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Robert Bowne Minturn (born New York, 16 November 1805; died New York, 9 January 1866) was one of the most prominent American merchants and shippers of the mid-19th century. Today, he is probably best known as being one of the owners of the famous clipper ship, Flying Cloud.
He was born to a family long prominent in New England and New York shipping circles. His father was William Minturn (Jr.) (1776–1818); his mother was Sarah Bowne. William was "a well-known merchant shipper" and was one of the founders of the Mutual Fire Insurance Company of New York. He is reported to have spent several years in the China trade, where there were enormous profits to be made. He was at various times in partnership with his brother Jonas and in the firm of Minturn and Champlin. After the failure of Minturn & Champlin, he took ill and died soon after, when Robert was in his early teens.
It appears that Robert Minturn's grandfather, William Minturn (Sr.) (born Rhode Island, 18 March 1738; died Newport, Rhode Island, 23 August 1799), was one of the residents of Rhode Island who feared that the British would attempt to re-take their lost colonies after the American Revolution and moved his family and business to New York, believing it would be more protected from seaborne attack. He was one of the founders of Hudson, New York. In 1791 William again moved, this time to New York City, where the opportunities were greater (and shipping distances shorter). Soon he became wealthy: he, his son, grandson, and great grandson all garnered listings in the Encyclopedia of American Wealth. In 1799, his health failing, William Minturn returned to Rhode Island to retire but he died within the month. His widow (Penelope Greene, born 21 August 1746; died 6 April 1821, the daughter of Benjamin Greene and Niobe Paul and a cousin of General Nathanael Greene) returned to New York where she lived among her sons on Pearl Street.
Robert B. Minturn married Anna Mary Wendell (born ca. 1811) in June 1835. She was the daughter of John Lansing Wendell, a partner in Grinnell, Minturn & Co. Robert's sister Sarah married Henry Grinnell, who later became Robert's business partner.
Robert Minturn received an English education, but he was forced by the death of his father to leave school; at the age of fourteen, he began work in a counting-house. He was received into partnership in 1825 with Charles Green, whose clerk he had been. In 1830, he entered the firm of Fish and Grinnell; his sister Sarah had married partner Henry Grinnell in 1822. In 1832, the firm was reorganized as Grinnell, Minturn & Co., or simply Grinnell & Minturn. That company was already established in the transatlantic packet trade, but it grew tremendously as the Great Irish Famine (1845-1849) led many to emigrate to North America. When the California gold rush caused a large increase in traffic to that state, Grinnell & Minturn established a shipping line to serve the market, and bought the Flying Cloud for that line; Robert Minturn actually owned a portion of the ship in his personal capacity. The success of Grinnell & Minturn made Robert Minturn a wealthy man, and his son Robert, Jr., joined the firm as well.
In May 1848 (according to a memoir published by his son), an overworked Robert Minturn and his family took an eighteen-month grand tour of England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Jerusalem, and Egypt. He was inspired by both the beauty of the cities and the charitable efforts of their citizens in this regard.
Robert Minturn declined all offers of public office, except the post of commissioner of emigration, which he accepted from a wish to secure the rights of emigrants. It seems unsurprising that his business prospered from the transportation of many immigrants to the United States. He was an active manager of many charitable associations in New York city, aided in establishing the Association for improving the condition of the poor, and was a founder of St. Luke's hospital. He was the first president of the Union League Club, which was formed when the Union Club membership was divided over support for President Lincoln and the Civil War.
Robert Bowne Minturn and his wife donated land for the establishment of New York's Central Park, having been inspired by the beauty of foreign cities and their parks, as seen during his family's trip abroad in 1848-49. Like his Quaker forebears, he was opposed to slavery. He is reported to have purchased a number of slaves for the purpose of setting them free, and he was a benefactor of the Freedmen's Association.
Robert Bowne Minturn, Jr. (born New York, 21 February 1836); graduated from Columbia in 1856 and joined the family firm soon thereafter. He married Sarah Susannah Shaw (1839–1926), sister of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw; he was the author of New York to Delhi (New York, 1858). Minturn, Colorado, is named for him.
Susan Carter Minturn (born New York, ca. 1837); she married Thomas Baring in 1859.
John Wendell Minturn (born New York, ca. 1838).
Anna Mary Minturn (born New York, 16 March 1841); she married Rev. Charles Penrose Quicke.
Edith Minturn (born New York, 27 March 1844)
Sarah Minturn (born New York, ca. 1845).
Eliza Theodora Minturn (born New York, 15 October 1850).
William Minturn (born New York ca. 1854).
Another descendant is Edie Sedgwick, his great-great-granddaughter.
Kelley, Rev. Edmond, A Family Redeemed From Bondage; Being Rev. Edmond Kelley, (the Author,) His Wife, and Four Children. New Bedford, Massachusetts (published by the author), 1851. (http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/kelley/kelley.html)
Lawson, Melinda, "A Profound National Devotion": The Civil War Union Leagues and the Construction of a New National Patriotism; Civil War History Volume 48, Number 4, December 2002, pp. 338–362.
The Bowne House Historical Society, Inc., History: Bowne Family Biographies, 2006.