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, October 06, 2015

Benjamin F. Corlies, A Founder of Pelham Heights

One aspect of the history of Pelham Heights about which little has been written is the biographical data for Pelham Heights co-founder Benjamin Franklin Corlies.  Much has been written about the co-founder of Pelham Heights, Benjamin L. Fairchild.  There is a great deal of information about Fairchild because he served many terms in Congress.  Information about Corlies, however, is a little more difficult to locate.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog assembles biographical data about Corlies.  

Benjamin Franklin Corlies was a co-developer and co-founder of the Village of Pelham, known today as Pelham Heights.  He was a Pelham Manor resident who lived in a home along the Esplanade that no longer stands and once was called "Myne Owne."  He also owned an estate in the Adirondacks that he named "Hurricane."  Benjamin F. Corlies is the man after whom Corlies Avenue is named in Pelham Heights.  

Corlies was born on November 23, 1833 in the Village of Aurora, part of today's Town of Ledyard in Cayuga County, New York.  By the age of 22, Corlies resided in Ward 7 of New York City, according to the New York State Census of 1855.  See New York State Census 1855, New York County, New York City, Ward 07, District E-D-1, p. 46 of 85 pp. (Original Data from Census of the State of New York for 1855, Microfilm, New York State Archives, Albany, NY) (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access link).  His passport application filed in 1882 indicates that he was 48 years old, five feet five inches tall, with a high forehead, gray eyes, Roman nose, medium mouth, a round chin, brown hair, fair complexion and a "medium" face.  See U.S. Passport Applications, 1882-1887 for Benj. F. Corlies (Jun. 14, 1882) (Microfilm Roll 250 - 01 Jun 1882 - 30 Jun 1882, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.) (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access link).

Benjamin F. Corlies co-founded the stationery, printing, and lithographing business first known as B. F. Corlies & Macy and later known as Corlies, Macy & Co., Inc. in 1857.  By 1860 the firm had taken the form of a co-partnership.  The business was extraordinarily successful and was incorporated in 1895.  Benjamin F. Corlies withdrew from the old firm effective September 13, 1889, before its incorporation.  See Copartnerships [Legal Notice], The Evening Post [NY, NY], Sep. 18, 1889, p. 6, col. 6.  Some authorities erroneously state that he withdrew from the firm in 1885.  See Corlies, Macy & Co., Inc. Old Established Stationers. -- Unique Methods of Advertising. -- Well Equipped Manufacturing Plant, Walden's Stationer and Printer, Mar. 25, 1910, p. 8, col. 1 & p. 12, cols. 1-2 (NY, NY:  Mar. 25, 1910) ("Benjamin F. Corlies withdrew from the old firm about 1885.").

Benjamin Franklin Corlies led a fascinating life.  Not long after he established his printing business, the Civil War began.  On September 2, 1861, a man named J. K. Millner of Danville, Virginia approached Corlies' firm with what was thought to be a rather ordinary order for the lithographing of 1,000 sheets of bills for the Bank of Pittsylvania, Chatham, Virginia at a total charge of $135.  Without giving any thought to the matter, the firm executed the order in the ordinary course of its business and delivered the bills on September 9, 1861.  

Milner, it turned out, was a notorious Confederate supporter who arranged the manufacture of 40,000 to 50,000 rifled-barrel rifles but was arrested as he made a payment for the rifles.  Within days, federal authorities also arrested Corlies for his dealings with Milner and imprisoned him at Fort Lafayette, an island coastal fortification in the Narrows of New York Harbor, built offshore from Fort Hamilton at the southern tip of what is now Bay Ridge in Brooklyn.

Painting Depicting Fort Lafayette Where Benjamin F. Corlies
was Held Prisoner, as Seen from the Brooklyn Shore with
Denyse's Wharf on the Left.  Source:  "Fort Lafayette" in
Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia (visited Oct. 4, 2015).

Corlies' co-partner, Charles A. Macy and several others affiliated with the firm and with Corlies filed a statement with William H. Seward, Secretary of State, on September 14, 1861 pleading for the release of Corlies and saying that the bank bills were printed "without any intention or supposition on the part of our firm that we were violating the laws of the United States" and emphasizing that "We have never feld that our loyalty should be for a moment questioned, having rendered all the aid in our power since the rebellion first commenced to sustain the Government."  Macy further noted in the statement:

"I as a member of the Seventh Regiment New York State Militia [went] with the regiment to Washington when ordered there, and during my absence Mr. Corlies sent our porter, Theodore Craft, with the Eighth Regiment New York State Militia, our firm (with moderate means, having recently commenced business) paying his salary during the term of his enlistment for three months and hiring a person to fill his place while away."

On September 17, 1861, after receipt of the pleas for release of Benjamin F. Corlies from the island prison at Fort Lafayette, on September 17, 1861, Secretary of State William H. Seward directed that Corlies "be discharged upon his taking the oath of allegiance."  Corlies took that oath the following day and was release.  See "Case of Messrs. Milner, Walker, Burton and Corlies" in The War of the Rebellion:  A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies -- Additions and Corrections to Series II - Volume II To Be Inserted in the Volume, pp. 749-66 (Washington, D.C.:  Government Printing Office, 1902).  

A few years later, Benjamin F. Corlies was involved in a bizarre "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" situation.  He and another man were sued by Commodore Richard W. Meade who accused them of conspiring to have him committed to the Bloomingdale Asylum for "lunacy" as part of a scheme to get him out of the way so that a suitor of his daughter to whom he objected could marry his daughter.  Meade sought $200,000 in damages.  Shortly after Meade filed his lawsuit, "an order of arrest, in $5,000 bail, was granted on the 24th inst. [May 24, 1869]" and Benjamin F. Corlies and Charles A. Meigs were "arrested and gave bail."  See COMMODORE MEADE -- The Commodore Asks $200,000 Damages for False Imprisonment, N. Y. Times, May 30, 1869.  Research so far has not revealed the resolution of the lawsuit.

Benjamin F. Corlies married Susan Meigs (born on Dec. 1, 1839), a daughter of Charles Austin Meigs and Julia Augusta Van Zandt.  In 1885, Corlies left the firm of B.F. Corlies & Macy.  Living in Pelham Manor, he became involved in buying and developing tracts of land in Pelham Manor and in Pelham Heights.  To read more about his involvement, with Benjamin L. Fairchild, in the formation and development of the Village of Pelham, now known as Pelham Heights, see Mon., Oct. 5, 2015:  A Brief History of the Founding of Pelham Heights, Once the Village of Pelham.

In his later years, Corlies and his wife, the former Susan Meigs, traveled extensively overseas.  Corlies was interested in social work and served as a trustee for the Relief of the Destitute Blind.  He was an art aficianado and was actually elected as a fellow in the National Academy of Design.  He also was among the founders of the National Arts Club.  He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce of New York and a member of the Monmouth County Historical Society.  (His family was a part of the old Quaker settlement of Red Bank, N.J.)  

Corlies became ill late in life and lived abroad for a time for health reasons.  A Pelham Manor friend of his, William B. Randall, continued to represent his interests and facilitate the sale of the last remaining lots owned by Corlies in Pelham Heights.  

On Sunday, January 25, 1914, while in Pelham, Benjamin F. Corlies died in his home.  He was survived by his wife, Susan.  Two days later a brief obituary appeared in The New York Times.  It read:

"Benjamin F. Corlies.

Benjamin F. Corlies, founder of the firm of Corlies, Macy & Co., died at his home in Pelham Manor, on Sunday, in his eighty-first year.  Mr. Corlies retired from business some twenty-five years ago, after which he purchased large tracts of land in Pelham and Pelham Manor, and became a pioneer in the development of those villages."

Source:  Benjamin F. Corlies, N.Y. Times, Jan. 27, 1914.  

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Below are a few items relating to Benjamin F. Corlies.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Announcement of Formation of Stationery, Printing, and
Lithographing Co-Partnership of Benjamin F. Corlies and 
Charles A. Macy, Jr.  The Firm Had Existed In Another
Form for a Few Years Before This.  Source:  [Untitled in the 
"COPARTNERSHIPS" Section], Morning Courier
And New-York Enquirer, Nov. 23, 1860,
Vol. LVIII, No. 11,318, p. 1, col. 1.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

"THE SUBSCRIBERS HAVE THIS DAY FORMED A co-partnership for the purpose of transacting a general Stationery, Printing and Lithographing business at No. 31 Nassau street.

The style of our firm to be B. F. CORLIES & MACY.  

The said Partnership to commence on the first day of October, 1860, and to expire on the 30th day of September 1862.


New York, Oct. 1, 1860.


Commodore Meade Sues His Son-in-Law and Brother-in-Law for False Imprisonment -- Damages Laid at $200,000 -- Affidavits in the Case.

The case of Commodore Richard W. Meade, which created so much excitement last fall, and in the satisfactory termination of which the 'EAGLE' took such a prominent part, is now again before the Courts in New York.

It will be remembered by the readers of the EAGLE, that in October last, Commodore Meade was arrested on the complaint of Benjamin F. Corlies, who charged him with having threatened to take his life.  He was taken before a Police Justice who took bail for his good behavior, and was leaving the Court, when he was re-arrested, and on the certificate of a Tombs lawyer, was incarcerated in the Bloomingdale's Lunatic Asylum.  Corlies had been paying attention to a daughter of Commodore Meade, against the desire of the latter, who had forbidden him to visit the house.  During the incarceration of Commodore Meade in the Lunatic Asylum, however, Corlies got mariied to his daughter, and the Commodore claims that the plot was concocted to get him out of the way.  How long he might have remained in the Lunatic Asylum, had not the case been taken up by the EAGLE, it is hard to say, but it is certain that when, through the public attention being drawn to the matter by this paper, the Commodore was brought before Judge Sutherland on a writ of habeas corpus, he was pronounced perfectly sane, and discharged from custody.  He now sues Mr. Meigs and Mr. Corlies for damages in the sum of $200,000 for false imprisonment, and the following affidvaits have been taken in the case.

The defendants have put in no answer as yet.  The case will excite a good deal of interest when it comes to trial.


Richard W. Meade agt. Charles A. Meigs and Benjamin F. Corlies, City and county of New York, ss. Richard W. Meade, the plaintiff in this action, being duly sworn, says:  That on or about the 13th day of October, 1868, at the city of New York, the above named defendants caused the plaintiff to be arrested by a police officer, upon a false and fabricated charge of disorderly conduct, and of threatening to shoot the said Corlies, and to be taken before the Police Justice of said city, and to give bonds to keep the peace; that immediately upon the giving of said bonds, the defendants wrongfully and maliciously caused the plaintiff to be again arrested and taken in charge by a police officer, and to be conveyed in charge of said officer to the Lunatic Asylum of Bloomingdale, upon a false, unfounded, and malicious charge of insanity, and then and there to be taken in charge by the physicians and officers of said Asylum, and to be stripped of his money, amounting to more than five hundred dollars, and of various valuable letters and papers upon his person, none of which property has since been restored to him, and to be detained, confined and imprisoned in said Lunatic Asylum, and against his will, for the space of fifty-eight days, on such false and malicious charges, during all which time he was deprived of free intercourse with his friends, altogether prevented from attending to his necessary business, and subjected to great physical and mental suffering; that the plaintiff was afterwords brought in custody, before one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of this State, charged by said defendants with lunacy or insanity, and, after examination into said charge, said Justice dismissed the same, and caused the plaintiff to be discharged out of custody.

That the plaintiff is about to commence, by the summons hereto annexed, an action in this Court against said Charles A. Meigs and Benjamin F. Corlies upon the cause of action above stated.


Sworn to before me this 6th day of April, 1869, JOHN BUTCHER, Notary Public, New York county.


SUPREME COURT -- Richard W. Meade vs. Charles A. Meigs and Benjamin F. Corlies -- City and County of New York. -- Joseph L. Smallwood, of the City of New York, being duly sworn, deposes and says, that on the 13th day of October, 1868, the defendant Meigs, accompanied by a police officer, came to deponent's place of business, No. 10 Beaver street, in this city, and said officer then and there arrested the above plaintiff and took him to the Police Court at the Tombs.  That said arrest was made upon a warrant, and sued upon the complaint of said Corlies charging that Meade with disoderly conduct on the 8th of said October, and with having then threatened to shoot said Corlies.

That at the time of said arrest, said officer informed deponent, that the said Meigs had told him it was the intention to have said Meade confined as a lunatic.  That deponent also went to said Police Court for the purpose of giving bail for said Meade, if bail should be required on said charge; that both of the defendants were present at the time in said Court; that the Police Justice then required said Meade to give bail in the sum of $500 to keep the peace for twelve months and deponent then gave such bail.

That immediately upon the giving of such bail the defendant, Meigs, spoke to said justice in a low tone, and said justice then ordered Meade, who was about leaving the room, to be seated, and sent an officer of the Court for a physician in the Tombs; that said Meade was then taken into another room to be examined by physicians as to his sanity, and deponent left the Court room.  That the defendant Corlies then came out followed by the deponent, and said to him, 'I am very sorry that I was obliged to take this course, but I was urged to do it by Mrs. Meade and Mr. Meigs, (meaning the defendant Meigs) but I had no fear of the Commodore,' (meaning the plaintiff).

Deponent further says that on the following day (October 14), the defendant Meigs came to deponent's place of business and desired a private interview with deponent; that said Meigs in a conversation then had with deponent, admitted that he was concerned in procuring the arrest of said Meade and his confinement as a lunatic, and that a part of the object in so doing was that the marriage of the daughter of said Meade might take place without his interference to prevent the same.  


Sworn before R. H. ROCHESTED, Notary Public.


James Ogilvie of the City of New York debing duly sworn deposes and says that he is Superintendent of one of the halls of the Bloomingdale Lunatic Asylum and has been in that position for the period of about eight months; that he is acquainted with Commodore Richard W. Meade and has known him since the year 1867; that deponent formed his acquaintance at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at a time when deponent was Acting Master in the U.S. Navy.  Deponent further says that he has had frequent opportunities to learn the personal characteristics and mental condition of said Meade since said acquaintance commenced, and that nothing which deponent ever saw in the conduct, or conversation of said Meade was not of perfectly sound mind.  

Deponent further says that he well recollects the time when said Meade was brought to said Bloomingdale Asylum, in October, 1868, upon a charge of lunacy, and that said Meade, during all the time of his confinement in said Asylum, was in the Hall which was under the superintendence of deponent.

That during all the time of said Meade's confinement, as aforesaid, deponent had daily, and frequently, hourly opportunities of judging of the mental condition of said Meade, and deponent says that said Meade, during all said period, was in deponent's judgment, and to the best of his knowledge and belief, perfectly sane and in the full exercise of his senses.


Sworn before

JOHN BUTCHER, Notary Public."


*   *   *
Benjamin F. Corlies

Benjamin F. Corlies died at his home, in Pelham Manor, N. Y., Sunday, January 25, in his eighty-first year.  He was the founder of Corlies, Macy & Company, commercial stationers and manufacturers, but has not been actively engaged in the business of that firm for nearly twenty-five years.  Since his retirement from the stationery field he purchased large tracts of land in Pelham and Pelham Manor, and took an important part in the development of those villages.  He spent a good deal of his time abroad and at his estate in the Adirondacks, which is known as 'Hurricane.'

Mr. Corlies was interested in social work and was a trustee for the Relief of the Destitute Blind.  His delight in art is shown by his election as a fellow in the National Academy of Design and he was one of those who founded the National Arts Club.  He was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce of New York and was enrolled in the Monmouth County Historical Society.  His family was a part of the old Quaker settlement of Red Bank, N.J.  He is survived by his wife, who was formerly Susan Meigs."

Source:  OBITUARY . . . Benjamin F. Corlies, American Stationer, Jan. 31, 1914, Vol. LXXV, No. 5, p. 24, col. 1 (NY and Chicago, Jan. 31, 1914).  

Detail from 1910 Bromley Map Showing Pelham Heights.
Map Was Created About the Same Time as the Articles
About Pelham Heights that Appear Immediately Below.
in Bromley, George W. & Bromley, Walter S., Atlas
of Westchester County, New York, Volume 1, From Actual
Surveys and Official Plans by George W. and Walter S.
Bromley and Co., 147 N. Fifth St., Philadephia, 1910, p. 22
(Philadelphia, Pa:  G.W. Bromley & Co. 1910).
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

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I have written about the fascinating history of Pelham Heights on many occasions.  For a few examples, see:

Mon., Oct. 05, 2015:  A Brief History of the Founding of Pelham Heights, Once the Village of Pelham.

Mon., Apr. 14, 2014:  Early History of Pelham Heights Published in 1895.

Tue., Jan. 21, 2014:  Early History of Pelham Heights: "Then Was Formed The Idea That Gave Pelham Heights Its Birth"

Thu., Jul. 16, 2009:  Village of Pelham Trustees Grant Franchise Necessary for the Pelham Manor Trolley that Inspired the Toonerville Trolley.  

Fri., Dec. 07, 2007:  Another Biography of Congressman Benjamin Fairchild of Pelham, a Founder of Pelham Heights.  

Thu., Dec. 06, 2007:  Biography of John F. Fairchild, Engineer of the Pelham Heights Company During the 1890s.  

Fri., Sep. 28, 2007:  When Incorporated, The Original Village of Pelham Needed More Elected Officials Than it Had Voters.  

Tue., Aug. 15, 2006:  Another Biography of Benjamin L. Fairchild of Pelham Heights.

Fri., Apr. 22, 2005:  Benjamin L. Fairchild of Pelham Heights -- A Notable Pelham Personage.  

Bell, Blake A., Early History of Pelham Heights, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 32, Aug. 13, 2004, p. 9, col. 1.

Bell, Blake A., Pelham and The 1889 Wreck of the Steamship Ancon, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIV, Issue 7, February 18, 2005, p. 10, col. 1.

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