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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor



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Alexander Turney Stewart

STEWART, Alexander Turney, merchant, born in Lisburn, near Belfast, Ireland, 12 October, 1803; died in New York, 10 April, 1876. He was the descendant of a Scotch emigrant to the north of Ireland and the only son of a farmer, who (lied when he was a school-boy. He studied with a view to entering the ministry, but, with his guardian's consent, abandoned this purpose and came to New York in the summer of 1823, without any definite plans for the future. He was for a period employed as a teacher in a select school in Roosevelt street near Pearl, then one of the fashionable localities of the city. Returning to Ireland, he received the moderate fortune his father had left him, bought a stock of Belfast laces and linens, and on reaching New York opened a store at No. 283 Broadway, 2 Sept, ., 1825, for which he paid a rent of $250 per annum, giving as a reference Jacob Clinch, whose daughter, Cornelia, he soon afterward married. The amount of the capital invested was about $3,000. The young merchant had a sleeping-room in the rear of his shop, and under these humble conditions was formed the germ of the most extensive and lucrative drygoods business in the world. In 1826 he removed to a larger store at 262 Broadway, and soon afterward he again removed to 257 Broadway. He displayed a genius for business, met with remarkable success from the first, and in 1848 had accumulated so much capital that he was enabled to build the large marble store on Broadway between Chambers and Reade streets, which afterward was devoted to the wholesale branch of his business. In 1862 he erected on the block bounded by Ninth and Tenth streets, Broadway and Fourth avenue, the five-story iron building used for his retail business. This was said to be the largest retail store in the world at that time. Its cost was nearly $2,750, -000. About 2,000 persons were employed in the building, the current expenses of the establishment were more than $1,000,000 a year, and the aggregate of sales in the two stores for the three years preceding his death amounted to about $203, -000,000. Besides these two vast establishments, Mr. Stewart had branch houses in different parts of the world, and was the owner of numerous mills and manufactories. During the war his annual income averaged nearly $2,000,000, and in 1869 he estimated it at above $1,000,000. In 1867 Mr. Stewart was chairman of the honorary commission sent by the United States government to the Paris Exposition. In March, 1869, President Grant appointed him secretary of the treasury; but his confirmation was prevented by an old law which excludes from that office all who are interested in the importation of merchandise. The president sent to the senate a message recommending that the law be repealed in order that Mr. Stewart might become eligible to the office, and Mr. Stewart offered to transfer his enormous business to trustees and to devote the entire profits accruing during his term of office to charitable purposes; but the law was not repealed, as it was believed that Mr. Stewart's proposed plan would not effectually remove his disabilities. His acts of charity were numerous. During the famine in Ireland in 1846 he sent a ship-load of provisions to that country and gave a free passage to as many emigrants as the vessel could carry on its return voyage to this country, stipulating only that they should be able to read and write and of good moral character. After the Franco-German war he sent to France a vessel laden with flour, and in 1871 he gave $50,000 for the relief of the sufferers by the Chicago fire. When Prince Bismarck sent him his photograph requesting that of Mr. Stewart in return, he forwarded instead a draft for 50,000 francs for the benefit of the sufferers by the floods in Silesia, as he would not permit his portraits of any description to be made. He was also one of the largest contributors to the sum of $100,000 presented by the merchants of New York to General Ulysses S Grant as an acknowledgment of his great services during the civil war. At the time of his death Mr. Stewart was completing, at the cost of $1,000,000, the iron structure on Fourth avenue between Thirty-second and Thirty-third streets, New York, intended as a home for working-girls. He was also building at Hempstead Plains, L. I., the town of Garden City, the object of which was to afford to his employees and others airy and comfortable houses at a moderate cost. Mr. Stewart's wealth was estimated at about $40,000,000. His real estate was assessed at $5,450,000, which did not include property valued at snore than $500,000 on which the taxes were paid by the tenants. He had no blood relatives, and by his will the bulk of his estate was given to his wife. He bequeathed$1,000,000 to an executor of the will appointed to close his partnership business and affairs. Many bequests were made to his employees and to other persons. He left a letter, dated 29 March, 1873, addressed to Mrs. Stewart, expressing his intention to snake provision for various public charities, by which he would have been held in everlasting remembrance, and desiring her to carry out his plans in case he should fail to complete them. Unfortunately, his noble schemes of benevolence were "turned awry, and lost the name of action," and a large portion of his wealth passed to a person not of his name or lineage, verifying the words, " He heapeth up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them." After Mr. Stewart's death his mercantile interests were transferred by his widow to other persons, who continued the business under the firmname of A. T. Stewart and Co., which was soon changed to E. J. Denning and Co. Mr. Stewart's residence, on the corner of Fifth avenue and Thirty-fourth street, a marble mansion, seen in the accompanying illustration, is perhaps the finest private house in the New World. His art-gallery, among the largest and most valuable in the country, was sold at auction in New York in 1887. Two of hi most important paintings were presented to the Metropolitan museum of art. There was no satisfactory portrait of Mr. Stewart, and that from which the accompanying vignette is taken was painted after death by Thomas Le Clear. He was slight and graceful, of medium height, with fair hair and complexion, and tight-blue eyes. He possessed refined tastes, a love of literature and art, and was fond of entertaining, which he did in a delightful manner. At his weekly dinners might, be met men of distinction in all the various walks of life --from the emperor of Brazil and a Rothschild, to the penniless poet and painter. What was said of Stewart in the dedication of a volume published in 1874 was but the simple truth--that he was "the first of American merchants and philanthropists."--His widow, CORNELIA CLINCH, died in New York city, 25 October, 1886. She erected at Garden City, L.I., the Cathedral of the Incarnation as a memorial of her husband and as his mausoleum, where she now rests by his side. It is represented in the vignette, and was formally transferred by Mrs. Stewart, together with various buildings connected with it, and also an endowment of about $15,000 per annum, to the diocese of Long Island, New York, 2 June, 1885.

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