Riley family papers  1835-1910
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Biography

The Riley family papers document the family of Ashbel Wells Riley and his children George S., Ashbel, Jr., and Anna.

Ashbel Riley (1795-1888) was born in Glastonbury, Connecticut. In 1816, he settled in Rochester, New York, and worked as a builder; he eventually became a prominent landholder and city government official. Riley was one of the first aldermen on the Rochester city council and served on the board of health during a devastating cholera epidemic in 1832. Riley also had a distinguished military career, beginning in 1818 when he became an orderly sergeant of the local militia regiment, the Penfield Rifles. In 1820, he received a commission as lieutenant colonel of a second local regiment, the Rochester Rifle Guards, and became colonel of the 22nd Rifle Guards in 1831. He was promoted major general in 1834, and in 1838 took command of the 3rd New York Rifle Division. Riley, a Presbyterian, became an active temperance lecturer, delivering over 8,000 temperance speeches throughout the United States, Great Britain, and Europe, and actively promoting the formation of total abstinence societies throughout New York State. In addition to temperance, he supported other progressive causes such as antislavery, penal reform, and care for the mentally ill. He used much of his personal wealth to promote these causes and to build churches and schools in the Rochester area.

Riley married Betsey Ann Stillson (d.1823) in 1819; they had two children including George S. Riley. In 1827, he married Betsey's sister, Charlotte Stillson (d.1870); they had three children: Ashbel Wells, Jr., Justin Gamalie (d.1873), and Anna H. Riley. He married for a third time in 1871 to Mary E. Hoyt. He died in 1888.

George Stillson Riley (1822-1919) was a Rochester attorney, landowner, and, like his father, involved in temperance activities. He was a member of the Genesee Valley Club, president of the Rochester Athenaeum Association, and a board member for the Industrial School of Rochester. Along with Lewis Henry Morgan, George was a founding member of the Grand Order of the Iroquois, which held Indian rituals and politically supported the needs of the Iroquois nations. George Riley inherited his father's vast Rochester land holdings, and speculated in land interests in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa, as well as in railroad corporations, coal mining, and other investments. He suffered financial problems during the 1870s and 1880s, and, when he did not pay his property taxes, the city of Rochester claimed much of his land.

Ashbel Wells Riley, Jr. spent some time in 1841 in Cuba, and later served as an engineer in the construction of canals in upstate New York.

Anna H. Riley (d. 1908) was educated at the Utica Female Seminary. In 1853, she married a lawyer named Cyrus Bentley, and lived with him in Chicago. They had a son named Cyrus Bentley, Jr., in 1861.