Richard P. Hart
Richard P. Hart

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

RICHARD P. HART. was born Feb. 11, 1780, at Hartsville, in Dutchess County, in this State. His father was Philip Hart, who was born at Little Compton, R. I., Jan. 12, 1749, and his mother was Susanna Akins, who was born Nov. 7, 1759. They were married Dec. 18, 1774, and of their twelve children the subject of this sketch was the second. As his parents were members of the Society of Friends, he was early instructed in the forms of that belief, and obtained a portion of his early education at the Friends' Academy, at Nine Partners, in Dutchess County, and subsequently, at Esopus. He went from home to the city of Albany in the year 1800, where re remained about one year. Thence he came to Troy, at that time a village of but a few years' growth. Here he found occupation in the counting room of Daniel and Isaac Merritt, of whom the former was his uncle. Both of these pioneer merchants had emigrated from Dutchess County a few years before, and had established one of the earliest commercial houses in the village of Troy. It was not long before Mr. Hart gave very satisfactory evidence of his superior capacity for managing the details of business. In the year 1803 he accepted an offer to connect himself, in a country store, with Benjamin Merritt, a brother of Daniel and Isaac Merritt, at White Creek, in Washington County. After remaining there three years, Mr. Hart had acquired an amount of property which, in those days of moderation, was regarded as a sound basis for the commencement of a business career.

By this time, however, he had become convinced that his mercantile aspirations could not be limited by the possibilities of the trade of an inland village. Hence it was that he desired to return to Troy, where he had served his clerkship, in order that he might take his place among the merchants who were there engaged in business, and be allowed to give full exercise to his spirit of enterprise. An opportunity to gratify this was soon afforded, and in 1806 he became connected with a prosperous mercantile firm, then doing business in Troy. By the retirement or death of his partners he soon became the head of this house. His success as a merchant, which was almost secured at the beginning, became more and more pronounced as the years passed on. During the last war with Great Britain he received the contract for providing the Northern department of our army and the naval force on Lake Champlain with supplies, and "the officers of the army and navy who served in the campaigns in the North bore ample testimony to his fidelity and punctuality" in conducting the very important and responsible business which he had undertaken.

Owing to his energy, public spirit, intelligence, and executive ability, the services of Mr. Hart were sought in connection with almost every important enterprise in this vicinity, the object of which was the development of the resources of the community or the welfare of those who composed it. The Bank of Troy was incorporated in 1811, with seventeen directors, of whom seven were from Troy, five from Lansingburgh, and five from Waterford. Mr. Hart was one of the representatives from the first named locality. When the Rensselaer and Saratoga Insurance Company was incorporated, in 1814, he was chosen a member of its first board of directors. He was one of the corporators of the Troy Lyceum of Natural History, which was organized in the year 1818. From the time of the establishment of the Female Seminary, under the supervision of Mrs. Emma Willard, in 1821, Mr. Hart was a member of its board of trustees. This institution was held by him in the highest estimation, and he was always punctual and thorough in the performance of his official duties in connection with it, - as he was, in fact, with all the organizations in which he was interested.

The Troy Savings Bank was incorporated in 1823. Mr. Hart was a member of its first board of managers; and , at their meeting for organization, held Aug. 1, 1823, he was made first vice president of the bank, Townsend McCoun being chosen president on that occasion. The Rensselaer School, now known as the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was established in 1824. Mr. Hart was interested in this institution from the beginning; and having been named as one of its trustees in the act of incorporation passed in 1826, he held that position continuously down to the time of his death, and was also an honored and valuable member of its prudential committee. By an act of the Legislature, passed April 14, 1832, corporate existence was given to the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad Company. Under this act an organization was effected in the following year, on which occasion Mr. Hart was selected as the first president of the new enterprise, one of the earliest of this nature in the United States. The Troy City Bank was incorporated in 1833, and on July 10th of the same year, Mr. Hart, after having been chosen a director, was made president of the new bank, and held the position, by annual election, from that time forward to his death.

He was one of the founders of the Troy Orphan Asylum, of which institutions he was also a trustee, always active and efficient, and a supporter liberal and sympathetic. The act of the Legislature authorizing the construction of a railroad from Schenectady to Troy was passed May 21, 1836. The building of the road thus authorized, known as the Troy and Schenectady Railroad, was begun in 1840, and about Nov. 1, 1842, the first trains were run thereon. Of the company that constructed this road Mr. Hart was a director. The feeling between the rival cities of Albany and Troy at this period was not of the most amicable nature. A majority of the stock of the company whose railroad connected Saratoga and Schenectady, and which was known as the Schenectady and Saratoga Railroad, was held in the interest of Albany. On the completion of that portion of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad which connects Troy and Ballston, the managers of the Schenectady and Saratoga Railroad Company refused to allow the former company to send through freight over their road to Saratoga from Ballston, and would make no arrangement for the acceptance, on their road, of through passenger tickets issued by the Rensselaer and Saratoga Company. The manner in which these obstacles were surmounted is stated by Mr. Weise in his "History of the City of Troy," at page 179, as follows: "Fortunately, at this time a quantity of the stock of the Schenectady and Saratoga Railroad, which had always been non-paying, came into the possession of a New York broker. A knowledge of this fact was given to Richard P. Hart, who immediately, with other Troy merchants, purchased this stock and became the controllers of the road. When a meeting was called, the Albany stockholders were in dismay at this unimagined position of affairs, which dispossessed them of the leading representation in the board of officers of the Schenectady and Saratoga Railroad."

Though almost constantly occupied with business cares and responsibilities, and in the discharge of the duties of the various positions which he held in different corporations, he was not regardless of the welfare of the State or of the nation, although he shrank from holding office. Twice, however, he serviced in a public capacity, one as a representative in the Assembly of the State from Rensselaer County, in the year 1821, and again as mayor of the city of Troy, from 1836 to 1838. While holding this latter position, the riots of March 17, 1837, occurred in Troy, and on this occasion, as chief executive officer of the city, he manifested discretion, courage, and common sense. Mr. Hart was not a mere plodding business man. He did not take serious cares into his family circle. He delighted in music and pleasing conversation, and found time for their enjoyment. He was fond of dispensing hospitality, and did it gracefully. In attention to his own affairs and to any matter which he had agreed to guard he was indefatigable, and his zeal, although always on the alert, did not outrun his discretion.

Mr. Hart was thrice married. His first wife was Phebe Bloom, daughter of Judge Bloom, of Bloomvale, Dutchess Co., by whom he had one child, who died at an early age. His second wife was Delia Maria Dole, of Troy, who bore him no children. His last wife was Betsey Amelia Howard, of the city of New York, by whom he had fourteen children, most of whom are yet surviving. He had enjoyed uninterrupted health for many years previous to the latter part of 1843. Early in the winter of that year he contracted a severe cold, which greatly reduced his health and strength. While taking a vapor bath as part of his medical treatment, an accident occurred by which he was severely burned. He survived the injuries and the shock to his system only for a few days. His death occurred at his residence, on Second Street, on Dec. 27, 1843. On the following day resolutions of a complimentary nature respecting his life and career were adopted by the government of the city, by the directors of the Troy City Bank, and by the trustees of the Troy Female Seminary. On Dec. 29, 1843, resolutions of a like character were adopted by the Troy and Schenectady Railroad Company, and on the following day the trustees of the Troy Orphan Asylum made similar honorable mention of his excellencies and virtues. His funeral was attended, on Dec. 30, 1843, from his late dwelling not only by his immediate family, but by representatives of the various institutions in whose management he had been concerned and by other citizens of Troy.

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