Pierrepont family papers
Language of Materials
The Pierrepont family papers (1761-1918) document the intersection of commercial, civic and personal interests across three generations of one of the most prominent and influential families of nineteenth century Brooklyn, New York. The bulk of the collection concerns the business dealings of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont from 1838 to his death in 1888. This especially includes an extensive set of accounting and transactional records concerning the Pierrepont Stores, the family's warehouse on Brooklyn's East River waterfront; these include records of ships arriving at the Stores and their cargoes delivered. Additionally, there are substantive correspondence, legal documents and other materials concerning the Union Ferry Company, of which Henry was an officer. In addition to commerce and shipping, a major theme of the collection is that of land acquisition in Brooklyn Heights and at the adjacent waterfront in the early nineteenth century, and the development of that property over the course of the century. Included in the collection are correspondence, deeds, indentures, leases, accounting records, diaries, maps, invoices, receipts, business proposals, legal filings, clippings, and historical and genealogical manuscripts.
Biographical / Historical
Hezekiah Beers Pierpont:
Hezekiah Beers Pierpont amassed a fortune through the operation of a farm and gin distillery, and through real estate investments in the Village and City of Brooklyn during the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Born in New Haven, Connecticut on November 3, 1768, Hezekiah settled in New York City in 1790 where he worked as a clerk in the Customs House. By 1793, Hezekiah had set out on his own ventures, forming the mercantile partnership Lefingwell and Pierpont. The partnership dissolved in 1800 and Hezekiah moved to Brooklyn in 1801 after purchasing the brewery of Philip Livingston and converting it to a distillery for what became Anchor Gin. The following year he married Anna Maria Constable, daughter of Anna White and William Constable of Philadelphia. The couple came to have twelve children together, including Henry Evelyn Pierrepont.
During this period, Pierpont became known for his support of the development of the Village of Brooklyn. He began to invest in local real estate in 1802, focusing his investments around present-day Brooklyn Heights, directly across the East River from lower Manhattan. Pierpont supported the Fulton Ferry, which began the first steam ferry service between Brooklyn and Manhattan in 1814, making Brooklyn even more accessible to New York City. At this same time, Pierpont acquired additional wealth through the inheritance and purchase of more than 150,000 acres of land in upstate New York from the estate of his father-in-law.
Hezekiah retired from active business in 1819 and closed the distillery, which was sold in 1824. He committed much of his time to the improvement of both residential and business sections of Brooklyn Heights, proposing such developments as a promenade to be situated along the bluffs overlooking the East River and New York Harbor. Hezekiah Beers Pierpont died in Brooklyn on August 11, 1838.
(Note on the Pierpont name: For a period of time the original spelling of the family name, Pierrepont, was superseded by the anglicized spelling Pierpont. Hezekiah Beers Pierpont requested that his wife and children be known by the original spelling of Pierrepont around 1802, but did not himself adopt this spelling for business reasons.)
Henry Evelyn Pierrepont:
The second son of Hezekiah Beers and Anna Maria Constable Pierrepont, Henry Evelyn was born in Brooklyn on August 8, 1808. Henry Evelyn was educated in New York City and quickly acquired his father's prominence among Brooklyn's elite. Upon the death of H.B. Pierpont, William Constable, the eldest Pierrepont son, took over the family's upstate properties while Henry Evelyn remained in Brooklyn, maintaining the family's influence on, and commitment to, the city's development. On December 1, 1841, Henry Evelyn married Anna Maria Jay, daughter of Peter Augustus Jay and Mary Rutherford Clarkson, and granddaughter of John Jay, governor of New York (1795-1801) and the first Chief Justice of the United States. Together the couple had six children, including Henry Evelyn Pierrepont II and John Jay Pierrepont.
Henry Evelyn Pierrepont spent much of his life working to establish Brooklyn as a flourishing metropolis. In 1844 a Brooklyn ferry lease was granted to Henry Evelyn Pierrepont and Jacob R. Leroy, who combined the five existing Brooklyn ferries into the Brooklyn Union Ferry Company. The venture created a more frequent and regular service between Brooklyn and New York City, and effectively monopolized transportation across the East River prior to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883.
By 1857 Henry Evelyn and William Pierrepont had established a joint venture, the Pierrepont Stores, "a United States bonded warehouse where ships' freight was received and stored for the owners, insured by the government, until duties were paid." The Stores was a major port of entry for a number of different cargoes (primarily sugar and molasses) from locales ranging from the Caribbean to Manila. Upon Henry Evelyn's retirement from business, his two sons took over the Pierrepont Stores, which they operated until leased to the Empire Warehouse Company in 1888, shortly after the death of their father on March 28, 1888.
Henry Evelyn Pierrepont dedicated much of his time to the cultural development of the city, as well as its commercial expansion. He held a number of prominent positions, such as Trustee of Brooklyn Hospital, Trustee and President of Green-Wood Cemetery, Director of the Academy of Music, Director and President of the Brooklyn Club, and Director of The Long Island Historical Society.
Henry Evelyn Pierrepont II:
The eldest son of Henry Evelyn and Anna Maria Pierrepont, Henry Evelyn II was born in Brooklyn on December 9, 1845. Henry Evelyn, Jr. studied at Columbia College, receiving his B.A. in 1867. In 1869 he married Ellen A. Low, daughter of Ellen Almira Dow and Abiel Abbot Low, with whom he had six children. He and his brother, John Jay, soon took charge of the Pierrepont Stores, joining forces with Ferdinand N. Massa in the firm of Pierrepont Brothers. The brothers sold the Stores in 1888 and Henry Evelyn, Jr. retired from active business ventures, devoting his time to the further development of his real estate holdings. He continued his commitment to work within the community, most notably at Grace Church, of which his father had been a founding member and senior warden, a position which Henry Evelyn, Jr. also came to hold. Henry Evelyn Pierrepont II died in Brooklyn on November 4, 1911.
John Jay Pierrepont:
The younger of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont's two sons, John Jay was born in Brooklyn on September 3, 1849. John Jay married, on April 26, 1876, Elise de Rham, the daughter of Charles de Rham and Laura Schmidt, and the couple had one child who died before reaching one year of age. Elise Pierrepont died less than two years later on October 17, 1879 and John Jay Pierrepont lived out the rest of his life in the family house at One Pierrepont Place in Brooklyn, remaining an active member of Brooklyn society until his death on September 25, 1923.
The collection is organized in the following series:
- Series 1: Mercantile, Farm and Distillery
- Series 2: Personal and Social Matters
- Series 3: Brooklyn Real Estate
- Series 4: Pierrepont Stores
- Series 5: Rail Lines in Brooklyn
- Series 6: Brooklyn Waterfront and Ferries
- Series 7: Newspaper Clippings
- Series 8: Diaries
Scope and Contents
The Pierrepont family papers illustrate the intersection of commercial, civic and personal interests across three generations of a Brooklyn family, principally in the nineteenth century. Although these papers span the period from 1761 to 1918, the bulk of the collection concerns the business dealings of Henry Evelyn Pierrepont from 1838 to his death in 1888. This especially includes an extensive set of records concerning the Pierrepont Stores, the family's warehouse on Brooklyn's East River waterfront. Included in the collection are correspondence, deeds, indentures, leases, accounting records, diaries, maps, invoices, receipts, business proposals, legal filings, clippings, and historical and genealogical manuscripts.
Included in the collection are a substantial number of deeds, leases, indentures, manuscript maps, title searches, and other documents concerning acquisition of land by the Pierreponts, primarily Hezekiah Beers Pierpont, in Brooklyn Heights and the adjoining waterfront. Similar documents concern the development of this land for personal use (e.g., the building of the family's home at One Pierrepont Place), civic improvement (e.g., the opening of streets, allocation of land to churches), and commercial ventures. Competing priorities among these interests can be seen in the collection, as in connection with attempts by cable car and elevated railway companies to build on or near Pierrepont property.
The Pierrepont's commercial activities are exceptionally well-represented in the collection. An extensive set of records for the Pierrepont Stores, from 1856-1888, includes day books, journals, ledgers, cash books, and records of deliveries received from arriving ships and goods transported to and from the Stores. In addition to the financial aspects of the business, the ledgers provide much information about the names of ships, their origin, and their cargo. Further, the Stores's time book is in the collection, with data on the names and daily hours of the workers. Correspondence, building construction and repair invoices, architectural plans, and business management documents concerning the Stores are in the collection. Henry's involvement as an officer of the Union Ferry Company, and the development of East River waterfront and ferry rights is well-represented in the collection with correspondence, proposals, maps, and legal documents. Account records related to Hezekiah's early nineteenth century distillery operation are in the collection.
A range of personal papers are in the collection. Many of these concern Henry and other Pierreponts engagement with civic institutions, such as the Long Island Historical Society, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Green-Wood Cemetery, and the Astronomical Society of Brooklyn. Henry's manuscript and supporting material for his published history of the Fulton Ferry is in the collection, along with other historical, biographical and genealogical materials. The collection includes a Civil War-themed scrapbook. Henry's rich diary from the last years (1877-1888) of his life is the collection. Correspondence between members of the Pierreponts, including Hezekiah's wife, Anna Maria, give insight into the Pierrepont's vision and concerns for the Montague Street area, for the Stores, and for their family welfare.
Conditions Governing Access
Open to researchers without restriction.
Conditions Governing Use
The materials are in the public domain.
Identification of item, date (if known); Pierrepont family papers, ARC.263, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
Location of Materials
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection is comprised of several accessions. Explicit documentation of the provenance for most of these accessions is lacking. Evidence exists that most of the material included in the collection was donated by Pierrepont family members who were active participants in The Long Island Historical Society (re-named Brooklyn Historical Society in 1985) from its founding in 1863. The papers were received over a period of approximately seventy-five years, from the late nineteenth century through 1962. Copy of disputed will of H.B. Pierpont is the gift of Charlotte Beagle, 2015.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
The majority of the materials in this collection are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org at least three weeks prior to research visit.
About this Guide
The collection was first described in 1978 by Thomas Mill. In 1999, with sponsorship from a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Committee, the finding aid was revised by Project Archivist Teresa Mora, with further edits by Project Consultant Marilyn H. Pettit. Additional minor edits were made by Leilani Dawson in 2006. In 2011, Project Archivist Larry Weimer slightly re-arranged parts of the collection and modified the finding aid, principally to accommodate input to a collection management system, Archivists' Toolkit. One additional file (1986.002) added to Series 3 by Archivist John Zarrillo in November 2014. Four additional court publications which had been separated from the papers were added to Series 6 by John Zarrillo in February 2015. Accession M1975.646 (broadside advertisement for land in Jefferson County) added to Series 3 by John Zarrillo in August 2015. Copy of the disputed will of H.B. Pierpont added to Series 3 by John Zarrillo in March 2017.
The collection is comprised of several accessions: 1973.325, 1973.088, 1973.248, 1973.288, 1974.182, 1974.246, 1977.137, 1977.139, 1977.336, 1977.658, 1980.035, 1986.002, 1987.015, and M1975.646.