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Gelston Castle, New York





Gelston, New YorkIn 1739, King George II granted 16,000 acres of land to Dr. James Henderson, a Scotsman, for services rendered at the Greenwich Hospital in England. With dreams of building a country house, he travelled to America only to find the land was a wild and desolate area inhabited by Mohawk Indians. He decided instead to build Greenwich House, a home on Greenwich Street in an area now known as Greenwich Village in New York City. The acres granted to him make up much of what we currently know as Herkimer County.

The Douglas brothers were industrious Scot descents who arrived in New York during the 1760’s destined to become wealthy. The Douglas fortune was mainly acquired through various businesses in New York and London, and by farming in Scotland. Of the four, two brothers returned to Scotland and acquired large tracts of land in Galloway. William Douglas built Gelston Castle and his brother James founded the town of Castle Douglas. George Douglas was the only brother to permanently settle in America and eventually married Margaret Corne.

Margaret Corne was the daughter of Captain Peter Corne and a granddaughter of Dr. James Henderson. The royal grant was passed down to Margaret who was the first of Dr. Henderson’s heirs to take an interest in the lands up in the Mohawk Valley. With her husband George Douglas, she had some land cleared and surveyed, then had a twenty-four room summer Cottage built in 1787.

Margaret and George Douglas had five children: Margaret (1787), Harriett (1790), George (1793), William (1795), and Elizabeth Mary (1799). George died of yellow fever at his wife’s home at King’s Ferry on the Hudson River.

Known for her red-gold hair, Harriet Douglas was the social lioness of the 1800’s. She was perhaps the most strong-willed of her family, to the point that once she resolved something in her head, there was no stopping her. She spent most of her life travelling around Europe and America with her siblings circulating amongst the most elite of social societies collecting famous male acquaintances. She kept the company of famous names like Mrs. Anne Grant, with whom Harriet boarded while studying in Scotland and introduced her to the Literary Social Circle. Others include Maria Edgeworth who introduced her to Sir Walter Scott. William Wordsworth and James Fenimore Cooper were other names that frequented her company.

On her 43rd birthday, Harriet married her on-again, off-again suitor Henry Cruger who was of the most distinguished of New York families. Their stormy marriage only lasted eight years on account of her independent spirit and strong nature that tried controlling their relationship from the start. Perhaps examples of her character can be noted in her insistence that Henry take the Douglas name and they were known as Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Cruger.

When she visited her uncle Sir William Douglas’ residence, Gelston Castle, in Scotland as a young girl she vowed to one day build a replica of her own. As members of her family died, Harriett gained possession of the Henderson land and resolved to make her lifelong dream a reality and had a stone mansion built 50 ft. from her mother’s cottage in 1833. To accomplish her unusual and unique design she insisted it be built with stone blocks to resemble the houses of Scotland, and had them carried all the way from Little Falls, “fourteen miles in the snow”. It was published that Gelston Castle contained over 20 rooms, including ten bedrooms and three sitting rooms. They used the large hall as a dining room and the basement had five rooms, a kitchen and sitting room. The castle was adorned with fireplaces throughout.

Harriett wished to be buried on the Henderson family estate, but was instead buried at the family plot in a New York City churchyard in had no children, the estate was passed down to Harriett’s niece, Fannie Robinson, born on April 14, 1824 to Elizabeth Mary Douglas and James Monroe, nephew of President James Monroe. Douglas Robinson, Fannie’s second cousin, was born on March 24 1824 in Lancashire, Scotland(1) to William Rose and Mary (Douglas) Robinson. Fannie’s mother Elizabeth (Betsy) and Douglas’ mother Mary were first cousins.

Douglas Robinson, educated in Edinburgh University, moved to New York City in 1841 to seek fortunes. Douglas and Fannie fell in love, but due to his lack of riches was considered an unsuitable match for her, so she was sent away to Scotland to visit relatives. Possessing the true female spirit, Fannie returned in 1850 and married Douglas.

According to "Miss Douglas", the biography of Harriet Douglas, the couple wed at Fanwood, the house the Monroes built at Fort Washington, then a secluded suburb to the north of New York City. After being wed the couple temporarily lived at 55 Broadway that was lent to them by Aunt Harriett, and then later moved to New Jersey. Also noted in the book were visits to Aunt Harriett at her big house on Fourteenth Street in New York City with their two children, Douglas (born January 3, 1855) and little Harriett. The children would enjoy play dates with Theodore Roosevelt, who was their same age, and his sister Corinne, who would eventually marry the young Douglas Robinson.



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1.  Lancashire is in England.  Should this be Lanarkshire, Scotland?



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Last modified: Tuesday, 01 February 2022