Robert H. Pruyn

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Robert H. Pruyn
Robert H. Pruyn, circa 1865
United States Minister Resident to Japan
In office
May 17, 1862 – April 28, 1865
Preceded byTownsend Harris
Succeeded byRobert B. Van Valkenburgh
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
In office
January 30, 1850-March 14, 1850
Preceded byNoble S. Elderkin
Succeeded byFerral C. Dininny
In office
January 3, 1854-December 31, 1854
Preceded byWilliam H. Ludlow
Succeeded byDeWitt C. Littlejohn
Member of the New York State Assembly from Albany County's 3rd District
In office
January 3, 1854-December 31, 1854
Preceded byWilliam W. Forsyth
Succeeded byAlexander Davidson
In office
January 4, 1848-December 31, 1852
Preceded byValentine Treadwell
Succeeded byWilliam W. Forsyth
Adjutant General of New York
In office
March 5, 1855 – January 1, 1857
Preceded byJohn Watts de Peyster
Succeeded byFrederick Townsend
Personal details
Born(1815-02-14)February 14, 1815
Albany, New York, US
DiedFebruary 26, 1882(1882-02-26) (aged 67)
Albany, New York, US
Resting placeAlbany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York
Jane Ann Lansing
(m. 1841; his death 1882)
RelationsGerrit Y. Lansing (father in law)
Children4 (including Robert)
EducationRutgers University (B.S., M.A.)
OccupationPolitician, lawyer, diplomat

Robert Hewson Pruyn (February 14, 1815 – February 26, 1882) was an American lawyer, militia general, diplomat, and politician from Albany, New York. He was most notable for his service as Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Adjutant General of New York, and United States Minister Resident to Japan.

Early life[edit]

Pruyn was born in Albany, New York on February 14, 1815, the son of Casparus F. and Ann (née Hewson) Pruyn. The Pruyn (pronounced "Prine") family of Albany, New York was one of the oldest and most esteemed Dutch families in New York, and at the time of Robert's birth there, had resided in Albany for over two centuries.[1]

Pruyn graduated from The Albany Academy, and received Bachelor of Arts (1833) and Master of Arts (1836) degrees from Rutgers University. He studied law with Abraham Van Vechten, was admitted to the bar, and practiced in Albany.[2]

Political, military, and diplomatic service[edit]

Pruyn served as Albany's corporation counsel and was a member of the city council. Active in the state militia, he was named Judge Advocate General in 1841, serving until 1846, and again in 1851.[3][4]

A political ally and close friend to William Henry Seward, he was a Whig member of the New York State Assembly (Albany Co., 3rd D.) in 1848, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852 and 1854.[5] On January 30, 1850, after Speaker Noble S. Elderkin left the Assembly to stay at home with his wife who was terminally ill, Pruyn was elected Speaker pro tempore.[2] He was again Speaker in 1854.[6] Governor Myron Clark appointed him Adjutant General of the New York National Guard, replacing John Watts de Peyster in 1855.[3][7][8] He achieved the rank of Brigadier General of the militia,[9] and was succeeded as adjutant general by Frederick Townsend.[10]

At the personal request of Seward, who was then Secretary of State, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him Minister to Japan in 1861, and he served in that capacity until 1865, when he returned to New York.[11][12][13] Japan–United States relations had only recently been established with the visits by Commodore Perry in 1852 to 1854.[11]

Pruyn's crowning achievement was the successful negotiation following the Shimonoseki bombardment.[14] He was considered highly successful in his dealings with the shōgun.[11][15][16] He also signed an agreement to allow shipwrecked Japanese sailors to be repatriated.[11]

Later career[edit]

He was awarded an LL.D. from Williams College in 1865 and served on the board of trustees.[2] He went on to become President of the National Commercial Bank and Trust of Albany, and was one of the founders of Albany Law School.[17]

In 1866, he was the unsuccessful Conservative Union candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York along with gubernatorial candidate, John T. Hoffman, who was then the mayor of New York City.[18]

In the Summer of 1869, he was illegally arrested with other Albany and Susquehanna Railroad executive members during Jay Gould and Jim Fisk's attempt to buy the railroad.[19]

Personal life[edit]

In 1841, Pruyn married Jane Ann Lansing (1811–1886), a member of another prominent Albany family. Her father, Gerrit Yates Lansing, was a U.S. Representative who served as the Chancellor of the University of the State of New York. Together, Robert and Jane were the parents of four children, including:[20]

  • Edward Pruyn (1843-1862)
  • Robert Clarence Pruyn (1847-1934), who was a prominent banker and leader of the American toy industry.[21]
  • Helen Lansing Pruyn (1849-1854)
  • Charles Lansing Pruyn (1852-1906)

He died suddenly in 1882 in Albany.[22] His remains are interred at Albany Rural Cemetery, Section 30, Lot 14.[23]

Electoral history[edit]

1866 General election results
Governor candidate Running Mate Party Popular Vote
Reuben E. Fenton Stewart L. Woodford Republican 366,315 (50.96%)
John Thompson Hoffman Robert H. Pruyn Conservative Union 352,526 (49.04%)


  1. ^ "A Guide to the Pruyn Family Papers, 1679-1978 Archived 2008-10-30 at the Wayback Machine". Albany Institute of History & Art. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c "Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs: Pruyn". Schenectady County Public Library. Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  3. ^ a b Allaben, p. 205
  4. ^ Seward, p. 535
  5. ^ Treat, p. 193
  6. ^ Findling, p. 427
  7. ^ Allaben, p. 304
  8. ^ The New York Almanac and Yearly Record. Mason Brothers: New York, 1857.
  9. ^ Hutchins, p. 400
  10. ^ Hugo, Francis M., Secretary of State of New York (1919). Manual for Use of the Legislature of the State of New York. Albany, NY: J. B. Lyon Company. p. 465.
  11. ^ a b c d Jean S. Olton, "Robert Hewson Pruyn: Enjoy to Japan 1862-1865," Town of Colonie, New York (November 1990).
  12. ^ Treat, p. 194
  13. ^ "ARRIVAL OF HON. ROBERT H. PRUYN". New York Times. December 14, 1865.
  14. ^ Shavit, p. 406
  15. ^ Stern, p. 159
  16. ^ Johnson & Howard, p. 424
  17. ^ "The History of Albany Law School Archived 2008-01-05 at the Wayback Machine". Albany Law School. Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  18. ^ The Conservative Union state convention opens in NYT on September 11, 1866
  19. ^ "Documents of the State of New York Volume 6 - Charges Against Justice George G. Barnard, and Testimony Thereunder, Before the Judiciary Committee of the Assembly". Weed, Parsons and Company, Printers. 1872. p. 3,6,7. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  20. ^ Sullivan, Robert G.; Reynolds, Cuyler. "Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs. Vol. I". Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs. pp. 74–76. Retrieved 14 August 2017.
  21. ^ "The embossing company". Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  22. ^ "THE HON. ROBERT H. PRUYN DEAD". New York Times. February 27, 1882.
  23. ^ Phelps, Henry P. (1893). The Albany Rural Cemetery: its Beauty, Its Memories. Albany, NY: Phelps & Kellogg. pp. 124–125.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

New York Assembly
Preceded by
Valentine Treadwell
New York State Assembly
Albany County, 3rd District

Succeeded by
Alexander Davidson
Preceded by
William W. Forsyth
New York State Assembly
Albany County, 3rd District

Succeeded by
Alexander Davidson
Political offices
Preceded by
Noble S. Elderkin
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Succeeded by
Ferral C. Dininny
Preceded by
William H. Ludlow
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Succeeded by
DeWitt Clinton Littlejohn
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Townsend Harris
U.S. Minister to Japan
Succeeded by
Robert B. Van Valkenburgh