J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

“The sudden and as yet unaccountable disappearance”

John Lansing, Jr., was a Revolutionary War veteran and a delegate from New York to the Constitutional Convention. As I wrote yesterday, he left early and became an Anti-Federalist, and later served as Chief Justice and Chancellor of his home state. Even after he retired from public office, Lansing continued to work as a prominent lawyer in Albany.

On 2 Jan 1830, the Farmers’ Cabinet newspaper of Amherst, New Hampshire, reprinted the following story from New York, datelined 24 December:
Notice.—On Saturday evening, the 12th inst. [i.e., of this month] Chancellor Lansing, of Albany, arrived in this city, and put up at the City Hotel; he breakfasted and dined there. Shortly after dinner he retired to his room, and wrote for a short time, and about the hour that the persons intending to go to Albany usually leave the Hotel, he was observed to leave the room. He has not been seen or heard of since that time.

He left his trunk, cane, &c., in his room. His friends in this city have heard this morning from Albany that he has not returned home. It is supposed that he had written a letter to Albany, and that he intended to put it on board the steamboat, that left here for that place at five o’clock that afternoon. He had made an engagement to take tea at 6 o’clock that evening with Mr. Robert Kay [the following article says “Ray,” which was correct], of this city, who resides at No. 29, Marketfield-street.

He was dressed in black, and wore powder in his hair. He was a man of large and muscular frame of body, and about five feet nine inches in height. He was upwards of 76 years of age. He was in good health, and has never been known to have been affected by any mental abberration.
An item datelined Albany, 28 December, said:
Perhaps no event since the lamented death of De Witt Clinton, has afforded to our citizens a more thrilling and heart-rending sensation, than the sudden and as yet unaccountable disappearance (and we fear death) of JOHN LANSING, Jr. former Chancellor of this State. . . . We fear that in approaching the steamboat he fell into the river and was drowned. Thus in a moment, (if our fears augur right,) another revolutionary patriot has gone “to that bourne from whence no traveller returns.”
Yet another item in the same newspaper said:
One hundred dollars have been offered by the friends of Chancellor Lansing, for any information which may tend to the discovery of his person, or throw any light on his mysterious disappearance.
According to the New York Evening Post, people were asked to leave information “at the bar of the City Hotel.”

On 16 January, the New Hampshire newspaper reported:
The New York papers of Monday state that the body of the late Chancellor Lansing was found in the bay of New York.
But evidently the man’s family decided that body wasn’t his. They erected a cenotaph in a cemetery in Albany. And the mystery was still unsolved four decades later.

TOMORROW: Did someone know the secret?

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