The Stevens family played a leading role in the political and economic life of New Jersey throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
John Stevens (ca. 1682-1737), the founder of the family, came to America in 1699 as an indentured law clerk. In 1706, he married Ann Campbell, the daughter of one of the Scottish proprietors of East New Jersey and a founder of the town of Perth Amboy. The marriage cemented long lasting ties to other leading colonial families with attendant opportunities in politics and business.
His son, John Stevens (1716-1792), was a sea captain and merchant of Perth Amboy, a member of the New Jersey Assembly and the Continental Congress, and the holder of numerous other offices in the colonial government. He was also a member of the Board of East Jersey Proprietors, the holders of the original colonial land grant, and was heavily involved in land speculation in New Jersey and southern New York. His marriage to Elizabeth, the daughter of James Alexander, in 1748 also brought ties to the Parker, Rutherfurd, Reid and Livingston families, further strengthened by the marriage of their daughter Mary to Robert R. Livingston in 1770.
Another son, Richard Stevens (1723-1802), concentrated on the family mercantile business, principally the triangular trade with Britain and the West Indies. Two other sons, Campbell Stevens (1714-1770) and Lewis Stevens (1720-1772), served in the British forces in the West Indies and in the attack on Louisbourg.
In the third generation, John Stevens (1749-1838) was the family's most illustrious member and architect of its subsequent achievments. During the Revolution he was Treasurer of New Jersey. In 1784, he purchased the Hoboken Tract opposite New York City, which became the family seat. In the tradition of the day, Stevens was much interested in mechanical improvements of all kinds, and although initially a dilettante, he pursued them with greater determination than many of his contemporaries. His principal object was to create a workable steamboat, initially with the collaboration of his brother-in-law Robert R. Livingston and Nicholas J. Roosevelt, a skilled mechanic, and after 1800 with the aid of his sons. In 1804 he produced the LITTLE JULIANA, a small launch with twin screw propulsion, and two years later he began work on the PHOENIX. Before it could be completed, Livingston and his new partner, Robert Fulton, put their fisrt boat in service and secured a monopoly grant for steam navigation in New York waters. Stevens sent the PHOENIX around to Philadelphia and operated her on the Delaware River, with a connecting stage service across the waist of New Jersey. By the 1820s, the Stevens family had secured a major interest in the stage route as well. Stevens also owned a lucrative ferry franchise between New York and Hoboken.
In 1812, John Stevens began promoting the building of railroads, and on February 2, 1815, he secured the first American railroad charter for a line between Trenton and New Brunswick. In 1823, he secured another charter for a railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia in Pennsylvania, and in 1825 he displayed an experimental locomotive as a novelty on a circular track on his Hoboken estate. It was left to two of his sons, Robert Livingston Stevens (1787-1856) and Edwin Augustus Stevens (1795-1868), to bring these schemes to fruition. Robert was a gifted inventor and technician who probably contributed a large share towards the success of his father's work, while Edwin was primarily the family's business manager.
In 1830, they were the prime movers in organizing the Camden & Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company, which completed its line across the state in 1834, replacing the old stagecoach link. Robert is credited with the design of the American pattern of T-rail and spikes and other railroad and steamboat improvements. Together, the brothers developed the Stevens plow, and in 1842 began developing the Stevens floating battery under contract with the Navy. This early ironclad remained uncompleted by the Civil War and was eventually abandoned. In his will, Edwin created and endowed the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.
From the description of Papers, 1669-1959 [microform]. (Hagley Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122503452
|creatorOf||Stevens family. Papers, 1669-1959 [microform].||Hagley Museum & Library|
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Delaware River (N.Y.-Del. and N.J.)|
|New York (State)--New York|
|New York (State)|
|Copper mines and mining|
|Land grants--18th century|
|Banks and banking--18th century|