Peter Van Ness was born in 1734, the son of Wilhelm and Gertrude Van Ness in Claverack, New York. Much of his childhood and early adult life remain a mystery. However, Peter did serve as an officer in the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). In the former he was appointed Colonel of the Ninth Albany Militia and saw action at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 which saw the surrender of British General John Burgoyne.
Peter started his career as a wheelwright, a person who makes or repairs wooden wheels. Around 1792, Peter became attached to a canal building project with the Northern Inland Lock Navigation Company. The project aimed to create a canal from the Hudson River to the finger lake region and beyond. Ultimately the project failed, but such an ambitious project aided in the development of the Erie Canal.
When it came to politics, he was in a long power struggle with the Van Rensselaers of the Hudson Valley. Van Ness was a member of the state convention that adopted the Federal Constitution, elected a senator from New York, and served as Justice of the Peace. He was appointed the first Chief Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Columbia County, where he owned an estate called Kleinrood. He had purchased the land around 1787 from the Van Alstyne family, who were British loyalists during the American Revolution. Here he constructed a large brick home in 1797, a status symbol for the time as masonry work was expensive. This large structure served as his primary residence until his death on December 21, 1804.
His household included his wife Elbertje (1743-1806) and 5 children, John Peter Van Ness (1769-1846), Gertrude P. Van Ness (1772-1852), Catherine Van Ness (1777-1864), William Peter Van Ness (1778-1826), and Cornelius Peter Van Ness (1782-1852). According to the 1790 Census, his household also included 10 servants, some enslaved. One of the enslaved, a man named George, would escape the family in 1804, mere months before Peter’s death. An escape notice was posted on October 15, 1804 which offered a $40 reward for his capture. It is unknown whether George maintained his freedom as no further record exists.
Upon his death, Kleinrood was divided up amongst his three sons. His eldest, John Peter, received an old stone house and 123 acres of land. William received 137 acres of land and the new brick home while Cornelius, his youngest son, received an undisclosed amount of land east of the Old Post Road near the property. Martin Van Buren would later purchase much of the Van Ness land, including the brick home, which he renamed Lindenwald.
*Peter had possibly married once prior, in 1763, to a Catherine Van Alen.
Last updated: November 18, 2020