Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Society Scandal: The "Strange" Story of Mrs. Adele Livingston Stevens Who Acquired the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

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During the 19th century, Mrs. Adele Livingston Sampson Stevens was one of the nation's wealthiest women. As a young girl she was educated at the Priory School for Girls in Pelham Manor and grew to love Pelham. When the Bolton family decided to close the school and sell Bolton Priory, Mrs. Stevens became the owner of the very home where she had attended the school for girls. She and her husband, Frederick W. Stevens, bought the Priory on August 8, 1883. Mrs. Stevens presented it to her daughter, Mrs. Frederick H. Allen, as a wedding gift and it remained in the Allen family for many years.

Mrs. Stevens was among the brightest society lights in 19th Century New York until she became involved in a scandalous affair with the married Marquie De Talleyrand Perigord. She abandoned her husband and children and was ostracized by New York Society. One report published in 1887 tells the story. It appears below.


PARIS. Jan. 26. - The Marquis de Talleyrand Perigord and Mrs. Adele Livingston Stevens were married in Paris on the 25th inst. At the instance of the Marquis, settlements were made by which Mrs. Stevens retains the absolute control of her property and the interests of her children are protected. Judge Pierrepont, of New-York, acted as her counsel. The civil ceremony took place at the Mairie and the religious ceremony was solemnized at the American Church, in the Rue de Berri, by the Rev. Dr. Hough. The Duc de Dino, father to the Marquis, has conferred upon his son, in honor of the bride, the right to bear the title of Duc.


It is now some 23 or 24 years since the announcement of the engagement and the quickly following marriage of Mr. Frederick W. Stevens and Miss Adele Sampson stirred the then comparatively small circle of New-York society. Mr. Stevens was a member of an old family long resident in New-York and on Long Island, and although one of the most prominent young society men of his day was not well off in this world's goods. A young lawyer with briefs yet to be won, and no hopes of family inheritance, his company was desired and sought for his excellent position, engaging qualities and handsome appearance and not for his possessions. Miss Sampson was the daughter of Josiah Sampson, a wealthy Connecticut manufacturer, and, while one of the great heiresses of the day, was comparatively little known in society. To a handsome presence and vivacious manners she added the charms of a superior and finished education, acquired at the well known Bolton Priory School near Pelham, Westchester County, and completed in Europe under the famous masters of the time. For the maiden ladies, the Misses Bolton, who managed the Priory School, Mrs. Stevens has always entertained the strongest affection, and on her last visit to this country, made under circumstances now to be related, she spent most of her time with them.

Miss Sampson brought to her husband so large an income as enabled the couple to take at once a foremost position among the society leaders and entertainers of the day. Society hastened to pay court to the handsome and wealthy couple, and their early married life was passed amid smiles and flowers. Four children were born to them, and the family was one of the best known in the metropolis. At the death of Mr. Sampson, Mrs. Stevens's father, his large property went almost entirely to her, and she was thus made one of the richest women in America. The dinners and other entertainments given by Mr. and Mrs. Stevens are still well remembered. At one of the former occurred the diamond ring episode in which there figured so prominently the grandson of a noted Secretary of the Treasury, and which has formed the theme of more stories told and printed, than any other incident in the annals of New-York society.

About 12 years ago Mrs. Stevens began the erection of the house No. 1 West Fifty-seventh-street, at the corner of Fifth-avenue, which is now owned by Secretary Whitney, and has become so well known to all New-Yorkers. It was one of the first to be built of the many superb mansions erected in the metropolis during the last decade, and excited the greatest curiosity and interest. Designed from an old French chateau, no expense was spared in the construction, or in its interior decorations and furnishings. One room was furnished entirely from the contents of an old Norman mansion, and is still considered in its way the most beautiful in New-York. At Newport, also, where the family spent their Summers, the Stevens villa, which is situated on the west side of Bellevue-avenue, a short distance south from the Ocean House, was one of the most luxurious in appointment and decoration, and was noted for the entertainments there given. In the Summer of 1880 or 1881 a ball was given there which surpassed in magnificence any former entertainment held in the fashionable watering place. The supper room was cooled by tons of ice arranged in a pyramid, at the rear of which calcium colored lights were placed, which, shining through the crystal mass, produced a rather beautiful effect.

So the years went on until about five years ago, early in the season, it was whispered, then rumored, and finally boldly stated that Mrs. Stevens's name had been stricken from off the society list, and that she had gone to Europe to join no less a person than the Marquis de Talley-rand-Perigord, leaving husband and children behind. It was then remembered that the Marquis, who himself was a married man, having married Miss Bessie Curtis, of the old Boston family of that name, and who had visited New-York and Newport in 1876 and again about 1881, had evinced so decided a preference for Mrs. Stevens's society that some gossip was provoked at the time. The fact that Mrs. Stevens, however, should have gone so far as to leave home and family for a Frenchman of no particular personal attractions, the Marquis being short and rather stout and decidedly ordinary-looking, and being moreover supposed to be deeply in debt, and a man having wife and family, occasioned the utmost sensation and surprise. After a few weeks it was learned that Mrs. Stevens had taken with her her two youngest children, little girls; the eldest child, Miss Daisy Stevens, and a son, Mr. Joseph Stevens, having remained with their father. The utmost sympathy was expressed for Mr. Stevens and his children, and they have retained this as well as the regard of their friends ever since, Miss Daisy Stevens being now one of the best known of New-York society girls.

Joining the Marquis de Perigord, in Paris, Mrs. Stevens traveled with him through a great part of Europe. It is said that she paid many of her lover's debts, and no apparent effort was made to conceal their relations. The action of the Marquis in leaving his wife and children created as great a scandal in Paris as Mrs. Stevens's flight had in New-York.

A year ago last Spring, Mrs. Stevens suddenly appeared in New-York, and her coming revived the whole matter. It was generally believed at the time that she endeavored to effect a reconciliation with her husband. Failing in this, it was also understood, she induced him to consent to her applying for a divorce, and to agree that he would not oppose her actions. Going to Newport, she had extensive alterations made to her villa there and caused it to be announced, it is said, that she intended entertaining. This report met with such an incredulous response that if she ever really had any such intention she soon abandoned it. She apploied for a divorce on the grounds of desertion and non-support, and her husband did not contest it, while, strange to relate, his own brother, Mr. Alexander Stevens testified in his sister-in-law's behalf. The complaint was so manifestly absurd that this action of Mr. Alexander Stevens has never been clearly understood. The divorce granted her, Mrs. Stevens returned to Europe, rejoined the Marquis, whose wife meanwhile obtained a divorce from him, and yesterday's marriage is the closing chapter in this strange history. Great surprise was occasioned by the fact that last year Miss Daisy Stevens, who is now again with her father, went abroad to visit her mother, and was with her for some time.

The Marquis de Talleyrand-Perigord, the hero of this international scandal, is considered a clever man. He is now about 45 years old, is a descendant of the great Talleyrand, and has written several books, among them an amusing sketch of America and the Americans."

Source: Married To Her Marquis, N.Y. Times, Jan. 27, 1887, p. 1.

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At 7:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I resently found an old photo album with a picture of Adele Livingston. the cdv is circa 1850, I wonder if this could be the same person.


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