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Melvill, Maria Gansevoort
American, 1791 - 1872
Melvill, Allan Mrs.
Maria Gansevoort Melvill is most often remembered as the mother of author Herman Melville, but in her own day she was known largely through other family connections. Born in 1791 she was the only daughter of the wealthy Peter Gansevoort, scion of a powerful Albany family that could trace its Dutch ancestry in New York State back to the seventeenth century. Raised in privelege surroundings, she married Allan Melvill, and importer of French dry goods, on October 4, 1814. After living in Albany for several years with the bride's widowed mother, the couple moved to New York City, where they expected to find a larger market for fancy goods among the urban upper classes. Following several business failures, however, the Melvills were forced to move back to Albany in 1830. Two years later Allan Melvill died suddenly, leaving his widow with eight children, age two to sixteen, and a heavy debt of $26,000. Unaccustomed to privation, Maria Melvill (the family added the "e" to their surname after Allan Melvill's death) found the subsequent years very difficult. She managed only with the help of her brother, and spent the rest of her life until her death in 1872 residing with various members of her large family.
Kelly, Franklin, with Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., Deborah Chotner, and John Davis. American Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 7.
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