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The Historical Society of Prattsburgh

Robert B. Van Valkenburgh

Robert B. Van Valkenburgh was born 09/23/1821 in Prattsburgh in a family of twelve children.  He was raised in Prattsburgh and graduated in 1839 from Franklin Academy as valedictorian of his class.  After graduation, he went to Bath to study law under the Honorable David Rumsey whose sister Catherine he later married.  He was elected to state senate in 1852 and served two terms in congress, 1860 and 1862.

Robert Van Valkenburgh

Robert Van Valkenburgh

In 1872 under President Lincoln, he went to Elmira, NY and recruited volunteers for the 107th New York volunteers and led them into battle with the rank of Colonel.  All of this was leading up to how a farm boy, born and raised in Prattsburgh, could become a national leader.  His upbringing and recruiting and leading of volunteers made him the right person at the right time and place.

Robert B. Van Valkenburgh was the first ambassador to Japan.  His time in Japan was marked by a few adventures.  The biggest one was when the US made a deal to sell an ironclad ship-Stonewall to Japan.  Since Japan had always had a dual government, when the Stonewall was delivered, the government that ordered it was not in control so money was not available to pay the balance.  Robert B Van Valkenburgh took it upon himself not to let Japan have the ship.  By doing this he saved many lives.  If Japan had control of the Stonewall; none of the wooden ships used to patrol the seas would be safe.  Secretary of State Seaward said what he had done was very irregular, but President Johnson approved his decision.  Japan at this time did not have friendly feelings toward foreigners.  These words proved to be correct just seventy-three years later at Pearl Harbor.  At the time of Robert B Van Valkenburgh’s death, he was Associate Justice of Supreme Court of Florida.  Although he was married twice, he remained Childless.

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