Devereux, Nicholas (1791–1855), merchant, banker, and philanthropist, was born 7 June 1791 in The Leap near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, youngest child of Thomas Devereux and Catherine Devereux (née Corish). Family tradition claims that the Norman Devereux family was descended from an uncle of William the Conqueror and distantly related to Robert Devereux (qv), earl of Essex. Devereux's family was involved in the 1798 rising. His brother James died at Vinegar Hill; another brother, Walter, fled the country and was not heard of again; his father died in prison. The family also lost most of their holdings, so the younger sons, Thomas, Luke, and Nicholas, emigrated to North America.
Devereux went to New York in 1806, first to Albany and then to Utica to join his brother John Corish Devereux (1774–1848) who had come to the USA via France in 1796 and settled in New England as a dancing master. After ‘dancing two thousand dollars out of the Yankees’, John moved to Utica in 1802, opened a dry goods and grocery store, and made a fortune as a merchant and banker during the years that the city grew, first with the opening of the Erie (1825) and Chenango (1836) canals and the railroad to the west, and then as a centre for the manufacture of cotton and wool. A generous public benefactor, John Devereux was elected the city's first mayor in 1840.
Nicholas Devereux started as a clerk in the Devereux store and became John's partner in 1814. He returned to Ireland in 1814 to settle his father's estate, returning via Portugal to evade the Napoleonic war. In 1816 Nicholas started his own business with George L. Tisdale, his former clerk. On 16 December 1835 he formed the Devereux Land Company with some Manhattan businessmen. He established the Savings Bank of Utica, the first branch of the United States Bank west of Albany; the brothers became the Bank's directors. Devereux was also a director of New York Life and Trust and the Steam Woollen Mills.
The first mass in Utica was celebrated in John Devereux's home on Broad St. at Second Avenue in 1813. Concerned about the Irish who had come to the area to work on the Erie Canal, the Devereux brothers and other businessmen founded St John's church on John St. in 1819, the first catholic church in the western district of New York. They contributed to the foundation of catholic churches, schools, and charitable institutions in the Utica area and in the diocese of Buffalo after it was founded in 1847. A Sunday-school teacher in St John's church, Utica, Devereux promised a copy of the New Testament to any boy or girl who memorised the Gospel of St John. He himself was said to have read the Bible seventeen times. He printed and circulated the Douai New Testament at his own expense to make the text more widely available.
Devereux was one of the founders of the Hibernian Benevolent Society (1834); the same year he and John brought the Sisters of Charity to Utica to manage the orphanage built adjacent to St John's church. Devereux was also a manager of the New York State Asylum for the Insane. (The Greek revival Utica State Hospital was built on Court St. between 1837 and 1843.)
Devereux's business interests ranged wider than Utica. New York Life and Trust Company business brought him to Albany. He is listed in the New York City Directory for 1841–2 as a trustee of the Utica and Schenectady Railroad. Other business interests took him to western New York, where he saw the potential for development. He purchased 417,970 acres of land for $380,587.19 from the Holland Land Company in Allegheny and Cattaraugus counties when he planned to establish Allegheny City, a ‘dream city’ of Irish settlers near the city of Olean, New York. There is an extant map of the city Devereux envisaged, dated 1842. Changes in the routes of the Erie railroad and the Genesee Valley canal made the plan unfeasible.
The feature of the plan that was realised was St Bonaventure University. When Devereux visited Rome in 1854, he invited the Franciscans to come to Allegheny. He promised land and a $5,000 subvention to found St Bonaventure's College. The following summer four Franciscans arrived at the invitation of Devereux's friend John Timon, CM, bishop of Buffalo. St Bonaventure was incorporated on 17 July 1855. After Devereux's death in December, his family continued to support the St Bonaventure project. The college enrolled its first students in the fall of 1859.
Devereux initiated a second educational proposal when he wrote to the New York Freeman's Journal in 1854, supporting the petition of Archbishop John Hughes (qv) of New York and other members of the American hierarchy to establish a seminary in Rome for American priests, offering a gift of $1,000, and calling for ninety-nine other benefacators. The American College opened in 1857. Devereux died 29 December 1855 at his home in Chancellor Square, Utica, New York. The Devereux monument and his grave are in St Agnes, Utica.
He married (1817) Mary Dolbeare Butler; they had six children. Their eldest daughter, Hannah Avery Devereux, married US senator Francis Kernan. The Devereux family papers (1825–88) are in the Manuscript and University Archives, John M. Olin Library, Cornell University.