Born into a New Dutch dirt farming family on Staten Island, the young, ‘Cornele’ Vanderbilt grew up looking across the waters at Manhattan Island. At age eleven, having left school after the third grade, the young Vanderbilt who already mastered sailing his father’s flat hulled, single hemp sail, periauger, entered into an arrangement with his parents to buy the small craft and his freedom in lieu of being placed as an apprentice.
The youngest ‘Captain’ sailed vegetables to Manhattan Island and quickly learned to fill his boat with dry goods from the merchants to deliver to the Staten Islanders. Vanderbilt built the single craft business into a sailing ship empire. Vanderbilt seized an opportunity to learn steam propulsion and created a steamship empire. He often conquered competitors, forcing them to pay him a tribute not to compete with his ships on their routes.
Eventually Vanderbilt abandoned sailing ships, and proceeded to build the greatest railroad empire in America. Vanderbilt also conquered the most treacherous of all ventures, the stocks and bonds of Wall Street, and became the owner of the single largest company in America. Fiercely independent and driven, the Commodore competed with a ruthless patience. He always kept accounts to settle in the future if someone had got the better of him… for a while.
At age seventy-four, Vanderbilt met and fell completely and helplessly in love with Tennessee Celeste Claflin and her healing hands. She rejuvenated the elderly industrialist. He humored his paramour by agreeing to work with her sister, Victoria. Vanderbilt was shocked when Victoria could discover more information than his professional and often brutal agents. The Vanderbilt family was so alarmed with the romance between the Commodore and Tennessee that they arranged a marriage to a distant cousin and eventually removed Tennessee from the Commodore’s life.