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Richard Varick

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Richard Varick
Portrait of Varick by Henry Inman (ca. 1831)
45th Mayor of New York City
In office
October 12, 1789 – December 31, 1801
Preceded byJames Duane
Succeeded byEdward Livingston
GovernorGeorge Clinton (1789 - 1795)
John Jay (1795 - 1801)
2nd Attorney General of New York
In office
May 14, 1788 – September 29, 1789
GovernorGeorge Clinton
Preceded byEgbert Benson
Succeeded byAaron Burr
6th Speaker of the New York State Assembly
In office
January 12, 1787 – December 10, 1788
Preceded byJohn Lansing Jr.
Succeeded byJohn Lansing Jr.
15th Recorder of New York City
In office
February 20, 1784 – September 29, 1789
Preceded byJohn Watts
Succeeded bySamuel Jones
Personal details
BornMarch 15, 1753
Hackensack, Bergen County, Province of New Jersey
DiedJuly 30, 1831 (aged 78)
Jersey City, New Jersey
Resting placeFirst Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery
Political partyFederalist
Spouse(s)Maria Roosevelt
Military service
Seal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.svg
Continental Army
New York (state) New York State Militia
Years of service1775 - 1784 Continental Army
1784 - 1801 New York State Militia
Union Army colonel rank insignia.png

Richard Varick (March 15, 1753 – July 30, 1831) was an American lawyer, military officer, and politician who has been referred to as "The Forgotten Founding Father."[1] A major figure in the development of post-Independence New York City and State, Varick became the 45th Mayor of New York City in 1789 and served eleven consecutive one-year terms until 1801.[2]

Previous to his terms as mayor, Varick served as the 14th Recorder of New York City from 1784 to 1789. An office that no longer exists, it equates to 'Chief Legal Officer'. Along with Samuel Jones, Varick codified New York State's first statutes after Revolution in the Laws of New York (2 vols., 1789). This body of work laid legal groundwork for Varick to institute the Law of New York, the New York City Administrative Code, and the Rules of New York City during his terms as mayor.[3] Additionally, under his leadership, the progenitors of the New York City Department of Health, the New York Stock Exchange, and many others would be created establishing the foundation of modern New York City.

During the Revolutionary War, he served as George Washington's aide-de-camp and private secretary. Varick's body of work from this era would lead to the Varick Transcripts which now live in the Library of Congress. The value of these documents has been noted throughout their lifetime as invaluable to the understanding of the formation of the United States.[3]

Varick was a founder of the Society of the Cincinnati and the American Bible Society. He was also a longtime trustee of Columbia University, where he was chairman of the board from 1810 - 1816.[4]

Early life & family

He was born on March 15, 1753, at Hackensack in Bergen County, New Jersey to John Varick and Jane (née Dey) Varick.[5] Both Varick's parents ancestors had emigrated with the Dutch West India Company in the early to mid 17th century and remained in the greater New York City area. Amongst Varick's ancestors are Joris Jansen Rapelje, a member of the Council of Twelve Men which was the first democratic body in the history of the United States (1641). Varick's maternal grandfather was a colonel in the Continental Army whose house, the Dey Mansion, which would go on to play a pivotal role in the American Revolution.

Varick was one of seven children, his siblings being: Abraham Varick (the great-grandfather of Anna Maria Romeyn Varick, who married George Lauder of the Lauder Greenway Family.); Dr. John Varick Jr.; Anne Elting; Sarah Froeligh; Jane De Witt (wife of Simeon De Witt); and Maria Gilbert.


Little is known about the specifics of Varick's education before university, though surviving letters indicate that he was educated by private tutors and studied Latin, French, and other subjects. He enrolled in King's College (the original name of Columbia University) in New York City in 1771 where he studied under John Morin Scott. Varick clerked for Scott during his education and after being admitted into the New York Bar in October 1774, Scott made him an offer to be a partner in his firm. Unusually, Varick had not yet graduated from King's College despite having passed the bar and never formally graduated. Later in his career, Varick would become a trustee of King's College for over thirty years.[6]

Military career

American Revolutionary War

Service under General Schuyler & Northern Army

Richard Varick painted c.1787 by Ralph Earl. The portrait shows Varick in his Continental Army officers uniform although he retired his commission in 1783. The blue decoration is that of the Society of the Cincinnati.
Richard Varick painted c.1787 by Ralph Earl. The portrait shows Varick in his Continental Army officers uniform although he retired his commission in 1783. The blue decoration is that of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Eight months into his career in private practice, the American Revolutionary War began. At the influence of his employer, John Morin Scott, Varick suspended his studies and enlisted in the militia. On June 28, 1775, he was appointed captain of the 1st New York Regiment and after only three days as field officer, was appointed military secretary under General Philip Schuyler who was in command of the Northern Army It was thought that Scott, understanding the administrative and intellectual value of his young partner, secured the appointment. Varick departed New York City with Schuyler on July 4, 1775, to head north to Fort Ticonderoga and launch the campaign to drive the British out of Canada. En route, the traveling party stopped in Albany briefly where Varick would first meet General Benedict Arnold, who would become a good friend, also played a significant role in Varick's life until Arnold's treason in 1780.

By the summer of 1776, Schuyler had been felled by multiple illnesses and was reeling from a series of losses on the battlefield. Varick, by this juncture, in part out of necessity, and in part by appointment, was performing three jobs at once: private secretary to Schuyler, quartermaster for all the northern forts held by the Continental Army, and the Northern Army's deputy muster master general. Laterally, actual battlefield commands had been outsourced to Arnold and General Horatio Gates. Schuyler, recognizing the burden Varick was carrying, promoted him to Lieutenant Colonel. Varick's almost total control of the administration for the Northern Army lead to an even closer friendship between Arnold and Varick.

That same summer, Arnold was planning his attack effort to stop the British advance down Lake Champlain in what would be one of the first battles in the history of the U.S. Navy. With a dearth of available ships, the armada was largely built from scratch by Varick who solved the crisis by contacting his wide network in New York City and the surrounding area to send materials and coastal men who were qualified for such work. While the Battle of Valcour Island ended in defeat for the navy, it succeeded in slowing the British advance for the winter as they retreaded to their Canadian bases.

Varick also faced run-ins with fellow officers who were not part of Schuyler's faction. General Anthony Walton White, who had briefly served at Washington's aide-de-camp, was accused by Schuyler of looting a private home on the frontier. After denying the charges, White barged into Varick's offices and challenged him to a duel, under the impression that Varick had spoken negatively to his character. Varick, unarmed, narrowly escaped White's attempt to murder him after Varick declined the challenge.

After the disastrous loss of Fort Ticonderoga, Schuyler was removed from duty by the Continental Congress in August 1777 and replaced by General Gates. With factionalism rife within the Northern Army, Varick was aligned with Arnold which pitted him against Gates, whom he disliked regardless. Varick and Arnolds circle of friendship had also grown to include Henry Brockholst Livingston and Matthew Clarkson. Their camaraderie was rudely defined as "The New York Gang" by James Wilkinson, a partisan of General Gates'.

Varick would quietly and capably continue in his role as the Northern Army's deputy muster master general, though not as Gates' aide-de-camp or private secretary, until January 12, 1780 when the department was abolished by the Continental Congress in a larger reorganization.

Service under General Arnold

Benedict Arnold

Varick briefly resumed his law in private practice, which proved challenging in his politically volatile hometown of New York City—which was under occupation by the enemy. In August 1780, Benedict Arnold approached Varick about joining his staff at his newly appointed position as commanding officer of West Point (then an active military instillation) as his aide-de-camp and inspector-general.[5][7]

Within three months, Arnold's treason was discovered and he fled to British territory. Varick, along with David Franks, were arrested. Varick had been ill in bed when informed both of Arnold's treason and his own arrest. Contemporary reports described Varick as spending several days on the edge of madness about Arnold's defection. Despite Arnold writing to Washington personally to say that his aides were not complicit, both Varick and Franks were detained by Washington as a precautionary measure. After a court of inquiry completed its investigation, they found Varick not guilty, and delivered the following:

That Lieutenant Colonel Varick’s conduct with respect to the base Peculations and Treasonable Practices of the late General Arnold is not only unimpeachable but think him entitled (throughout every part of his conduct) to a degree of Merit that does him great honor as an Officer and particularly distinguishes him as a sincere Friend to his Country…

Service under General Washington

A by-product of the above was the introduction of Varick to George Washington, which would lead to the two working together for the rest of their careers, and lives. This relationship began in 1781 when Washington petitioned the Continental Congress to establish team of writers to record and preserve all of his, and the army's, papers, planning, and correspondence for use by future generations. This would be under the supervision “of a Man of character in whom entire confidence can be placed”. Washington appointed Varick in this role, which made use of his highly respected administrative skills, and would fully rehabilitate his name after the Arnold scandal. Establishing his office at Poughkeepsie, Varick and his assistants spent more than two years in compiling the forty-four folio volumes known as the Varick Transcripts. Varick served under Washington solely until Washington retired his commission in 1783.[8][9]

Upon completing the assigned duties after years or work, General Washington wrote:

I take this first opportunity of signifying my entire approbation of the manner in which you have executed the important duties of recording secretary; and the satisfaction I feel in having my papers so properly arranged, and so correctly recorded; and beg you will accept my thanks for the care and attention which you have given to this business and beg you be persuaded, that I shall take pleasure in asserting on every occasion, the sense of entertainment of the fidelity, skill and indefatigable industry manifested by you in the performance of your public duties."[10]

After he retired from his service in the Continental Army, Varick would remain in service as a colonel in the New York State Militia until 1801.[5]

The Varick Transcripts

The Varick Transcripts are deposited in the Library of Congress. The value of these documents has been noted throughout their lifetime as invaluable to the understanding of the formation of the United States.[11]

As originally provisioned by Congress, the stated duties by General Washington to Colonel Varick as Recording Secretary would include categorizing, transcribing, and assembling all Washington's papers. The resulting 44 letterbooks contain copies of all documents dating from May, 1775 to June, 1785. Categories of papers, records, and correspondence are organized as follows;

  1. Continental Congress
  2. Continental and State Military Personnel
  3. Civil Officials and Private Citizens
  4. Foreign Officers and Subjects of Foreign Nations
  5. Enemy Officers and British Subjects
  6. Continental Army Council Proceedings (War Council Proceedings)
  7. General Orders
  8. Personal Correspondence

Society of the Cincinnati

In 1783 the Society of the Cincinnati was founded of which Varick was an original member and president of the New York chapter from 1783 until his death in 1831. Membership was generally limited to officers who had served at least three years in the Continental Army or Navy. The first meeting of the Society was held in May at a dinner at Mount Gulian (Verplanck House) in Fishkill, New York, before the British evacuation from New York City. The meeting was chaired by Varick's friend Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton. The Society has three goals: "To preserve the rights so dearly won; to promote the continuing union of the states; and to assist members in need, their widows, and their orphans."

Varick would also be responsible for maintaining the legacy of George Washington. From 1790 to 1836, celebrations of Washington's birthday in the City included Tammany Hall dinners, Washington Benevolent Society parades, and an intimate open house held each February 22 by Mary Simpson (c. 1752 - March 18, 1836), at her John Street grocery.

Political career

Recorder & Attorney General of New York (1784 - 1789)

Varick was the Recorder of New York City from 1784 to 1789. An office that no longer exists, it is equatable to 'Chief Legal Officer'. In this office, along with Samuel Jones, he codified New York State's first statutes after Revolution in the Laws of New York (2 vols., 1789). This body of work laid the whole foundation for the Law of New York, the New York City Administrative Code, and the Rules of New York City.[12]

Concurrently to the above, he was a member of the New York State Assembly from New York County from 1786 to 1788. During his term as a member of the New York State Assembly, he was Speaker during the sessions of 1787 and 1788. Varick was appointed the New York State Attorney General from 1788 to 1789.

Remarkably, due to the elitist nature of the New York State Constitution of 1777, almost all government positions in the city and state of New York were appointed by the Council of Appointment. Few, if any, general elections or other democratic functions would exist until 1802. Thus, in the year 1788, Varick was simultaneously the Recorder of New York City, a State Assemblyman representing New York City, the Speaker of the House of the State of New York, and the Attorney General of the State of New York. Though Varick is on record protesting the egregious nature of his occupying multiple offices, it was rationalized at the time that as both an expert administrator and lawyer, he was an ideal choice to fill these myriad offices and to build swiftly the various mechanisms of government. And, that the subsequent laws were codified quickly in the nascent days of an independent New York City and State to ensure the function, and growth, of both entities.

Mayor of New York City (1789 - 1801)

Richard Varick (c.1805) by John Trumbull which still hangs today in New York City Hall
Richard Varick (c.1805) by John Trumbull which still hangs today in New York City Hall
Signature of Richard Varick while Mayor of New York (1798)
Signature of Richard Varick while Mayor of New York (1798)

Varick would peak politically as the Mayor of New York City for twelve years during the formative post-Independence era from 1789 to 1801.[13] While Mayor, he would continue his establishment of the technocratic structure that would ensure New York City’s place as the commercial capital of the United States, despite the political capital moving to Philadelphia, then Washington D.C. At this time in history, there was no precedent of commercial and political leadership split between two cities.

In 1791, the major financial crisis would hit the United States in New York due to a scheme to manipulate the financial markets, which had no formal structure of any kind. Varick would have to increase officers to protect the guilty parties from mobs gathering outside the prison. This would lead to a group of merchants making the "Buttonwood Agreement” in 1792 which was the seed of the New York Stock Exchange.

In the summer of 1793 a yellow fever epidemic sent New Yorkers "fleeing north" to nearby healthful Greenwich Village. This epidemic would lead to the creation of what would become the New York City Department of Health.[14] This was timely as there were further epidemics in 1795, 1796, 1798, 1799, and 1800.

In 1794, public anger at Federalist political ideals spilled into the streets with Varick’s support of the Jay Treaty. An angry mob would almost physically run him out of the city.

Varick ran into more trouble when he tried to pressure the city’s 1,000 or so licensed workers — tavern keepers, grocers, butchers and cartmen, all of whom had licenses to work for the city — to vote for Federalist candidates. “This went completely contrary to the egalitarian sentiment of the time,” Dr. Hodges said. Varick’s heavy-handed ways, Dr. Hodges said, pushed many of the workers away from the Federalists, represented by Alexander Hamilton, and into the opposing Democratic-Republican faction, represented by Thomas Jefferson. In 1797, after losing his seat representing New York State in the U.S. Senate, Aaron Burr took control of Tammany Hall and used it to assail Varick for his use of marketing and tax-licensing fees. Burr would win the state's electoral vote in the 1800 presidential election leading to a wide sweeping rout of Federalist politicians across New York, including Varick in 1801.[15]

Post-Political Life

Founding of Jersey City

In 1804, Varick, who was out of office and politically unpopular in New York City, joined his friend Alexander Hamilton to create the Associates of the Jersey Company which would lay the groundwork for modern Jersey City through private development. The consortium behind the company were predominantly Federalists who, like Varick and Hamilton, had been swept out of power in the election of 1800 by Thomas Jefferson and other Democratic-Republicans. Large tracts of land in Paulus Hook were purchased by the company with the titles owned by Varick and his two cousins, Anthony Dey, a prominent attorney and major land owner, and Jacob Radcliff, a Justice of the New York Supreme Court who would later become mayor of New York City (twice) from 1810-1811 and again from 1815 - 1818. They laid out the city squares and streets that still characterize the neighborhood, giving them names also seen in Lower Manhattan or after war heroes (Grove, Varick, Mercer, Wayne, Monmouth and Montgomery among them).[16]

Prospect Hall in 1812
Prospect Hall in 1812

In 1816, Colonel Varick purchased lots on the north side of Essex Street and built Prospect Hall overlooking the Hudson River. The property was landscaped with lawns and gardens to the waterfront. Varick would become the figurehead of the continuing development of Jersey City, inviting luminary friends such as Major General Marquis de Lafayette to visit while touring America in 1824 for special Fourth of July celebrations. Varick would live at Prospect Hall until he died on July 30, 1831.

Founding of the American Bible Society

Varick was a founder of the American Bible Society in 1816.[17][18] He would later become president (succeeding John Jay) in 1828 until his death in 1831.

Personal life

He and his wife Maria Roosevelt, daughter of Isaac Roosevelt, were married on May 8, 1786 in New York City. His father-in-law was the patrilineal great-great-grandfather of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[19]

Varick and his wife initially resided at 52 Wall Street, then moved to a larger home on lower Broadway. They also owned a home at 11 Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. Their final home was Prospect Hall on Essex Street in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Death and burial

Varick died on July 30, 1831 at Prospect Hall and is interred at the First Reformed Dutch Church Cemetery in Hackensack, New Jersey.[20]


Varick Street (where he once owned property) in Manhattan in the City of New York, Varick Street in Jersey City, and the Town of Varick, New York, all bear his name.[21][22]

See also


  1. ^ Cushman, Paul (2010). Richard Varick : A Forgotten Founding Father : revolutionary war soldier, Federalist politician, mayor of New York. Amherst, MA: Modern Memoirs. ISBN 978-0-9772337-6-2.
  2. ^ "Guide to the Papers of Richard Varick 1743-1871 (Bulk 1775-1830) MS 655". New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  3. ^ a b Michael Bellesiles. "Richard Varick". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  4. ^ "Columbia Alumni News, Volume 8". Columbia University Press. 1917. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Cushman, Paul (2010). Richard Varick : A Forgotten Founding Father : revolutionary war soldier, Federalist politician, mayor of New York. Amherst, MA: Modern Memoirs. ISBN 978-0-9772337-6-2.
  6. ^ Lefkowitz, Arthur (2003). George Washington's Indispensable Men. Stackpole Books. ISBN 9780811768085. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  7. ^ Jameson, J. F.; Buel, J. W. (1900). American Reference Library: Encyclopedic dictionary of American Reference. American Society. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  8. ^ "Colonel Richard Varick (1753-1831)". Albany Institute of History and Art. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  9. ^ "Relates to General Richard Montgomery | Letter from Richard Varick to DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York, requesting repayment of cash he has advanced for expenditures relating to the Internment of the Remains of the late General Montgomery | The Met". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  10. ^ "Writings of Washington". New York Free Press. pp. 113–114. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  11. ^ "Richard Varick". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  12. ^ "Richard Varick". Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  13. ^ Marcus, Maeva; Perry, James R. (1985). The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800: Suits against states. Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231088725. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  14. ^ "John Jay and the Yellow Fever Epidemics (Part 1)". Coumbia University. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  15. ^ Chan, Sewell (2008). "Third Term No Charm, Historians Say". New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  16. ^ "Associates of the Jersey Company, 1804 Jersey City's Founding Fathers". Retrieved 18 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Richard Varick: A Forgotten Founding Father". Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  18. ^ Wosh, Peter J. (1994). Spreading the Word: The Bible Business in Nineteenth-century America. Cornell University Press. p. 16. ISBN 0801429285. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  19. ^ Whittelsey, Charles Barney (1902). The Roosevelt Genealogy, 1649-1902. Press of J.B. Burr & Company. p. 33. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  20. ^ Accessed November 22, 2017.
  21. ^ "Downtown Street Names and the Stories They Tell". Retrieved August 22, 2007.
  22. ^ Longoria, Patricia (25 May 2017). "The Dutch roots of Ithaca's Dey Street". The Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved 21 June 2017.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
John Lansing, Jr.
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Succeeded by
John Lansing, Jr.
Preceded by
James Duane
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
Edward Livingston
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Watts
Recorder of New York City
Succeeded by
Samuel Jones
Preceded by
Egbert Benson
New York State Attorney General
Succeeded by
Aaron Burr
This page was last edited on 12 August 2021, at 22:10
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