John Lawrence, Captain’s Clerk

John Lawrence. John Lawrence (1753-1817) was born 5 July 1753, oldest son of Queens County magistrate William Lawrence (1729-1794) and his wife Anna Brinckerhoff (1733-1770), both of New York. When Long Island was captured in 1776, part of William Lawrence’s home in Newtown was made the headquarters of British and Hessian generals. He served as captain’s clerk on the Confederacy under Captain Seth Harding. According to James L. Howard in Seth Harding, Mariner on pages 152-4, Lawrence lived with the Harding family in Norwich in May 1782 after his release from the Jersey prison ship and even authorized his former captain to obtain funds from his father on his behalf during a trip to New York. At Harding’s request, the elder Lawrence shipped his son’s support in the form of dry goods which was by misfortune confiscated as smuggled contraband by Connecticut authorities. Later in 1786, Lawrence would participate in one of Harding’s West Indies merchant ventures by trading two horses for two hundred gallons of rum resulting in a lucrative return on his investment (Howard, pages 179-80). John Lawrence was “familiarly called the commodore” from his having been an officer on board the frigate Confederacy. John and his brother Isaac Lawrence “were large wholesale dealers and importers of silks and china ware from the East Indies to New York, when few were active in this business.” Other brothers were Richard and William Lawrence. According to Walter Barrett in The Old Merchants of New York City (1863), John Lawrence “lived and did business at 162 Queen (or Pearl) Street. In 1795, he took in his younger brother Isaac, who had been clerk with him for two years previous, and the new sign was placed over the store at 154 Water on the corner of Fly Market…The firm of John & Isaac Lawrence continued until 1803, when the brothers separated after doing a very prosperous and extended commerce…When the house of J. & I. Lawrence dissolved, the store was at 208 Pearl Street…” Isaac became president of the United States Branch Bank in New York in 1817, the same year John died. He had been a director in the old United States Bank, as was his brother John. John Lawrence was married first to Elizabeth Eaton Berrien, widow of cousin Nathaniel Lawrence who died in 1796 and daughter of Judge John Berrien, US Attorney General. He later married Patience Lawrence Riker, the daughter of Samuel Riker, Esq. His children included Madison Samuel, Louisa who married John Campbell, Jane who married Benjamin F. Lee, Julia who married first John P. Smith then Wilson G. Hunt, Patience who married Timothy Gridley Churchill and John who died unmarried. Daughter Jane was a celebrated beauty who was the subject of the painting known as “The White Plume” by Charles Cromwell Ingham, one of the founders of the National Academy of Design. Her husband, Benjamin F. Lee was one of the pioneers in the manufacture of vulcanized rubber for Goodyear. At some point, John Lawrence moved from 162 Pearl Street to 82 Murray Street and finally to 391 Broadway. John Lawrence died in New York on 29 August 1817. Interestingly, Lawrence’s involvement with his crewmates extended long after the war. Apparently the former captain’s clerk held the forty dollar mortgage on Confederacy marine John Ames’ ten acres and log house in Plymouth, Chenango County, NY. Unfortunately the property was foreclosed on by Egbert Benson executor for the estate of John Lawrence and auctioned off in October 1821. Egbert Benson was appointed 1st Attorney General of New York in 1777, served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and the US House of Representatives and sat on the bench of the New York Supreme Court prior to his return to private practice in 1803.

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