Too many Jeremiahs! Since writing about Natalie’s people, my New York great-aunt’s ancestry, I have been drawn into her Vanderbilt connection. Her great-grandfather, Thomas Atwater Jerome, was an uncle of the famous Jennie Jerome, Churchill’s mother. Jerome’s wife was Emma Vanderbilt, and I had thought that with such a famous person in it—the Commodore—this family would surely be all well documented in some ‘Vanderbilt genealogy’ available on google books or ancestry.com. Unfortunately not!
From a database of death notices from the New York Evening Post (online at the NEHGS website, newenglandancestors.org) I found that Emma Vanderbilt’s mother was Hannah, widow of a Jeremiah Vanderbilt; Hannah died in 1865 leaving sons-in-law J. R. Lott and T. A. Jerome. On the ‘Vanderbilt’ message board on genealogy.com I found a descendant of the Lott son-in-law who has similarly searched for Jeremiah Vanderbilt. As it turns out, this Lott descendant has an heirloom which provides a clue to the mystery: a very fine letter of commission, from the New York provincial governor in the name of King George III, appointing an obviously earlier Jeremiah Vanderbilt ‘Jr.’ as High Sheriff of King’s County (Long Island), for the year 1764-1765.
From this Lott descendant we learn that his ancestor James Lott’s wife was named Harriet (no pillar of salt jokes please); Harriet Vanderbilt Lott (b. 1822) was therefore sister of Natalie’s ancestor Emma Vanderbilt Jerome (b. 1816). Even if we assume that the Jeremiah Vanderbilt who left a widow Hannah in 1865, with sons-in-law J. R. Lott and T. A. Jerome, must be a descendant of Sheriff Jeremiah, this magnificent artifact helps little to identify the later Jeremiah who was Hannah’s husband and Harriet & Emma’s father. On-line records show at least three Jeremiah Vanderbilts of the right generation: The New York Evening Post records one who died in Rahway, New Jersey, on 29 August 1851, aged 65, and another who died 17 December 1855, aged 62; internet sources show a third, who died 20 Feb 1853, aged 75, whose wife was named Anne Vanderveer and whose listed children do not include Harriet or Emma. The right Jeremiah is probably the second one, since on 11 March 1856 in New York County James Lott was appointed administrator for the (intestate) estate of a Jeremiah Vanderbilt; this would make sense if Lott were Vanderbilt’s son-in-law and Vanderbilt was the man who had died the previous December (this is found in Gertrude A. Barber, Index of the Letters of Administration Filed in New York County from 1743 to 1875, 6 vols. [n.p., 1950-1951], 6:8, online at ancestry.com).
Now, any or all of these three Jeremiahs may be grandchildren of the Jeremiah named in the magnificent relic. Who was he? We have little to go on, though some online records of King’s County and the town of Flatbush show a Jeremiah or Jeremias Vanderbilt holding many public offices there in the mid to late 18th century: a Jeremias Van der Bilt was Constable of the town of Flatbush from 1742 to 1743; a Jeremias Vanderbilt was Supervisor of the town of Flatbush from 1759 to 1763; a Jeremias Vanderbilt was treasurer of King’s County from October 1772 to May 1786; and a Jeremiah Vanderbilt was one of the two County Judges for Flatbush from 1777 to 1780 (all data from a webpage of lists abstracted from Thomas M. Strong, The History of the Town of Flatbush in Kings County, Long Island ). All of these may refer to the same man, who may have been the sheriff in 1764-5, but perhaps there were multiple contemporary Jeremiahs already in the 18th century as well as the 19th century? This conundrum will have to wait for an answer. Perhaps there is a definitive early Vanderbilt genealogy buried in a journal article or local history. But I haven’t found it yet…