Notes for a Memoir: Asbury Harpending, Jr.

My father and his aunt Genevieve told me much about Great-grandfather Asbury Harpending, Jr. Their stories caused me to feel, in my earliest remembered days, that my life began with his life on his fateful journey, at age 16, from Hopkinsville, Kentucky to San Francisco in 1857.

Asbury published his autobiography in 1913, ten years before his death in New York City at age 83. Asbury was then attempting to recoup his fortune on the New York and London Stock Exchanges, but the fates and possibly his own impulsive character were against him. The family’s fortunes were thus reversed and by ten years after his death all was lost, including three early deaths in my father’s family.

The reader may here peruse, in full, his original volume: The Great Diamond Hoax and Other Stirring Incidents in the Life of Asbury Harpending. The original volume may still be purchased online for prices ranging from around $25 to $95, as from antiqbook.com. The University of Oklahoma republished the book in 1958 as part of The Western Frontier Library.

Asbury was the last of many children by the four wives of Asbury Harpending, Sr., the earlier spouses having died of cholera. His paternal antecedents have been traced as far back as the early 1600s to Gerret Hargerinck in Nieuwenhuys, Netherlands, around 15 miles northwest of Aachen, Germany.

Please click on all images for better detail

An image of Nieuw Amsterdam [Source]

Gerret arrived in New Netherland in 1662 with sons Johannes and Hendrick, aged 9 and 15. New Netherland covered parts of what are now the states of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Asbury’s ancestors settled in what is now Wall Street, New York City, and operated a tannery there. As New Amsterdam (later, New York City) grew and the smells form the tannery offended a greater population, the family moved the tannery to New Jersey and leased the Wall Street property to the Dutch Reformed Church for 99 years. In later years when the family tried to recover the property with the aid of the eminent lawyers, either Henry Clay or Daniel Webster, or both. They were defeated by what the family believed to be chicanery on the part of government and church officials. One of my distant cousins, an eminent geneticist, has received and forwarded the text of the lawsuit, which I have somewhere buried in my archives.

But that was then, and my story is later. Here is a diagram of where the Harpending family and the Pavellas family intersect:

ScreenHunter_191 Mar. 15 16.50In that most of Asbury’s story is told by himself (available under the first link, above), I offer, for some balance, excerpts from the Foreword by Glen Dawson in the University of Oklahoma edition of Asbury’s autobiography:

The “Great Diamond Hoax” was one of the most fantastic episodes in Western [American] history…(T)he subject is still surrounded in mystery, inconsistency, and controversy…(T)here still remains the the big question of the extent of (Harpending’s) innocence or guilt in the Diamond Mine Swindle, called by Harpending the Great Diamond Hoax…

In 1912 there were published two large volumes entitled San Francisco, by John P. Young, in which Asbury Harpending was termed a scamp. ingenious rogue, accomplished scoundrel, and the genius who conceived and elaborated the Diamond Swindle. It was to refute these charges, says Harpending, that The Great Diamond Hoax was written…

Asbury Harpending spent more of his life in California than the the last chapter of the book would indicate. Finally, in 1918, he moved to New York, where he died on Janusary 26, 1923, at the age of eighty-three. He had three (sic) daughters, one of whom married Alexander K. Pavellas, a Greek consul, and another of whom married George D. Papageorge Palladius, editor of a Greek newspaper…

A sketch of the house in Princeton, Kentucky that Asbury, Jr. had built after having made his fortune in California. He and his wife and children lived here for three years (1873-1876), only to return to California, never to occupy the house again.

It is not my purpose in this foreword, however, to render a verdict on Asbury Harpending—indeed, at this writing [1958] not all the evidence has been presented…

[Harpending’s] account has been the basis of many articles and books, and will remian the prime source for whatever is to be written on the Great Diamond Hoax in the future. It would be difficult to estimate how many motion pictures, short stories, and novels have been inspired by this book…

My father, then known as Constantinos Pavellas, later changed to Conrad, was with his grandfather in New York at the time of his death, along with other family members. He remembered raiding Asbury’s dresser drawer and upon finding pretty stones (precious and semi-precious gems) he threw them out the window, one at a time, to watch them sparkle in the sunlight as they fell. His memory of the old fellow includes him standing at the top of the stairs, waving his cane and yelling to those below. My impression from dad and aunt Genevieve is that he was a rather rough and gruff and, later, deaf fellow who had pretentions as a Southern Gentleman. His deafness seems a family tendency, it having passed in varying degrees to his daughters, both his grandsons and to me, to a lesser degree.

Another trait of Asbury Harpending, jr,. that neither I nor my father inherited, was that of promoter and salesman. That trait devolved on dad’s cousin Nestor, Asbury’s other grandson, whose father, George D. Papageorge Palladius, also was a great promoter, and about whom there has been and will be more mention in these Notes for a Memoir.


Last in these Notes I should mention that Asbury Harpending, Jr. had at least four and probably five children with his wife Ira Anna Thompson. I have told you of daughters Lucille and Genevieve. There was also a third daughter, born while the family lived at the Harpending house in Princeton, Kentucky, but she died as a child. This could possibly be a reason the family moved away, permanently.

There was a son, Asbury Harpending III, who, by family accounts, went to sea and ultimately married a Japanese woman. He is pictured above with a woman who appears to be Japanese. The obverse of the photo is shown. The picture on the right I speculate to be Albert Harpending, about whom nothing more is known by anyone in the remaining family. One of the brothers was said to have been addicted to opium. In any case, they were, apparently, absent from the household as soon as they were able. Great-aunt Genevieve did mention Albert, in my memory, but not Asbury III. Of course I was not always around, and I might have heard her mention him, thinking she was referring to one of his older relatives with the same first name. I was 36 when she died and not living near here for quite a while before.

The presumed picture of Albert gives evidence of a family resemblance to his nephew Nestor Palladius whom I well remember.

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About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate Californian living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
This entry was posted in Alexander K. Pavellas, Asbury Harpending, Jr., Clara Lucille (Harpending) Pavellas, George D. Papageorge-Palladius, Mary Genevieve (Harpending) Papageorge-Palladius, Nestor Palladius and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Notes for a Memoir: Asbury Harpending, Jr.

  1. Jim Malanos says:

    Spohie Malanos is my Aunt (Father Vasilios Malanos and younger brother to Sophia).

    Last time I saw Helen and Anna was 1970 – How are they and do you stay in contact with them…

    Jim Malanos
    57 Picadillty Circle Marlton New Jersey 08053
    (856) 904-2220 cell

  2. Pingback: Remembrances and Impressions of an Ancestor I Never Met « Family Blog of Ron Pavellas

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