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The Blog

The Cast: Chapter 5 & 6

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt is populated by a large cast of secondary characters. Here are a few from chapters 5 and 6, "Sole Control" and "Man of Honor."

William H. Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt's oldest son, named for general and president William Henry Harrison, went to work in Daniel Drew's brokerage house as a young man. He suffered a nervous breakdown, and Vanderbilt sent him to live on a farm on Staten Island, which he slowly turned into a surprisingly profitable operation, though Vanderbilt would often browbeat Billy (as he called him).

Courtlandt Palmer: A native of Stonington, Connecticut, Palmer was president of the New York, Providence, & Boston Railroad—or the Stonington Railroad, as it was universally known. Palmer was outspoken, often accusing Vanderbilt of treachery their dealings, but he was also weak. Vanderbilt had only contempt for him.

William D. Lewis: Mostly an off-stage presence, Lewis was a senior official in the Girard Bank of Philadelphia, which held a large proportion of the Stonington Railroad's bonds. When the Stonington went bankrupt, Lewis served as a trustee. He eventually agreed to a plan by Elisha Peck to compromise the railroad's debt to bring it out of receivership, but in doing so he arranged a deal in which he and Peck profited at the bank's expense. The deal made the Stonington a target for a Vanderbilt takeover.

Oroondates Mauran: Owner of seagoing merchant ships, Mauran bought fifty percent of the stock of the Richmond Turnpike Company, which had been founded by Vice-President Daniel D. Tompkins. The company operated the first steam ferry service to Staten Island. When Mauran ordered his ferry captain to ram a rival boat operated by Vanderbilt's cousin Oliver, the other stockholders panicked, and sold out to Cornelius Vanderbilt, who took control of the ferry in 1838.

Menemon Sanford: Owner of the steamboat Charter Oak, Sanford was one of the major players in the combined railroad-and-steamboat lines that connected Boston and New York. In 1841, Sanford set an elaborate trap for his rivals (including the Stonington Railroad) that tricked them into giving him a cut of their profits. Vanderbilt saw through the plot, which set the stage for his final business campaign on Long Island Sound.

George Law: A rough-mannered, tough-talking canal contractor, Law made an art out of corrupting public officials. In the early 1840s, he entered the steamboat business, extorting money from established lines with his exceptionally fast Oregon. In 1847, he raced the Oregon on the Hudson River against Vanderbilt and his new Cornelius Vanderbilt, in front of thousands of spectators who lined the waterfront.

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