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Guide to the Beekman Family Papers
 MS 51

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alisa Harrison and John Winter

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 24, 2019
Description is in English

Biographical / Historical

The Beekmans were one of New York's most prominent families. Their name is perpetuated in New York City's Beekman, Ann, and William Streets, all named after family members, and in other namesake places throughout New York state.

The family first settled in the colony of New Netherlands in the mid-seventeenth century. Dr. William (Wilhelmus) Beekman (1623-1707), born in 1623 of protestant refugees Hendrick Beekman and Maria Baudartius, emigrated from the Netherlands to the colony in 1647 with Petrus Stuyvesant and served on the governor's administration in multiple capacities. In 1652, William purchased Corleas Hook's plantation on the Hudson river. A few years later he was appointed Vice Director of the Southern River (the Delaware River) territory in 1658, and for nine years was one of the burgomasters of New Amsterdam. In 1664, after he took an oath of allegiance to the English King Charles II, William was appointed sheriff of Esopus in Ulster County, where he served until 1672. During his service in 1670, he purchased an extensive property on Pearl Street along east river, extending west to present-day Beekman/William Streets and "The Beekman Swamp" west of that. In 1675, with the eruption of King Philip's War in New England, he and other prominent New Yorkers petitioned Governor Andros to dispose of their estates and move elsewhere in the colony. They were denied and imprisoned, but later released on bail. In 1683, he was named mayor and later purchased territory in Rhinebeck; he stayed on this property until his death in 1707. His son, Henry Beekman, was an Ulster County militia leader and, in return for his service, was provided with several large land grants in Dutchess County. Another son, Gerardus Beekman, served as temporary governor of the colony from 1709 to 1710.

Henry Beekman (1688-1776), the child of Henry Beekman and Johanna Lopers, was born in Ulster County in 1688. He married Janet Livingston in 1721, and after she passed away in 1724, remarried to the wealthy Gertrude Van Cortlandt in 1726. Henry, a prominent local landholder, was elected in 1724 to serve on the colonial assembly. He also completed a short-lived stint as New York County sheriff between 1732 and 1734. Henry retired from the assembly in 1758 and died at the family property in Rhinebeck in 1776.

William Beekman (1725-1795) was the son of Dr. William Beekman and Catherine De La Noy and brother of Cornelia Beekman Walton. A bachelor, Beekman managed the family real estate businesses and, on occasion, invested in mercantile ventures. During the summers, William resided with his bachelor brother Abraham at Rural Cove, one of the East River Beekman family estates.

Cornelia Beekman Walton (1708-1786), sister of James and William Beekman, married wealthy merchant William Walton on January 27, 1731, for which she had an eight hundred pound dowry from her father, Dr. William Beekman. Together they resided at the "Old Walton House" on Franklin Square in Manhattan. Cornelia's financial accounts, particularly after the death of her husband in 1768, are very well represented within the collection and indicate her familiarity with business and trade.

James Beekman (1732-1807), brother of William Beekman, married Jane Keteltas, the daughter of a New York Dutch merchant family, on October 5, 1752. James began his lucrative career as a dry goods merchant in 1750, and his business boomed during the Seven Years' War but suffered heavily during New York City's occupation in the American Revolution. James, a patriot, during the war found his Mount Pleasant estate at Turtle Bay taken over by British commanders including Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton and was forced to relocate his family to Kingston. In the post-Revolutionary era, Beekman and his family were active members in New York City's high society and, after retiring to his Mount Pleasant estate in the early nineteenth century, he passed away on April 6, 1807. The mercantile papers of Beekman's business are well represented within the collection.

Jane Keteltas Beekman (1734-1817) married James Beekman in 1752. Though records are incomplete, Beekman gave birth to between ten and twelve children; these included sons William, James, and Gerard, and daughters Mary, who married Stephen Bayard, and Jane, who married Stephen Van Cortlandt. Jane was largely responsible for coordinating the education of her many children and provided personal tutoring to the daughters prior to their formal instruction. Records within the collection—including an account book bearing her name—indicate that she was intimately involved in the family's mercantile business and possessed a shrewd business acumen. Jane, a fixture of New York's high society in the early national period and a frequent entertainer, split her time between Hanover Square in the fashionable business district and the family's Mount Pleasant Estate.

William Beekman (1754-1808) was the eldest son of at least ten children born to James Beekman and Jane Keteltas. He graduated from Princeton in 1773, but continued to take classes well into 1775 and remained a bachelor throughout his life. William was bequeathed the family estate at Mount Pleasant upon the death of his father in 1807, but he passed away one year later and thus never retained possession of the property.

James Beekman, Jr. (1758-1837) was the son of James Beekman and Jane Keteltas. He attended Princeton at age ten but did not graduate, and so was instead educated by private tutors during the period of the imperial crisis. Not much information is available regarding his business or domestic affairs. James lived comfortably off of the proceeds of his deceased father's estate and later inherited the Mount Pleasant property after his mother's death in 1817. He married Lydia Watkins Drew and, after her death in 1833, became embroiled in a dispute over her estate with her executrix, Elizabeth Dunkin, that is well documented within the collection.

Gerard Beekman (1774-1833), son of James Beekman and Jane Keteltas, was the youngest child. Raised first in Kingston during British occupation and then in New York City, Gerard attended and graduated from Columbia College. An introspective and deeply religious man, Beekman led a quiet life as a bachelor until, at age thirty-six on April 9, 1810, he married Catherine Sanders, the daughter of a prominent upstate family. He and his wife only had one child survive to adulthood, James William. Beekman died of internal injuries in a stagecoach accident in 1833 and his wife would pass away two years later.

Theophilus Elsworth Beekman (1790-1858) was the son of Theophilus Beekman and Elizabeth Matthews. Beekman served as a Lieutenant in the United States Army during the War of 1812. He married Marietta (Maritta) Hathaway, whose father's papers are contained within this collection.

James W. Beekman (1815-1877) was the only living child of Gerard Beekman and Catherine Sanders. He inherited his father's considerable estate at Oyster Bay and Madison Avenue after Gerard's death in 1833. A philanthropist and politician, James W. graduated from Columbia College in 1834. He would later attend Columbia Law School but, after graduation, elected not to practice. In 1840, he married Abian (Abby Anne) Steele Milledoler, daughter of the Reverend Philip Milledoler, President of Rutgers College. Together they had five children: Catherine B., Gerard, Philip, James William II, and Cornelia, of whom all but Philip would survive to adulthood. Beginning in his thirties, James W. was active in the administrative affairs of the New-York Historical Society, the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, New York Society Library, Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, the Woman's Hospital, other antebellum benevolent organizations, and was a trustee at Columbia University. In 1848, he was nominated as a "Silver Gray" Whig candidate for the New York State Assembly. He held two terms in the New York State Senate where he grappled with issues relating to immigration, slavery, temperance, and the funding of public education. After retiring from politics following an intense political upheaval over the candidacy of Hamilton Fish to the United States Senate, he continued to devote his time to philanthropy and political issues. In 1861, James W. visited Washington with Thurlow Weed and Erastus Corning to attend the "Peace Convention." His retirement pursuits included publishing on family history in the article "Founders of New York" in the book "Prominent Families of New York," and he also published the book "Early European Colonies on the Delaware." He died from pneumonia on June 15, 1877. His political, personal and institutional records are very well represented within the collection.

Abian "Abby" Steele Milledoler (1820-1897) was the daughter of Reverend Phillip Milledoler, a president of Rutgers College, and Margaret Steele Milledoler. She married James W. Beekman in 1840. She gave birth to four children: Gerard, James, Catherine, and Cornelia.

Gerard Beekman (1842-1918) was the son of James W. Beekman and Abian Milledoler. He, like Beekmans of previous generations, attended Columbia College and graduated in 1864. He received both Master of Arts and Bachelor of Law degrees in 1867, though he never actively practiced law. Instead, he served as a real estate manager for the many Beekman family estates he inherited at his father's death. Gerard, like his father, was active in charitable and philanthropic ventures and, in 1910, he founded the Beekman Family Association and endowed the association on his death. He was very active in pursuing Beekman family genealogical material during his lifetime, and much of the genealogy within this collection was compiled by him at the turn of the twentieth century. ​


Aitken, William Benford. Distinguished Families in America. New York and London: The Knickerbocker Press, 1912.

Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Lamb, Martha J., and Burton Harrison. History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress. 3 vols, New York: A.S. Barnes, 1877.

Mann, Bruce H. Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

New York (State). Legislature. Senate. "Documents of the Senate of the State of New York." Albany: Printed by E. Croswell, 1831.

Scoville, Joseph Alfred. The Old Merchants of New York City. New York,: Carleton, 1863.

White, Philip L. "Beekman, Henry";; American National Biography Online, February 2000.

White, Philip L. Gerard G. Beekman, and James Beekman. The Beekman Mercantile Papers, 1746-1799. 3 vols New York: New-York Historical Society, 1956.

White, Philip L. The Beekmans of New York in Politics and Commerce, 1647-1877. New York: New-York Historical Society under a grant from the Beekman Family Association, 1956.

White, Philip L. Beekmantown, New York: Forest Frontier to Farm Community. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.​