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Robert H. Pruyn of Albany, New York. An Ambassador, militia General and Speaker of the New York State Assembly.

Robert Hewson Pruyn (February 14, 1815–February 26, 1882) was an American lawyer, General, diplomat, and politician from Albany, New York.

Political, military, and diplomatic service

The Pruyn 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 earned an A.B. in 1833 and Master in 1836 from Rutgers Academy and began the practice of law in Albany.[2] 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, who was allowed to hand pick his successor.[3][7][8] He achieved the rank of Brigadier General of the militia.[9]

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.[10][11][12] Japan–United States relations had only recently been established with the visits by visits by Commodore Perry in 1852 to 1854.[10]

Pruyn's crowning achievement was the successful negotiation following the Shimonoseki bombardment.[13] He was considered highly successful in his dealings with the Shogun.[10][14][15] He also signed an agreement to allow shipwrecked Japanese sailors to be repatriated.[10]

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.[16] In 1866, he was the Conservative Union candidate for Lieutenant Governor of New York.[17]

His son, Robert C. Pruyn, was prominent banker and one of the most influential leaders of the American toy industry.[18]

He died suddenly in 1882 in Albany.[19] His remains are interred at Albany Rural Cemetery.[20]

Electoral history

1866 General election results
Governor candidate Running Mate Party Popular Vote
Reuben E. Fenton

Stewart L. Woodford


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". Albany Institute of History & Art. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs: Pruyn". Schenectady County Public Library. Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 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. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Jean S. Olton, "Robert Hewson Pruyn: Enjoy to Japan 1862-1865," Town of Colonie, New York (November 1990).
  11. Treat, p. 194
  12. "ARRIVAL OF HON. ROBERT H. PRUYN". New York Times. December 14, 1865.
  13. Shavit, p. 406
  14. Stern, p. 159
  15. Johnson & Howard, p. 424
  16. "The History of Albany Law School". Albany Law School. Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  17. The Conservative Union state convention opens in NYT on September 11, 1866
  18. "The embossing company". Retrieved March 14, 2008.
  19. "THE HON. ROBERT H. PRUYN DEAD". New York Times. February 27, 1882.
  20. Political Graveyard, Pruyn, Robert Hewson (1815-1882) — also known as Robert H. Pruyn]


Further reading

External links

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
Chauncey Depew

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