Biography of Harmon Pumpelly Read


AMONG the young men of note in our city whose ancestry has filled an honorable place in American history, and who by his interest in the prosperity of his native town and his extensive knowledge of men and things in other lands, is the genial and accomplished Major H. P. Read. Born in the city of Albany on the 13th of July, 1860, when the storm of civil war was fast gathering to burst over the country, he descended from a long line of illustrious ancestors. His father, General John Meredith Read, was born in Philadelphia on the 21st of February, 1837; was educated at a military school; graduated with honor from Brown university; attended the Albany Law school, and studied civil and international law in Europe. He was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia, and afterward removed to this city. When but twenty years old he was appointed aide-de-camp to the governor of Rhode Island, having two years previously commanded a company of national cadets from which many commissioned officers were afterward furnished to the United States during the rebellion. He was actively engaged in the presidential campaign of 1856 in favor of Fremont, and in 1860 he organized the wide-awake movement in New York, which was an element of great power in the election of Lincoln.

In 1859 General Read was married at Albany to Miss Delphine Marie Pumpelly, a beautiful and attractive young lady, daughter of Harmon Pumpelly, a notable and wealthy Albanian, some of whose ancestors had served in the old French and English wars, and in the revolutionary struggle for independence. Honors and offices came rapidly to young Read. At the age of twenty-three he had become adjutant-general of the state of New York. In February, 1861, he was chairman to the government commission which welcomed Lincoln at Buffalo, and safely escorted him by a special train to Washington. General Read displayed great energy, ability and zeal in maintaining the cause of the Union, for which he received the thanks of the war department of the United States. On the elevation of General Grant to the presidency in 1868, in whose election he had taken a lively interest, he was appointed consul-general of the United States for France and Algeria, to reside at Paris. He subsequently acted as consul-general of Germany during the Franco-German war. He remained in Paris during the first and second sieges of the city (1870-71), where by his rare skill in diplomacy, prudence, tact and kindness, he performed many signal services in his official position, for which he received the thanks of both the French and German governments. In 1873 he was appointed United States minister to Greece, holding the office during six years. In 1874 he revisited his native country, and was received with every mark of respect and honor, especially in Albany, his earlier home. General Read is at present staying in Paris, engaged in historical and biographical research.

The present General Read is a son of Chief Justice John Meredith Read of Pennsylvania, who was one of the most eminent jurists of that state, and one of the founders of the
Republican Party, and in 1860 a candidate for the nomination of President of the United States. General Read is a grandson of Hon. John Read, who was also a distinguished lawyer of Pennsylvania, and who was state senator and held other important offices in his state. The great-grandfather of General Read was George Read of Delaware, one of the six signers of the declaration of independence who were framers of the constitution. He held the office of president of the state of Delaware, was twice elected to the United States senate, and was chief justice of Delaware. He was a son of Colonel John Read, who was born in Dublin, 1688, two hundred years ago, descending from an old aristocratic family originally seated in Berkshire, England. This old Colonel John Read was the first of the family name who came to this country. He purchased large tracts of land in Maryland and Delaware, and was one of the first proprietors of Charlestown, Md.

Much has been written about the ancestors of the present Harmon P. Read, and every thing goes to show that they were endowed with singular ability – fearless in the performance of what they deemed to be their duty and lofty in their patriotism.

Harmon Pumpelly Read, the subject of our sketch, was a pupil in the Albany Boys’ academy when scarcely fourteen years of age. He also attended St. John’s Military academy at Sing Sing, and afterward went to Trinity College, Hartford, Conn. He has crossed the ocean several times. In the fall of 1881 he made a trip to Europe and spent a year in visiting some of the interesting localities in the old world. Making his headquarters at Rome during most of the winter, he paid flying visits to Naples and other places famous in Roman history. After carefully surveying the grand old attractions of the ” eternal city,” he set out on a journey through Spain; penetrated into the interior of Morocco, travelled into Portugal, stopping a short time at Lisbon, whence he went over to England and Scotland, returning to Paris, and after spending some time with his parents there, sailed for America. While abroad Maj. Read received high honors for a young American citizen. At Rome he was presented at court, witnessing the splendors of a royal reception. He also counted among his friends some of the most distinguished among the nobility and men of letters in Europe. On reaching Albany during the latter part of 1882, he entered the law office of Edward Wade, more for the purpose of gaining a general knowledge of the law for his own personal gratification, than with a view of following it as a profession. But ill-health compelled him to relinquish his legal studies and to seek a change of air and scenery. He has spent a considerable portion of his time at Newport and New York in the society of the learned and elite, where he has always been received as a most agreeable companion by a host of enthusiastic friends.

In 1885 Maj. Read had become so popular with the republicans of Albany that he was induced to accept the nomination for member of assembly in the Third district, a strongly democratic one. His opponent was Hon. Norton Chase, and both were popular young men of about the same age. The contest was a spirited one, and though not expected to be elected, Maj. Read made a very thorough canvass of the district, and the large vote he received attested his popularity. During this canvass Maj. Read was quite popular with the plainer class of people and was regarded by many of the workingmen as their favorite candidate. He has always taken a special interest in the questions affecting the laboring classes of our community, and is, consequently, highly popular with this worthy and useful class of citizens. Soon after the election of Mr. Chase the Major generously gave a dinner in honor of the event, which was largely attended and elicited the thanks of his political opponents. About this time he was made inspector of rifle practice of the Fifth brigade of the New York State National Guard, with the rank of major.

In the spring of 1886 he was nominated for the presidency of the Young Men’s association on the opposition ticket, the regular nominee being Glen Dunham, a wealthy and popular man. After one of the hottest contests in the history of the association, Maj. Read was elected by a large majority. He made a most efficient president, and was earnestly devoted to the best interests of the association. His administration was a successful as well as a memorable one. And for the earnest and continued efforts he made in having the Bleecker trust fund invested for the benefit of the association, he deserves great praise. As an Albany paper remarked when the whole matter was crowned with success, “To no one man more than Maj. Read is due the credit of the work accomplished.” The Major also strongly advocated the opening of the Y. M. A. rooms during certain hours on Sunday for the benefit of those young men who were debarred through the week from enjoying its privileges; but for lack of a two-thirds vote the proposition failed. In 1886 Major Read was unanimously nominated for alderman of the thirteenth ward, but declined the honor. It must be stated that during the bi-centennial he took a lively interest in its success. He was a member of the civic day committee, which made a great success of the parade over which it had control; and of the tableting committee, whose work left the only enduring memorial of that grand occasion.

Major Read is a learned and distinguished Mason, having reached the thirty-second degree. It may be stated here that his ancestor in the sixth degree was one of the founders of the first lodge of Masons in America; that his grandfather, Chief Justice Read of Pennsylvania, was grand master of Masons; that his cousin, Hon. William Thompson Read of Delaware, held the same position, and his father. General Meredith Read, has received the highest degree in Masonry from the grand council of Greece. Major Read, has also taken most of the degrees in Odd Fellowship.

He is a member of several societies and clubs. While abroad, he was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical society of London, and of the Geographical society of Paris. and a member of the Nobles club in Rome. At home he is a member of the historical societies of Pennsylvania and New York, the fraternity Delta Psi; St Anthony’s and the Knickerbocker clubs of New York city, both among the most select in America; the Fort Orange club, and the Unconditional republican club, of which he is the first vice-president, taking a very active part in its business affairs, and a deep interest in its welfare. He was also one of the founders of the Historical and Art society of this city.

Major Read has devoted much time to historical research, and is especially well-versed in antiquarian lore. Of the foreign languages which he has studied he is best acquainted with the French, in which he converses fluently. He has been spoken of several times as a candidate for mayor. His manly qualities, his various acquirements, and his large knowledge of the city of his birth would well fit him to fill so responsible and honorable a position.

Very few Albanians, young or old, have seen as much of the old world and its noble treasures of the fine arts as Major Read. He has stood on the very spot at Athens, under the deep blue skies of that classic land, where Demosthenes once thundered forth his orations against Philip of Macedon, as well as upon the ground at Rome where Cicero hurled his invectives against Catiline. He has beheld the-beauty and sublimity of the Alps, and the loveliness of Switzerland’s lakes, as well as those in the “bonnie” land of Burns. He has traveled into the less refined and civilized countries of Spain, Morocco, and Portugal, and sailed up the majestic Tagus to the ancient city of Lisbon, beautiful and striking in the appearance of its groves and gardens and sunny towers. He has gazed upon the beauty of the Bay of Naples, and stood in silent awe before Mount Vesuvius. He has stepped upon the shores of Asia Minor and visited the Ionian isles, celebrated in classical history and song. He has visited the domains of the sultan, and walked through the streets of Constantinople. He has seen many of the finest specimens of sculpture and painting that are to be found in the galleries of the old world; and he has looked upon all these natural and artistic objects with the cultivated tastes of a student and the ardent admiration of a true lover of nature.

He is unreserved in his manner, companionable in his nature, sunny in his disposition and benevolent in his actions. His circle of acquaintances is large, including many well-known society people, and with all classes he is highly popular.

On August 24, 1889, Major Read married Mademoiselle Marguerite de Carron, the accomplished daughter of the late Monsieur Frederick de Carron, descended from an ancient Huguenot family.



Noted living Albanians and state officials , A series of biographical sketches. 1891.

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