This page conforms to the XHTML standard and uses style sheets. If your browser doesn't support these, you may not see the page as designed, but all the text is still accessible to you.


Bringing the heritage of Schenectady County, New York to the world since 1996

You are here: Home » Families » HMGFM Home » Melville

Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs:

Index to All Families | Index to Families by County: Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, Washington

Go to previous family: Whitney | next family: Gansevoort

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 61-65 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.]

The Melville-Melvill family is distinguished in the civil, religious and literary history of Scotland. The branch here traced descended from the Melvilles of Fife, a branch of the noble and ancient family later represented by the Earl of Leven and Melville, one of the sixteen peers of Scotland in 1806. The original Melville was a Norman warrior who came to England with William the conqueror. He was not pleased with the treatment he received and withdrew in wrath to Scotland, where he came into the favor of King Malcolm, who granted him lands and favors. He received lands in Lothian and his descendants established themselves on lands in Angus and Fife. The name of Melville often appears in Scottish charters and records as early as the twelfth century. The name was early written Melvill. The great-grandfather of the American ancestor is:

(I) Sir John Melville, who was knighted by James VI. of Scotland, and in 1580 raised to the peerage with the title Baron of Granton.

(II) Thomas, son of Sir John Melville, married and had sons, Rev. Thomas and Rev. Andrew Melville. A son of Rev. Andrew, General Robert Melville, became a distinguished officer in the English army, rendered efficient service to his country, and at the time of his death was the oldest general but one in the British army.

(III) Rev. Thomas (2), son of Thomas (1) Melville, was a highly educated and respected minister of Scoonie in the Levan, county of Fife, Scotland. He was pastor of the church at Scoonie from 1718 to 1764, when he resigned in favor of Rev. David Swan. He died in 1769, greatly beloved and universally regretted. His children were:

  1. John, married Deborah Scollay, and died in London, about 1798.
  2. Allan, see forward.
  3. Margaret, married Captain Lindell.

(IV) Allan, with whom the American record begins, was the second son of Rev. Thomas (2) Melvill, of Scoonie. He was born in Scoonie, county of Fife, Scotland, in 1728, died in Boston, Massachusetts, January 2, 1761. He arrived in Boston in 1743, where he established himself in commercial business. He was distinguished for his enterprise, industry and rectitude of life. In 1750 he married Jean, daughter of David and Mary (Abernethy) Cargill. She died in 1759, leaving an only child and son, Thomas.

(V) Major Thomas (3), only son of Allan and Jean (Cargill) Melvill, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, January 16, 1751. Losing his mother at the early age of eight years, his care and education devolved upon his maternal grandmother, Mary (Abernethy) Cargill. She was a sister of the noted Dr. Abernethy, and was a woman of great intelligence. Her memory was ever warmly cherished by her grandson during life. At the age of fifteen he entered Princeton College, where he was graduated in 1769. He was destined for the ministry and devoted more than a year to the study of theology, but finding his health impaired and his constitution too frail for that arduous profession, he changed his plan of life. In 1771 he visited Scotland, the home of his ancestors, on business as heir-at-law to his cousin, General Roland Melvil, and was received with marked attention, receiving a degree from the St. Andrews College, Edinburg, together with the freedom of the city. He remained in Scotland and England two years, returning to Boston in 1773. From this period the cause of civil liberty engaged his attention and its progress was marked with deep interest to the termination of his life. He took part in many of the important and stirring events preceding the revolution. He was one of the youthful disciples and confidential associates of Samuel and John Hancock, whose friendship and intimacy he ever retained. He was one of the band of Indians, who, on the night of December 16, 1773, held the famous "Tea Party" in Boston Harbor. Some of the tea that he found in his shoes after his return home that night he preserved, and in after years exhibited it to such a distinguished visitor as General Lafayette as a precious souvenir of that memorable party. He was selected by General Warren as one of his aides a short time previous to the death of the latter at the battle of Bunker Hill. In 1776 he was commissioned captain by the state of Massachusetts in an artillery regiment commanded by Colonel Thomas Crafts, and in 1777 was promoted major of the same regiment. For a time he was on garrison in and about Boston. When the British evacuated that city in 1776, a portion of their fleet was left in Nantasket Roads to prevent any British vessels from entering the harbor and falling into the hands of the patriots. Major Melvill commanded a detachment of artillery sent to drive them from their station. A battery was erected under heavy fire from the British ships and Major Melvill aimed and fired the first gun which, followed by others equally well aimed, soon drove the enemy to sea. He served with Colonel Craft's regiment in 1777 in Rhode Island, under General Spencer, and was with the regiment in 1779 at the battle of Rhode Island under General Sullivan. He also served on the committee of correspondence and on the town committee to obtain its quota of troops for the continental army. Prior to the organizations of the general government, Major Melvill, in 1787, was chosen, three years in succession by the Massachusetts legislature as naval officer of the port of Boston. His first election was from fifteen candidates, one of them, Mr. Otis, being a member of the legislature, and brother of the speaker. Upon the adoption of the federal constitution the appointment of custom house officers was transferred to the president of the United States. For the port of Boston President Washington appointed General Lincoln, collector; James Lowell, naval officer; and Major Melvill, surveyor and inspector. He held this office until the death of James Lowell, when he was appointed naval officer by President Madison. This office he continued to hold under successive presidents until 1829, when he fell a victim to the pernicious doctrine "To the victors belong the spoils," and was removed from office by President Andrew Jackson. There was no pretence that he was incapable or unfaithful to the duties of his office. The victorious party wanted the office and took it. The old hero bitterly resented his removal and often referred to it as the "bitterest insult" of his long life. At the first state election held after his removal from office he was chosen one of the representatives from Boston in the state legislature, and held by successive reelections during the remainder of his life. In 1779 he was chosen one of the fire wardens of Boston and continued to be reelected until the reorganization of the fire department in 1825, a period of forty-seven years. For twenty-five years he was chairman of the board. On his retirement he was presented with a silver pitcher as a token of personal respect and a public testimonial of his faithful services. One of the engines and companies bore his name and ever honored his memory. The Massachusetts legislature appointed him a director of the State Bank and other public institutions, and he was chosen as delegate to the convention that revised the state constitution. He had many warm friends among the military and public men of his day. He was known among these as "the last of the cocked hats," from the fact that until his death he always wore a three-cornered cocked hat and knee breeches. Being once asked why he did not add a final e. to his name, the reply was: "My father did not." The leading and prominent traits of his character were a sound judgment, a quick discernment, firmness and decision in time of danger and pressing emergency; a strong sense of justice; the strictest fidelity to engagements, public and private; an ardent attachment to personal friends; great tenderness and the most considerate regard for his family and those depending on him. Notwithstanding an intense aversion to the disclosure of religious feeling, it was manifest to his intimate friends that the highest of all obligations were daily and habitually remembered. He died peacefully at his home in Boston, September, 16, 1832, in his eighty-second year.

He married, in Boston, August 20, 1774, Priscilla, daughter of John Scollay, granddaughter of James Scollay, who came from Orkney Island to America, and great-granddaughter of Malcolm Scollay, of Scotland, born 1648, died 1746, at the great age of ninety-eight years. The name is perpetuated in Boston by "Scollay Square" and other memorials. Priscilla (Scollay) Melvill survived her husband with whom she spent a congenial, happy life, continuing fifty-eight years. Children:

  1. Thomas (2), born June 26, 1776, educated at Boston Academy, was a merchant in Boston, was sent to Paris by his employers at the age of eighteen, became a banker of note, and remained in France fourteen years, except two years spent in Spain; married a French girl of Spanish mother, Françoise Raymonde Eulogue Marie des Doulouers Louise Fleury, eldest daughter of François Lamie Fleury and his wife, Raymonde Gavisa. His home in Paris was the scene of a great deal of hospitable entertainment, General Lafayette being a frequent guest. He returned to the United States in 1811; during the war of 1812-14. was appointed commissary of prisoners; was with General Dearborn when he selected the grounds in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where the "Cantonment" for prisoners was located, and occupied with his family a cottage on the grounds. April, 1814, his wife died, followed in a few weeks by two of his children. He married (second) November 21, 1815, a daughter of Dudley Hobart, of Maine. In 1832 was elected to the Massachusetts legislature. In 1836 removed to Galena, Illinois, where he died at the age of seventy-six, the father of fourteen children.
  2. Mary, born 1778, died October 22, 1809; married Captain John De Wolf.
  3. Nancy W., born March 22, 1780, died July 8, 1813.
  4. Allan, see forward.
  5. Priscilla, born February 2, 1784.
  6. Robert, born July 4, 1786, died June 19, 1795.
  7. Jean, born March 6, 1788, married ———— Wright.
  8. John Scollay, born March 23, 1790, died May 10, 1815.
  9. Lucy, born August 22, 1793, died in infancy.
  10. Lucy (2), born February 11, 1795; married (first) Justin Wright Clark; (second) Dr. Nurse.
  11. Helen, born January 14, 1798; married Levitt Souther.

(VI) Allan (2), second son and fourth child of Major Thomas and Priscilla (Scollay) Melvill, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, April 7, 1782. He was well educated and became an importer of silks and French goods of rare and superior quality. In pursuit of his business he spent a great deal of time in journeying at home and abroad; was with his brother Thomas in the French Capital. Between the brothers, though not connected in business, existed a warm and commendable intimacy. He first went to Europe in 1800, and made his last visit in 1822. He visited the principal capitals and manufacturing centres in search of attractive and saleable goods for his trade and made heavy purchases. Once during the second war with England the vessel on which he was a passenger was captured by a British frigate and all made prisoners. He was soon released and returned to the United States. He was a most methodical man and a daily record of all his travels, home and abroad, at sea or on land, was faithfully kept and is carefully preserved. It records travel by sea of forty-eight thousand four hundred and sixty miles in the twenty-two years. He closed up his Boston business and for a time was in the wholesale dry goods business in Albany, New York, but about 1818 located at 123 Pearl street, New York City, where he dealt in wholesale imported silks and dry goods; also, as his advertisement says: "Acting as commission merchant for others." He was one of the early importers of French goods and prospered. He kept up a constant correspondence with his distinguished father, whose advice and counsel he sought and followed. His letters to his wife, many of which are preserved, show the deepest devotion and love, breathing an exquisite tenderness that charms the reader, although a century has elapsed since some of them were written. He died about 1835. He was a man of deep religious sentiment, as shown by his letters, and constantly invoked the Divine blessing upon his beloved wife and children to whom he was devoted. He married Maria, daughter of General Peter Gansevoort, Jr., of revolutionary fame. She was born 1791, died 1872. Children:

  1. Gansevoort, born December 6, 1815, died in London, England, May 2, 1846. He was an accomplished scholar, possessed of unusual powers of oratory, a gift that was employed with good result by the Democratic party, particularly during the campaign that resulted in the election of James K. Polk to the presidency. He was appointed secretary of legation at the Court of St. James, dying in London, 1846. His body was returned to his native land and buried with honors in the Albany Rural Cemetery. He was a young man of great promise and brilliant prospects.
  2. Helen Maria, born August 4, 1817; married, January 8, 1854, George Griggs.
  3. Herman, born 1819, married, August 5, 1847, Elizabeth, daughter of Chief Justice Shaw, of Boston.
  4. Augusta, born 1821.
  5. Allan, born 1823, married (first) September 22, 1847, Sophia E. Thurston; (second) Jane Dempsey.
  6. Catherine, born 1825; married, September 15, 1853, John C. Hoadley.
  7. Frances Priscilla, born, 1827. 8. Thomas, born 1830.

Melville Arms: "Bears gules three crescents argent with a bordure of the last, charged with eight roses of the first. A small crescent of the second in chief for difference." Crest: "A crescent argent." Motto: "Denique Coelum."

Miss Charlotte Hoadley, of Chicago, a descendant of the Melville family, says, after reading the above sketch: "The family tradition has always been that Fanny Fleury was an adopted daughter of Madame Recamier and that she was married to Thomas Melville from Madame Recamier's salon. I have in my possession Fanny Fleury's miniature in an exquisitively carved tortoise-shell box, with her monogram wrought in the carving. I also own the miniature pin painted by Copley of Deborah Scollay. It was sent to David Swan and many years after returned to the Melville family in Boston. The little paper which accompanies it reads, 'Deborah Scollay was the eldest sister of Priscilla Scollay.' She married John Melville, uncle of the Thomas Melville who married Priscilla Scollay."

The following is a sketch of "Broad Hall," now the Country Club of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, taken from "The History of Pittsfield," by J. E. A. Smith, Springfield, 1876 [i.e., The History of Pittsfield, Massachusetts]. The place was formerly owned by Major Thomas Melville and later by his son Robert: "Broad Hall was built by Henry Van Schaack in 1781, with extraordinary care and liberal expenditure, and was for many years much the best built edifice in the town. The wooden walls were lined with brick, and the carpentry exhibits a perfection of skill which excites the admiration of modern workmen who are called upon to make alterations in it. It is little changed except by the removal of the broad chimney and the old-fashioned balustrade which surrounded the roof. Mr. Van Schaack removing to his native place, Kinderhook, New York, in 1807, sold his house in Pittsfield to Elkanah Watson, a gentleman of very similar tastes, and the founder of the Berkshire Agricultural Society, who occupied it until his removal to Albany in 1816. It was then purchased by Major Thomas Melville who resided in it until 1837 and was succeeded by his son Robert Melville. For some years previous to its purchase by Mr. J. R. Morewood in 1851, it was kept as a boarding house and numbered among its guests Henry W. Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and President John Tyler."

Mr. J. R. Morewood sold Broad Hall to his brother, George Morewood, and his son sold it to the Pittsfield Club about 1900.

Go to top of page | previous family: Whitney | next family: Gansevoort

You are here: Home » Families » HMGFM Home » Melville updated March 30, 2015

Copyright 2015 Schenectady Digital History Archive — a service of the Schenectady County Public Library