HENRY P. DE GRAAF.
HENRY P. DE GRAAF, one of the promintent merchants of New York City, was born at Herkimer, New York, on the twenty-fourth of November, 1825. His parents were formerly residents of Schenectady, and his grandfather was a sterling patriot in the war of the Revolution, commanding a regiment in that great struggle.
Until the age of fifteen years, young De Graaf remained at home actively employed on his father’s farm, performing with alacrity and zeal the general work incident to his calling, though disinclined to make that a business for a lifetime.
In the year 1840 he left his home-farm and went to Little Falls, N. Y., residing there three years with G. B. Young. During this time, he acquired a knowledge of cabinet-making, and worked as a journeyman ; after which time he traveled two years, and then commenced business for himself.
Cabinet-making twenty years ago was not so remunerative as now, and becoming somewhat dissatisfied with his slow progress at money-making, about the time that the golden charms of California allured its tens of thousands in quest of wealth to the far West, he disposed of his little business in New York, assisted in forming a company, and was chosen treasurer, and afterward embarked for the Pacific, on the Henry Harbeck, June 8, 1849.
California was then a far-off land, and not, as now, to be reached in a few days by railroad, traveling in palace cars. The bark was six months out at sea before reaching San Francisco, and Mr. De Graaf, when approaching the Golden Gate that was about to usher him into the eldorado of the Pacific shore, found himself destitute of money ; but notwithstanding, he was enthusiastic and hopeful for his future progress.
There he commenced work as carpenter at sixteen dollars per day, but this pay did not meet his expectations or necessities. He then tried mining, but this also proved too uncertain and capricious for his glowing anticipations, and with disappointed and unrealized expectations he returned to San Francisco, and commenced a trading business with Mr. John Webster between the mines, San Francisco, and New York.
After three years’ residence in California he returned to New York, and commenced the furniture business at No. 450 Pearl Street, with a capital of seven thousand dollars, and in [illegible] removed to No. 87 Bowery, into a store erected by himself, and soon enlarged by a new building at 65 Chrystie Street.
In the autumn of 1859 he formed a partnership with Robert M. Taylor, securing a large southern trade thereby. In the year 1860 the firm experienced very heavy losses financially, but were not disheartened, and passed through the crisis unaided save by their own resources. Their trade was then changed to other sections of the country, and prospered abundantly ; and at last they were compelled again to enlarge their establishment and extend their furnishing business, adding also carpets and mattresses.
The firm then made it a specialty of furnishing hotels and steamboats ; many who have traveled on the Hudson will remember those elegant and magnificent steamers, the St. John, Dean Richmond, Drew, etc. These “floating palaces,” so tastefully and magnificently arrayed, were furnished from the house of “De Graaf & Taylor,” and reflect much credit on the firm.
In 1864 Mr. De Graaf revisited California and established a branch business of the firm. After remaining in California six months, he returned to New York City, and soon afterward was elected director of the Bowery National Bank, and in 1868 was unanimously chosen president of that institution. Subsequently he was presented with nine pieces of soled silver plate, as a testimonial of the due appreciation of his successful exertions to promote the prosperity of the bank.
Mr. De Graaf is a worthy, self-made, self-reliant man ; a noble example of perseverance, industry, and enterprise, Of such an embodiment the basis of our free and glorious republican institutions must be formed, to be enduring. When we consult written or unwritten biography, we learn the fact that the greater number of our prominent men, in all the occupations, positions, and professions of life, are self-made, stout-hearted ; men who have not loitered in byways or highways, or sat whiling away time in the easy chairs of life ; but who, like Mr. De Graaf, have practised self-den[illegible] have persevered, and at last accomplished patent and imperishable facts, and many of the noblest results of life.
The lad of fifteen years who left his paternal home, with self-denial, a few years ago, that he might learn the cabinet-maker’s trade, is to-day senior partner in one of the largest and most flourishing firms in New York City. The young man who, twenty years ago did not hesitate to work as carpenter in San Francisco, is now president of one of the most reliable and flourishing banks in New York City. This worthy example is fraught with much encouragement to young men to make “excelsior” their motto ; for if they desire eminence, they can, step by step, ascend the topmost round in the ladder of distinction.