The Verplanck Family
Mount Gulian is the Hudson Valley colonial homestead of the Verplanck family (also Planck or Ver Plancken). Between 1633 and 1638, a Dutch entrepreneur named Abraham Isaac Verplanck arrived in New Netherlands Colony (now New York & New Jersey) from Holland. He originally came to purchase land for a farming settlement and trading post. The trading post would enable him to trade Dutch goods with the local Native Americans in exchange for beaver and other furs, Indian tobacco, and trade goods that were rare in Europe. New Amsterdam was a thriving port and frontier town, filled with Dutch settlers, Indians and traders from all over Europe. Africans, both freemen and slaves, as well as French Huguenots seeking escape from religious persecution in Europe, and Jews fleeing the Inquisition in South America came to a relatively tolerant and busy New Amsterdam.
Abraham Issac Verplanck settled in the growing city and became a prosperous businessman. He married Maria Vigne Roos by 1635; they had Abigail and Gulian (Gulyn is Old Dutch for William), Catalyna, Isaak, Sussanna, Jacomyntje, Ariaentje, Hillegond, and Isaak 2. Issak 2 moved to Albany and established the Verplanck line in that city, which exists to this day.
In 1664, an English navy appeared off the coast of New Amsterdam and demanded the city’s surrender. The Dutch surrendered their colony, swore loyalty to the British Crown and saw the city renamed New York. The Verplancks spoke Dutch but were now English citizens. By the 1680’s, Gulian Verplanck was sailing up the Hudson River looking for land to increase his wealth. In 1683, with partners Francis Rombout and Stephanus Van Cortlandt, GulianVerplanck bought 85,000 acres of land from the local Wappinger Indians for approximately $1200 worth of goods. About 75 miles north of Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River for miles and going inland into rich meadows and forests, encompassing nearly one-seventh of modern Dutchess County NY, in today’s Fishkill-Beacon area, the purchase was quite a bargain. In 1685, the Deed of Sale was approved by King James the Second of England and is known as the Rombout Patent. For the next forty-five years, Verplanck, Rombout and various partners and heirs sub-divided, sold off and rented portions of this huge tract of land, while logging, hunting and planting crops on the land.
During the English colonial period, the Verplancks became quite prosperous and built a fine home on Wall Street in Manhattan. The Verplanks were civic minded and participated in the development of the business and banking industry in New York City and were among the Trustees of Kings College, now known as Columbia University. Around 1730, a colonial-style fieldstone house was built at Fishkill Landing on the Rombout Patent land. This rough frontier home was gradually surrounded by a working plantation, a dock on the Hudson that facilitated the New York-Kingston-Albany trade and many service buildings for servants and crop production. This homestead was called “Mount Gulian”, and it was used as a summer retreat for the family and a working plantation, but it is not believed that any family members lived at the site year round until the early 1800’s. Other Verplancks at this time lived in Albany and Verplanck Point in Westchester County NY.
The Verplancks were prominent citizens in colonial New York while maintaining correspondence with their Dutch relatives in Holland. Young Samuel Verplanck was fortunate enough to take “the grande tour” of Europe in 1761. As businessmen of that era, it must be noted that the Verplancks of Manhattan and Mount Gulian owned slaves during the mid-1700’s and into the early 1800’s, most likely house servants and skilled laborers.
Before the Revolutionary War, Samuel Verplanck became involved with anti-British groups and joined “the Committee of Safety of One-Hundred” in Manhattan. This patriot group was poised to take over the city in the event of rebellion, which occurred on April 19, 1775 at Lexington & Concord.
Later during the War for Independence, Verplanck turned over Mount Gulian to the Continental Army because of its strategic location on the Hudson near the Fishkill Barracks and across from Washington’s Headquarters at Newburgh. In late 1782 through the summer of 1783, Mount Gulian was the Continental Army headquarters of patriot General Fredrich Von Steuben. After the American victory at Yorktown, upon learning of the Treaty of Paris, General Von Steuben and other chief American officers created at Mount Gulian on May 13, 1783 the Society of the Cincinnati, America’s first veterans’ fraternal organization.
In 1804 Daniel CrommelinVerplanck, a member of Congress, moved from Manhattan to permanently occupy the home at Mount Gulian, which underwent extensive expansion, with the addition of a larg frame house attached to original homestead. An ornamental “English Garden”, all the rage in Europe at the time, was laid out by him and his daughter Mary Anna to supplement the 6 acre “kitchen garden” and the fields filled with saleable crops. More permanent structures were built on the property, still thousands of acres, including barns, smokehouses, storage buildings and structures to facilitate brick making from clay taken from the Hudson.
The Verplanck family grew and eventually married into many prominent families in New York such as the Schuylers, the Johnsons, the DeLanceys and the Bleeckers. Daniel’s son Gulian C. Verplanck, also a member of Congress, ran for Mayor of New York in 1834, losing what many believe was a fixed election. Other Verplancks were judges, businessmen and wealthy farmers.
With slavery abolished in New York in 1827, the conservative Verplancks, along with many upper class Northerners, gradually sided with the abolitionists, even hiring and assisting James Brown, an escaped slave who worked for the family for forty years. Brown’s diaries, written at Mount Gulian, provide a detailed record of daily life in the area. During the Civil War, Robert Newlin Verplanck volunteered in the Union Army’s United States Colored Troops, training and fighting along side black troops until the victory at Appomattox. His battlefield letters to his mother and sister have been preserved by Mount Gulian.
The Victorian era at Mount Gulian was a grand time, as the family associated with the local Livingstons, Roosevelts and Vanderbilts. Many Verplancks achieved fame in the professions, in arts and letters and as sportsmen. Verplanck Colvin was a topographical engineer who extensively surveyed the Adirondacks. Virginia E. Verplanck was a celebrated gardener and hostess. John Bayard Verplanck was an early seaplane flyer, racing pilot World War I era veteran and banker.
Mount Gulian was occupied by the Verplancks until 1931, when the house was destroyed by fire. Many of the furnishings and valuables were saved by family members, neighbors and firemen who cleared the house before it was fully engulfed. Prior to the American bi-centennial of 1976, Mount Gulian was beautifully restored with the assistance of Verplanck descendants, local history lovers and members of the Society of the Cincinnati. In 1998, Mount Gulian sponsored a well-attended family reunion, which included an updated version of the family genealogy book originally from 1892. Today, Ms. Charlotte Verplanck Willman is one of the Mount Gulian Historic Site’s Board of Trustees.