John Van Ness Yates


John Van Ness Yates was born in December 1779. He was the son of Robert and Janet Van Ness Yates.

Son of an prominent attorney and jurist, he grew up in his father's upper State Street. He also became a lawyer after clerking in the Court Street office of John V. Henry.

Losing his pre-eminent father before he reached his twenty-second birthday, John continued to live with his mother at 110 State Street. After her death in 1818, he remained in the house with his wife and children until his death.

In 1806, he married Elizabeth Ross Cunningham. In 1801, he was one of the first trustees of the United Presbyterian Church.

John V.N. Yates was a man of great capacity and held a number of offices and positions - all of which were based in Albany.

He was appointed captain and raised a light infantry company in 1806.

In January 1808, he was among those invited to the funeral of Henry J. Bleecker.

Master in chancery - 1808.

Recorder of the city in 1809 and served with some interruption until 1816.

In 1813, the first city directory identified him as the city recorder and living in the Yates house at 110 State Street.

Secretary of State, 1818-26. Co-author of a history of New York State.

In 1830, the city directory still listed him as a "counsellor" and living at 110 State Street.

Albany native John Van Ness Yates died in January 1839 at the age of sixty.

biography in-progress


the people of colonial Albany Sources: The life of John Van Ness Yates is CAP biography number 4483. This sketch is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources. The most extensive sketch of his life appears in the Bicentennial History of Albany, pp. 134-35. Because of the lifespan (1779-1839) of this important personage, we are unable to actively pursue his story!

Gorham A. Worth later characterized him as "a man of talents, both natural and acquired. He was equal to the duties of any station, and to the difficulties of any task. He was a wit, a poet, a belles-lettres scholar, and a boon companion, whose joke was ever ready, and whose laugh was contagious. He wanted nothing but industry and self-respect, [sic] to have made him eminent as a lawyer. His associations were beneath him, not only in point of talent, but in character; yet they affected his interests rather than his principles. He possessed the readiest apprehension and the most retentive memory, of any man I ever knew. All that he had ever read, and he had read a great deal, was at his fingers ends. He was often consulted by the younger members of the bar, while walking in the streets; and, without a moment's hesitation, would take out his pencil and write down what was the law in the case, and where it was to be found - volume, chapter and verse. From these frequent street consultations, he was called The Walking LIbrary." Printed in Worth's Random Recollections of Albany pp. 65-66.

first posted 5/30/09; last revised 1/24/13