Harme Gansevoort was born in April 1712. He was the first child born to brewer Leendert Gansevoort and his wife, Catharina De Wandelaer Gansevoort. He grew up learning the workings of business and trade at the family properties that ran from Market Street to the river.
After some time as a frontier trader, Harme opened a store on Market Street in 1739. Soon, he was importing directly from London. His multi-faceted business career carried the Gansevoort family out of the production and service classes and into Albany's commercial elite. He held the ferry for several years and the new dock built behind his house during the mid-1760s was known as "Harme Gansevoort's wharf." By that time, he was among the city's wealthiest merchants and his riverside home was an Albany landmark!
In May 1740, he married Albany native Magdalena Douw at the Albany Dutch church where he was a lifelong member, church officer, and occasional baptism sponsor. Their nine children were baptized there between 1741 and 1759. The marriage united two former Lutheran, New Netherland families and brought both into the provincial mainstream.
In 1736, Harme was appointed constable for the third ward. In 1748, he was elected assistant alderman and then alderman. He served on the city council for more than ten years and was active in its operations. Transformed beyond ethnicity, this English speaker was closely connected to the British establishment. In 1750, he was appointed Albany city and county clerk - a potentially lucrative position that brought him into closer contact with the royal government. In 1763, his name appeared on a list of Albany freeholders.
However, bitterness over loss of the clerkship in 1764 and the emergence of issues with the British in the years that followed, brought this third generation American to the realization that America's destiny might not be compatible with the British colonial plan. His sons followed in Harme's commericial footsteps and also became leaders in the course of action that brought Albany from resistance to rebellion and then to revolution.
Although his sons became the visible heads of the family during the era of the American Revolution, Harme continued in business, managed expanding real estate holdings, and presided over a Market Street complex that was served by numerous slaves - including a Pawnee captive named Jan who lived with the Gansevoorts for a decade.
Harmen Gansevoort lost his wife in 1796. He died in March 1801 at the age of eighty-eight. His will passed probate in September.
His trading venture to the "Far Indians" in 1735 was described for many years. Gansevoorts of Albany, pp.38-39. Alice Kenney's family history provides unparalleled illustrative material on Harme's career that fosters hope that we may be able to similarly articulate the lives of his contemporaries!
first posted: 7/30/03