Peter Stuyvesant’s last descendant died in 1953

Streets, schools, apartment complexes, statues—you can’t escape the Stuyvesant name in New York City.

These and other memorials pay homage to Peter Stuyvesant (at right), the director-general of New Amsterdam from 1647 to 1664, as well as other Stuyvesants who made a mark in the city over three centuries.

But there’s one Stuyvesant family member who made headlines for a different achievement: He was the last one, the final direct descendant of peg-legged Peter, dying at age 83 in 1953.

His name was Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant Jr. Born in 1870 in his family’s mansion on Fifth Avenue and 20th Street, he grew up in an “imposing” house on East 57th Street off Fifth Avenue.

Wealthy and a resident of Manhattan’s most exclusive neighborhood at the time, Augustus lived the same life as the children from other old-money families did in the Gilded Age.

“Educated privately by tutors at home, Mr. Stuyvesant never went to school or college,” stated a New York Times article announcing his death. “In his youth, he and his two sisters led the normal social life of their class, spending summers at Newport, Southampton, or Tuxedo.”

Not only did Augustus not go to school, he never pursued a profession. And neither he nor his sisters married. As adults, the three of them lived together in their East 57th Street mansion.

The three siblings weren’t housemates for long. In 1924, the oldest, Catherine, died; youngest sister Anne’s death followed a decade later.

Augustus spent the next two decades in seclusion. He and Anne had sold the 57th Street mansion in the 1920s and purchased a spectacular French chateau (above) on Fifth Avenue and 79th Street.

The reclusive bachelor’s “only recreation seems to have been an hour’s stroll each day through the streets near his home,” wrote the Times. “He had no family or social life.”

His one regular haunt, however, was St. Mark’s Church at Tenth Street and Second Avenue, where eight generations of Stuyvesants had been buried in a family crypt.

“Once or twice monthly, also, a uniformed chauffeur would drive the tall, white-haired, black-clothed gentleman in an old Rolls Royce to visit the Stuyvesant tomb beneath St.-Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie,” stated the Times.

“Frequently, in the last ten years, the [St. Mark’s Church] staff would see the quiet, elderly man in black wandering the churchyard, reading the inscriptions on the tombs or sitting in the Stuyvesant family pew in the silent church.”

After Augustus died—he was overcome by heat on an August day while on a stroll—he joined those 80 or so relatives in the family vault.

At his funeral at St. Mark’s Church three days after his death were some cousins, his lawyer, and his “ruddy-faced” butler, who “dressed in black, sat alone, weeping into his handkerchief” along with six elderly house servants, according to a second Times article.

Augustus was the last Stuyvesant to go into the crypt, which runs under the east wall of the church, after which it was sealed forever.

[Top image: Peter Stuyvesant in 1660; second image: Peter Stuyvesant Vault at St. Mark’s Church, wikipedia; third image: New York Times 1953; fourth image: Peter Stuyvesant statue at Stuyvesant Square, Alamy; fifth image: St. Mark’s Churchyard, 1979, MCNY X2010.11.4182; six image: New York Time 1953]

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26 Responses to “Peter Stuyvesant’s last descendant died in 1953”

  1. Steven Boccone Says:

    Your posts are super fascinating!!!!

  2. Ed Greenberg Says:

    I wonder if he realized that he was the last, and was not leaving an heir.

  3. Shayne Davidson Says:

    Is Augustus’s last home (the French chateau) the building that now houses the Jewish Museum?

  4. Lady G. Says:

    It seems like the offspring & the descendants of so many gilded age millionaires shun marriage and continuing the family line and fall into seclusion or become eccentric recluses. This man saw tremendous changes in history from his birth to his death. I wonder if they just develop a general mistrust of people because of their wealth, fearing everyone’s out to get them and take it away. It seemed like he and his sisters lacked the skills to properly invest their money or make it grow since they’d lived off it their whole lives. The old ways had changed so drastically they couldn’t keep up.Then the great Depression hit. I don’t want to be an armchair psychologist, but it would make a fascinating study/topic for a book, not just about Stuyvesant. The face of the world changed after WWI and many millionaires didn’t change with it.

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I wish I knew these answers. Stuyvesant didn’t speak to reporters, didn’t work, didn’t appear to have friends…I don’t even think a photo or portrait of him exists. Or of his sisters.

    • Lady G. Says:

      Wow. I want to say that’s ‘crazy.’ But it’s their life choices and they weren’t hurting anybody. (As far as we know) Maybe they got rid of any photographic evidence early on.

    • C.M. Says:

      There is actually a photo of Augustus in a book called Out Of This World by Helen Worden Erskine which came out, surprisingly enough, in 1953. He actually has his own chapter along with a large chapter on the Collyer brothers, who she dedicates the book to. She got to speak to Langley on a few occasions and there is a photo of she and he together. There are also chapters on Hetty Green and her daughter and Gertrude Tredwell among others. He looks just like you would expect a well to do Victorian or Edwardian gentleman would look. Stiff collar and all. He’s standing in front of the Peter Stuyvesant monument and looks like he may have been rather nice looking when he was young. I highly recommend the book. If you have access to the New York Public Library system, they may have a copy hiding somewhere in their stacks. Apparently, Helen was a popular newspaper reporter. I got mine from a third party seller on Amazon last year but it didn’t come cheap. I can only assume it probably had a limited run to begin with and has been out of print for quite a while. I also came to the conclusion after reading it that these people all shared pretty much the same history. They were all born in the Victorian age and into well to do families. They seemed to have great difficulty in coping with the new world and the changes to their worlds after WW1.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        Thank you for introducing this book—I’d never heard of it but I must find a copy. Looks like there are some for sale online, not cheap as you say. But a good backup if the NYPL doesn’t have it.

      • VirginiaB Says:

        The book sounds very interesting. Too much to buy but I requested it thru ILL. There seem to be a number of library copies available on WorldCat.

        I am amused by your reference to the Collyer brothers. When I was a child, my father used to look at my room and say, ‘This room looks like the Collyer brothers!’ Then he told me the story. He was a mine of NYC history. A fond memory of Dad.

      • C.M. Says:

        The photos in this book are in an odd place. They are actually on the end papers on the front and back covers. The best part about it is that when she did her research, most of these people were still living and she was able to either talk to them or to those who knew them best. I never realized how many residential hotels there were in New York back in the day. It seemed to be the preferred way to live for most of these people and the management seemed to respect their privacy. I recently found out that the FDNY still uses the Collyer brothers as a reference. When they are called to a fire at the residence of a suspected hoarder, they pass the word that it is a Collyer Mansion.

      • Greg Says:

        Thanks for the info! Would it be possible to take a pic of the photo and post it?

      • C.M. Says:

        I really am clueless with that sort of thing.

  6. Lady G. Says:

    I found a clue that said Augustus had a cleft palate, maybe severe because it made his speech almost “incomprehensible” and he wore a big walrus mustache to hide it. He may have felt most comfortable around his siblings and was probably badly made fun of by outsiders for it. 😦

  7. VirginiaB Says:

    Another very interesting post. What a shame he did not carry on the line. I remember learning about the original Peter S. when we took NY state history in 8th grade. A real piece of NY history.

  8. Greg Says:

    He was by no means the last direct descendant.

    He was the last direct descendant in a direct male line. In other words, the last direct descendant to bear the Stuyvesant name by birth. Peter Stuyvesant has hundreds of other direct descendants, including some Stuyvesants, but those derive from direct descendant Stuyvesant Rutherfurd transposing his given name and surname to satisfy the terms of a will.

    • Evan Rofheart Says:

      To add just a bit here. There are thousands of living 10th and 11th Great Grandchildren, who are direct descendants. Always be wary of old fake news, which is what it was when it was published in the New York Times. Our mothers, while they may not carry the old family name, certainly pass on the genetics and family history.

      • AC$ Says:

        There is a rumor in my paternal grandmothers side there was a Stuyvesant connection. Supposedly there was a family bible with his name in it. Unfortunately, when the family moved from Whitestone, Queens to Peekskill, Westchester County, NY, the bible was left behind. An effort to retrieve it a short time later was met with “Bible? What Bible?” They were not allowed in the house to search for it and it was lost forever. I am doing extensive research now, and I know that I have Dutch ancestry going back to Jans Rapalyea and Catriona Trico, the Dutch “Adam and Eve” of New Amsterdam. I suspect that there may be some truth the PS connection, but I have not found anything as yet.

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the clarification—direct male descendant to carry on the name is what I meant. Stuyvesant Rutherfurd changed his name to inherit the Stuyvesant fortune; it was a condition of his (childless)
    mother’s great uncle’s will.

  10. EVG Etc.: City Council approves Airbnb bill; baby hawks meet the tailless mockingbird ⋆ New York city blog Says:

    […] The last Peter Stuyvesant descendant (Ephemeral New York) […]

  11. David H Lippman Says:

    Karl Marx would have regarded this guy as the prototypical capitalist leech…never got an education,never held a job or profession, didn’t get married, just lived off of his wealth.

    So who’s the nearest living descendants of Ol’ Peg-Leg?

  12. trilby1895 Says:

    Thank you not only for the article, itself, but for the fascinating, insightful comments as well.

  13. The last daughter to live in a 14th Street estate | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] young women in the mid-1800s, she probably had tutors or attended a day school. Her family worshipped at St. Mark’s Church; the Spinglers had a burial vault […]

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