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Ambrose Kingsland

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Ambrose Kingsland
1887 portrait by Daniel Huntington based on an earlier original.
71st Mayor of New York City
In office
Preceded byCaleb Smith Woodhull
Succeeded byJacob Aaron Westervelt
Personal details
BornMay 24, 1804
New York City, New York
DiedOctober 13, 1878(1878-10-13) (aged 74)
New York City, New York
Political partyWhig
SpouseMary Lovett
Parent(s)Cornelius Kingsland
Abigail Cock Kingsland

Ambrose Cornelius Kingsland (May 24, 1804 – October 13, 1878) was a wealthy sperm oil merchant who served as the 71st mayor of New York City from 1851 to 1853. In 1851, he initiated the legislation that eventually led to the construction of Central Park.[1]

Early life[edit]

Kingsland was born on May 24, 1804, in New York City. He was the son of Cornelius Kingsland (1768–1815) and Abigail (née Cock) Kingsland (1771–1854).[2] His siblings included Daniel Cock Kingsland (b. 1798), Rebecca Kingsland Sutton (b. 1800), Jane Kingsland Rogers (b. 1802), Clara Ada Kingsland High (b. 1806).

He was a member of the old New Jersey Kingsland family who had for nearly 200 years lived in and around Belleville, New Jersey.[3] His maternal grandparents were Isaac Cock (1741–1811) and Charity (née Haight) Cock. His paternal grandparents were Stephen Kingsland and Jane (née Corson) Kingsland.[4] He was the uncle of William M. Kingsland, who owned 1026 Fifth Avenue.[5][6]


A successful merchant, Kingsland built businesses in grocery dry goods, sperm oil, shipping and real estate. He held public office as the 71st mayor of New York City from 1851 to 1853, the first mayor to be elected to a two-year term.[3] In 1851, he initiated the legislation that eventually led to the construction of Central Park.[7][8]


Kingsland began his career in 1820, in partnership with his brother Daniel C. Kingsland, as a general merchant and commission business, D & A Kingsland, at 49 Broad Street, then 5 Broad Street.[9] The business expanded into sperm oil and international trade. D & A Kingsland operated whaling ships and owned several noteworthy clipper ships, including Typhoon and Western World, operating the Empire Line between New York and Liverpool and the Third Line of New Orleans packets, and entering the China trade around 1850.[1] The firm became D.A. Kingsland & Sutton in 1843, then A. C. Kingsland and Sons, located at No. 55 Broadway in lower Manhattan.

Public Office / Mayoralty[edit]

Kingsland was appointed a Commissioner of the Croton Aqueduct in 1848. During the year he held that position the Croton Aqueduct High Bridge commenced operation and the proposal was made to the city to purchase ground for a large new reservoir immediately north of the existing reservoir located at the center of Manhattan.[10] This new reservoir was to become a factor in the creation of Central Park.

In 1850 he was nominated as the Whig candidate for Mayor of New York. Kingsland had little political experience and had not previously held elective office. His nomination was part of a concerted initiative undertaken by New York’s business community to mobilize behind a “Union ticket” promoting the Compromise of 1850 as critical to New York’s future prosperity.[11] New Yorkers’ apprehensions about the nation’s growing disunity, and Kingsland’s high standing in contrast with doubts about the integrity of his Democratic opponent, Fernando Wood, contributed to Kingsland’s election by almost 4,000 votes over Wood.[12]

Mayor Kingsland's proposal for a Park "on a scale . . . worthy of the City"[edit]

Since the mid-1840s, articles and editorials had promoted a “great park” in uptown Manhattan, to remedy the inadequacy of Manhattan’s oppressed collection of small downtown parks; to preserve a large swath of greenspace for health and recreation before the opportunity was lost to imminent uptown development; to create a park that would put New York on a par with elegant European cities and their great parks.

Both candidates in the 1850 mayoral elections voiced the need for such a park. On May 5, 1851, Mayor Kingsland sent to the Common Council a message setting forth the necessity and benefits of a large uptown park, proposing that a sum be appropriated to procure a park "of sufficient magnitude" to "become the favorite resort of all classes", that "the establishment of such a park would be a lasting monument to the wisdom . . .of its founders".[13] Kingsland's proposal was the first official step in a tortuous two-year process leading to the State legislation that authorized the creation of Central Park. The proposal, that public monies be appropriated to create a large urban park, was a conceptual novelty.[8] Its eventual outcome – the expenditure of nearly $15 million[14](about five times the entire city’s 1851 budget), including the purchase of 760 acres out of one of the nation’s most expensive urban real estate markets, to create the nation’s first large landscaped public park,[15] was revolutionary.

Kingsland’s proposal did not specify a location, other than that it should be "in the northern section of the island".[13] Ever since William Cullen Bryant’s seminal 1844 Evening Post editorial, calling for "a new park", suggested the 160-acre Jones Wood (situated on the East River between 66th and 75th streets), subsequent new park advocates formed a consensus around Jones Wood as the best site for such a park.[16] When the Common Council’s Committee on Lands and Places, having endorsed Kingsland’s proposal, chose this location, the pro-park press heartily cheered it.[17][18] The larger, more centrally located alternative option had not yet surfaced.

Legislative action was quick, despite strong opposition from fiscal conservatives and downtown commercial interests. The Common Council approved the committee’s choice of Jones Wood and sought State enabling legislation. Albany enacted the Jones Wood bill on July 11, 1851.

In the interim, there appeared two significant articles about the park proposal. One, in June 1851, published correspondence between two city officials discussing an alternative site for the park – a tract, much larger than Jones Wood, at the center of Manhattan where the new Croton reservoir was to be located, which would realize economies of combining park and reservoir.[19] The other article was by noted landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, thanking the mayor for his path breaking message, but forcefully arguing that the Common Council’s choice of Jones Wood was too tame – that a much larger park was needed for Manhattan’s burgeoning population.[20] In light of the emerging appeal of the central alternate site, and mounting opposition to Jones Wood (fueled by Kingsland’s veto of the Battery enlargement, which nettled aldermen who had seen this downtown park enlargement as a quid-pro-quo for supporting the uptown park[8][21]), the Common Council resolved to delay the Jones Wood acquisition to allow time for considering other possible sites. Kingsland appointed a Special Committee on Parks to evaluate other possible sites,[22] primarily the central site.

The numerous advantages of the central site (now referred to as Central Park), including five times the acreage of Jones Wood at a lower cost per acre, better accessibility, and a configuration better suited to a long drive through varied scenery, resulted in the Special Committee’s recommendation of the Central Park site in January 1852. Kingsland thereupon suggested the Common Council petition the State legislature to replace the Jones Wood authorization with Central Park authorization.[14] However, the newly elected Democrat dominated Common Council, immobilized by discord between Jones Wood supporters, Central Park supporters, and those opposing any grand uptown park, took no action

Eighteen months of public debate, confusion and intense political maneuvering ensued, as the tide of opinion and political support shifted from Jones Wood to Central Park. Despite setbacks, including Kingsland’s successor Mayor Jacob Westervelt’s reticence towards both park contenders,[22] Central Park prevailed. On July 21, 1853, two years after Kingsland’s proposal, the State legislature passed the Central Park Act, the critical legislation ultimately enabling the realization of his clarion call for a park "on a scale that will be worthy of the city".[13][23]

Conflict with the “Forty Thieves” Common Council, 1852

The 1851 city elections ended old line Whig domination of the Common Council and resulted in a sweep of the Common Council by Tammany Democrats. Many of them, including one William Magear Tweed, were small businessmen elected to their first term of office. This group of aldermen intended to use their time in office for self enrichment, and were to be known as the “Forty Thieves” Common Council of 1852-1853.Tammany Hall#Political gangs and the Forty Thieves They foreshadowed an era of New York’s history marked by rampant political corruption. Tweed was the leader of these Forty Thieves and later, in the 1860s, graduated to corruption on a grander scale as master of the Tweed Ring.

Under the new municipal charter of 1849, there was little Kingsland could do, as mayor, to thwart the corruption. Since the early 1840s, reformers had sought a new city charter to curtail the excessive power of the patronage prone Common Council by transferring some of its executive functions to an independent executive branch (along with other measures). However, reformers hesitated to concentrate power in the mayor’s office.[24] The new charter extended the mayor’s term to two years, but left mayoral power very limited. Executive functions were transferred to nine departments with independently elected heads, leaving the mayor with little executive authority. Mayoral vetoes of Common Council actions could only delay such actions by ten days, after which they could be overridden by a simple majority.[25] Thus, the Forty Thieves easily overrode Kingsland’s numerous vetoes of their graft riddled bills, ordinances and resolutions, which included the sale of properties and the award of contracts, ferry leases and railroad franchises at rigged values, lining aldermanic pockets at the city's expense. Shortly after Kingsland’s term, a new municipal charter was introduced in 1853 enhancing mayoral power through provision of limited executive appointment powers, and a presidential style veto power.[26]

Personal life[edit]

Kingsland was married to Mary Lovett (1814–1868), whose father, George Lovett, was born in England.[27] Together, they were the parents of eleven children (two died in infancy):[28]

  • George Lovett Kingsland (1834–1892),[28] who married Helen Schermerhorn Welles (1842–1911),[29] a daughter of Benjamin Welles and aunt to Sumner Welles, the Ambassador to Cuba and United States Under Secretary of State.[30]
  • Ambrose Cornelius Kingsland (1835–1890),[31] who married Katharine Aspinwall (1847–1924),[32] the daughter of prominent merchant William Henry Aspinwall.[32][33]
  • Augusta Lovett Kingsland (b. 1839), who married Herman Leroy Jones.[34][35]
  • Charles C Kingsland (b. 1836 d. 1837)
  • Henry Pierre Kingsland (b. 1838), who married Harriet Emily O'Brien, daughter of William Arthur O'Brien
  • Mary Helena Kingsland (1841–1934),[36] who married William Wright Tompkins, son of Daniel Hyatt Tompkins and grandson of Daniel D. Tompkins, the 6th Vice President of the United States.
  • Daniel C Kingsland (b. 1845 d. 1866)
  • Walter Frederick Kingsland (1848–1929),[37] who married Caroline Elizabeth Godbee (d. 1916), then Blanche Vanderbilt Marcelin (d. 1941), the daughter of Jules Marcelin and first wife of Franklin Morse Singer.[38]
  • Albert Alexander Kingsland (1849–1917),[39] who married Jennie Travis (1864–1930), the daughter of Gilbert Travis and Abbie Rogers Travis.
  • Cornelius Francis Kingsland (b. 1851 d. 1912)
  • Philip Kingsland (b. 1852 ), who died young.

Kingsland died at his home, 114 Fifth Avenue, at 11 o'clock on a Sunday evening, October 13, 1878.[3] In his obituary, The New York Times announced that his death "removes one of the last of that band of old New-York merchants who were in business 50 years ago, and whose names have become interwoven with the history of New-York."[3]


Kingsland's home was at 114 Fifth Avenue (southwest corner at 17th Street),[40][41] now the site of a Banana Republic store.[5]

In 1866, Kingsland purchased Hunter Island, now part of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx,[42] for $127,501.[43] He later purchased a sizeable country home north of the city along the Hudson River in North Tarrytown, present day Sleepy Hollow, New York.[44] His sale of this land to the early steam-engine automotive company, Stanley Steamer, helped open North Tarrytown's 20th century era as a major automotive factory town.


Through his son George, he was the grandfather of Helen Schermerhorn Kingsland (1876–1956),[45] who married Augustus Newbold Morris (1868–1928) (the son of A. N. Morris),[46] George L. Kingsland (1885–1952) and Ethel Welles Kingsland (1886–1967), who married Walter Anderton. Through his son Ambrose, Marjorie Kingsland, who married Viscount Robert de Vaulogé in the Church of St. Clotilde, Paris,[47] and Muriel Kingsland, who married Captain Ivan Barrington White (d. 1947) of the British diplomatic service.[48] Through his daughter Augusta Lovett, who married Herman LeRoy Jones, he was grandfather of Mary Jones who married William Bradford and Herman Jones who married Margaret Hone. Through his son Albert, he was the grandfather of Alberto Alexander Kingsland, Albert Harold Kingsland, and Henry C. Kingsland.[39] Through his son Walter, he was the grandfather of Walter F. Kingsland, Jr. who married the Princess Marie Louise of Orléans (1896–1973) in 1928,[49] Harold Lovett Kingsland who married Fernanda Modet y Cuadra, and Arthur Ambrose Kingsland, who married Constance I Vasselier.


A Hudson River waterfront park, Kingsland Point Park, in the Village of Sleepy Hollow, in Westchester County, still bears Kingsland's name, as does Kingsland Avenue in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, which he helped survey. There is also a Kingsland Avenue in the Baychester section of the Bronx.[50]


  1. ^ Pehme, Morgan (18 November 2013). "The Top Ten Greatest Mayors of New York City: Runners-Up | City & State". City & State. Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  2. ^ Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York (1905). The Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York: History, Customs, Record of Events, Constitution, Certain Genealogies, and Other Matters of Interest. V. 1-. p. 91. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d "Ex-Mayor Ambrose C. Kingsland". The New York Times. 15 October 1878. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  4. ^ History and Genealogy of the Cock, Cocks, Cox Family: Descended from James and Sarah Cock, of Killingworth Upon Matinecock, in the Township of Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y. Privately Printed. 1914. p. 65. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b Foreman, John (21 April 2015). "Big Old Houses: And Now I Know — Part 3 of 3 — 1026 Fifth Ave". New York Social Diary. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  6. ^ "HAD 76 BANK ACCOUNTS; Executors Find Mrs. Kingsland Made Deposits Under Various Names". The New York Times. 30 November 1919. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  7. ^ "The Century in Times Square". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Rosenzweig, Roy & Blackmar, Elizabeth (1992). The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Cornell University Press. p. 18. ISBN 0-8014-9751-5.
  9. ^ Steiner, Henry. "The Merchant Prince". River Journal.
  10. ^ Ninth Annual Report of the Croton Aqueduct Dept to the Common Council. Godfrey Lowell Cabot Science Library, Harvard College. 1858. p. 34.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  11. ^ Lankevitch, George (2002). New York City: A Short History. New York University Press.
  12. ^ "The Result of the Election Yesterday". New York Herald. 6 November 1850.
  13. ^ a b c Mayor Ambrose Kingsland's Message to the Common Council, reproduced from City of New York Department of Parks Annual Report, 1914 http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/pdf/govpub/4308annual_report_nyc_dept_parks_1914_part1.pdf To The Honorable The Common Council Gentlemen: - The rapid augmentation of our population, and the great increase in the value of property in the lower part of the city, justify me in calling the attention of your honorable body to the necessity of making some suitable provision for the wants of our citizens, who are thronging in the upper wards which, but a few years since, were considered entirely out of the city. It seems obvious to me that the entire tongue of land south of the line drawn across the Park is destined to be devoted, entirely and solely, to commercial purposes; and the Park ad Battery, which were formerly favorite places of resort for pleasure and recreation for citizens whose residences were below that line, are now deserted. The tide of population is rapidly flowing to the northern section of the island, and it is here that provision should be made for the thousands whose dwellings will, here long, fill up the vacant streets and avenues north of Union Park. The public places of New York are not in keeping with the character of our city; nor do they in any wise subserve the purpose for which such places should be set apart. Each year will witness a certain increase in the value of real estate, out of the city proper, and I do not know that any period will be more suitable than the present one for the purchase and laying out of a park on a scale which will be worthy of the city. There are places on the island easily accessible, and possessing all the advantages of wood, lawn and water which might, at a comparatively small expense, be converted into a park which would be at once the pride and ornament of the city. Such a park, well laid out, would become the favorite resort of all classes. There are thousands who pass the day of rest among the idle and dis-solute, in porter houses or in places more objectionable, who would rejoice in being enabled to breathe the pure air in such a place, while the ride and drive through its avenues, free from the noise, dust, and confusion inseparable from all thoroughfares, would hold out strong inducements for the affluent to make it a place of resort. There is no park on the island deserving the name, and while I cannot believe that any one can be found to advance an objection against the expediency of having such a one in our midst, I think that the expenditure of a sum necessary to procure and lay out a park of sufficient magnitude to answer the purposes above mentioned would be well and wisely appropriated, and would be returned to us fourfold in the health happiness and comfort of those whose interests are especially entrusted to our keeping – the poorer classes. The establishment of such a park would prove a lasting monument to the wisdom, sagacity, and forethought of its founders, and would secure the gratitude of thousands yet unborn for the blessings of pure air, and the opportunity for innocent, healthful enjoyment. I commend this subject to your consideration, in the conviction that its importance will insure your careful attention and prompt action. A C Kingsland, Mayor.
  14. ^ a b Eric., Homberger (1994). Scenes from the life of a city : corruption and conscience in old New York. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06041-6. OCLC 929860080.
  15. ^ Cedar., Miller, Sara (2003). Central Park, an American masterpiece : a comprehensive history of the nation's first urban park. H.N. Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-3946-0. OCLC 993147255.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ With hindsight Jones Wood appears to have been unambitiously small in comparison to the park that came to be, Central Park. However, at the time, there were just 57 acres of publicly accessible parks in New York (see Reference #15, New York Tribune, June 13, 1851) i.e. the addition of Jones Wood represented a tripling of publicly available park space.
  17. ^ "The New Park". New York Daily Tribune. 13 June 1851.
  18. ^ "The New Park of the Metropolis - Enlargement of the Battery". New York Herald. 6 June 1851.
  19. ^ Journal of Commerce. 28 June 1851. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Downing, Andrew (August 1851). "The New York Park". The Horticulturalist and Journal of Rural Arts and Rural Tastes.
  21. ^ Kingsland's veto of the Battery enlargement was based on engineering studies and widespread concerns that landfill for the Battery enlargement would adversely impact harbor and North River navigation See Reference #15 and Ted Steinberg, Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York
  22. ^ a b Stewart, Ian (July–October 1977). "Politics and the Park; the Battle for Central Park". New York Historical Society Quarterly.
  23. ^ Following the State enabling legislation, there ensued another three years of political and legal challenges and other delays before July 5th 1856 when Judge Harris of the NY Supreme Court signed the report of the Commissioners of Assessment tasked with appraising the 7,500 lots that comprised Central Park, allowing the city to proceed with acquisition and construction of the park.
  24. ^ Spann, Edward (1981). The New Metropolis, New York City 1840-1857. Columbia University Press.
  25. ^ "City Reform". New York Times. 10 January 1853.
  26. ^ Vitteriti, Joseph (1989). "The Tradition of Municipal Reform: Charter Revision in Historical Context". Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science. 37 (3): 16–30. doi:10.2307/1173748. JSTOR 1173748.
  27. ^ Hascall, Clerk, H. W. (1866). To the Judges of the Court of Appeals, Vol. 13. p. 30. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  28. ^ a b "George L. Kingsland Buried". The New York Times. 18 July 1892. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  29. ^ "DIED. Kingsland". The New York Times. 16 February 1911. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  30. ^ "GEORGE L. K. MORRIS ENGAGED TO MARRY; Son of Mrs. Newbold Morris Affianced to Miss Estelle Condit Frelinghuysen". The New York Times. 17 January 1935. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  31. ^ "Ambrose C. Kingsland's Will". The New York Times. 17 May 1890. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  32. ^ a b "DIED. Kingsland". The New York Times. 18 December 1924. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  33. ^ "Finding Relief in Suicide; John W. Minturn Taking His Own Life in His Office". The New York Times. 1 May 1881. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  34. ^ "Ambrose Kingsland Jones". The New York Times. 2 August 1935. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  35. ^ "H. LE R. JONES BANKRUPT.; Society Man Has Over $87,000 of Liabilities and Nominal Assets". The New York Times. 14 January 1903. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  36. ^ "MRS. W. W. TOMPKINS.; Daughter of Ambrose Kingsland, Once Mayor Here, Was 92". The New York Times. 23 February 1934. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  37. ^ "W.F. Kingsland Left $1,720,193". The New York Times. 23 April 1931. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  38. ^ "Mrs. Walter F. Kingsland". The New York Times. 18 August 1941. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  39. ^ a b "DIED. Kingsland". The New York Times. 1 April 1917. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  40. ^ Naureckas, Jim. "5th Avenue: New York Songlines". NY Songlines. Archived from the original on 2 May 2018. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  41. ^ "Former mayor's townhouse sells". The Real Deal New York. 9 April 2009. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  42. ^ Twomey, Bill (2007). The Bronx, in Bits and Pieces. Rooftop Publishing. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-60008-062-3. Retrieved 6 October 2017.
  43. ^ "Pelham Bay Park Highlights - Hunter Island : NYC Parks". www.nycgovparks.org. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  44. ^ "Residence of Mayor Ambrose Kingsland, later the home of Lewis family". collections.mcny.org. Museum of the City of New York. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  45. ^ "MRS. MORRIS, MOTHER OF NEWBOLD MORRIS". The New York Times. 13 April 1956. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  46. ^ "NEWBOLD MORRIS DIES IN HIS SLEEP; President of Metropolitan Club, Trustee of Columbia and Lawyer. WITH PERSHING IN THE WAR Lieutenant Colonel on General Staff --Family One of Most Illustrious in United States". The New York Times. 21 December 1928. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  47. ^ "MISS KINGSLAND TO MARRY A VISCOUNT; Engagement of Daughter of Mrs. Ambrose C. Kingsland to Robert De Vauloge Told in London". The New York Times. 12 January 1921. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  48. ^ "DEATHS. Barrington-White-Capt. Ivan". The New York Times. 11 September 1947. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  49. ^ "PRINCESS D'ORLEANS TO WED NEW YORKER; Troth of Niece of King Albert of Belgium to Walter F. Kingsland Jr. Is Announced". The New York Times. 6 December 1928. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  50. ^ "EAST WILLIAMSBURG PART 2, Brooklyn - Forgotten New York". forgotten-ny.com. 8 April 2007. Retrieved 20 December 2017.

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Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by