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Guide to the Jacob Harvey Family Papers
1811-1994
 MS 306

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


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Anne Boissonnault

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 11, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical/Historical Note

In 1939, Claire Feins, a graduate student in history at Columbia University, took an interest in prominent New York physician, botanist, and founding member of New-York Historical Society, David Hosack (1769-1835). Feins began to research his life and work while writing a history of Columbia University's Rockefeller Center property to satisfy her master's thesis. Following the completion of her degree, Feins continued to build upon her research, with the intent of using it as the subject for a doctoral thesis. In 1948 she applied for a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship to write a biography of David Hosack, but did not receive funding for her project, and never completed her dissertation.

Over the course of her research, Feins made contact with sisters Alice, Constance, and Georgina Biddle, descendants of David Hosack, who provided her with access to their family papers. At the time, these papers were thought to contain primary source material pertaining to the life of David Hosack, but Feins found little that was of any use to her. There was, however, a substantial amount of correspondence belonging to Hosack's immediate family, specifically his daughter, Mary Hosack Harvey (1800-1872), and her husband, Jacob Harvey (1797-1848). While Feins continued her Hosack research, her husband, Daniel Feins, who was inspired by the quality and extent the Harvey manuscripts, began to push for a publication based upon the Harvey material.

Although Claire Feins did not write her book on David Hosack, one was eventually written by Christine Chapman Robbins, and published by the American Philosophical Society [APS]. Feins appears to have lent some assistance to this work, and an inscribed copy, from Robbins to Feins, is in the collection. Preceding the publication of this volume, in 1962, the Feinses lent a portion of the Jacob Harvey correspondence and other materials to APS, which were microfilmed and returned to the Feinses.

Jacob Harvey was an Irish merchant, and Quaker, who emigrated to the United States in 1816, where he began his career as an apprentice to Abraham Bell, of A. Bell & Co. in New York. In 1822, Bell took Harvey as partner in his firm, and Harvey became deeply involved in the commercial life of the city. 1827 saw his break with the Society of Friends, owing primarily to a controversy between the Orthodox in England and the New Lights in New York, as well as his romantic interest in women not of the same religious persuasion. In 1828 he married Mary Hosack who was the daughter of prominent New York physician David Hosack, and together they had two daughters, Mary Harvey (1831-1900) and Rebecca Harvey (1840-1912).

Throughout his life, Jacob Harvey was distinctly politically engaged, writing letters to such prominent figures as Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, John Randolph of Roanoke, William H. Seward, Martin van Buren, and Daniel Webster, among others. Harvey was acutely aware of the problems of his homeland and its people, and, with the aid of A. Bell & Co., raised money and food for Irish relief during the famine, and assisted Irish immigrants in locating lost relatives and remitting hard earned money to Ireland. Harvey was also deeply concerned by the institution of slavery in the United States, and frequently advocated for the rights of enslaved persons.