Alexander Macomb

Submitted by Lisa Slaski

Source: The Malone Palladium, 12 Feb 1903

Alexander Macomb.

[Part of a paper read before the Franklin County Historical Society by Dr. C. W. Collies]

In the middle of the eighteenth century the province of New York contained about 80,000 inhabitants, of which one seventh were negro slaves. New York city was a thriving trading town of 13,000. On Long and Staten Islands, and in Westchester county, there were prosperous farmers, and a line of bustling villages extended up the Hudson. Albany and Schenectady were boom towns on the frontier. Even then the provinces had a cosmopolitan population.

The great land proprietors, Dutch, English and Huguenot, and a few rich merchants of Manhattan made up the aristocracy. In the upper middle class, Scotchmen, Yankees, a few Welshmen and many Irishmen were rapidly achieving social and commercial importance. The Irish of the provinces were nearly all from the north and east of Ireland - Scotch-Irish Protestants, men of education and property, whose ambition and love for adventure, rather than necessity, brought them to the new world. American history makes many of their names immortal. At least ten were signers of the Declaration of Independence, and among their descendants were such men as Andrew Jackson and William McKinley.

In no American colony were those Irishmen more prominent than in New York. Three of them, Constable, Duane and Macomb, came with their families to the northern settlements. Alexander Macomb, of "Macomb's Purchase," was born July 27, 1748, at Dunturky, Ballynure parish, Antrim county, Ireland. He was the son of John and Jane (Gordon) Macomb. and was descended from the old Scotch family of MacCoombie, who emigrated to Ireland several generations before.

John Macomb came to America and settled at Albany, N. Y., in 1755. He brought with him his wife, two sons, Alexander and William, and one daughter, Anne. Here young Alexander became acquainted with William Constable, a boy then living with his father, Dr. John Constable, at Schenectady, and a life-long friendship ensued.

In 1772 the Macomb family removed to Detroit, Mich. There the son, Alexander with his brother, William, engaged in the fur trade, and in thirteen years amassed a large fortune. He married May 4th, 1773, Catharine, daughter of Robert and Mary (Lootman) Navarre. Robert Navarre was sub intendent and royal notary to Fort Ponchartrain, at Detroit, having been appointed to that position in 1730. His ancestors came to Quebec from France in 1682, and his ancestral line goes back to Antoine de Bourbon, king of Navarre, father of Henry IV. of France.

By this marriage Alexander Macomb had ten children, four sons and six daughters, one of the sons being the famous General Alexander Macomb, of the War of 1812, father of Com. Wm. H. Macomb, who rendered distinguished service during the civil war. Catharine Navarre died on the 17th of March, 1789, and two years later Mr. Macomb married Jane Rucker, the widow of John Rucker, who in 1784 was a partner of Wm. Constable in the firm of Constable, Rucker & Co. Three sons and four daughters came from Mr. Macomb's second marriage.

In 1783 Mr. Macomb removed to New York and erected one of the finest residences in the city. This house, on the West side of Broadway, between the Battery and Trinity church, was rented to Washington when president. The family entered the highest social circles. One of the daughters, Sarah, married Capt. Arent Schuyler de Peyster, from whom one of the Ellies Islands in the South Pacific was named. Another daughter, Jane, became the wife of the Hon. Robert Kennedy, son of Admiral Archibald Kennedy, the Earl of Cassilis. John Navarre Macomb, a son, married Christina, daughter of Philip Livingston, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In New York Mr. Macomb took an active interest in politics, was in the Assembly several years and engaged in various speculations. On the advice of Mr. Constable he purchased stock in the Bank of New York, and was brought into intimate business relations with Daniel McCormick, Robert Gilchrist, John McVicar, Gouverneur Morris, Alexander Hamilton, Richard Harison and other men who were prominent later in opening Northern New York to Settlers.

For some years Mr. Constable had engaged in land speculations, purchasing large tracts in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia. Georgia and Western New York. Surveys of his last purchase, in the Genesee country, reported the prevalence of malaria and Constable's attention was turned to the highlands of Northern New York. An unfavorable opinion of this region was general. Surveying parties engaged by Totten and Crossfield, before the Revolution, had run lines up from the fertile Mohawk Valley to the sandy southern foot hills of the Adirondacks. The land became more sterile as they went northward, and it was believed that the wilderness beyond was nearly worthless. One map, published about this time, designates the present counties of Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence as " impassable and uninhabitable." Macomb, however, told Mr. Constable a different story. While a fur trader at Detroit he had made several trips down the St. Lawrence to Montreal, and the lands, as he saw them, seemed far from being ''impassable." There were prosperous Canadian settlements on the northern bank of the St. Lawrence, and he believed equal opportunities could be found in the territory southward. He readily joined Mr. Constable in the purchase, in 1787, of 640,000 acres on the St. Lawrence, known as the "Ten Townships."

Four years later, June 22, 1791, Wm. Constable, Alex. Macomb and Daniel McCormick, in the name of Macomb, made application to the Land Commission for the purchase of the tract now known as the great "Macomb Purchase." The price offered, eight cents an acre, was accepted, and the first patent issued on the tenth of January, 1792. This tract embraced 3,816,950 acres, and with the former purchase, 4,456,960 acres, or 6,620 square miles, and included the present counties of Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Franklin, and parts of Oswego and Herkimer counties. It is the greatest land transaction in the history of the State. Mr. Macomb soon engaged in a disastrous speculation in stocks, and in 1792 failed for nearly one million dollars. Later he achieved a measure of his former prosperity, but the war of 1812 reduced him again to bankruptcy and he was dependent during his later years on his son, Gen. Alexander Macomb, for support. He died Jan'y 19, 1831, at Georgetown, D. C, and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Alexander Macomb's character is indicated by the patriotism of his sons and the quality of his associates. His intimate friends were among the foremost men of the nation, and he sent five sons and one step-son to the American army in the war of 1812. Three towns and one county in the United States are, called Macomb, and the great northern land transaction puts on his name the stamp of immortality. So long as civilized government remains within the territory of our State, historians, students and attorneys Concerned with the land titles will follow records book to "Macomb's Purchase."