Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Blennerhassett, Harman

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BLENNERHASSETT, Harman, scholar, b. in Hampshire, England, 8 Oct., 1764 or 1765; d. on the island of Guernsey, 1 Feb., 1831. He was educated at Westminster school, London, and at Trinity college, Dublin, where he also studied law, and received the degree of B. A. and LL. B. in 1790. Having succeeded to the family property. he spent some time in travel on the continent, where he acquired the republican ideas that were prevalent at that time. He therefore decided to settle in the United States, and, after marrying Adeline Agnew, daughter of the lieutenant-governor of the isle of Man, disposed of his estates, supplied himself with an extensive library and philosophical apparatus, and sailed in 1797 for New York. In 1798 he purchased a small island in the Ohio river, a few miles below Parkersburg, then called Backus island. Here he erected a spacious mansion which he fitted up with rich furniture, costly pictures and statues, and had the surrounding grounds elaborately cultivated. In this romantic locality he passed his time in the study of chemistry, galvanism, astronomy, and similar sciences, and in dispensing a generous hospitality to his many distinguished guests. Among the latter was Aaron Burr, who visited him in 1805, and succeeded in interesting him in his treasonable schemes, the real character of which Blennerhassett probably did not realize. The fortune that had been so liberally expended in the fitting up of his property had become somewhat diminished, and he gladly entered upon any enterprise by means of which large returns might be secured. He published a series of papers supporting the views of Burr in the “Ohio Gazette” under the pen-name of Querist, and he also invested large sums of money in boats, provisions, arms, and ammunition for the expedition. Soon after this he went to Kentucky, whence, on being warned of Burr's real designs, he returned to his to his island greatly disheartened; but in response to the repeated solicitations of Burr and to the persuasions of his wife, he persisted in the undertaking. A proclamation against the scheme having been issued by President Jefferson, Blennerhassett, who was expecting arrest, escaped from the island, and, eluding pursuit, joined Burr at the mouth of Cumberland river. Meanwhile his home was overrun by a party under Col. Phelps, who wantonly destroyed much of the property. Burr's scheme having resulted in total failure, Blennerhassett was arrested, but was soon discharged. He then attempted to return to his island home, but while on his way was again arrested at Lexington, Ky., and thrown into prison. He secured the legal services of Henry Clay, who was unsuccessful in procuring his discharge, and in consequence he was taken to Richmond for trial on a charge of treason. The prosecution against Burr having failed, Blennerhassett and the other conspirators were discharged in 1807. His property had been seized by creditors, the beautiful grounds used for the cultivation of hemp, and the mansion converted into a store-house for the preservation of crops. It was afterward burned, having been accidentally fired by some careless negroes. Blennerhassett then settled in Natchez, and afterward purchased 1,000 acres of land for the cultivation of cotton, near Port Gibson, Miss.; but this venture proved unfortunate. The war of 1812 prevented the success of most commercial enterprises, and his property steadily diminished. In 1819 he removed to Montreal, where he began the practice of law, hoping through the favor of his old schoolmate, the duke of Richmond, to obtain a judgeship. Failing in this, he sailed for Ireland in 1822, in order to recover his estates by means of a reversionary claim, but was unsuccessful. After various efforts to secure employment he retired to Guernsey, where he died. See William H. Safford's “Life of Harman Blennerhassett” (Cincinnati, 1853) and “Blennerhassett Papers, embodying the Private Journal of Harman Blennerhassett” (New York, 1864). John S. C. Abbott, under the title of “And who was Blennerhassett?” has very pleasantly, in “Harper's Magazine” for February, 1877, spoken of the life of this interesting character in his island home in the Ohio. — His wife, Adeline Agnew, whom he married in 1796, was a woman of great beauty and much talent. She was an accomplished linguist and a poet of some ability. Her works include “The Deserted Isle” (1822) and “The Widow of the Rock, and other Poems” (1824). In 1842, after the death of her husband, she returned to the United States and petitioned congress for a grant of money as compensation for the spoliation of her former home. The petition was presented by Henry Clay, and a committee of the senate reported favorably upon it; but she died before the bill was acted upon, and was buried in New York by sisters of charity.