David Berdan, Sr. (1766-1821) and his wife Susanna Simmons Berdan raised a family of six children in New York City in the early part of the nineteenth century. Their children were Rachel (b. 1793), Peter (b. 1797), John (1798 -1840), Margaret (1800-1832), David (1803-1827), and James (1805-1884).
In 1819 David Berdan, Sr., served on the exploration committee of the New York Emigration Society. Berdan and two others were authorized to explore the frontiers of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to purchase land for society members and lay out a town. The expedition left New York City on October 12, 1818, and traveled 3,244 miles in the course of five months. However, at the end of his arduous journey Berdan and his companions are not compensated for their exertions. Nothing came of the venture; high land prices and the panic of 1819 combined to discourage the subscribers, and the society was disbanded in 1820. Berdan died the following year.
David Berdan, Jr., attended Union College in Schenectady, New York and graduated in 1821. Shortly thereafter, his father died, stipulating in his will that David receive only a minimal allowance, with a larger sum to be distributed upon his entrance into a profession. David's own inclination was to pursue the life of the intellect -- he was a voracious reader of literature -- but he was forced to dedicate himself to the study of the law, or endure a life of penury. He loathed the idea of a legal career. "I do not feel much repugnance at the study of the theory but I look forward with horror to the certainty of being obliged to rack my brains for legal quibbles and for arguments against the most undeniable positions." (David Berdan, Jr. to James Marshall, 30 May 1823).
After graduation David Jr. studied law in New York City in the offices of John Anthon. There he met and befriended a fellow apprentice, William Henry Seward. He also became acquainted with Pierre Irving, the nephew of Washington Irving, with whom he planned to travel Europe on foot. Pierre Irving and David Berdan spent many months studying in preparation for the trip. After David received his license to practice law, they finally sailed for Gibraltar in September 1825. David's failing health forced them to limit their travels, and he died of consumption on July 20, 1827, during the voyage home.
Pierre Irving continued his association with the Berdan family, marrying David's sister Margaret on September 19, 1829. Margaret died of consumption in New York City on October 4, 1832.
The four remaining Berdan children journeyed west to the frontier states of Ohio and Illinois. John became a successful merchant and was elected the first mayor of Toledo, Ohio, in 1839. James started a law practice in Jacksonville, Illinois, eventually becoming a judge. Peter Berdan and Rachel Berdan (later Mrs. Frederick Root) settled in Brunswick, Ohio.