The term of the Fifteenth
President covers a longer period than that of any predecessor or
successor, being for sixteen years, and attests his popularity and value
in the Society.
Robert Lenox was the son
of James Lenox, of the Parish of Kirkcudbright, and the grandson of
William Lennox, of Milnhouse, Parish of Kirkcudbright, Scotland. His
mother was Elizabeth Sproat, the daughter of David Sproat of the same
parish. One of eleven children, he was born on the 31st December, 1759,
at the small seaport town of Kirkcudbright, located on the southwest
border of Scotland, and died on the 13th December, 1839, at his
residence, No. 59 Broadway, in the City of New York.
His parents were in
somewhat straitened circumstances, and hardly able to support so large a
family, and consequently Robert Lenox, with his brothers David and
William, came to America just prior to the Revolutionary War, being sent
out to join their uncle, David Sproat, a merchant in Philadelphia, who
had come to this country in 1760. Shortly after the outbreak of
hostilities David Sproat left Philadelphia to join the British Army at
New York, and in the Autumn of 1779 received the appointment of
Commissary-General of Naval Prisoners in North America, which office he
held until the close of the war. From time to time he acted in a similar
capacity with reference to prisoners of the army and it was he who
received and exchanged the British soldiers taken prisoners at Saratoga
and Yorktown. In this connection, it is an interesting fact that the
Continental Congress upon the recommendation of Robert Morris, then
Superintendent of Finance, voted that upwards of £550 currency should be
repaid to Mr. Sproat for moneys personally advanced by him for the
relief of American naval prisoners.
Robert Lenox, after his
arrival in this country, went to school for a short time at Burlington,
New Jersey, and then joined his uncle in New York, whither his brother
William had already journeyed. William Lenox was soon appointed British
Commissary of Naval Prisoners in the South, and stationed at Charleston,
South Carolina, where he died in 1781 in the twenty-ninth year of his
age. David Lenox, another brother, espoused the cause of the patriots,
joined the Continental forces and rapidly rose to rank and prominence.
He had attained the rank of a major at the close of the war and later
entered into a mercantile career at Philadelphia, where he died in 1828.
Robert Lenox, however, appears to have remained with his uncle and was
employed as clerk, acting at times as director of Flags of Truce.
During the war he made
various trips between New York, the West Indies, Charleston and
elsewhere to conserve his uncles business interests and was at one time
taken prisoner by a French man-of-war, but soon released at the request
of his brother, Major Lenox.
Upon the evacuation of
New York by the British in 1783 he went to Scotland with his uncle, Mr.
Sproat, to assist him in settling his accounts with the British
Government. He returned to this country in the following September and
then took up his permanent residence in New York City. Previous to his
departure he had married a daughter of Nicholas Carmer, a merchant of
this City, who was later a vestryman of Trinity Church and one of the
Commissioners for rebuilding that church in 1788.
Shortly after the Treaty
of Independence Robert Lenox was joined by his youngest brother, James,
who came from Scotland, and established the great commercial house of
Jas. Lenox & Wm. Maitland in 1796. James Lenox retired from the firm in
1818 and returned to Scotland, where he died in 1839; the firm being
successively Kennedy & Maitland; Maitland, Phelps & Co., and later
Maitland, Coppell & Co.
Robert Lenox soon became
one of the greatest merchants of his day, trading extensively abroad, in
the West Indies and throughout this country. His business transactions
surpassed in importance and extent for many years those of any other
merchant in this City at that period and he rapidly amassed a large
fortune. He was a man of great strength of character and unswerving
integrity. It is stated that when Mr. Lenox was an executor of the
estate of his friend, Archibald Gracie, a mortgage held by the estate
was foreclosed and in order that the estate might not lose the amount
invested, of which there was some likelihood, and to net the
beneficiaries an exceptional sum, he purchased the mortgaged premises at
public auction, held in the old Tontine Coffee House, for what was then
the remarkable price of $6,420, the land then being considered to be
worth only $500. The premises were known as the Five Mile Post Farm
and comprised land within the boundaries of Fourth and Fifth Avenues and
Sixty-eighth and Seventy-first Streets. Four months later Mr. Lenox
purchased three parcels of land bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and
Seventy-first and Seventy-fourth Streets, exactly equal in area with the
parcels purchased under foreclosure at public auction, for the sum of
$500. Thereafter these two tracts were known as the Lenox Farm.
Mr. Lenox never sold any
of the land in his lifetime, and had a high opinion of the value of this
tract. In his will, referring to this plot and his son, James Lenox, he
stated: At the same time I wish him, my son, to understand that my
opinion of the property is not changed and though I withdraw all legal
restrictions to his making sale of the whole or any part of the same,
yet I enforce on him my advice not to do so. His son, James Lenox, held
the land until 1864, when he commenced to convey various lots in the
tract, and at his death in 1880 sales of portions of this land had
netted him over $3,000,000 and the value of the remainder, which
included the tracts he had given to the Presbyterian Hospital, the
Phillips Presbyterian Church, the Home for Aged Women and the Lenox
Library, was over $4,000,000. On an investment of about $7,000, this
meant an increase of $7,000,000 in a little over sixty years, and at the
present time a conservative appraisal of the value of this Lenox Farm
would be about $40,000,000.
The History of the
Chamber of Commerce states of Robert Lenox: He was one of the most
extensive as well as successful merchants in the United States, and at
his death, an eminent merchant who for a period beyond the ordinary
course of human life had been distinguished for great prudence, a clear
and sound judgment and unblemished reputation.
Mr. Lenox held numerous
positions of trust and importance during his lifetime. He was Alderman
of this City from 1795-97, and 1880-02; one of the founders of the
Lying-in Hospital, incorporated in 1799, and its President from 1829-35
a member of the Chamber of Commerce; Vice-President from 1819-26, and
President from 1826 until his death in 1839: a Trustee and Chairman of
the Board of Managers of the Sailors Snug Harbor; a trustee of
Princeton College; an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church for over
thirty years, and director in many other institutions and corporations.
In politics he was a
Federalist, a strong believer in free trade and one of the delegates to
the celebrated free-trade convention held at Philadelphia in the Fall of
1820. In January, 1824, he was appointed Chairman of the Committee of
Correspondence organized to oppose the threatened increase of the
He joined the Saint
Andrews Society in 1784 and immediately took the greatest interest in
its progress and welfare, acting as Secretary from 1785-1791; as Second
Vice-President from 17921794; as First Vice-President from 1796-1798,
and as President from 1798-1814.
He married on the 1st
September, 1783, Rachel Carmer, daughter of Nicholas Carmer and Alethea
Blanchard, and had issue: (1) Elizabeth Sproat, born 19th May, 1785, who
married Robert Maitland; (2) Alethea Carmer, born 12th February, 1797,
died 28th August, 1806; (3) Isabella Henderson, born 26th February,
1789, who married William Banks; (4) David Sproat, born 22d December,
1790, died 9th March, 1792; (5) Rachcl Carmer, born 27th December, 1792,
who married David S. Kennedy; (6) Charlotte Murdoch, born 15th December,
1794, died 9th May, 1807; (7) Robert, born 31st May, 1797, died 21st
January, 1798; (8) Jennet, born 12th November, 1798, died 27th April,
1870; (9) James, born 19th August, 1800, died 17th February, 1880; (10)
Mary, born 20th September, 1803, who married John Fisher Sheafe; (11)
Henrietta Anderson, born 18th November, 1804, died 6th July, 1886; (12)
Alethea Lenox, born 2d March, 1807, who married James Donaldson.
The portrait of Robert
Lenox is reproduced from an oil painting by Trumbull, now in the
possession of his granddaughter, Miss Mary Kennedy.