of non-partisan, or citizens
ticket, as it would be called today.

The campaign was conducted with vigor and
excitement and resulted in the election of Law-
rence by a very close vote — some counts made it
less than a dozen ballots.

About the end of the eighteenth century this
country was torn by strife between the partizans
of France and of Great Britain, and it was to
allay such rancor that in 1789 the Society of
Tammany was formed, besides its fraternal ob-
jects. The founders of the Order, with branches
in other states, took as an emblem a chief of the
Delaware Indian tribe, who was a sage rather
than a warrior. The nomenclature of the Amer-
ican Indian was also followed for the officers,
such as Sachem and Sagamore; meetings were
called so many hours "after the setting of the
sun," etc. The society soon became a power in
local politics as an American party, disclaiming
both France and England during their prolonged
warfare which had a disturbing effect upon us.

A few years later Verplanck became recon-
ciled to his former party associates and was sent
to the State Senate for several terms. While


there he took a prominent part in the Court for
the Corrections of Errors and Appeals. This
body was modelled upon the judicial powers of
the House of Lords and consisted of the Chan-
cellor, the Senators and certain designated judges
of the Supreme Court. It sat in final review of
causes in law and equity. In 1846 it was abol-
ished by the radical constitution of that year.
New Jersey still finds valuable her similarly con-
stituted court.

The disturbed state of Europe at this period
and particularly the great famine in Ireland
brought hordes of aliens into the jjort of New
York, which not only increased destitution and
crime but thronged the town with people who
had come to the country to settle. The Federal
Government having failed to take any action,
the State of New York in 1847 created the Com-
mission of Emigration, with Gulian C. Verplanck
as president. In this work of seeing to the wel-
fare of aliens and finding them homes in the
West he spent upwards of fifteen years, a ser-
vice which continued until the work was assumed
by the Federal Government. He was also a
member of boards of charity, of education, a di-
rector in banks and other corporations. Besides
editing an illustrated edition of Shakespeare's


Born 1782. Died 1850
From a silhouette at tbe Uuiversity Club.

plays, he made many addresses throughout the
country at college commencements and elsewhere.
A man of strong convictions, yet whose wisdom,
tolerance and simplicity aroused universal re-
spect. Nevertheless, about 1860 the general es-
teem in which he was held suffered an eclipse. He
had refused to join the new Republican ^^arty.
While opposed to slavery and its extension into
the Territories, yet he believed that its abolition
was a problem for each State to solve ; much pro-
gress in that way having been accomplished. He
preferred to stand with Seymour, Hoffman,
Tilden and others. They w^ere one and all gross-
ly misrepresented by the press during the decade

The rancor and partisan enmity engendered
by the Civil War seem to have increased on the
death of Lincoln, and the fact forgotten that the
men with whom Verplanck stood at that time sup-
ported the administration after Fort Sumter had
been fired on, that Tammany had sent many vol-
unteers to fill the armies of the north throughout
the war, several of whom became officers, distin-
guished for bravery and ability. Yet such has
been the effect of the partisan writing of this per-
iod that the men mentioned stand in a false light
in what passes for history, and so strong was the
feeling against them that they often suffered


social ostracism. The truth concerning Ameri-
can history is gradually emerging from the mists
of i^rejudice and provincialism.

What will the future historians say of the
measures which the United States took to abol-
ish slavery, to mention one of several evils which
called for reform? Great Britain heeded her
able and temperate minded statesmen and abol-
ished the institution in 1834 without bloodshed,
and so did France and Brazil. The United
States had such moral material in both parties
and in the North and in the South, but it was
without a leader. The sinister alliance of the cot-
ton growers of the South with the cotton spin-
ners of the North stifled the conscience of the
Nation during the fateful years between the Mis-
souri Compromise of 1820 and its repeal. Even
Webster had voted for the Fugitive Slave Law.
When at length the national conscience was
aroused bv William Lloyd Garrison and others,
it was too late ; civil war ensued and many of its
evil consequences are still with us. We may pre-
dict that the critics of the next generation will as-
sert that our reforms, for the most part both state
and national, have been eff^ected through violent
methods; that we have forgotten the words of
Edmund Burke in the House of Commons when
prime minister: "If I cannot reform with equity



Born 1777. Died 1852

From a silliouotto at the University Cliili.

I shall not reform at all." The history of this
State affords many illustrations. As "JNIr.
Dooley" once remarked, "We Americans clean
house with an axe." The Volstead Law under
the 18th Amendment of the Federal Constitution
is the latest example.

The last notable public appearance of Gulian
Verplanck was on July 4th, 1867, when he made
an address and laid the corner-stone of the Wig-
wam of Tammany Hall on Fourteenth Street.
He died March 18th, 1870, in his 84th year.

His career began in the "Era of Good-feeling,"
with the "Clintonians"* and "Bucktails," on whom
he wrote a satire in verse called "Bucktail
Bards," published in 1819. Then came "Loco-
focos," "Barn-Burners," "Hunkers" and "Know-
nothings," to mention some of the factional or
party epithets of those days, and so on down to
the "Copperheads" and "Black Republicans" of
the Sixties.

During his life the Republican party of Jeffer-
son finally adopted the name Democratic which
formerly had a sinister connotation. At one time
that party was known as Democratic-Republi-
can — a form whicli Tammany Hall clun<»' to.
"Doughfaces," as John Randolph of Roanoke

* A faction headed l)y De Witt Clinton, opposed l)y the Buck-


stigmatized the northern members of Congress
who favored the Missouri Compromise in 1820,
was also often used in the political strife of the
State. Soon after the death of Randolph, a dis-
course on his career was delivered by request in
the House of Representatives by Gulian Ver-
planck. They had been fellow-members for

A few other facts about the Bank of the
United States should be noted. The main
bank was at Philadelphia, which was long the
financial center of the country. The first bank
of Hamilton's efforts was chartered in 1791 with
a capital of ten million dollars. The New York
Branch was in Queen Street, now Pearl. In
1811 when its charter was about to expire it
failed of renewal in Congress by one vote — that
of the vice-president, George Clinton of New
York. The financial troubles caused by the War
of 1812 resulted in the recharter of the Bank in
1816, with a capital of thirty-five million dollars.
On the expiration of its charter in 1836, as men-
tioned, the directors obtained a charter from
Pennsylvania, but the bank suspended in 1837,
in tlie widespread crash of that year, and not
long after, the bank was wound up with a total
loss to its shareholders. A few years later the
banking liouse on Wall Street became the Assay
Office, as stated.


/7/ i^^<.^<^^^^^-t:^^^

Born 1783. Died 1863
From a silhouette at the University Club.

It is a cause of gratification to the writer that
the site of the family homestead is embelhshed
by a cormnodious and substantial building which
does credit to the architects, Messrs. York and
Sawyer, and which insures the continuance of the
public character of the site, evidenced as it is by
the public buildings which have stood upon it, as
well as by its having been the home of a family
which for three successive generations gave mem-
bers to the public service. The corner stone is in-
scribed as follows :

Building Erected 1919

William G. McAdoo

Carter Glass

secretaries of the treasury.

Raymond T. Baker
director of the mint.

Verne M. Bovie
superintendent of the assay office


James A. Wetmore
acting supervising architect

York & Saw^yer — Architects
Chas. T. Wills, Inc. — Builders


The Assay Office, with the Mint, may be con-
sidered an arm of the Federal Reserve Banking
System, that long step which we have recently
taken towards the restoration of the Hamilton
bank scheme; and thus there is cause for our
taking a favorable view of national politics
when one considers the changed attitude of the
Democratic party toward Federal Banking.
We have seen President Wilson with the able as-
sistance of Congressman Glass building up where
President Jackson and his party tore down
eighty years earlier.


Born 1773. Died 1833
From a silhouette at the University Club.


Online LibraryWilliam E. (William Edward) VerplanckThe site of the Assay office on Wall Street, an illustrated historical sketch of the successive public buildings and men in public life connected with the site; interspersed with some family history → online text (page 1 of 1)