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Biography of Samuel M. Van Santvoord

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SAMUEL M. VAN SANTVOORD

IN the exhibition of those qualities which go to form a popular and successful merchant and a true and useful citizen, we have a notable example in the career of Mr. Samuel M. Van Santvoord, who for the past twenty-seven years has been a prominent figure in Albany. He is a self-made man in the mercantile line, who has gained a most enviable reputation, reflecting honor upon himself and the useful occupation which he early chose for a life-long pursuit. From a humble origin, and amidst difficulties before which many a young heart would have quailed, he succeeded in laying a solid foundation as a business man, showing what opportunities our country affords to those who, well grounded in correct principles, set out in life’s pathway with a determination to rise in the world.

Born in the city of Schenectady on the 2d of October, 1819, he is a descendant of the old Hollanders, many of whom came to this county long before the revolutionary era, in the interests of trade, religion and human progress, settling in dense forests, which, under their industrious hands, were finally turned into fruitful fields. Schenectady and the rich valley of the Mohawk were favorite places for the settlement of those sturdy old Dutch pioneers. Among these early settlers was the Van Santvoord family of Schenectady – a family noted in the old history of that place for many sterling qualities.

Samuel M. Van Santvoord, the subject of this sketch, is a son of Zeger Van Santvoord, who was born on the 21st of June, 1783, and who died on the 28th of November, 182z|, when his son Samuel was but five years old. His mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Loague. His grandfather, Cornelius Van Santvoord, was a son of Zeger Van Santvoord, of Schenectady, who married Eva, daughter of Abraham Swits, and who died on the 12th of March, 1845, at the eighty-eighth year of his age. His wife had preceded him to the grave on the 8th of June, 1835, in the seventy-fourth year of her age.

The first of the Van Santvoord family in America was the Rev. Cornelius Van Santvoord, who was born in Holland in 1637, and who came to this country about the year 1718, and became pastor of the Reformed Dutch church of Staten Island. At the University of Leyden he had been highly educated in classical and theological science. From Staten Island he was called in the year 1740 to the pastorate of the old Reformed Dutch church in Schenectady, and became its fifth minister. There he labored twelve years in the ministry, dying in 1752, aged fifty-five years. He was twice married. His first wife was Anna, daughter of Johannes Staats of Staten Island, where all his children were born. His second wife was Elizabeth Toll, of Schenectady, who left no issue. He was a man of eminent piety and of profound and varied learning. It is said that he could preach equally well in the English, French and Dutch languages.

A fatherless boy at the age of five, Samuel M. Van Santvoord was soon to become the main support of his widowed mother. In the mean time he was sent to the Lancaster school in Schenectady, where under its principal, old Nicholas Van Vranken, a model Dutch pedagogue, he learned the first principles of reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic and grammar from the simple text-books of those days. He was an industrious and studious boy, and in a very few years had acquired a fair knowledge of the common, practical branches of education. But when he had reached the age of eleven it became necessary for him to leave school and try to earn something for the family, whose pecuniary means were very limited. Like a dutiful son, his young hands willingly undertook the task. He was not long in deciding what to do. There was one occupation that had strong attractions for him from his tenderest years, and that was the mercantile business. In this direction all his boyish energies now turned, while new hope sprang up in his bosom. Fully determined to become a merchant, we find this boy of eleven a clerk in the dry goods store of William McCamus, a leading Schenectady merchant. It was a fortunate circumstance for young Van Santvoord, for Mr. McCamus took a deep interest in the lively, plucky lad, who had made up his mind not only to earn his own living, but also to assist his mother in her struggles against poverty.

The step he now took was deserving of the highest praise and worthy of imitation by all youth similarly situated. For his filial obedience and his earnest and devoted efforts in behalf of the welfare of his mother, he has since been amply rewarded. Without the aid of the higher education of the schools he soon mastered the details of the dry goods business, and so harmoniously did he get along with Mr. McCamus that he remained in his store during the long period of twenty years. From the age of twenty-one until the time he left Schenectady he was a partner with Mr. McCamus; and it is doubtless true that to the counsels and training of this experienced old merchant he has been in some measure indebted for the success which has since attended his efforts in the same line of business.

In 1853 Mr. Van Santvoord removed to New York city, where for nine years he was engaged in the wholesale dry goods trade. In 1862, with a more extensive knowledge of his business and a much larger experience in its practical bearing, he came to Albany, where he has since resided, spending a busy life amidst the duties of his chosen occupation. He has become strongly attached to the city of his adoption, while at the same time he has gathered around him hosts of warm friends. He was first engaged here in the old dry goods house of Strong, Whitney & Co., and afterward with Smith, Lansing & Co., until their business was closed in consequence of the death of the partners.

In 1869 Mr. Van Santvoord entered the store of William M. Whitney, and soon afterward became a general partner of the concern, in which, for about twenty years, he has been devoting his best energies in working to build up a large trade. His special department was the wholesale business, with which he had become so familiar while in New York, and the making of credits for the firm. It is but just to say that to his business tact and industry and his general perfect adaptation to mercantile pursuits, the store of W. M. Whitney is no little indebted for its present popularity and prosperity. Under the judicious management of Mr. Van Santvoord and his able assistants the business of the firm has steadily grown until now it is one of the largest establishments of the kind in the country. It is also a fact worthy of mention and commendation, that during his twenty years’ connection with this important mercantile center, Mr. Van Santvoord has given his closest attention to its business, as year after year has passed away, seldom enjoying even a brief vacation.

On the 2d of February, 1889, Mr. Van Santvoord retired temporarily from business, and for the present enjoys a much needed relaxation and repose from the onerous duties of a merchant’s life.

On the 29th of October, 1850, Mr. Van Santvoord was married to Miss Mary A. Lovett, daughter of Henry Lovett, Esq., of Schenectady, by whom he has had four children. Three of them are living, Mrs. Charles R. Hall, Mrs. E. B. Toedt, whose husband is the manager of Fairbanks’ scale works, in this city, and a son, William M. Van Santvoord. In her severe, long protracted physical ailments of a spinal nature Mrs. Van Santvoord has the entire sympathy of all who are acquainted with her. For the past fifteen years, with the fortitude and patience of a true Christian lady, she has borne up bravely under the heavy load of bodily affliction, with a faith directed toward that land where there shall be ” no more pain.” Mr. and Mrs. Van Santvoord are members of the church of the Holy Innocents. Of Mr. Van Santvoord’s father’s family of ten children only two members are now living – himself and Mrs. Margaret Bruen, widow of the late James D. Bruen, of Newark, N. j.

Mr. Van Santvoord is one of the most genial of men. Blessed with a sound, impressive physique, he is nearly six feet in height, with a clear, open countenance beaming with serenity and good will to all, and, at the same time, indicative of unusual mental activity. In every respect he has shown himself to be a thorough business man and a perfect gentleman – beloved by a large circle of friends and living, so far as we know, without an enemy. And now, in the fullness of his manhood he has won the reputation of being an accomplished merchant, and the still higher honor of being a true and faithful friend. And well may we ask what is to be seen on earth -

“More beautiful, or excellent, or fair, Than face of faithful friend – fairest when seen in darkest day – Some I remember, and will ne’er forget, My early friends – friends of my evil day. Friends of my mirth, friends of my misery, too, Friends given by God in mercy and in love – O, I remember, and will ne’er forget.”


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