Samuel Swartwout
(November 17, 1783-November 21, 1856)

SWARTWOUT, SAMUEL (1783-1856). Samuel Swartwout, land speculator and fund-raiser for the Texas Revolution, was one of the seven children of Abraham and Maria (North) Swartwout. He was born in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1783. He and his brother John were closely associated with Aaron Burr at the time of Burr's duel with Alexander Hamilton and in the so-called Western Conspiracy to set up an empire in the Southwest. Swartwout carried a copy of Burr's cipher letter to Gen. James Wilkinson in the West. When Wilkinson changed his mind about cooperating, he arrested Swartwout 100 miles from New Orleans on December 12, 1806, placed him on an American warship consigned to the president, and charged him with treason. Swartwout's attorneys failed to obtain his freedom in the District of Columbia district court but succeeded in the Supreme Court. After Burr was acquitted of treason, Swartwout spent some time with him in Europe.

Swartwout served briefly in the War of 1812 as the Captain of the Iron Grays, a Light Infantry Unit. Samuel engaged in a number of different enterprises, including farming and dairying, the ferryboat business, railroads, a lumber company, coal mines in Maryland, and land speculation in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Illinois, and Texas, where he launched his most ambitious scheme. He and James Morgan helped to found the New Washington Association to purchase and develop Texas land. The organization planned to acquire land titles, some of doubtful validity, hoping that a new government would recognize them.

As one of Andrew Jackson's original supporters for the presidency, Swartwout was rewarded with an appointment as customs collector in New York City, on April 25, 1829. The new collector began discharging the duties of the office at the custom-house, on the corner of Wall and Nassau streets, on the first of May, that year. On January 13, 1830, President Jackson sent to the senate the nomination of Samuel Swartwout to be collector of the customs for the port of New York in place of Jonathan Thompson, removed. No action on it was taken by that body until March 29, when it was confirmed by a vote of twenty-five yeas to twenty-one nays, by which he was re-appointed for four years. The vote of the senate was not, it is said, exclusively that of administration senators. The fact that the confirmation of the nomination was opposed by the Tammany Society because the nominee could not be made subservient to its demands, no doubt, enlarged the negative number of votes. Before the expiration of his term, Samuel Swartwout was again appointed by President Jackson for another term of four years, which ended on March 29, 1838. Under this appointment his bondsmen were Charles L. Livingston, Mangle M. Quackenbos, and Benjamin Birdsall. At the beginning of his first term, Collector Swartwout appointed David S. Lyon his deputy, Henry Ogden cashier, and Melancthon Smith Swartwout (General John Swartwout's son) clerk. In that position, he openly aided the Texans in their struggle for independence from Mexico. He held meetings in New York where Stephen F. Austin, Branch T. Archer, and William H. Wharton appeared in quest of funds and supplies. He also sent provisions to Texas at his own expense and saved the two-ship Texas Navy from a consignment sale by paying for repairs to the vessels.

From the favorable impressions which Samuel Swartwout obtained on that occasion of the advantages of railroads to facilitate travel and the transportation of freight, he was stimulated to take an active part in the organization of several companies to operate and maintain lines of railway extending from the city of New York. In the act, passed on April 17, 1832, to incorporate the New York and Albany Railroad Company, he was one of the organizers of it, and named as one of the commissioners to open books to receive subscription to the capital stock. The company, as provided by the act, was empowered to construct a single, double, or treble railroad or way between the cities of New York and Albany, and to extend the same to the city of Troy. In the act to incorporate the New York and Erie Railroad Company, passed April 24, 1832, he is also named as one of its incorporators. He was highly influential in promoting many of the interests of the city of New York during the period of his service as collector. In the celebration of national, state, and municipal anniversaries, he was frequently induced to act as chief marshal of the military and civic processions of such occasions. He was a popular man on committees. As printed in the city newspapers, his name appears first of the persons named to act as a committee to welcome the return of Washington Irving to America, at a banquet given at the City Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, May 30, 1832

Swartwout left office in 1837 retaining $201,096.40 with which to pay any pending claims that might be brought against him. Unfortunately, he then went to England to raise money on his coal property before insuring that his account at the customhouse was closed. After he left the country, or perhaps before, his account was "adjusted" by a subordinate and possibly by his successor, through the instigation of the new president, Martin Van Buren, a political enemy. It was then alleged that Swartwout had embezzled $1,225,705.69 and fled. One of his assistants was indicted in 1841 for embezzling $609,525.71 of the sum, and, according to Swartwout's trustee, a federal court further reduced the amount by $435,052.21, leaving the remaining amount which Swartwout claimed he owed. Swartwout forfeited his personal property to meet the deficit and returned to the United States in 1841 after federal officials assured him that they would not prosecute him. He married Alice Ann Cooper in 1814; they had two children. Swartwout died on November 21, 1856, in New York City.


References: B. R. Brunson Samuel Swartwout
The Swartwout Chronicles

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