He was born at Geneva, the city of Calvin, on January 29, 1761, and nine days later he was carried to the neighborhood church of St. Germain to be baptized Abraham Alphonse Albert Gallatin.1 In time, he abandoned the first two of his alliterative Christian names and quitted the haunts of his forefathers; but he bore the heritage they represented to the end of his long life.
The family into which he was born was ancient and proud. There is still in existence a document dated 1258 which mentions a Gallatin by name: a receipt signed by the Abbess of Bellacomba for "quindecim libras Viennenses" presented to her convent by "Dominus Fulcherius Gallatini, Miles."2 Other carefully preserved records establish the fact that the Gallatins lived as minor noblemen in Savoy, some thirty-five miles south of Geneva, close by the Rhone, from the fourteenth century. One member of the family, Jean Gallatini, was seigneur of Granges and many other manors, an equerry of the Duke of Savoy, and the father of another Jean Gallatini, who was appointed an apostolic judge in 1522.
For noblemen who owned lands in the neighborhood there were distinct legal and economic advantages in being a citizen of Geneva. To gain them, the younger Gallatini became a citizen of the city in 1510 and maintained a residence on rue Saint Leger in the Old Town. During the next two centuries five Gallatins served as first syndics--chief magistrates of the little republic. Others became clerics and professors at the local college; others went abroad, to France and the German states, to make distinguished careers as physicians and soldiers.3
By the middle of the eighteenth century four branches of the Gallatin family were at Geneva. One was headed by Abraham Gallatin, who had a lovely estate on the hilly west shore of Lake Geneva. This property was not the fruit of his own labors, although he prospered as a dealer in timepieces, but of his marriage in 1732 to Louise-Susanne Vaudenet, daughter of a Geneva banker. Mme. Gallatin-Vaudenet, as she was known, was a woman of high spirit and intelligence; she bore Abraham three children--a son and two daughters.