Soldier, Historian, Author, Philanthropist
Born in New York City, de Peyster was the descendent of New York's first Mayor, Colonel de Heer Abraham de Peyster. A member of a wealthy family active in civil and military affairs, de Peyster authored numerous works on military and world history and served as Brigadier General in the New York State Militia in the 1850s and during the Civil War. Although ill health prevented de Peyster from serving as a field commander, he was active in raising and training troops and was granted the honorary rank of Brevet Major General in 1866 for his service. After the war the General continued his literary pursuits and civil leadership, advocating improvements in New York's police and fire protection, and became a benefactor to many municipalities, charities and libraries, including Franklin and Marshall.
De Peyster's association with the College began in 1885 when he donated books to the Diagnothian Literary Society as a gesture for their having elected him an honorary member in recognition of his literary achievements. A friendship then developed between Abraham Rothermel, the secretary of the Society, and General de Peyster that resulted in further donations to the library. In 1897 DePeyster donated $25,000 to build the Colleges first library building which was located on the site of the present library until replaced by the current structure in 1937.
On May 12, 1897 the cornerstone of the new Watts-de Peyster Library (named after de Peyster's father Frederic and grandfather John Watts) was dedicated by a party of dignitaries including Abraham Rothermel, College President John Stahr, Librarian John B. Kieffer and Architect M. O'Connor. Curiously de Peyster did not attend the dedication nor did he ever visit Lancaster in his lifetime. By the end of the decade the College had granted de Peyster three Honorary degrees in recognition of his generosity.
Far right John Watts de Peyster photographed in 1891 at the age of 70.
John Watts de Peyster's personal bookplates. The one on the left lists his numerous credentials while the one on the right bears his family crest. (not actual size)