Asbury Harpending, Jr.
Born: 14 September 1839, Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky
Died: 1923, Manhattan, New York
Asbury’s Father: Asbury Harpending, Sr.
Born: 10 October 1790, New York State
Died: 7 October 1873, Princeton, Caldwell County, Kentucky
Asbury’s Mother: born 1808 as Nancy Wright Clark. Later, she was known as Nancy Jones; a prior marriage is speculated. She was Asbury’s second wife, of three. Asbury Senior remarried in 1843, so Asbury Junior’s mother died (not divorced) when he was quite young. He was the youngest of three from his mother. He had seven half-siblings from Asbury’s first wife, Mary Prickett Ogden who died in 1833. There were no children from Asbury’s third marriage to Sarah. We don’t know the relationship Asbury had with his step-mother Sarah.
Asbury’s Wife: Ira Anna Thompson
Died: April 26, 1917
Asbury Harpending, Jr. was my father’s maternal grandfather. Dad remembered being with him in New York when Asbury died. Dad was then nine years old. My memories of Asbury are those of my father and Asbury’s daughter Genevieve, Dad’s aunt, transmuted by time and the nervous systems of the three of us.
Asbury’s official life is well chronicled in his autobiography, The Great Diamond Hoax and Other Stirring Incidents in the Life of Asbury Harpending, in many books and periodicals during and after his days, and in the archives of the Online Archive of California.
In addition, I have written a brief biography, Notes for a Memoir: Asbury Harpending, Jr.
What I record in the following is the picture I have of the man and his relationships with his children and their spouses.
He was full of himself, irascible, explosive and difficult to live with. He was driven by ambition and achieved most of what he yearned for as a youth: wealth, influence and some degree of respectability. He fancied himself as a southern gentleman, but he was not.
His memoirs barely mention his wife, about whom my father and Great Aunt knew little; I know next to nothing. Both of his sons left home never to return. He doted on his two daughters and indulged them to the point of supporting them and their husbands until he died.
He left home in Kentucky at age 16 to the promise of California during and after the Gold Rush and returned slightly before or after his father’s death in 1874 to present himself to his former community and family as a successful and wealthy man. Another motive was that he suffered public humiliation by his still-murky role in the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872 and he wanted to start afresh. This was not to be. Although he had built a marvelous house in his home county, after the child Gertrude died (within two years of her birth) he moved to New York City. I speculate he found Kentucky slow and boring and that he was not accepted socially.
It’s not clear to me how he raised a family in Marin County (Mill Valley) and Alameda County (Oakland) while living in New York, but I have heard many stories from Dad about his life in Mill Valley and the “Fruitvale House” (now gone) in Oakland. It seems apparent Asbury relied on his two sons-in-law to manage family affairs. They were business partners with each other, as well as connected through the sisters.
Asbury was a promoter and plunger and, in the end, died with his fortune almost depleted. His sons-in-law spent twelve years after his death trying to recover Asbury’s assets in New York, California, London, and Mexico.
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Harpending’s son-in-law George D. Papageorge-Palladius was also a promoter and in him, I believe Asbury saw a natural son. Papageorge died in his fifties from complications of diabetes and other diseases, having depleted all the Harpending assets in the middle of The Great Depression. Papageorge’s son, Nestor Palladius, was also a promoter/salesman but was not successful and, in the long run, died in poverty at age 83 with no natural children.
Harpending’s other son-in-law, Alexander Konstantin Pavellas, was the respectable and professionally educated “son” (lawyer and diplomat) who married the oldest, peculiar, and theretofore unmarriageable daughter, Lucille, several years older than Alexander. He died similarly to his brother-in-law, the same year, 1935.
These two sons were good husbands and did their duties, thereby cementing their access to the Harpending assets (tangible and intangible) which they used to advance their various enterprises together, including especially newspapers and other publications and activities aimed at the Greek-American community and Philhellenes of the West Coast.
Asbury was imperious and prone to impulsive betting on the future. He was a Californian of the 1800s, but his way was not profitable in the 1900s. He died a disappointed man, as did his sons-in-law who were inextricably in his orbit. His daughter Lucille was a mystical and unhappy soul who died within months of her husband and brother-in-law. His daughter Genevieve was altogether different. She enjoyed life, in whatever manner it presented itself, to the fullest until her death at age 90, then living with a rather punchy ex-boxer, Frank.
Asbury’s legacy is memories, a few mementos, and a great number of descendants, amazingly, through only one grandson, my father.
After publishing this article I heard from Eric Baker, a relative of a man who was also associated with “The Great Diamond Hoax,” James B. Cooper. In his historical researches Mr. Baker found where Asbury Harpending, Jr. is buried, without headstone:
Woodside, Queens County, New York
Plot: Section 48, Plot 99, Grave 11