General Matthew (1758-1825): War Hero
Matthew Clarkson, third son of David and Elizabeth French Clarkson, was the fourth generation of Matthew Clarksons. He seems to have been “ardent and impulsive” like his immigrant ancestor (Anon., “Vol. 1,” 112). He was only 16 when he ran off to join the army of the revolution. Although Matthew became a prominent player in the Revolutionary War, he didn’t earn the rank of general until after the war. He became good friends with George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and John Vanderbilt. His portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart, who painted the iconic portrait of George Washington. A copy by Stuart of the George Washington portrait was presented to Clarkson University by trustee Robert Livingston Clarkson. The portrait of Matthew Clarkson is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After the war, he became a prominent player in rebuilding Manhattan and developing financial and cultural institutions. Many of his letters have been preserved, and the whole of The Clarksons of New York: A Sketch, Vol. 2 is devoted to Gen. Matthew. That volume is the source of all the following information, unless otherwise cited.
During the war, Matthew served primarily as aide-de-camp, although he also participated in battles and surrenders. He had a miraculous recovery from an appalling wound and appears in the iconic painting by John Turnbull that hangs in the rotunda of the Capitol. He has been identified as the disembodied face at the tent.
When the war began, Matthew was only 16, yet he immediately applied for a commission from the New York Assembly. His request was denied, possibly having to do with the fact that his father was a member of the Assembly and was much stressed by the possibility of losing his sons to war. Instead, Matthew joined his brother David, captain of the 10th company in Josiah Smith’s regiment. The 10th company fought at the Battle of Long Island and was devastated. Survivors were sent back to New York. Matthew and David, however, went to the family home in Brunswick, New Jersey. At some point, Matthew met Gen. Nathaniel Green, who offered him a commission as major (10). Matthew accepted the commission and was assigned as aide-de-camp to Gen. Benedict Arnold. Under Arnold, Matthew joined a detachment of 160 men ordered to destroy a bridge south of Fort Edward in order to help New York Gen. Philip Schuyler, who was then retreating from British general John Burgoyne. However, Matthew’s detachment was attacked by a band of Native Americans who were fighting with the British. Matthew took a musket ball through his neck. Miraculously, he fully recovered. After several adventures and battles, he participated in Burgoyne’s surrender (22).
In 1778, Matthew spent the year with Gen. Arnold in Philadelphia hosting diplomats, getting into a dispute with Thomas Paine in the newspapers (27-8) and being charged with contempt of court for refusing to testify against Arnold (38). In 1779, Matthew was transferred to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s command. At the disastrous siege of Charleston, Gen. Lincoln surrendered and his whole army was held prisoner of war for a month. Matthew was among the officers who were then paroled. The terms of his parole restricted him to Philadelphia for eight months (64-5). Matthew chafed under the restriction far from the action and worked assiduously to get the parole lifted. In 1781, he was present at the surrender of Gen. Charles Cornwallis.
After the war, Matthew received a testimonial letter from George Washington delineating his military accomplishments (88). When Gen. Lincoln became secretary of war, Matthew was appointed his assistant. On Nov. 25, 1783, Matthew received the commission of lieutenant colonel by brevet. In June 1786, he was appointed brigadier general of the militia of Kings and Queens Counties, commanding about 2,000 men. On March 8, 1798, he was “commissioned major general of the Southern District of New York, the most important of the four districts into which the state was divided” (137).
During the war, Gen. Matthew had become good friends with Alexander Hamilton and was present at his death bed in 1804. After being fatally wounded in the notorious duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton had been moved to the nearby home of Matthew’s brother-in-law, William Bayard (137).
Civic Duty and Commercial Affairs
After the war, Gen. Matthew was active in the civic, religious and political affairs of New York City and state. He served for one year in the New York State Assembly. “His most noteworthy act” was to introduce legislation to free the slaves. The Assembly voted to reject the measure. The next day, Gen. Matthew reintroduced the same measure, which was again rejected (118). He served as a U.S. marshal, as regent of the University of the State of New York and as commissioner of United States loans (Reynolds, 1027). He sat on the board of the New York Hospital and participated in commissioning a prison. He was also an enthusiastic sponsor of rebuilding Trinity Church after the war (Anon., “Vol. 2,” 115).
Around 1785, Gen. Matthew Clarkson was in partnership with John Vanderbilt, trading in Holland with the firm of Daniel Crommelin & Sons. Their trade was so successful that they extended business to England, France and Spain (111). After dissolving that partnership, Matthew joined his brothers in their mercantile house Freeman, Streatfeild and Levinus Clarkson (112) in what later became S. and L. Clarkson & Co. (135). In 1804, he was asked to become president of the Bank of New York, the first bank in the state, and remained president until his death (153). He also served as a trustee for a bank for the poor, which was set up by his son-in-law Peter Augustus Jay with the support of William Bayard, the bank’s first president, DeWitt Clinton, Cadwallader Colden and others. Clearly, Gen. Matthew was working with the leaders of finance and government in Manhattan.
Gen. Matthew was also an active member or officer in the American Bible Society (169), the Free School system, the New York City Dispensary (175), the Humane Society and the Order of the Cincinnati. Membership in the latter is hereditary, passed down the male line (192).
To honor Gen. Matthew Clarkson for his service, he received land in the Triangle Tract, which eventually became the town of Clarkson in upstate New York, near Rochester. He donated 100 acres for the establishment of the village of Brockport (Hale).
Gen. Matthew Clarkson’s character was attested to after his death by the chancellor of New York, James Kent:
“No person appeared to me more entirely exempted from the baneful influence of narrow and selfish considerations, or who pursued more steadily and successfully the vivid lights of Christian philanthropy. He was eminently distinguished in the whole course of his life for benevolence of temper, for purity of principle, for an active and zealous discharge of duty, for simplicity of manner, for unpretending modesty of deportment, and for integrity of heart. It was his business and delight to afford consolation to the distressed, to relieve the wants of the needy, to instruct the ignorant, to reclaim the viscious [sic], to visit the fatherless and widow [sic] in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. Such a portrait is not to be drawn from all the records of heathen antiquity. It presents an elevation of moral grandeur ‘above all Greek, above all Roman fame.’ It belongs to Christianity alone to form and to animate such a character.”
Private Life and the Potsdam Connection
Gen. Matthew’s private life began auspiciously enough with marriage to the beautiful Mary Rutherford in May 1785. Unfortunately, she died in childbirth. The baby, Mary Rutherford Clarkson, was sent to live with the Rutherfords and only returned to the Clarkson household at age 16 to care for her stepsiblings. The death of his wife apparently thrust Matthew into a life of public service and “earnest benevolence” (Anon., “Vol. 2,” 175).
Gen. Matthew turned to his own family for support. He rebuilt the house at Pearl and Whitehall Streets (136), while his favorite brother T. Streatfeild and his brother-in-law Gerrit Van Horne built houses adjoining, at 31 and 33 Broadway (118). The fact that these brothers and brother-in-law were neighbors suggests that all three were proprietors in the Potsdam purchase (even though the history on this is confused). Gen. Matthew’s mother moved in with her daughter, Ann Margaret, and Gerrit Van Horne, and her house on Smith Street became a New York City post office. The homes on Broadway were lived in for four generations until they were replaced by the Corn Exchange (150).
In 1792, Matthew married Sarah Cornell. Sarah’s sisters become important in the story, as one married Hermon LeRoy and the other William Bayard, both proprietors of Potsdam. The LeRoys lived in Potsdam for a time, and the Bayard name lives on in Potsdam through Clarkson University trustees: Bayard Delaford Clarkson Sr. and Jr.
Children of Gen. Matthew and Sarah also are important in the Potsdam story. They had seven children, three of whom are connected with Potsdam. The most direct connection was through their eldest son, David (1795-1867). David’s granddaughter was Emilie Vallete, the last Clarkson to live in Potsdam. Their second son, Mathew, and their third son, William Bayard, were progenitors of the Clarksons who returned as trustees. According to Barney Clarkson, Robert Livingston Clarkson did not realize he was related to the Potsdam Clarksons until they discovered they both shared Gen. Matthew as an ancestor.
David Clarkson (1795-1867): Grandfather of Annie and Emilie Vallete
David Clarkson, the third child of Gen. Matthew, married his cousin and neighbor, Elizabeth Streatfeild Clarkson, in 1822, about the time John C. Clarkson had the development of Potsdam well in hand. Elizabeth was the child of Gen. Matthew’s favorite brother, T. Streatfeild, and Elizabeth Van Horne Clarkson. Elizabeth’s sister, Frances Selina, had a home in Potsdam in 1928, and their brother T.S. Clarkson had settled permanently in Potsdam by 1840. There is no record of David and Elizabeth visiting Potsdam.
David Clarkson was president of the New York Stock Exchange for many years, and a memorial citing the many admirable qualities of his character says of him: “By the amenity of his manners, his high sense of honor, and his great executive ability, he won the personal respect and deference of its members.” After holding this position of eminence in the financial world, he was chosen president of the Gallatin Fire Insurance Company and acted as such almost to the time of his death. He took a natural and great interest in a number of New York’s most worthy charities. In this respect, he did not require urging, but was the one to draw others into cooperation and, in this field, was appreciated by many boards of benevolent institutions. He was a long time governor of the New York Hospital, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, so that for one complete century, from 1770, when the board organized, to 1870, the name was on the board. (Reynolds, 1028)
David and Elizabeth had 11 children. Their eldest son, Mathew, did not pursue an occupation, but rather devoted considerable effort to compiling the family’s history (Reynolds, 1028). He married Susan Mathilda Jay, or S. Mathilda, his first cousin and also a grandchild of Gen. Matthew.
Mathilda was a founding director of the New York Cancer Hospital begun in 1884. This hospital was later renamed General Memorial Hospital and then Memorial Sloan Kettering Center. Barney Clarkson Sr. ran a cancer research lab in the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer. Matthew and Mathilda’s son, Banyer, became a trustee of Clarkson College.
Another son, T. Streatfeild, married his cousin, Ann Mary, and moved to Potsdam. Together, they had Annie and Emilie, who would figure so largely in the history of Potsdam and Clarkson University.
William Bayard Clarkson (1798-1875): Great-Grandfather of Robert Livingston Clarkson
Another son of Gen. Matthew was William Bayard Clarkson, who went by the name Bayard. Wm. Bayard married Adelaide Livingston, the daughter of Robert L. Livingston, first chancellor of New York. They had a son named Robert Livingston Clarkson, whose children included a son named Robert Goodhue and two daughters, Anne and Maude. These women were the cousins from Bridgeport, Connecticut, who pursued a connection with Emilie Vallete Clarkson Moore when her will was probated. They were also aunts to the Robert Livingston Clarkson who came to Potsdam as trustee for Clarkson College. Robert Goodhue Clarkson was Robert Livingston Clarkson’s father.