Born in Ireland and died in New York but why does he Rest In Piece(s)?


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

Alexander Turney Stewart
(Public Domain)

Alexander Stewart was born on October 12, 1803 in Lisburn, County Antrim, Ireland. His father died shortly after his birth and by the time he was two years old he had a step-father. When his mother moved with his step-father to the United States young Alexander was left behind to be raised by his grandfather.

He attended a village school before being admitted to Mr Neely’s English Academy in 1814 and completed his formal education at Belfast Academical Institution. His grandfather died in 1816 leaving his thirteen year old grandson in the capable hands of Thomas Lamb. Lamb encouraged Stewart in the direction of gaining business experience and he was quickly employed as a clerk for a Belfast grocer. He abandoned his original ambition of becoming a Church of Ireland minister and by 1818 he had accumulated enough money to enable him to journey to New York.

His first job was in a private academy tutoring the sons of wealthy young men. While there he joined an Episcopal Church where he met Cornelia Mitchell Clinch who came from a wealthy family. When he received word to return to Ireland and collect his inheritance from his late grandfather he found himself pocketing approximately $10,000 a small fortune at the time. While there he purchased $3,000 worth of Irish lace to return to America and open up a dry-goods store on Broadway in New York City. On September 1, 1823 he married Cornelia. He was only twenty years old with a store he named:


(Public Domain)

Mr. Stewart turned out to be a genius in retail sales. His strategy was to sell his merchandise at well fixed and advertised prices, thus cutting out the process of customers haggling over prices a common practice at the time. He sold at affordable prices and usually several pennies off his competitors. By 1846 he built a new facility for his products and although not paying the most lucrative salary to his employees they were fiercely loyal to Mr. Stewart. In fact when Alexander Stewart died in 1876 six of his original twenty-four clerks still worked for him and were generously left in Stewart’s will more than $250,000 or in today’s dollars approximately $6 million.

The War Years

At almost sixty years of age when the war broke out and in the height of his career, Alexander Stewart was poised to make some money during the war. Highly regarded in the retail dry-goods market he went to Washington to offer his products and win a lucrative government contract. Brooks Brothers may have dressed the Union army officers with fine tailored uniforms but Stewart managed to snag himself a niche in the uniform market when he won a huge government contract to supply uniforms to the Union Army and Navy. {1}

So successful was he during 1862 he purchased and built his famous largest retail store in the world while acquiring controlling interests in many of the mills that manufactured his cloth and established offices and warehouses in six European countries. His store occupied a full city block located on Broadway and 10th Street and was referred to as the “Iron Palace”.


A.T. Stewart Retail Store
(Public Domain)

It was during these years he made a friend in a high place General Ulysses Grant and soon to be future President. Unfortunately his nomination to Secretary of Treasury in 1869 was never confirmed by the Senate thanks in large measure to Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner who discouraged the Senate not to override the 1789 act that did not allow “a merchant in active business from becoming secretary to the Treasury”. {1} Although many historians believed Stewart would have been an excellent selection for he had the admiration, respect and the “ear” of Grant. Meanwhile Stewart continued to build his fortune delving into the lucrative New York City real estate market.

As a couple the Stewarts gave back to the community generously. In 1869 he established Garden City on Long Island New York. where he:

“set out to create a place that embodied his ideals, his wisdom and his wealth. The widely known business genius purchased 10,000 acres of Hempstead Plains on Long Island. There, at almost 70 and with no children. Stewart began creating his legacy - his Garden City. One of America's earliest planned villages, Garden City was developed with wide avenues, hundreds of trees and shrubs, sixty well-built homes on spacious lots, a handsome hotel on a 30-acre park - all reached via its own railroad line, A.T. Stewart's Central Railroad of Long Island.” {5}

When he died at the age of seventy-two he was considered one of the wealthiest New Yorker’s behind John Jacob Astor and John D. Rockefeller.

The Kidnapping of A.T. Stewart

Upon his death he was survived by his wife Cornelia now seventy-three years of age. Two children born to the couple died in infancy. He was buried in a temporary vault at St. Mark's-in-the-Bouwerie while a new final resting place was being built in Garden City.

Over two years after his burial on November 7, 1878 as the St. Mark’s assistant sexton arrived for his duties he could not believe what his eyes were seeing. First he sees a large hole opened over the vault that held Stewart's remains with a battered empty coffin left behind. There were no bones, the silver name-plate had been pulled off, the casket had no knobs or handles and even a piece of the velvet lining was missing. But the story will get stranger when in January 1879 Cornelia received a letter from Canada. The letter written by “Henry C. Romaine” offered to return her dearly beloved remains if she would pay $200,000.00.

When she requested proof of their claim she promptly received the silver knobs and name-plate. Mrs. Stewart worked with her lawyer or perhaps one of her grand-nephews to carry out the demands. The courier was met by a masked horseman who handed him another piece of proof the velvet piece of cloth and the exchange was completed. The masked kidnapper rode off into oblivion with the money and Mrs. Stewart received a bag a bones.

Cornelia decided to bury the bones without ever determining forensically if they may have actually been her husbands remains. Many people expressed the wish she submit the bones for examination for the prevailing belief was the kidnapper would not have held on to the bones for several months while the transaction was being formulated. Cornelia was mortified over the entire incident and only wanted to put it behind her so she placed the bones in another beautiful casket and buried them at the family vault now completed at Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, New York. Legend has it that Mrs. Stewart rigged his casket with alarms to assure he would not be disturbed again. To this date he (or whomever/whatever) rests in death with Cornelia Stewart.


A Memorial Marker for the “Stewarts”
their burial site is hidden
per the wishes of Mrs. Stewart
Find a Grave (*)

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2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Apr 18, 2019
I have never before heard of a bone-napping. What people will do for money!
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