Henry and George Vail

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

The annals of Rensselaer County would be incomplete without a sketch of the lives of Henry and George Vail, sons of Moses Vail, who, as early as 1780, moved into this county from Dutchess County, and represented it in the Legislature, and in 1798 was elected for a term of four years senator of the Eastern district of this State, and in 1800 appointed by the Governor and council of appointment sheriff of the county of Rensselaer, --offices of distinction that proves he was a man of high political standing, and that he possessed a strong hold upon the popular heart of the county.

His sons, Henry and George, born in Dutchess County, in this State, commenced business in Troy as retail dry-goods merchants about the year 1807, under the firm-name of "H. & G. Vail," and in 1815 changed their establishment into a wholesale dry-goods business, --the first one of the kind in Troy, and among the first in this part of the State. In 1830 they took into the concern Ebenezer Proudfit, and so continued until 1832, when Henry Vail retired, with an ample fortune, leaving the business with George Vail, Ebenezer Proudfit, and J. L. Van Schoonhoven, who, under the firm-name of "George Vail & Co.," continued to this time, and now under the firm-name of "Fisk, Cowee & Co."

In 1836, Henry Vail, who in politics was a Democrat, was nominated and elected to Congress over Hiram P. Hunt, Whig, and was, in 1838, renominated with the greatest unanimity for re-election, but defeated in the canvass, this being one of the tornado years in which the Whigs swept the board of almost everything Democratic. Mr. Vail's public services ran through the first half of Mr. Van Buren's administration, which he cordially supported against the apostasy of Talmadge and others of the New York delegation, and ever remained a warm personal friend of the President. After this he did not at any time actively engage in politics, although he always gave the Democratic men and principles a steady support. Shortly after the death of Albert P. Heartt, he purchased of his estate the beautifully-located farm in the city of Troy now known as River-View, where re resided among his fruits and flowers until his death, which occurred at his residence, on June 25, 1853, in his seventy-first year. He was a gentleman of popular and winning manners, and possessed in a high degree the confidence and respect of the people.

George Vail, the younger brother of Henry, was married at the age of twenty-nine, in the year 1813, to Jane Thomas, only child of Gen. David Thomas, who, during the latter part of the last century, was a member of Congress from Washington County, a man of much ability and eminence in his day. He built, in 1818, the mansion at the northeast corner of First and Congress Streets, Troy, and presented it to his daughter, in which she resided until her death, in 1866, and which her husband continued to occupy until his decease, which occurred on Aug. 7, 1872, in the eighty-eighth year of his life.

On the retirement of Mr. George Vail from active business he purchased a farm located between Lansingburgh and Troy, and commenced improving it. In 1838 he imported from the celebrated herd of Thomas Bates, Esq., of Yorkshire, England, whose breed, the celebrated short-horn Duchess breed of Durhams, was considered the best in the kingdom, a bull-calf called Wellington and a heifer called Duchess. These were the first of this celebrated herd imported into this country, and resulted in opening up a correspondence and friendship between the two gentlemen, which continued until Mr. Bates' death, and in his sending other animals from his herd almost yearly to improve Mr. Vail's stock. In 1852 he had so increased his herd, by importations and its natural increase, that he advertised a sale at auction of about sixty head of various ages, which drew to it the best cattle-breeders in the United States and Canada. This sale gave such an impulse in the raising of improved herds of cattle that the very next year Morris, Thorn, and others imported largely of the same class of stock, until now England purchases of us, at almost fabulous prices, cattle of this breed which have been bread here from importations.

Mr. Vail was the father of the Rensselaer County Agricultural Society, and one of the originators and earliest presidents of the State Agricultural Society, before which he frequently delivered addresses upon topics interesting of the society, and which were always marked and instructive. He was personally acquainted with President Jackson and a warm advocate of his policy, and numbered among his warm personal friends such distinguished men as Martin Van Buren, William L. Marcy, and Silas Wright. One of the last acts of the latter gentleman's life was the preparation of an address, at the request of Mr. Vail, to be delivered before the State Agricultural Society in Saratoga, Mr. Vail then being president of the Society. The address was prepared as requested, but Mr. Wright died before the time of its delivery, and it was read by Gen. John A. Dix, his successor in the United States Senate, the occasion bringing to the annual exhibition of the society the President of the United States, the Governor of the State of New York, ex-President Van Buren, and a large number of other distinguished persons.

Mr. Vail was never connected with the politics of the city as a matter of choice, preferring the more retired and quieter walks of life, but was always found in the foremost ranks with the leading spirits of the city in measures for the promotion of its prosperity and the advancement of its business interests. He was the first president of the Merchants' and Mechanics' Bank of the City of Troy, the charter of which he was mainly instrumental in obtaining in 1828, and so continued until his resignation in the year 1851, and, at the time of his death, president of the Troy Orphan Asylum, of which he was one of the original corporators in 1835, and in which he and his wife took the liveliest interest, and first vice-president of the Troy Savings-Bank, in which he served as director from 1833; and also a member of the session of the Second Presbyterian Church of Troy from its organization, being one of its founders and most liberal and active supporters.

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