Harmanus Bleecker

Harmanus Bleecker (October 9, 1779 – July 19, 1849) was an attorney in Albany, New York. A Federalist, he is most notable for his service as a member of the New York State Assembly, a United States Representative from New York, and Chargé d'Affaires to the Netherlands.

Harmanus Bleecker
Harmanus Bleecker.jpg
U.S. Minister to the Netherlands
In office
Preceded byAuguste Davezac
Succeeded byChristopher Hughes
Member of the New York State Assembly from Albany County
In office
Serving with Sylvester Ford, Jesse Tyler, John D. Winne
Preceded byJohan Jost Dietz, Moses Smith, John L. Winne
Succeeded byMichael Freligh, John I. Ostrander, John Schoolcraft, Jesse Smith
Member of the New York State Assembly from Albany County
In office
Serving with Johan Jost Dietz, Moses Smith, John L. Winne
Preceded byDavid Bogardus, John Gibbons, Elishama Janes, Abraham Van Vechten
Succeeded bySylvester Ford, Jesse Tyler, John D. Winne
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1811 (1811-03-04) – March 3, 1813 (1813-03-03)
Preceded byKillian K. Van Rensselaer
Succeeded byAbraham J. Hasbrouck
Personal details
Born(1779-10-09)October 9, 1779
Albany, New York
DiedJuly 19, 1849(1849-07-19) (aged 69)
Albany, New York
Citizenship United States
Political partyFederalist
Other political
Free Soil (1848)
Spouse(s)Sebastiana Cornelia Mentz Bleecker (m. 1842-1849, his death)
ProfessionAttorney, teacher, ambassador

Born in Albany in 1779, Bleecker belonged to an old Dutch family that had lived in Albany since the 1600s. He was educated in Albany, and learned to speak the Dutch language. After studying in the private law office of two established attorneys, Bleecker attained admission to the bar in 1801, and began a practice in Albany. He became a highly regarded lawyer and teacher, and many men who went on to prominent legal and business careers learned the law under his tutelage. He was also active in numerous business ventures, including banks and canal construction and operation.

In 1810, Bleecker won a seat in the U.S. House. He served in the 12th United States Congress (March 4, 1811 to March 3, 1813). Bleecker did not run for reelection in 1812, and resumed practicing law. In 1814 and 1815 he served in the New York State Assembly, where he worked with Governor Daniel D. Tompkins to provide funding for New York troops taking part in the War of 1812.

In 1837, Bleecker took office as Chargé d'Affaires to the Netherlands, appointed by longtime friend Martin Van Buren, who shared Bleecker's interest in the Dutch language and culture. He served until 1842, after which he resumed practicing law in Albany. Bleecker took part in numerous philanthropic and civic endeavors, including the establishment of several Albany-area hospitals and oversight of several universities. He died in Albany in 1849, and was buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.

Bleecker married late in life, and had no children. After her death in 1885, his widow honored his request to leave his fortune for the benefit of the citizens of Albany. The money was used to construct Bleecker Hall, a library and theater. The association responsible for the institution later sold Bleecker Hall, and then constructed Harmanus Bleecker Library, a building that was used solely as a library. Bleecker Library was later redeveloped as private offices, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Early lifeEdit

Harmanus Bleecker was born into an old Dutch family in Albany, New York on October 9, 1779.[1] His father Jacob Bleecker was a prominent merchant, and his mother Elizabeth Wendell was the daughter of Hermanus Wendell, an Albany furrier.[2] Harmanus Bleecker was also the great-great grandson of Jan Jansen Bleecker, the first Bleecker family member to reside in North America.[3] As a young man, Harmanus Bleecker studied law with John Vernon Henry and James Emott,[4] was admitted to the bar in 1801, and commenced practice in Albany.[5][6] During a large portion of his career, Bleecker practiced at the firm of Bleecker & Sedgwick with Theodore Sedgwick (1780–1839) as his partner.[7]

Bleecker was also a highly regarded teacher, and among the students who learned the law in his office were: David Dudley Field (1805–1894);[8] Stephen Johnson Field;[9] Charlemagne Tower;[10] Bradford R. Wood;[11] Peter Gansevoort;[12] Solomon Southwick;[13] Timothy Childs,[14] and Charles Fenno Hoffman.[15]

Political, legal and business careerEdit

He was elected as a Federalist to the 12th United States Congress, holding office from March 4, 1811 to March 3, 1813.[16] He was not a candidate for renomination in 1812 and resumed the practice of law in Albany.

Bleecker also pursued several business ventures, including serving on the board of directors of Albany's Mechanics and Farmers Bank.[17] In addition, he was a Trustee of the Erie and Champlain Canals.[18]

Bleecker was a member of the New York State Assembly in 1814 and 1815.[19]

Though Bleecker had been an opponent of the War of 1812 while in Congress, during the war he worked with Governor Daniel D. Tompkins to finance the equipping, supplying and pay of the state militia after it was federalized.[20]

In 1843 Bleecker received an honorary LL.D. degree from Union College, and he was an honorary member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[21][22] From 1822 to 1834 Bleecker was a member of the University of the State of New York Board of Regents.[23]

Bleecker opposed slavery, and was a member of the American Colonization and New-York Colonization Societies. The societies advocated for the gradual emancipation of slaves, and for free African Americans to be relocated to what society members believed was greater freedom in Africa, including the colony of Liberia.[24]

In the late 1820s Bleecker was one of New York's Commissioners who worked with Commissioners from New Jersey to determine the boundary between the two states.[25]

In 1839 Bleecker was a member of the original Board of Governors that founded Albany City Hospital, now Albany Medical Center.[26][27]

Diplomatic careerEdit

He was Chargé d'Affaires to the Netherlands from May 12, 1837 to June 28, 1842, initially appointed by President Martin Van Buren, who was friendly with Bleecker and shared his interest in Dutch culture and language.[28] Bleecker was chosen in preference to John Lloyd Stephens, who also aspired to the position.[29] As a practitioner of the traditional Dutch culture as it had been passed down in Albany and a speaker of the old-style Dutch language, Bleecker was very well received by the government and people of the Netherlands.[30] According to often-repeated accounts, when Bleecker presented his credentials, King William supposedly remarked "You speak better Dutch than we do in Holland!"[31]

Retirement and deathEdit

After returning to Albany in 1842, Bleecker retired from most public life and business pursuits.[32] From 1846 until his death he was a member of the Executive Committee that organized and oversaw the State Normal College, now the State University of New York at Albany (SUNYA).[33] He died in Albany on July 19, 1849[34] and was buried at Albany Rural Cemetery, Section 3, Lot 61.[35][36]

Personal relationshipsEdit

Harmanus Bleecker Library, constructed with bequest from Harmanus Bleecker.
Entrance to Bleecker Library.

Harmanus Bleecker maintained numerous friendships and professional relationships, many of which transcended political leanings. For many years he practiced law with Theodore Sedgwick (1780–1839), the son of Federalist legislator and judge Theodore Sedgwick (1746–1813), and he was once engaged to Judge Sedgwick's daughter Catharine Sedgwick.[37][38] He was also a close friend of Federalist Congressman and Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy (1772–1864).[39]

In addition, Bleecker was a longtime friend of Martin Van Buren, a Democrat with whom he shared an interest in the Dutch culture and language.[40] By 1848, Bleecker's opposition to slavery and personal affinity for Van Buren had caused him to be identified with the Free Soil Party, and he was a candidate for presidential elector on Van Buren's ticket.[41]

While still a Federalist Bleecker began a close friendship with Democratic Congressman and Senator John Randolph (1773–1833).[42] Bleecker and Randolph exchanged portraits as a token of their mutual esteem, and each displayed in his home the portrait of the other.[43]


Bleecker married Sebastiana Cornelia Mentz of Arnhem, a woman many years younger than him, whom he met while he was a diplomat in the Netherlands.[44] She lived with him in Albany, and inherited his estate.[45] They had no children, and after Bleecker's death she married Hendrick Coster and returned to the Netherlands, where she died in 1885.[46] The executors of the Harmanus Bleecker estate, which she left to benefit the City of Albany as Bleecker had requested, decided to spend the $130,000 ($3.32 million in 2012 dollars) to construct and maintain Harmanus Bleecker Hall, a library and theater.[47][48][49] Originally located near the corner of Washington Avenue and Lark Street, the 1889 Bleecker Hall was used until 1919, when the Young Men's Association, which was responsible for the site, decided to create a structure for use as a library only.[50] They sold the 1889 Bleecker Hall and used the proceeds to construct Harmanus Bleecker Library near the intersection of Washington and Dove Streets, which opened in 1924.[51] Blecker Hall burned in a 1940 fire and was later demolished.[52]

In 1977, the Albany Public Library's Washington Avenue Branch moved from Bleecker Library into a Washington Avenue building on the site of the old Bleecker Hall.[51] The Bleecker Library building remained vacant for several years until it was purchased by real estate developers.[51] In more recent times the building has been renovated as private office space, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[53]


Bleecker was the subject of a 1924 biography, Harmanus Bleecker: An Albany Dutchman, 1779–1849, by Harriet Langdon Pruyn Rice. Harriet Rice was the daughter of John V. L. Pruyn and granddaughter of Amasa J. Parker. John Pruyn and Amasa Parker had been involved in the disposition of Bleecker's estate, which gave Harriet Rice access to Bleecker's papers.[54]


  1. ^ John D. Whish, Albany Guide Book, 1917, page 90
  2. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur Meier; van Minnen, Cornelis A. (1987). A Bouquet from the Netherlands: Liber Amicorum Presented to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday. Middelburg, Netherlands: Roosevelt Study Center. p. 9.
  3. ^ Rice, Harriet Langdon Pruyn (1924). Harmanus Bleecker: An Albany Dutchman, 1779–1849. Albany, NY: William Boyd Printing Company. p. 3.
  4. ^ Peleg Whitman Chandler, The Monthly Law Reporter, Volume 2, Volume 12, 1850, page 276
  5. ^ New York State, Public Papers of the Governors, Volume 2, 1902, page 379
  6. ^ Joel Munsell, The Annals of Albany, Volume 1, 1869, page 299
  7. ^ Cyclopaedia of American Literature, Volume 2. New York: Charles Scribner. 1856. pp. 291–292.
  8. ^ James Parton, Sketches of Men of Progress, 1871, page 23
  9. ^ Alden Chester, Edwin Melvin Williams, editors, Courts and Lawyers of New York: A History, 1609–1925, Volume 1, 1925, page 1382
  10. ^ Historical Society of Pennsylvania, The Charlemagne Tower Collection of American Colonial Laws, 1890, page 7
  11. ^ University of the State of New York, Annual Report of the Education Department, Volume 1; Volume 15, Part 1, 1921, page 392
  12. ^ Laurie Robertson Lorant, Melville: A Biography, 1998, page 5
  13. ^ Joel Munsell, The Albany Annual Register for 1849–1850, Part 2, 1850, page 276
  14. ^ "From Saint Croix" (PDF). Oneida (N.Y.) Morning Herald. December 8, 1847.
  15. ^ Bessie Louise Pierce, Joe Lester Norris, As Others See Chicago: Impressions of Visitors, 1673–1933, 1933, page 70
  16. ^ David Johnson, John Randolph of Roanoke, 2012, Appendix 2
  17. ^ Alfred Habegger, The Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr. 2001, page 75
  18. ^ George Rogers Howell, Jonathan Tenney, editors, Bi-Centennial History of Albany, Volume 2, 1886, page 524
  19. ^ Sebastian Visscher Talcott, editor, Genealogical Notes of New York and New England Families, 1883, page 399
  20. ^ New York State, Public Papers of the Governors of New York, Volume 3, 1902, page 241
  21. ^ New York Alpha of the Phi Beta Kappa, Union College, Centennial Catalog, 1922, page 12
  22. ^ Phi Beta Kappa Society, General catalog, 1776–1922, 1923, page 623
  23. ^ Stephen C. Hutchins, Civil List and Constitutional History of the Colony and State of New York, 1880, page 184
  24. ^ New-York State Colonization Society, Annual Meeting Proceedings, 1829, page 24
  25. ^ New York State Bill Drafting Commission, Laws of the State of New York, 1827, page 327
  26. ^ New York State Legislature, Laws of the State of New-York, 1839, page 212
  27. ^ Peter R. Eisenstadt, Laura-Eve Moss, editors, The Encyclopedia Of New York State, 2005, page 48
  28. ^ J.A. Spencer, D.D., History of the United States, 1858, page 547
  29. ^ "John Lloyd Stephens (1805–1852)". ColonCity.com. 2014.
  30. ^ Hans Krabbendam, Cornelis Abraham van Minnen, Giles Scott-Smith, editors, Four Centuries of Dutch-American Relations: 1609–2009, 2009, page 263
  31. ^ "Biography: Harmanus Bleeker, 1779–1849". New York State Unified Court System. Albany, NY. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  32. ^ Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Cornelis A. van Minnen, A Bouquet From the Netherlands: Liber Amicorum Presented to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, 1987, page 22
  33. ^ State College for Teachers, An Historical Sketch of the State Normal College at Albany, N.Y., 1894, page 2
  34. ^ Joel Munsell, The Albany Annual Register for 1849–1850, Part 2, 1850, page 277
  35. ^ Edward Fitzgerald, A Hand Book for the Albany Rural Cemetery, 1871, page 22
  36. ^ Albany Rural Cemetery Burial Cards, 1791–2011, entry for Harmanus bleecker, accessed July 20, 2013
  37. ^ William Cullen Bryant, The New-Yorker, Theodore Sedgwick, November 28, 1840
  38. ^ Lucinda L. Damon-Bach, Victoria Clements, editors, Catharine Maria Sedgwick: Critical Perspectives, 203, Chronology: page xxxiv
  39. ^ Edmund Quincy, Life of Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts, 1867, page 305
  40. ^ Martin Van Buren, The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, 1920, page 429
  41. ^ "Nominations of the Free Democracy". Buffalo Weekly Republic. Buffalo, NY. October 24, 1848. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com.
  42. ^ William Cabell Bruce, John Randolph of Roanoke, 1773–1833, Volume 1, 1922, Preface, page vi
  43. ^ Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Albany Fifty Years Ago, Volume XIV, December, 1856 to May, 1857, page 458
  44. ^ Joel Munsell, The Annals of Albany, Volume 1, 1869, page 26
  45. ^ Gould, Banks & Co., Laws of the State of New York, 1852, page 465
  46. ^ Weed, Parsons & Co., History of the Young Men's Association for Mutual Improvement in the City of Albany, 1888, page 19
  47. ^ New York State Courts, The New York State Reporter, 1898, page 9
  48. ^ The National Magazine, The Railroad Men of America, Volume 8, May 1888, page 348
  49. ^ New York Times, Mr. Bleecker's Legacy: Judge Parker's Offer to the Young Men's Association, December 20, 1887
  50. ^ Bayles-Yeager, Danni. "Harmanus Bleecker Hall / Albany". Performing Arts Archive. Retrieved February 6, 2018.
  51. ^ a b c "Harmanus Bleecker Hall / Albany".
  52. ^ "Old Albany Theater Destroyed by Fires". Dunkirk Evening Observer. Dunkirk, NY. United Press. May 20, 1940. p. 2 – via newspapers.com.
  53. ^ Go Historic, Harmanus Bleecker Library, Albany Archived 2013-07-18 at Archive.today, March 27, 2013
  54. ^ Harriet Langdon Pruyn Rice, Harmanus Bleecker: An Albany Dutchman, 1779–1849, 1924, title page

External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Auguste Davezac
U.S. Minister to the Netherlands
Succeeded by
Christopher Hughes
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Killian K. Van Rensselaer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 7th congressional district

March 4, 1811 – March 3, 1813
Succeeded by
Abraham J. Hasbrouck