Abraham Ten Broeck was born in 1734 to Dirck Ten Broeck (1686-1751) and Margarita Cuyler (1682–1783). Abraham was one of twelve children born to the couple. Abraham first-generation grandfather had come to America from Holland in 1626 on the same ship with Peter Minuit, the first Director General of the Dutch colony of New Netherland.
Abraham’s father, Dirck was a wealthy merchant and trader in Albany and served as mayor from 1746 to 1748. Dirck had also been Coroner, City Recorder, Indian Commissioner, Inspector of Skins (furs), and a deacon in the Dutch Church. Abraham’s great-grandfathers included two previous mayors of Albany, Dirck Wesselse Ten Broeck (1638-1717) and Jan Jansen Bleecker (1641-1732). Dirck Wesselse Ten Broeck purchased his home at the intersection of Handelaers (now State Street) and Middle Alley (now James Street) from the descendants of Anneke Jans (1605-1663) for a thousand guilders in beaver skins.
In 1684, Dirck Wesselse Ten Broeck was one of seven men who were said to have been granted the “Sarachtogie” (Saratoga) patent. The Saratoga Patent was a parcel of land 22 miles north and south by 12 miles east and west on both sides of the Hudson River starting at what is now Mechanicville and proceeding north.
When Abraham was in his early teens, he was sent to the city of New York to live with his sister Christina and learn business from her husband, Philip Livingston. The daughter of Christina and Philip Livingston, Catherina, married Albany’s patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer II (1742-1769). After his father Dirck died in 1751, Abraham was sent to Europe to make contacts and establish business relationships with suppliers. These businessmen were probably his father’s suppliers in his merchant business and he was trying to maintain a good relationship. Abraham returned to Albany in 1752 and resided with his widowed mother at Market (now Broadway) and Columbia Streets.
Back in Albany, Abraham continued in his father’s business selling and exporting lumber (which he probably purchased from Philip Schuyler’s lumber mill in what is now Schuylerville), and importing hardware items from Europe that he sold to Albany builders and ship owners. His brother, Dirck, operated a gunsmith business and served as an Albany fyremaster (fire official), and was a lottery manager. Dirk married Anna Douw, daughter of Volkert P. Douw (1720-1801). In the 1750s both Abraham and Dirck were serving in the Albany Militia, part of the New York Provincial Militia.
In 1759, Abraham was elected to the Albany City Council representing the Third Ward and in 1760, he was elected to the New York Colonial Assembly representing Rensselaerswijck. The Colonial Assembly, also known as the General Assembly, was created in 1691 by British officials to pass laws and oversee the court system subject to the approval of the Royal Governor (and subsequently the King of England).
By the mid-1760s, Abraham Ten Broeck had purchased additional property and built storehouses and a lumberyard. He built stables for his horses and wagons that he used to haul lumber. He built a new dock (Albany’s newest and largest) near where the Foxen Kill (today’s Sheridan Avenue) emptied into the Hudson River. In November 1763, he was one of Albany’s most prosperous merchants when he married Elizabeth Van Rensselaer (1734-1813), the only sister of the patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer II. They had five children, all baptized in the Dutch Church.
In 1764, Abraham was the leader of a group of civic leaders who bought a triangle of land, located north of today’s St. Joseph’s Church on what is now Ten Broeck Street, from the Patroon to construct and operate a cemetery “open to all persons whatsoever that now dwell in or hereafter may inhabit the Manor [of Rensselaerswijck].”
Beginning in 1764, England passed a series of tax acts, taxing many products shipped to America to try to get the colonists to help pay for the costs of troops provided during the French and Indian War. The taxes were very unpopular in America. British tax collectors were physically threatened and prevented from collecting the tax and British goods were boycotted. In 1765, England passed the first Quartering Act providing for the quartering of troops in public buildings, taverns, distilleries and breweries. When the New York Colonial Assembly, of which Ten Broeck was a member, voted not to comply with this act, the Assembly was temporarily suspended by the King.
In 1769 Abraham Ten Broeck’s brother-in-law, the 27-year-old patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer II, died leaving his five-year-old son Stephen Van Rensselaer III (1764-1839) as his heir. Abraham Ten Broeck was appointed co-administrator of the Manor of Rensselaerswijck. Stephen III’s mother remarried Rev. Eilardus Westerlo, the dominie (minister) of the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, but died only five years later, leaving Stephen III an orphan. Abraham Ten Broeck was appointed his guardian.
Still operating his own businesses, maintaining large properties, serving as co-administrator of Van Rensselaer Manor and guardian of the young patroon, and member of the Colonial Assembly, Abraham Ten Broeck continued to serve as an officer in the Albany Militia. Many new tenants settled in Albany and leased land from Van Rensselaer during Ten Broeck’s administration of the Manor. The Van Rensselaer Manor was very prosperous.
When England was unsuccessful in gaining tax money from the colonies, the King’s ministers began to enforce the second Quartering Act, which the quartering of troops inside the colonists’ homes. They did this to help reduce the cost of provisioning the troops. When troops arrived at New York and Boston in 1770 to be housed with families, armed riots occurred in both places (the “Sons of Liberty Riot” and the “Boston Massacre”). The passage of the Tea Act in 1773, taxing the import of tea, resulted in the Boston Tea Party.
Representatives of the colonies decided to meet to discuss the growing problems, but needed to meet separately from British officials. Local committees were contacted and asked to send representatives to the First Continental Congress held in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 6, 1774.
A new group of New York representatives, many of them Colonial Assembly members, formed a secret group and began to meet. The new group was consecutively named the “Committee of 51”, then “Committee of 60” and finally the “Committee of 100.” This illegal group of revolutionaries was taking a high risk. They could be hung for treason and all of their property confiscated for opposing the mandates issued by the King of England.
Most of this group would eventually evolve to form the New York Provincial Congress, a group of revolutionaries. The revolutionary Provincial Congress and British supervised Colonial Assembly would operate parallel to each other with many members of the British supervised Colonial Assembly also serving secretly on the new revolutionary Provincial Congress. Abraham Ten Broeck was one of these men.
On April 3, 1775, the British-controlled New York Colonial Assembly refused to appoint delegates to the Second Continental Congress. The newly-formed Albany Committee of Safety, meeting independently of Albany’s British-appointed mayor and council, appointed Abraham Yates, Jr., Walter Livingston, Colonels Philip Schuyler, Abraham Ten Broeck and Peter Livingston as deputies to attend the revolutionary New York Provincial Congress on April 20th to appoint delegates to the Second Continental Congress to be held at Philadelphia.
The Second Continental Congress was held on May 10, 1775. Abraham Ten Broeck and Philip Schuyler attended and the colony of New York was also represented by Ten Broeck’s brother-in-law, Philip Livingston. Livingston continued attending the meetings of the Continental Congress in 1776 and signed the Declaration of Independence.
On October 19, 1775, the British-appointed New York Governor William Tyron was forced to flee the city of New York and reside on a British warship in New York Harbor. With the loss of Governor Tyron, the British-controlled Colonial Assembly did not meet and the governance of the Province of New York fell to the revolutionary Provincial Congress. Tyron tried to resurrect the Colonial Assembly in 1776, but found so many members now so hostile to the British authorities that he disbanded it. The revolutionary Provincial Congress, of which Abraham Ten Broeck was a member, would now run New York and start to raise funds to support a colonial army.
In 1775, the Albany Safety Committee ordered “that all the [male] inhabitants of the City of Albany between the ages of 16 to 60 meet the next morning and form into companies by ward.” General Abraham Ten Broeck was put in command and Colonel Henry Quackenbush was second-in-command. Dirck Ten Broeck served as lieutenant colonel. This group was the volunteer Albany Militia (although membership was now mandatory). Dirck was quickly swamped with orders for guns.
Ten Broeck and the Albany Militia responded to several alarms of approaching armies and assaults during the Revolutionary War and were called up en masse during the Battle of Saratoga. The Albany Militia was positioned at the point of British attack and participated in the conclusive counter attack against General John Burgoyne’s forces that sealed the Colonial victory.
The Battle of Bemis Heights, part of the Battles of Saratoga, was conducted on land owned by Abraham Ten Broeck, passed down to him by his second generation (in America) grandfather Dirck Wesselse Ten Broeck who had been granted the Saratoga Patent.
In March and April of 1777, Abraham Ten Broeck served as chairman of the revolutionary New York Provincial Congress, in effect making him the de facto governor of New York. Upon the adoption of New York’s first State Constitution in that same year, George Clinton was elected New York’s first governor and Abraham Ten Broeck’s brother, Dirck, was elected a member of the first New York State Senate but Dirck died in 1780 at the age of 42. Abraham replaced him and again served from 1780 to 1783. The first New York State Senate met in a 101-year-old stone house in Esopus (now in Kingston, the Senate House Historic Site is operated by the New York State) that had been Abraham and Dirck’s second-generation (in America) grandfather’s brother’s house.
Upon the death of Albany Mayor John Barclay in 1779, Abraham Ten Broeck served as mayor of Albany until 1783 while still serving as general of the Albany Militia. Barclay had been the chairman of the Albany Committee of Safety. Abraham Ten Broeck also was Albany’s first Justice of the Court of Common Pleas (later Albany County Court) from 1781 to 1794, appointed by Governor George Clinton. Abraham Ten Broeck finally resigned his military commission as a general in 1781 when he accepted the appointment as judge.
During Abraham Ten Broeck’s term as mayor, Elizabeth, the daughter of Philip Schuyler who married Alexander Hamilton at the Schuyler Mansion (George Washington would be the godfather for their first child); Aaron Burr opened a law practice on Norton Street near South Pearl; Tories and their Native allies attempted to kidnap General Schuyler at his home in Albany, and whipping posts were abolished in the city. Albany was also made the capital of New York State.
In 1784, Albany’s young patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer III came of age and Abraham Ten Broeck relinquished control of Van Rensselaer Manor to him.
Ten Broeck was an ardent Federalist and together with his relatives, the Van Rensselaers and Schuylers, he worked for adoption of the United States Constitution in New York. When he later ran for office, he did so as a Federalist. In 1788, Ten Broeck’s Albany home was assessed with a similar value to the mansions of Philip Schuyler and Abraham Yates, indicating that it must have been of substantial size for the time.
In 1792, Abraham Ten Broeck was elected president of the Bank of Albany. Most likely, a large amount of the money on deposit at the Bank of Albany was his, together with money deposited by his nephew, Stephen Van Rensselaer and Philip Schuyler. In 1795, he joined with Eilardus Westerlo, General Philip Schuyler, Abraham and Robert Yates, and others to form and serve as trustees of Union College in Schenectady. Abraham Ten Broeck’s eldest daughter Elizabeth married General Philip Schuyler’s son Rensselaer Schuyler.
In 1797, Abraham Ten Broeck’s home burned to the ground in a fire that destroyed several city blocks. He subsequently built a large country mansion just north of Albany, near the Van Rensselaer Patroon’s home and placing him outside the jurisdiction of the municipal officials of Albany, but still within the Van Rensselaer Manor. The land was then known as the township of Watervliet and was purchased from the patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer III. Philip Schuyler and Abraham Yates had also built their homes outside the jurisdiction of Albany, just south of the city.
Ten Broeck served as mayor of Albany a second time from 1796 to 1798, following the death of Abraham Yates Jr. In 1802, he was one of the organizers and incorporators of the Albany–Schenectady Turnpike Company and was the first president of the Albany Public Library.
Abraham Ten Broeck died in 1810 at the age of 76. His wife, Margarita, died in 1813. His still-standing mansion, which he named “Prospect,” is now known as “Ten Broeck Mansion” and maintained by the Albany County Historical Association.
Originally interred in a private vault in the rear of the Ten Broeck Mansion, Abraham’s body was moved to Albany Rural Cemetery and is interred in the Schuyler family plot, Lot 2, Section 29. His sister Christina Ten Broeck Livingston, wife of Philip Livingston (the signer of the Declaration of Independence) and mother of Catherina Livingston (wife of Patroon Stephen Van Rensselaer II), are also now buried at Albany Rural. The graves of Catherina Livingston, Dirck Ten Broeck, Anneke Jans and most of the Schuylers and Van Rensselaers are also at Albany Rural Cemetery.
Illustrations, from above: Detail of an Abraham Ten Broeck portrait by John Roberts circa 1796-1800; Christina Ten Broeck in a 1720 childhood oil portrait by Nehemiah Partridge; a map of Rensselaerswyck, probably created around 1632; Ten Broeck Mansion as it looks today.