James Caldwell
Family Papers, 1795-1915; bulk 1802-1836


Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Gift of Steadman Seay, Esperance, N.Y., April 1992
Processed By: Regina Berry, Student Assistant, University at Albany, September 2015

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Biographical Note:

James Caldwell (1747-1829) was a successful retail merchant and innovator in Albany, New York, and one of the early developers of the Lake George area. He was born in Presbyterian northwest Ireland, which was becoming increasingly Catholic. When he was in his twenties, he and his brother, Joseph, immigrated to America, settling for a time in Philadelphia and learning the retail trade. Sensing greater opportunity inland, the brothers moved to Albany and began a successful grocery store business. 

James married Elizabeth Barnes, from Philadelphia, in 1774 and the couple had 11 children, including a son William (1776-1848), who became his business partner and successor.  Unfortunately, Elizabeth and nine of their children pre-deceased James.           

The American Revolution provided the brothers with the chance to expand their operations.  When Joseph left the business, James used his capital to create a business of stores, farms, mills, docks and a warehouse along the Hudson River. This allowed him to expand beyond Albany, to Bennington, Vermont, and to Montreal. He used some of his profits to invest in land in Albany and other New York counties and beyond.  In 1787, he purchased over 1,500 acres of land along the shores of Lake George in Warren County, New York.  By 1810 this purchase had become the Town of Caldwell. (The name was changed to Lake George in 1962). 

By the end of the 1700s, Caldwell was head of a New York-based marketing empire that produced and distributed numerous goods, including tobacco and snuff, to frontier communities in the northeastern United States and in Canada. To be more centrally located for his businesses, he moved his headquarters to Warren County in the early 1800s.  He built a mansion on the lakeshore and encouraged development of the community. Thereafter he split his time between Albany and Caldwell, while his son, William, began to take over parts of the business.

When Elizabeth died in 1824, Caldwell retired. Some of his businesses were in decline by that point as was Caldwell’s health. He died in Albany in February 1829 at the age of eighty-three. 
His grave, and that of his wife and several of his children, is in Caldwell Cemetery, Lake George, New York.

For more information, see: “James Caldwell: Immigrant Entrepreneur” by Tricia Barbagallo.

Scope and Content Note:

These papers consist chiefly of a small amount of correspondence, business accounts and land titles related to Caldwell’s settlement of the Town of Caldwell in Warren County, New York.  A few papers relate to his son, William Caldwell. Most of the names in the documents are people from the Lake George area with whom Caldwell conducted business. A few items are from the late 1800s and early 1900s and relate to property owned by Caldwell descendants, such as Eliza Caldwell McGillis, the granddaughter of James Caldwell, who inherited his “Mansion Property” when her father William died in 1848. Eliza passed away in 1893. Several court cases involving her heirs are documented in reports of the New York State Court of Appeals.

Box and Folder List:

Box Folder Description
1 1 Correspondence and account papers of James Caldwell and John Simpson, 1802-1820 (10 items)
1 2 Retail order and account statements of Caldwell customers, Lake George, New York, 1804-1812 (10 items)
1 3 Correspondence with John Thurman and Sam Lush re: mortgages, 1806-1808
(4 items)
1 4 Land purchase papers of James Caldwell, Lake George, New York, 1807-1822, (including an 1890 copy of a document from 1814) (9 items)
1 5 Land transaction papers between James Caldwell and John Radcliff, 1817-1819
(11 items) (Also see EL 1 for related material)
1 6 Letters and subpoenas for a land dispute case between James Caldwell, John Simpson and the Van Rensselaer family, Bolton, New York, 1819 (5 items)
1 7 Account statements sent to William Caldwell, 1822, 1836 (2 items)
1 8 “Persons able to labor on highways,” Town of Caldwell, New York, 1823-1824, 1835-1836 (4 items)
1 9 Caldwell, New York, Commissioner of Highways. Reports and town receipts, 1836-1837, 1846-1848 (5 items)
1 10 Letter to Dr. [Theodoric Romeyn] Beck (son-in-law) to James Caldwell, n.d.
(1 item)
1 11 Miscellaneous Caldwell, New York, town papers, 1855, 1891, 1900-1915 (6 items):
  1. Letter: Daniel Gale, Caldwell, [N.Y.] to Judge Parmalee, regarding a survey of the fort grounds, January 31, [18]55
  2. “Mrs. McGillis taxes for the year 1891 in the town of Caldwell,” ca. 1891 (Eliza McGillis was the daughter of William Caldwell and granddaughter of James Caldwell)
  3. Deed: Catherine R. Matthews and Anne S. Van Cortlandt of Croton-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York, sold to the People of the State of New York, a tract of land known as the Garrison Ground, for $5000.00, July 16, 1900
  4. “Ground Rents,” accounting sheet, marked McGillis, listing names and amounts, December 5, 1900
  5. Document appointing Elmer J. West as executor for the joint will of Nelson and Jane Shaw, July 11, 1910
  6. Letter: Leonard Manchester, Lake George, New York, to Mr. West, offering to purchase two lots of land, June 9, 1915
EL 1 Land title and insurance papers for Caldwell, New York, properties, 1795, 1817
(4 items):
  1. Lease agreement between Jeremiah van Rensselaer of Albany, New York, and Job Harris of Washington County, New York, a farmer, of 94½ acres of land on the west side of Lake George for an annual rent of 17 bushels of wheat, March 10, 1795
  2. Insurance policy from Albany Insurance Company to John Radcliff, of Caldwell, [N.Y.], for $2,100 upon property belonging to James Caldwell, June 3, 1817
  3. Deed for sale by James and Elizabeth Caldwell of Albany, [N.Y.] to Jane Radcliff of the town of Redhook, Dutchess County, New York, of approximately 90 acres of land in the town of Caldwell, for $5,500.00, May 1, 1817
  4. Deed for sale by John and Elizabeth Radcliff of Redhook, Dutchess County, New York, to James Caldwell of Albany, of approximately 90 acres of land in the town of Caldwell, for $4,500.00, May 1, 1817
Last Updated: May 24, 2021