|This detailed watercolor was produced by Abraham Hosier, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
Johannes De Peyster arrived in New Amsterdam around 1633 (although one source says 1647). According to his descendent, John Watts De Peyster in 1888, "He was possessed of large means for the period, and brought out with him massive silver plate, exquisite articles of jewelry, and at once took a prominent position in his new home."
His eldest son, Abraham De Peyster, became even more prominent in the community. After the British took over New Netherlands in 1664, he became an alderman in 1685, mayor of New York in 1692, a judge of the Supreme Court, Treasurer of the Provinces of New York and New Jersey and a life-long member of the King's Council, and in 1700 was Acting Governor.
Abraham "possessed a very large property, and was noted for his benevolent, enterprising, hospitable and patriotic use of it." In 1699 he donated part of his land as the site of the new City Hall, and the following year erected "the finest mansion in New York, which was filled with the richest furniture and adornments, and a large amount of beautiful silverware," according to John Watts De Peyster. (Some historians place the date of construction at 1695, but that seems doubtful given the architectural style.)
The residence sat on Queen Street (renamed Pearl following the American Revolution) opposite Cedar Street. The grounds engulfed the entire block, in the rear of which were the coach house and stable.
Three stories tall plus an attic floor, the mansion's Georgian design reflected the latest domestic fashion of England. It was 80-feet wide and 59-feet deep. Directly above the double-doored entrance was a Palladian window with French doors that opened onto a balcony. Historian Martha Joanna Lamb noted in her 1877 History of the City of New York, "This balcony was for nearly a century the favorite resort of the governors of New York when they wished to hold military reviews."
|New York State Governor the Earl of Bellemont, inspects the troops from the balcony. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Lamb was detailed in her descriptions:
The rooms of the house were immensely large (some of them forty feet deep), and the walls and ceilings were handsomely decorated. The furniture was all imported, and was elaborately carved and very costly...The style of life of the family was the same as that of the European gentry of the same period. They indulged in elegant hospitalities and costly entertainments, the chief people of the city and province, and stately visitors from the Old World, were often grouped together under this roof.
Abraham De Peyster's wife was his second cousin, Catharina De Peyster. She had 16 household servants to assist in the lavish entertainments (nine of whom were "negro slaves," according to Lamb). Her guests drank from cut glass and ate off imported china. On the walls around them were hung paintings by old masters.
The De Peysters had four children, Catherine, Elizabeth, Abraham and Pierre Guillaume. That they lived like European gentry was reflected in De Peyster's silver-trimmed coach, emblazoned with the family coat-of-arms. Four matched "grays" pulled the vehicle. And Martha Lamb recalled "the livery of his servants was a blue coat, with yellow cape, cuffs, and lining, and yellow small-clothes; the button-holes worked with yellow, and the buttons plain velvet."
Abraham, Sr. died on August 3, 1728. Abraham, Jr., who was born in 1696, inherited the estate, popularly known as the "Great Garden of Colonel De Peyster." He had married Margaret, the eldest daughter of Jacobus Van Cortlandt and Eve Philipse in 1722, the year after he was appointed Treasurer of the Province. The large residence would prove useful, as the couple had eleven children.
Like his father, Abraham was conspicuous in public affairs. He held his position as treasurer for 46 years, until his death in 1767 at the age of 71. The estate passed to his eldest son, James, who had married Sarah Reade, daughter of Joseph Reade, one of the king's counselors. The pair would have 13 children. Their stay in the Queen Street mansion was short.
It was sold in 1769 to the Honorable Henry White, member of the Governor's Council and one of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce. His wife was the former Eve Van Cortlandt, daughter of Frederick Van Cortlandt and Frances Jay. Ardently loyal to the British crown, trouble came for White at the onset of the American Revolution.
As a vocal Loyalist, his properties were confiscated in 1779. He fled with the British Army in 1783, leaving his wife behind in New York. Eve moved into a house at No. 11 Broadway she had inherited from her father. Henry White died shortly after leaving New York while Eve lived on to the age of 98, dying in her Broadway house on August 11, 1836.
In the meantime, on March 29, 1784 the Commissioners of Forfeitures were directed to "set apart such a house as the Governor might choose for a residence." Governor DeWitt Clinton chose the former De Peyster mansion.
Ironically, in 1786 it was purchased by Henry White's son, Henry White, Jr. (the grandfather of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor). He continued leasing it to the state as the Governor's Mansion, for which he was paid an annual rent of 300 pounds.
|The first business building had appeared next door when this etching was made around 1800. from the collection of the New York Public Library.|
In 1797 the capital of New York State was moved to Albany. By 1819 it seems that few recalled the former prominence of the Pearl Street house. An advertisement in April that year offered the property for lease, describing it simply as "The three story House, No. 10 Pearl-street."
As commercial interests continued to crowd the neighborhood, the former De Peyster house was converted for business purposes. Once touted as "the finest mansion in New York City," it survived until 1856. The massive Emery Roth & Sons designed office building, completed in 1960 and known as 80 Pine Street, sits on the site today.