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Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs:
Colvin

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[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 457-462 of Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, edited by Cuyler Reynolds (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 929.1 R45. Some of the formatting of the original, especially in lists of descendants, may have been altered slightly for ease of reading.]

Hon. Verplanck Colvin, superintendent of the New York State Land Survey, was born in Albany, New York, January 4, 1847. His father was the Senator, Hon. Andrew James Colvin, who was born at Coeymans, Albany county, New York, April 30, 1808, and died at Albany, July 8, 1889. Senator Colvin married, in Trinity Church, Newark, New Jersey, September 2, 1845, Margaret Crane Alling, born at Newark, New Jersey, March 19, 1812, died in Albany, New York, June 25, 1900.

The Colvins are a family of ancient English lineage, the first appearance of the name in English history occurring in the old chronicles, wherein it is stated that Colvin, Duke of Col-Chester, or Kaer-Colvin ("Col-chester" equivalent to "Colvin-town"), became King of Britain and rejected the authority of the Roman Emperor. The Roman general, Constantius, being sent against him with an army, a truce was made and Constantius married Helen Colvin, daughter of the king. The son of this union was Constantine, afterwards Emperor of Rome, and called "The Great," who was the first Christian emperor.* [* See ancient English Chronicles of Britain (Grafton, 1568, p 86-87-88-89), and Peter Heylyn's great "Cosmographi," Kings of Britain, p. 273.] His mother, Helen, was the Saint Helena, of the ancient Catholic Church, so honored as the discoverer at Jerusalem of the remains of the "true cross" on which the Savior died, which facts may be found more fully brought out in Geoffrey's [i.e., Geoffrey of Monmouth] British History, chapter vi., Grafton's Chronicles; Heylyn Chronicles, p. 273.

(I) The progenitor of the Colvin family in America was John Colvin, who was the paternal great-grandfather of Hon. Verplanck Colvin. He was born in Scotland in 1752, near Castle Douglas, of renowned memory, and came to this country from there in 1772, settling at Nine Partners, New York, where he married Sarah Fuller. She was born in Connecticut, April 25, 1754, and was a descendant of a Mayflower Pilgrim. They subsequently removed to Coeymans, Albany county, New York, where he died January, 1814. Near this place he owned a large farm, situated west of Coeymans village or landing, on the Hudson river. He was a large man, possessing great physical strength as well as strong mental qualities, was of high character, a man of integrity and eminent for his piety. In 1811 he was member of assembly, being elected on the same ticket with Stephen Van Rensselaer, Abraham Van Vechten and Abel French, all prominent men of his day in New York State.

(II) James Colvin, eldest son of John Colvin and Sarah Fuller, was born at Coeymans, New York, July 11, 1776, and died in Albany, New York, May 6, 1846. He married Catherine Huyck Verplanck, which brought a wealth of ancient American history into the family. She was born in Coeymans, June 30, 1778, and was the granddaughter of David Verplanck (son of Isaac Verplanck, tenth child of Abraham 1st), whose first wife was Ariaantje Coeymans. From her he inherited a great part of the Coeymans Patent in Albany and Greene counties, a very ancient patent or manorial grant, located before the Van Rensselaer Patent of Rensselaerwyck, or Albany.

David Verplanck was born April 14, 1695, and married (first), July 16, 1723, Ariaantje, daughter of Barent Pieterse Coeymans, born at Coeymans, October 19, 1672; (second) a Miss Brouwer; (third), Catrina Boom, November 10, 1752. David Verplanck's father was Isaac Verplanck, who was baptized June 26, 1641, and married Abigail Uytenbogart. Isaac Verplanck's father was Abraham Isaacse Verplanck, of New Amsterdam, who emigrated to that place from Holland at a time when there were only fifteen houses on Manhattan Island, and was commander of the Dutch forces there under Governor Kieft in the first war with the Indians. In the house of the Verplancks at Fishkill, New York, where some of the family settled in 1682, the Society of the Cincinnati was formed. When he died he left 8,500 acres of the Coeymans Patent to each of his four children: Johannes, Ariaantje, Harriet and Isaac Davidse.

Ariaantje Coeymans, wife of David Verplanck, was the daughter of Barent Pieterse Coeymans, who purchased the enormous tract bearing his name. He was the son of Pieter Coeymans, also a miller, the progenitor of his family in America, who came from Utrecht in 1636, and he married the daughter of Andries De Vos. Barent, first owner of the mill at Coeymans, had litigation with the Patroon Van Rensselaer, because he had dealings before the Patroon with the native Indians for the tract of land measuring ten or twelve miles along the Hudson river. It was decided in Coeymans' favor in 1714, and he obtained a patent from Queen Anne confirming the entire tract to him. Upon a commanding site, near the Hudson river, was erected the old stone mansion, the oldest building in the place, and still an object of great interest, once called the "Coeymans' Castle."

(III) Hon. Andrew J. Colvin was born at Coeymans, New York, April 30, 1808, and died at Albany, New York, July 8, 1889. He was corporation counsel of Albany; district attorney for Albany county, the first ever elected in that county, and state senator during 1860-1861. He was author of the act giving women their legal rights, and of the act abolishing the death penalty, which was restored after he left the senate. He was noted for his patriotism during the civil war, and was chosen by the legislature to be president of the joint session of the New York State assembly and senate, selected by the legislature to receive Abraham Lincoln on his visit to Albany, which was the only reception ever given by the state to the martyr President.

Andrew James Colvin married, at Newark, New Jersey, September 2, 1845, Margaret Crane Alling, daughter of Prudden Alling and Maria Halsey, of Newark, New Jersey. She was a niece of Colonel John Ford, and related to General Prudden of the revolutionary army, and by marriage of her aunt, Matilda (Rosekrans) Halsey, to General Ebenezer Foote of the Continental army, an old Delaware county family. She was a descendant of Roger Alling (1st) progenitor of the family in America, who came to this country in 1639, settling in New Haven, Connecticut.

When the Rev. Mr. Davenport proposed to found Yale College, Roger Alling was the first to respond and say he "would send his son" there. Roger Alling's eldest son Samuel married Sarah Winston, of the old Cecil (Churchill, Marlborough) families; their eldest son, Samuel, Jr., married, at New Haven, in 1690, Sarah, daughter of Thomas Curry, and removed to Newark, New Jersey, 1702; their son, Samuel Alling (3d), the deacon, married Abigail Prudden, granddaughter of Rev. John Prudden (2nd), minister of the first church of Newark. They had a son, John Alling (3rd), first of Newark, who married Abigail Young of Newark; their son, John Alling (4th), born in 1746, at Newark, married Martha Crane, of Newark, a descendant of Jasper Crane. The third son of this John Alling (4th) was Prudden Alling, of Newark, born October 20, 1779, who married, March 16, 1806, Maria Halsey. Prudden Alling died at Newark, January 31, 1857. Their youngest daughter was Margaret Crane Alling, who was the mother of Verplanck Colvin.

Prudden Alling in later life had vessels plying between Savannah, Georgia, and Newark, New Jersey, and when he closed his business at the former place, drove all the distance in his carriage to Ballston, New York, to visit his relatives, the Ball family. He owned many negro slaves, but gave them all their freedom, as did also the Colvin family, setting them free in Albany county before the act emancipating slaves in New York state was passed.

Of interest to the family is the fact that a daughter of the Mr. Ball mentioned, married a Pierson, and was called by the Allings, "Aunty" Pierson. Her father, Mr. Ball, was a confidential officer of General Washington; was captured by the Hessians on Staten Island, and had his toes crushed by the butts of the muskets of these soldiers, and finally was killed by these soldiers. The Ball family was related to General Washington's mother.

Prudden Alling had an uncle, General Prudden, who married a Miss Ogden, of Newark, New Jersey. General Prudden was high sheriff of Morris county when Washington had his headquarters there at and after the revolution, and he took his nephew, Prudden Alling, then a child, to Washington's camp. It was there afterwards that the portrait of Prudden Alling was painted, showing him in scarlet coat and powdered hair in a queue, now owned by Alling Ward, in Ohio, son or grandson of General Prudden's sister. A portrait of Washington was painted in the same style, and is now in the national capital. General Prudden brought up his nephew, Prudden Alling, from childhood. John Alling (4th), maternal great-grandfather of Verplanck Colvin, in 1775 joined a company of minute men of the American patriots and was chosen third lieutenant. He was in the battles fought at Newark and elsewhere. The family records published tell of his severe fighting, face to face, with the British, musket in hand, at Newark. In April, 1782, he was wounded, by a bayonet, in the thigh, and died December 2, 1795, aged forty-nine years. Prudden Alling, Verplanck Colvin's grandfather, was twenty years old when President Washington died, and his acquaintance with and relationship to Washington was a valued feature of his life.

(IV) Hon. Verplanck Colvin, son of Hon. Andrew James Colvin and Margaret Crane Alling, was born at Albany, January 4, 1847. He was educated at home, then at the Albany Academy, and afterwards by private tutors. At a later period he was for a short time an instructor in surveying, engineering and geodesy at Hamilton College, New York. At Nassau, Rensselaer county, New York, whither his family removed shortly after the outbreak of the civil war, he indulged his taste for outdoor life and laid the foundation of his love for topographical science by preparing topographical maps of the country. He next studied law under his father, practicing successfully in the minor courts, but inclined more and more to scientific pursuits.

He kept up his interest in topography and military map reconnaissance; allied himself closely with the Albany Institute (one of the oldest and most eminent scientific and literary organizations in America, dating to 1791), and organized a very successful course of free scientific lectures in the State Geological Hall, Albany. Continuing his topographical and geological studies in 1865, he began his exploration of the Adirondack wilderness, corrected many errors in existing maps of that region, and during several successive summers continued this line of work so pleasing to him by natural bent. In 1870 he made the first ascent and measurement of the height of Mt. Seward, and about that time discovered the remarkable errors of the local variations of the compass needle in northern New York, which render bearings taken in most parts of these mountains valueless without long, skillful study. It was during this winter that he killed a huge bear in close combat in the snow, near Lake Pleasant, Hamilton county, in the Adirondacks.

In 1869 he made a critical topographical and geological survey of the Helderbergh mountains of New York, finely illustrated by his sketches. A brief abstract of this work was published by the Harpers — who had the famous engraver, Harry Fenn, prepare the wood cuts — and Mr. Colvin was paid by the Harpers at the same rate as General George B. McClellan and Horace Greeley, then among the most famous writers in America. This gave Verplanck Colvin a high position in American literature and led to more important work, among which was his intimate acquaintance with the great New York State Geologist, James Hall (who afterwards brought Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, when the latter was president of the Royal Society of Great Britain, to see Mr. Colvin). Mr. Colvin learned much from James Hall on geology; and the mathematics of meteorology and astronomy from Professor George W. Hough, late of the Dudley Observatory and Dearborn Observatory.

During the latter part of the winter of 1870 he traveled extensively through the Southern States, and by pen and pencil illustrated his account of these journeys. In 1871 he crossed the great plains to Colorado, visiting Wyoming, Nebraska and the Black Hills, and was the first to ascend, describe and map highest peaks in the Rocky Mountains, subsequently writing an article for Harper's Magazine, entitled "The Dome of the Continent," which caused the name "Dome State" to be first applied to Colorado. He was elected an honorary member of the Rocky Mountain Club of Denver, an honor rarely conferred, such honor being limited to a few special explorers of the Rockies, including Lieutenant-General Philip H. Sheridan. In 1871 Mr. Colvin urged the creation of the Adirondack park and forest preserve. In 1872 he induced the New York state legislature to make the first appropriation for the state survey in the Adirondacks, and he was accordingly appointed superintendent of that valuable work, as well as of other state surveys; and in the same year he traced the Hudson river to its highest lake source, Lake Tear of the Clouds, on the southern flank of Mt. Marcy, and he was the first to visit. and name this lake and source of the Hudson.

In 1873 he was appointed one of the Commission of the State Parks of New York, having been the first to recommend making the Adirondack Forest Preserve, and in this commission was associated with William A. Wheeler, later vice-president of the United States, and Horatio Seymour, governor of New York.

In 1875 he made the first true measurement with level and rod of Mt. Marcy, the highest peak in New York state, proving its altitude to be 5,344 feet above sea level. His services have been of great value to the state and science at large, and the highest mountain on the eastern shore of the lower Ausable lake, in the eastern Adirondacks, bears his name. This title was given to the lake by Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, of Brooklyn, New York, in the New York Independent, many years ago. Mr. Colvin was the first man to climb this mountain, and he has climbed and measured all the highest peaks of the Adirondack region.

In 1876 he explored the headwaters of the Moose river and Beaver river region, finding numerous lakes never before placed on any map. In 1877, while exploring on snowshoes among the mountains at the head of Red river, he encountered an enormous panther, which had just killed a deer, and he killed the panther by a single shot from his rifle.

In 1881 he was called upon to lecture on higher surveying and geodesy at Hamilton College, New York, at the suggestion of his friend, the great astronomer, Professor C. H. F. Peters (who was the discoverer of thirty-six of the minor planets of our solar system); and, at this time, Mr. Colvin was the guest of President Darling.

In 1882 he was chosen, with Governor Alonzo B. Cornell, one of the New York delegates to the first American Forestry Congress, and read an important paper before that learned body.

In 1883 he was given full and complete charge of the New York State Land Survey, which office he held a great many years. In 1888, when the national government was proposing to erect new gun foundries for the great cannon which have proved so excellent, he showed in an able paper that the most secure location for the factory was at the Watervliet arsenal, near Albany, that city being "the sole unconquered capital of the world." Congress adopted his views, and he was called into consultation by the ordnance officers of the United States army. In recognition of this service the Albany Burgesses' Corps presented Mr. Colvin with a handsome sword. In 1891 he was nominated for the office of state engineer and surveyor, and polled 538,000 votes, being 4,000 ahead of the candidate for governor.

In 1893 he represented the state of New York in the reception to the Duke of Veragua and family, the descendants of Columbus, at the capitol, and traveled with them to the lakes and mountains of this state, in this manner establishing a friendship with that family which has since been maintained by correspondence.

Mr. Colvin was chosen president of the ancient scientific society, the Albany Institute, to succeed the late Leonard Kip, the gifted author. As such he conducted it upon a high basis of learning, following his ideas that this organization was the leader in higher educational matters at Albany and the people should be made acquainted with all recent discoveries and inventions by listening to the descriptions given by the originators themselves. In this way he secured men of wide note to discuss topics of valuable historical, scientific and technical concerns of the day. His own paper, mathematically proving from the records given by Plutarch, that this continent was known to the Phoenecians and Carthagenians, is very important.

From the allusions made to Plutarch to the position of the star Saturn, to the direction of the sun at its extreme northerly elongation about the time of the first century of the Christian era, to the length of the days and nights at the extreme north point reached by the voyagers, to their account of stopping at Britain, and the distance sailed on the outward voyage to this continent, the height of the tides, the ice in the rivers, the warmth of the tropical climate of the countries upon the Mexican Gulf, and the voyage directly eastward, back to Carthage, Mr. Colvin has worked out, by astronomical and geographical formulae, on the basis of the observations of the Egyptian astronomer, Ptolemy, even the latitudes, directions and distances of the points referred to in the text of the ancient Roman writer, nearly two thousand years ago; and proved the knowledge of this continent by the ancients.

Mr. Colvin's paper "On the true path of the moon in space," showing that the earth and moon move around the sun like projectiles in wave-like curves, always concave toward the sun, and that, hence, the moon never goes around the earth in a circular or elliptical orbit, has made clear a very obscure question in astronomy and greatly facilitated the study of that science.

His address to the Grand Army of the Republic, delivered at Albany in 1896, was memorable, showing that the issues of the civil war were not closed when the military conflict ceased; but that the industrial problems which arose enter into the later political conditions, particularly in the competition of cheap negro labor in the South with white labor in the North, and that these issues are not to be finally settled without full consideration of the rights and wrongs of the human race through all of the historic conditions of the preceding ages of effort for civilization, the freedom to do right, and prevention of wrong, which were the underlying causes leading up to the civil war, and in the same way to the more recent Spanish-American war of 1898.

In 1898 Superintendent Colvin offered the services of himself and the chief officers and employees of his department to the state for military service in a letter to the adjutant-general; but the state militia was given preference, and he was ordered by the governor to continue his work in the civil service. His department was the only New York state civil division tendering its services for this war.

Mr. Colvin's chief work has been in higher engineering and geodesy, much of the results of which has been published by the state in the form of reports to the legislature; but in addition to these are numerous pamphlets and a variety of publications made by him at various times. Many of his writings have been copiously illustrated or accompanied by valuable topographical maps, designs, plans and designs of things devised to improve and facilitate engineering work. They are considered far from being what is termed dry, and engage the thought of many a reader wishing to be well informed on New York state affairs especially appertaining to the Adirondack region. In this line he is the inventor of a portable boat to be used in making explorations; made improvements in telescopes, and discovered a method of securing the mean temperature of the atmosphere independent of the thermometer, by observations on the velocity of sound. He is the author of First Ascent of Mt. Marcy, published by the state in 1871; "The Helderberg Mountains," illustrated, Harper's, 1871; "The Dome of the Continent," Harper's, 1872.

He has also acted as consulting engineer on many important works, in the location of railroads, etc.; has been president of the Schenectady and Albany Railway Company, and a director and officer in other railroad companies. He was consulted in regard to the eastern extension of the Canadian Pacific Railway by Lord Mount Stephen and Sir William Van Horn, of that important corporation.

In his geographical explorations he has made large additions to knowledge. His map sketch of the snowy range of the Rocky Mountains around Gray's Peak, made in 1870, was the first ever published, and has not been materially changed by any subsequent and more expensive and elaborate surveys.

In 1883, Seth Green, then superintendent for the State Fishery Commission, published an estimate that there were only three hundred lakes and ponds in New York state, and Mr. Colvin was called on to give an account of those which he knew in the Adirondacks and northern counties of New York, and furnished a list of those which he had either personally visited or which had been located by survey or reconnoissance, amounting to upwards of one thousand in that portion of the state alone, while there are many small ponds which have no names.

Under the law he was given charge of the surveys of all state land and the re-location and restoration of boundary lines which might be in litigation or dispute between the state and private parties. His surveys were made by law prima facie evidence in the courts of New York, when certified under his hand and official seal.

In 1902 Mr. Colvin was elected president of the New York Canadian Pacific Railway Company, a railroad reorganized in 1905, from three separate companies previously chartered by the state of New York, viz.: The New York & Albany railroad (150 miles); the Schenectady & Albany railroad (18 miles); and the New York Northern railroad (nearly 200 miles). The united stock of these railway companies already authorized by law (forming the new company of 1905) is $10,150,000, and bonds authorized and recorded are $6,000,000, covering the right-of-way acquired. The work of constructing these railways was begun under the late President Joseph H. Ramsey, the former president and builder of the Albany & Susquehanna railroad, the $100 stock of which now commands $270 per share in the market. About $2,000,000 has been expended upon the construction work of the consolidated new company (the New York Canadian Pacific Railway Company) and its completion is greatly desired by the people along its line.

Mr. Colvin is a member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, honorary member of the Club Alpine Français of Paris, the Adirondack Club, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, honorary member of the similar society in Great Britain, Sons of the Revolution, corresponding member of the Appalachian Mountain Club of Boston, Massachusetts, and Sierra Club of California; was the first honorary president of the Adirondack Guides' Association, president of Albany Chamber of Commerce, of the Scotch "Burns Club" of Albany, the New York State Historical Society, Albany Institute, life member of the National Geographic Society, a foundation member of the Fortnightly Club, and he is also allied with several other organizations of similar nature.

Mr. Colvin is not married. He resides in the old homestead of the Colvin family in Albany, situated in his park among the great trees in the heart of the city of Albany, in the large and beautiful place known as "The Elms," on Western avenue, it being the same place in which his grandmother and his father previously resided; and the spacious grounds have been a garden since old colonial times.

More information about the life and work of Verplanck Colvin may be found at the Colvin Crew.

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