May 2 – Happy Birthday Jeremiah Billings

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant appears to have had some very distinctive lineage surrounded by mysterious if not outright sultry circumstances. His Dad’s name was James Van Rennselaer. But today’s birthday boy’s name was Jeremiah Billings. So it appears as if his birth might have been the product of an affair. That birth took place on May 2, 1846, right here in Amsterdam, NY. His Mom was a woman named Tempe Jane Bunn Billings, which makes it appear as if she was married to a man named Billings at the time she gave birth to Van Rennselear’s son.

Having the Van Rennselear name back then in this area of New York was the equivalent to being a Rockefeller today. The family first arrived in this area of New York State from Holland in the 1600s and was granted title to millions of acres of land by the Dutch Royal House. They used that land to become wealthy beyond imagination and politically powerful in local, state and eventually national politics. Jeremiah Billings was certainly aware of the panache of the name, which may explain why he did nothing to hide the identity of his true father and in fact made it public knowledge. Back at the turn of the 20th century, the Who’s Who of American business, government and society was an annual publication called The American Blue Book of Biography. Beginning in the early 1900’s, Jeremiah’s name began getting listed in this yearly encyclopedia of the rich and powerful.

Billings did not remain in Amsterdam. According to his Blue Book profile, he received a “common school” education, migrated west, and married Chloe Cable, a woman from Cedar Falls Iowa in 1867. The couple and their three children eventually settled in a place called Alma, a small town in the Republican River Valley of Nebraska that had been the buffalo hunting grounds of the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian Tribes until the US Military chased them out after the Civil War.

Billings formed a real estate company in Alma called J. B. Billings & Sons and became heavily involved in the local Republican Party. When Alma won a decade-long battle to become the County seat, Billings was in the perfect position to benefit. He became the first Mayor of Alma and the president of the Alma State Bank. His local political power zoomed and he evolved into a power broker in the Cornhusker State’s Republican party.

That’s how Billings’ name ended up in the Blue Book. All of the folks selected for this distinction were asked to complete questionnaire addressing their backgrounds. This is why I’m assuming Billings did nothing to hide his illegitimate birth. He listed James Van Rensselaer as his father’s name.


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