October 10, 2019

Meet the Tredwells: Seabury Tredwell, Part 4 – The End of an Era

by Ann Haddad

Seabury Tredwell, by Henry Augustus Loop. MHM 2002.4503

On February 4, 1835, a notice appeared in the Shipping and Commercial List and New-York Price Current that the hardware firm of Tredwell, Kissam, and Company, which had flourished for over 20 years on Pearl Street, was “dissolved by mutual consent.”

That same year, Seabury Tredwell moved his family from their home on Dey Street, in lower Manhattan not far from the seaport, to a Late Federal/Greek Revival row house on Fourth Street, in the neighborhood then known as the elite “Bond Street area.” He was 55 years old, and not about to retire from the world. For 30 years until his death he maintained an active life, keeping pace with the enormous economic changes taking place in New York City and making shrewd investments in real estate, railroads, and natural gas. (For more information about Seabury Tredwell’s hardware business and investments, see Seabury Tredwell: The Merchant Years and Seabury Tredwell: Man of Opportunity). His years of hard work led to outstanding success and enormous wealth. Now we turn our attention to his final illness and death in March 1865.

Seabury’s Final Illness

For some years leading up to his death, Seabury’s attending physician was Dr. George E. Belcher (1818-1890), a practitioner of homeopathy, an alternative medical practice. Dr. Belcher had converted to homeopathy from conventional medical treatments in 1844. (For more information about homeopathy and the Tredwell family’s physicians, see my blog post of October 2016: The Doctor in the House is a Homeopath!). Seabury’s death certificate, signed by Dr. Belcher, states he died from acute kidney failure caused by Bright’s Disease, now known as acute or chronic nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys). The disease is characterized by a wide range of symptoms, including swelling, coma, stroke, convulsions, and blindness.

Letter from Timothy Tredwell to Julia Tredwell, March 3, 1865. MHM 2002.4601.32.

Seabury’s homeopathic treatment plan likely included the administration of herb and plant remedies, such as arsenicum, belladonna, burdock root, and juniper berry; dietary restrictions (no red meat, cheese, or alcohol); warm compresses and massage of the lower back for pain; and inhalation of lavender oil to reduce anxiety.

Although Dr. Belcher listed Bright’s Disease as the cause of death on Seabury’s death certificate, we do not know how long he suffered with the disease. According to a story related by his granddaughter Elizabeth Tredwell Stebbins (1885-1973), Seabury caught a cold after returning from his home in Rumson, New Jersey, by boat one winter’s day in 1865, which led to his death on March 7. On March 3, his nephew Timothy Tredwell, who lived in Toledo, Ohio, penned a letter to Seabury’s daughter Julia, after learning of his condition:

“I am deeply pained by the news of your dear father’s illness & his sufferings occupy much of my daily & nightly thoughts & sympathies… May god in his infinite mercy bless him. He has been a good uncle to me & how good a father to you all, you only can tell.”

The Civil War Draws to a Close

In early 1865, as Seabury’s life was coming to an end, the nation witnessed the collapse and death of the Confederacy. The Union Army, thanks to the brilliant military strategies of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman, left the Confederate Army in tatters. Passage of the 13th Amendment at the end of January 1865 abolished slavery and on March 4, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President for a second term in Washington, D.C. One month later, on April 9, the Civil War ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

“The Union Jubilee,” The New York Times, March 7, 1865.

The Union Jubilee

On March 6, as Seabury lay on his deathbed, surrounded by his family, New York City joyously celebrated the anticipated end of the Civil War with a “Union Jubilee.” Over one million spectators lined the streets to see the grand parade, which included military troops; volunteer firemen; members of clubs, businesses, and community organizations; and even a menagerie of, among other animals, elephants and camels. John Ward, Jr., who was a National Guardsman and who lived near the Tredwells, on Thompson and Bleecker Streets, marched in the parade with his Company; the excitement of the event is palpable in his diary entry:

“Beautiful, perfect day. I put on my uniform and medal after breakfast & rigged the flag out of Mother’s window. …We formed in Washington Square….Tremendous crowd. Largest ever known. We wheeled well into Broadway, marched down to the Museum, up Park Row, etc., and Bowery to Union Square (where we saw the procession still passing down Broadway) up 4th Avenue, to 23rd Street, up Madison Ave. to 29th St…up to 33rd St. over to 8th Ave., down to Washington Square where we were dismissed. Flags & decorations were fine. …Dined. Then went to Union Square to see the fireworks. Great crowd. Splendid pieces. Change of rebel to loyal flag. “Sumter” “Bombardment of Fort Fisher,” “Monitor & Merrimack” etc. Rockets & balloons. Homes and clubs illuminated. Mother had gas all lighted.”

As the Tredwell family maintained their vigil at Seabury’s deathbed that day, they surely heard the commotion of the celebration, the pealing church bells, and the gun salute fired in Union Square to signal the start of the parade. It is hard to imagine them sharing in the immense relief and happiness of the citizens of New York City. And the no doubt unadorned Tredwell home on Fourth Street must have stood out sharply among its neighboring dwellings, for The New York Daily Herald reported on March 7:

“Looking at the houses, you beheld one, grand continuous exhibition of flags from windows, poles, awnings, and every point whereon to hang this badge of loyalty and nationality. All of the hotels and public buildings were covered with the Stars and Stripes, and many houses displayed mottoes and inscriptions of an appropriate character.”

Death of the Patriarch

The day after the “Union Jubilee,” on March 7, Seabury died at the age of 84. His wife, Eliza, their eight children, and five grandchildren, survived him. After being waked in the front parlor for three days, on March 11 (a “beautiful, bright cold day,” according to John Ward, Jr.), Seabury’s funeral took place in the double parlor of his home, and he was interred in the New York City Marble Cemetery on East Second Street. On December 28, he was moved to his final resting place in the family plot in Christ Church Cemetery in Manhasset, Long Island.

A Family, and a Nation, Mourn

Eliza Tredwell and her family were approximately one month into their mourning period for Seabury when the American Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. Five days later, on April 14, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, and the glory of the Union victory was instantly forgotten, as the City plunged into mourning. Philip Hamilton Hill (1839-1915), a 27-year-old York City dry-goods clerk, noted the tragedy in his diary on April 15:

“Was horrified on waking this morning, to hear that President Lincoln was assassinated last night at Ford’s Theatre, Washington, by a man supposed to be J. Wilkes Booth the actor, and that an attempt had been made, upon the life of Sec’y Seward. Business was at a standstill all day, many of the Stores being closed, and most all draped in mourning, and a feeling of intense excitement existed throughout the City.”

Lincoln’s Funeral Procession at City Hall, 1865.

On Tuesday, April 25, Hill recorded in his diary how he joined the crowd (over 150,000 mourners) which lined up outside City Hall, from which hung a banner reading “THE NATION MOURNS,” to view the late President’s body, and the somber mood as Lincoln’s funeral cortege passed through New York City:

“By dint of hard work, and a good deal of tight squeezing, I managed to get through. I wouldn’t go through the same crowd again for ten dollars…The remains lay at the door of the Governor’s room, surrounded by a guard of honor…He looked the same as in life, with the exception of his skin, which was of a much darker hue….At 1 P.M. all the stores were closed, and the funeral procession commenced to move up Broadway towards the train on the Hudson River road which was to convey the remains West. Had our room full of company to view the procession.”

One wonders if any of the Tredwell family joined Hill at City Hall to view the President’s remains. They most likely joined the half a million New Yorkers who viewed the funeral procession, as it made its way up Broadway past Fourth Street. Even in their mourning attire, they would not have stood out in the crowds, for on that day many women donned widow’s weeds, and the men wore black crepe armbands, as a sign of their grief over President Lincoln’s death.

Mourning Dress, ca. 1874, MHM 2002.0803

A Long Mourning Period

Mourning, the personal expression of loss and grief, was considered women’s work in the 19th century. Men, as the breadwinners who had to return to the workforce, were not  expected to remain at home and follow the societal restrictions required by mourning etiquette. They donned a black hatband or armband and resumed their regular life. It fell to the women of the house to conform to social norms, by donning black mourning attire, sharply curtailing their socialization, and following the other precise rules of mourning frequently found in popular household manuals. The ability to follow elaborate mourning rituals was also a subtle indication of the wealth, respectability, and social status of the family; mourning attire and its accoutrements were expensive.

For Eliza Tredwell, mourning and all its associated traditions became a daily part of her life, perhaps for the remainder of her life. Typically, a widow in “full” or “deep” mourning adhered to a strict dress code of dull black for a year and one day, then proceeded, in the ensuing nine months to one year, to “half-mourning,” in which some colors, such as gray, white, mauve, and lavender, were permitted.

For much more information about mid-19th century mourning customs, please visit our exhibition “Death, Mourning, and the Hereafter in Mid-19th Century New York,” on view from September 26 to November 4. As part of the exhibition, visitors may meet Mrs. Tredwell in the front parlor and offer their condolences every Saturday afternoon in October from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

The End of an Era

An obituary in the New York Post on March 11, 1865, noted Seabury’s death:

“Among the deaths noticed in our column today is that of one of our oldest and most respected merchants, Seabury Tredwell. He was a gentleman of the old school, dignified and accomplished in his manners and high-minded and honorable in all his transactions…“He now goes out from us, one of the last of his generation, honored, respected and beloved by all.”


  • Hill, Philip Hamilton. Diaries, 1855-1865. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Knapp, Mary L. An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
  • New York Daily Herald. March 7, 1865, p. 1. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 9/17/19.
  • New York Evening Post. March 11, 1865. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 9/9/19.
  • New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1759-1949. www.familysearch.org.
  • Merchant’s House Museum Archives. Tredwell, Timothy. Manuscript Letter, March 3, 1865. MHM 2002.4601.32.
  • Shipping and Commercial List and New-York Price Current. February 4, 1835, p. 3. America’s Historical Newspapers, via ProQuest. Accessed 6/29/17.
  • Spann, Edward K. Gotham at War: New York City, 1860-1865. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 2002.
  • Strausbaugh, John. City of Sedition: The History of New York City During the Civil War. New York: Twelve Hachette Book Group, 2016.
  • Ward, John. Diaries, 1847-1888. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
July 19, 2019

Meet the Tredwells: Seabury Tredwell, Part 3 – Man of Opportunity

by Ann Haddad

An Astute Businessman

George Chapman, who founded the Merchant’s House Museum in 1936, named it “The Old Merchant’s House” as a tribute to the early 19th century merchants who were known as the old merchants, among them Seabury Tredwell, who built New York City into the “commercial emporium of America” (as was said in the 19th century). However, Seabury Tredwell’s occupation certainly did not define him. Although he was a New York City hardware merchant (and a very successful one: see my post Seabury Tredwell, Part 2 – The Merchant Years), he did not confine his business interests to his Pearl Street warehouse and to life on the seaport. Rather, Seabury held a progressive view of the city and the nation’s capacity for growth; beginning in 1816, he began to invest in real estate, an interest that would continue until his death. As his career flourished, he purchased properties in Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as further afield in North Carolina and Michigan. Seabury also kept abreast of the country’s industrial development, investing in the burgeoning railroad and coal gas companies.

West 11th Street, 1825, showing open fields.

West 11th Street, 1825, showing open fields. Manhattan Moves Uptown.

New York on a Grid

Relatively early in his career (and just one year after taking on his nephew as a business partner), Seabury Tredwell started investing in the New York City real estate market. No doubt he was influenced and guided by two of his older brothers, Adam and John, who had moved to the city several years before Seabury, and who, by the first decade of the 19th century, owned extensive real estate in New York City and Brooklyn City. Seabury’s real estate investing involved him in one of the most important chapters of New York City history: the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which called for the reorganization of Manhattan’s haphazard landscape into streets and avenues in a rectilinear grid pattern. Seabury’s first real estate purchase indicates that he was very likely aware of the Commissioners’ Plan. Probably eager to profit from the city’s anticipated growth patterns, in May 1816, prior to his marriage and while living in a boarding house, Seabury purchased a substantial three-lot parcel on the northwest corner of what is now 12th Street and Broadway, for $1,860.

N.Y.C. Common Council Check to Seabury Tredwell, 1828.

The City Pays

In 1826, ten years after Seabury purchased the property, New York City was preparing to open 12th Street; the first step of the process was to compensate all the property owners whose land would be claimed and used. According to the Minutes of the Common Council, on January 28, 1828, the city paid Seabury $3,341 for one lot of his property that was consumed by the grid. Nine other property owners also received payment.

Harlem Land

In December 1828, Seabury sold one of the remaining lots on 12th Street and Broadway to Michael Floy for $800, in exchange for 4 lots on 128th Street and 4th Avenue, in Central Harlem. Floy, a noted horticulturist, likely wanted the land to add to his already existing greenhouse south of what is now Union Square. The land in Harlem was a developing area, ideal for real estate speculation. Further research is required to determine if and how Seabury built on and profited from the Harlem investment.

A Wise Investment

Seabury sold the last lot on the property on 12th Street in February 1833 for $1,500. Seabury gained usable land in Harlem and realized a total profit of $5,641 from his original investment of $1,860.

Merchant’s Exchange, Wall Street, 1852. NYPL.

The New York Merchant’s Exchange

In addition to his personal real estate dealings, Seabury bid at auction for some of his properties at the New York Merchant’s Exchange, located at 55 Wall Street. Built in 1836-42, it replaced the original Exchange, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1835. The Exchange housed a post office, banks, and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as rooms for auction sales of real estate and stocks, which was at a fever pitch as the city growth pushed northward, and housing was in great demand to accommodate the exploding population.

According to the records of New York Merchant’s Exchange of July 17, 1856, Seabury purchased at auction a lot on the southwest corner of 8th Avenue and 53rd Street, for $4,050.

Fulton Ferry House, 1856. South Street Seaport Museum.

Seabury Bets on Brooklyn

When Seabury ventured into the frenzied Brooklyn real estate market in the mid-19th century, Brooklyn was the third largest city in America (it didn’t merge with New York City until 1898), and soon to become one of America’s major industrial centers, due to its location on the East River, which allowed for convenient transportation of materials and manufactured goods. Beginning in 1814, regular steam ferry service between Fulton Street in Brooklyn and Beekman Slip (now Fulton Street) in Manhattan, made it easy for affluent families who had moved to Brooklyn, as well as workers with jobs in the city, to commute back and forth.

Before It Was DUMBO

Seabury no doubt was aware of Brooklyn’s changing character and landscape when he acquired his first piece of Brooklyn property in March 1852, when he purchased, from the estate of his brother John, four plots on Fulton and Pearl Streets in the Second Ward, for $12,875. This area, located along the East River waterfront, is now known as the DUMBO Historic District (an area now bounded roughly by the Brooklyn Bridge, the East River, York, and Navy Streets).  Although this area was one of the first residential-use sections of Brooklyn, by 1852 it was well on its way to becoming a major manufacturing center, with factories, foundries, and warehouses vying for space with two and three-story residential houses. Two ferry lines, one right at the foot of Front Street, made regular trips to and from New York City.

In 1853, Seabury sold this property for $15,500. In one and a half years, he made a profit of $3,500.

Ward Map, Brooklyn 1855. NYPL.

… and Fort Greene

In 1858 and 1859, Seabury added to his Brooklyn holdings with the purchase of nine lots, some with buildings, on Fulton Avenue, Raymond Street, and Navy Street, in the 11th Ward (now the Downtown Brooklyn/Fort Greene area), for $12,000. The property was advertised in the Evening Post in 1850 as being “located in the most desirable part of Brooklyn, being in the immediate vicinity of Washington Park, which is now being regulated and graded.”  He immediately sold two of the lots for $4,600. In 1863, he sold four of the lots for $15,500, making a profit on land he had owned for only four years. 

With the growth of middle-class residential districts, including Fort Greene, house construction in Brooklyn skyrocketed. Row houses appeared almost overnight on the quiet streets, and became ideal homes for professionals who commuted to their New York City businesses. According to Seabury’s personal ledger, he spent a great deal of money building on his Brooklyn properties. Between July and October 1863, for example, he paid John P. Seeley (a “master builder,” according to the 1860 Federal Census) $9,370, most likely for house construction. Seabury also paid $102.31 to have a sidewalk laid on his property on Raymond Street.

Effingham Nichols, 1860-1870. MHM 2002.0168.

The Good Son-in-Law

Effingham Nichols, an attorney and the husband of Seabury’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, must have been influential in Seabury’s decision to invest in Brooklyn real estate. He lived in Fort Greene with his wife and daughter, Lillie, from 1859 to 1864, and had begun to buy property there in 1851; by 1859 he owned at least seven properties in the neighborhood. (See my post of April 2017, “Days of Sorrow, Days of Rejoicing”). In addition, one of his brothers, William B. Nichols, owned houses near Seabury’s property on Fulton Avenue and Raymond Street. Effingham may have collected rents for Seabury, and may even have acted as an agent for him, buying and selling properties at his discretion. Records in Seabury’s personal ledger indicate that Seabury provided Effingham with funds to repair the Fulton/Raymond Street property. In 1863, for example, he gave Effingham $63.84 for sewer work.

In 1863, Seabury made what may have been his last purchase of Brooklyn real estate, bidding at auction for another parcel of land in Fort Greene, paying $4,400. The Land Conveyance Records Index for Kings County indicate that Seabury purchased at least three other properties in Brooklyn; the details of these purchases could not be determined because the conveyance records are missing.

Seabury the Landlord

Seabury also collected rents on some of his properties. In 1862, he rented three buildings on Fulton Avenue to Mary Louise Tredwell (a distant cousin) for $1,200/year. Seabury’s personal ledger indicates that in 1852 he was collecting rent of $1,000/year on a factory on Front Street, and $212.50/year for a Pearl Street property.

Seabury also engaged in seller financing, wherein he financed purchases of his property to individuals, rather than have them obtain a bank mortgage. In his personal ledger, he listed several individuals to whom he sold property, such as John and William Healy, John Rupp, and John David, and the amounts of the mortgages he granted.

Samuel Tredwell’s Appointment as Collector of the Port of Edenton, NC., 1793. State Library of N.C.

Ventures Further Afield

Records show that Seabury also invested in commercial property with his partners for their business. Seabury and his nephews likely decided to invest in real estate in North Carolina due to their business dealings there and their familiarity with the state. Seabury’s eldest brother, Samuel Tredwell (1763-1827), had been a prestigious figure in North Carolina after the Revolutionary War. In 1785, Samuel moved to Edenton, North Carolina, whose vital port was the second largest in the state. In 1793, he was appointed Collector of the Port of Edenton by President Washington, a position he held until his death. He also served as State Commissioner of North Carolina in 1818.

In 1835, Tredwell, Kissam & Company purchased 13,000 acres of North Carolina swampland from Charles Johnson for the purpose of harvesting lumber to make shingles. A North Carolina Supreme Court case in June 1840 involved a lawsuit brought against a trespasser who was using the land illegally. At this time it is unknown when and to whom Seabury sold the land.

In the Transactions of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Michigan, 1825-1836, there is a record of a court case involving Tredwell, Kissam & Company in a lawsuit against three men, Isaac Otis, George Walker, and John Hale. The nature of the suit is unknown.

The Children Benefit

A portion of the original property on Fulton Avenue and Raymond Street in Brooklyn was still under Seabury’s name upon his death in 1865, and became part of his estate. His children benefited from Seabury’s real estate savvy. In 1902, Samuel Lennox, his younger son, who had purchased the Fulton Avenue property from his father’s estate some years earlier, sold it for $40,200. The property was described in a February 1902 advertisement in the Brooklyn Eagle as being a very valuable plot with three two story and cellar brick buildings thereon, with 5 stores therein.”

Seabury’s Investment Portfolio

It is unclear when Seabury set about building an investment portfolio, but by his death in 1865 he had amassed enough stock to significantly cushion his family’s inheritance. Getting in on the ground floor of both the steam engine and lighting revolutions taking place in New York City and elsewhere, he invested heavily in various railroad stock (including the New York and Erie Line, the Hudson Line, Chicago and Rock Island lines, and Hartford and New Haven lines) and in gas lighting. Seabury may have consulted his friends and former colleagues in the business world for advice; he also may have looked to his sons-in-law Effingham Nichols and Charles Richards for guidance in choosing his investments.

The New York and Erie Railroad Line

Seabury Tredwell was an early investor – and possibly one of the original investors – in the New York and Erie Line, a railroad that linked Erie Canal towns directly to New York City, allowing for faster transportation of lumber and agricultural goods. Leading merchants of the day, as well as land investors and bankers, were granted the charter in 1832, creating a railroad line that ran west from the Hudson River in Piermont, New York, to Dunkirk on Lake Erie. This proved to be a risky investment through the years, however; the railroad went bankrupt several times, and became known as “the scarlet woman of Wall Street,” due to the financial shenanigans of men like Jay Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who vied for control of the railroad and manipulated the company holdings to their own advantage.

Route of the New York & Erie Railroad, 1834

Take the Hudson River Line

The Hudson River Line was another of Seabury’s investments. In 1846, 11 years after Seabury sold his business, the Hudson River Line was chartered. This commuter line initially ran from Chambers and Hudson Streets in lower Manhattan up the West Side via horse cars (steam trains were not permitted below 30th Street) to a depot at 32nd Street, where the horses were exchanged for steam engines, then along the east side of the Hudson River, to Peekskill. By 1851 it had been extended to Poughkeepsie, which remains its terminus. Through a connection with the Troy and Greenbush Railroad, it provided a link between Albany and lower Manhattan, a trip of less than four hours. A similar journey by steamboat took over seven hours! One imagines that the growth of the railroad industry (with its speed, efficiency, and convenience) and its revolutionary impact on 19th century life was not lost on Seabury, who, like everyone else, had previously relied on the comparatively snail-paced omnibuses, ferries, and coaches.

New York Gas Light Company

Seabury’s personal ledger indicates that he owned 133 shares of stock in the New York Gas Light Company, the first coal gas company in New York, founded in 1823. One wonders if he was one of the original investors in the company, which first focused on street lighting, servicing Manhattan south of Canal Street. Ultimately six gas companies supplied gas for illumination and later, for heating and cooking. The competition for customers was so fierce in the growing city, that workers from different companies would do battle in the streets over the installation of gas mains; known as “gas house gangs.” In 1884, the companies merged to form Consolidated Gas Company (now known as Con-Edison).

More than a Merchant

Now that Seabury’s varied business interests have come to light, and we see the extent to which he ventured into unchartered investments, it is clear the title “merchant” doesn’t embrace all that Seabury was in the business world of the 19th century. Seabury Tredwell, along with many of his peers in the merchant class, were men of opportunity who shaped the economic future of New York City. Perhaps we should consider renaming the Merchant’s House — the “Investor’s House”? The “Risk-Taker’s House”? What do you think?



  • Blume, William Wirt, ed. Transactions of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Michigan 1825-1836, Volume II. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1940. www.babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 5/29/19.
  • Bristed, Charles A. The Upper Ten Thousand: Sketches of American Society. New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1852. www.babel.hathitrust.org.  Accessed 6/5/19.
  • Brooklyn Citizen. April 2, 1902, p. 9. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 5/3/19.
  • Brooklyn Daily Eagle. February 22, 1902, p. 15. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 5/3/19.
  • Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Conveyances, 1724-. New York Land Records, 1630-1975. Images. familysearch.org.
  • “Erie Railroad Company.” Encyclopedia Britannica. www.britannica.com. Accessed 6/3/19.
  • Evening Post. October 5, 1850, pg. 3. www.newspapers.com.  Accessed 5/22/19.
  • “History of Con Edison.” American Oil & Gas Historical Society. www.aoghs.org. Accessed 6/3/19.
  • Koeppel, Gerard. City on a Grid: How New York Became New York. Boston: Da Capo Press, 2015.
  • Lockwood, Charles. Manhattan Moves Uptown: An Illustrated History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.
  • New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. DUMBO Historic District Designation Report. December 18, 2007.  www.neighborhoodpreservation.org. Accessed 5/21/19.
  • New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Fort Greene Historic District Designation Report. September 26, 1978. www.home2.nyc.gov. Accessed 5/22/19.
  • New York Daily Herald, March 11, 1865, p. 2. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 6/9/19.
  • North Carolina. Supreme Court. North Carolina Reports: Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of North Carolina, [v 023, June Term 1840-June Term 1841]. State Library of North Carolina. www.digital.ncdcr.gov. Accessed 5/29/19.
  • Notes from Seabury Tredwell’s Personal Ledger Book.  Merchant’s House Museum Archives.
May 23, 2019

Meet the Tredwells: Seabury Tredwell, Part 2 – The Merchant Years

by Ann Haddad

Seabury Tredwell (1780-1865), MHM 2002.0100

A Knack for Success

Throughout his life, Seabury Tredwell had a remarkable knack for being in the right place at the right time. Or perhaps he had wise advisors who guided him carefully. However he made his decisions, they seemed to always be the right ones. He arrived in New York City to make his fortune as its wealth and reputation as a great commercial center was about to explode; thirty-five years later, he ended his mercantile career and moved uptown, narrowly escaping the Great Fire of 1835 and the economic Panic of 1837.  He knew the chic neighborhood to move to and the finest country property to buy. The story of his trajectory from country farm boy to elite New York merchant is a classic success story.

Enter Seabury

Seabury arrived in New York City sometime around 1800, when the city’s population was approximately 60,500. Probably working initially as an entry-level clerk, he became one of approximately 1,100 merchants who aspired to achieve success in the growing city. He either lived with his boss (clerks often slept on the store premises), or took lodging in a boarding house. He most likely packed all of his possessions into one trunk; its contents may have been similar to that brought by a young clerk in “The Perils of Pearl Street,” : “Two pair of stockings, one vest, one pair of pantaloons, one dress-coat, two nightcaps, three cravats, one pair of boots, and one pair of slippers.” No doubt Seabury was given a sum of money by his father or another relative to tide him over financially until he was self-sufficient. For more information about Seabury’s arrival in New York City, see Meet the Tredwells: Seabury Tredwell, Part I – The Early Years.

“The Commercial Emporium of America”

With the end of the War of 1812, the lifting of British blockades, and the subsequent restoration of trade, the Port of New York began the steady economic growth that eventually led it to become the world’s busiest seaport. According to The Rise of New York Port (1939), the years from 1815-1865 saw the seaport’s greatest development into “the commercial emporium of America.” Several factors contributed to this intense and rapid growth.

The Black Ball Line Packet Ship ‘New York,’ by William Clark, 1836.

The Black Ball Line

The launching of the Black Ball Line in 1818, whose four ships made regularly scheduled voyages to and from Liverpool, allowed New York to ramp up its importing of foreign goods, beating out the competitive port cities of Boston and Philadelphia. On average the packets travelled from New York to Liverpool in 23 days; the reverse trip west could take anywhere from 45 to 90 days, depending on weather and wind conditions. Due to the success of the Black Ball, other lines soon followed suit and, according to Gotham (1999) by Burrows and Wallace, by 1838 52 packet ships were shuttling from New York to Liverpool. The development of inland steamboat service by 1817 also contributed to traffic between the city and Long Island Sound and the North (now Hudson) River. Imagine the East and North River wharves lined daily with nearly 1,000 steamboats and packets!

An Ideal Harbor

The joining of the East and North Rivers created a large harbor that was ideal for foreign and domestic commercial trade. Owing to its location and tides, the harbor was well sheltered and free of the treacherous ice that could damage ships, and therefore its ports were accessible in all seasons. The depth of the water allowed large ships to come close to the wharves to load and unload cargo.

Opening of the Erie Canal, 1825.

The Erie Canal – “Clinton’s Ditch”

The opening of the 363-mile Erie Canal in 1825, which connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes via the Hudson River, galvanized commerce and enabled New York to become the gateway to the rich agricultural resources of the Midwest. Those who opposed the plan to build the canal referred to it as “Clinton’s Ditch,” to ridicule Governor DeWitt Clinton, who was one of the major supporters of the project. Its route from New York City to Buffalo allowed midwestern markets to receive highly desirable imported manufactured goods; in return, domestic produce grown in the nation’s interior could be shipped (at a dramatically lower cost) to the New York markets. This exchange of more and more goods took significantly less time, increasing the velocity of trade in New York dramatically.

As a result of the surge and speed of trade, a new way of doing business developed in New York. Merchants sought ways to store the wealth of goods coming in and going out, while also selling them directly to consumers. The brick warehouses constructed for this purpose, which forever altered the landscape of Lower Manhattan, typically held a store/living space on the ground floor with storage areas above. The ubiquitous cart man transported the goods from the teeming wharves to the shops, where they would be hauled up by ropes to the second and third floor.

The Merchant Class

As New York’s commercial activity accelerated with each passing year, the wealth of the city and its merchants grew to unprecedented heights. According to the Commercial Directory (1823), in 1820 the value of goods imported into New York City was $26 million, and the value of exported foreign merchandise and domestic goods was nearly $12 million. The men who controlled the mercantile business became powerful and wealthy in the process and were known as the elite “Merchant Class.” Individually, those who could claim membership in this group were later referred to as “Merchant Princes.” Seabury Tredwell was indeed deserving of this distinction.

The Hardware Trade: Seabury’s Niche

Tredwell, Kissam & Co., Advertisement, Evening Post, 1832.

We do not know if Seabury was set on becoming a hardware merchant from the start, or if he clerked for a merchant in the hardware trade, during which time he learned the details of the business. According to John C. Tucker, a New York City hardware merchant whose career overlapped with Seabury’s for several years, in the first half of the 19th century, “American Hardware was almost unknown.” Seabury purchased his goods from importers and wholesaled them from his warehouse. During his years in the hardware trade, more than 85 percent of the goods Seabury sold were imported. According to Tucker, the only American-made hardware was cut nails, and even those Seabury’s company also imported (see advertisement at right). Hence Seabury and other businessmen relied heavily on the merchant ships to deliver their goods in a timely fashion. Severe weather or a shipwreck could be a major setback to business.

It should be noted, however, that some percentage of the goods Seabury sold were American-made. At the bottom of an Evening Post advertisement (September 6, 1816), he added, “ALSO, Many articles of American Manufacture in the Hardware line.”

Trade Embargo

From his shop and warehouse on Pearl Street (see previous post for shop locations), Seabury set to work building his business and reputation as a hardware merchant. His career may have been derailed for several years during the trade embargo imposed by President Thomas Jefferson from December 1807 to March 1809, which prohibited American ships from trading in foreign ports. As a result of this effort to protect American shipping rights and to maintain neutrality amidst the raging Anglo-French conflict, activity at the seaport came to a standstill. The export trade declined by nearly 80 percent; imports by 60 percent. Many mercantile firms went out of business and unemployment among seaport workers skyrocketed. The embargo may explain the absence of Seabury’s name from the city Directory in 1808; like many other merchants, he may have had to close his business. Once the Embargo Act was repealed by Congress, in March 1809, Seabury’s name once again appeared in the Directory.

Joseph Kissam. Courtesy of Toby Kissam.

All in the Family

According to hardware merchant John C. Tucker, a “large business” was one that sold between $150,000-$200,000 worth of goods per year. Although the size of Seabury’s business is unknown, by 1815 his wealth had grown to such an extent that he took on his nephew, Joseph Kissam, as a partner, naming the firm Tredwell & Kissam. Joseph’s brother, Samuel, would join them three years later; the firm then became known as Tredwell, Kissam, and Company, and remained so until Seabury’s retirement in 1835. The partners typically shared equally in the responsibilities and profits of the company.

In The Old Merchants of New York (1863-66), author Joseph A. Scoville notes that bringing family members into the business was almost de rigueur. A merchant on the road to success “does not rest until one by one he has procured situations for all of his brothers” (or in Seabury’s case, nephews). Joseph (1790-1863) and Samuel (1796-1856), were the sons of Seabury’s sister, Elizabeth (1767-1803), and her husband Dr. Daniel Whitehead Kissam (1763-1829), of Hempstead, Long Island.

Newspapers: The Way to Advertise

Although they did some some retail business in the stores attached to their warehouses, (Seabury’s advertisements occasionally indicated that items may be purchased “from the shelves”), companies like Tredwell, Kissam and Company worked largely in wholesale. To keep his customers apprised of the goods arriving from England, Seabury advertised in the newspapers, paying a subscription of $40 per year to advertise at will, but typically three or four times a year, based on the packet schedule. (According to The Old Merchants of New York, “no respectable house would overdue the thing. [over-advertise]”). Country merchants, who would come into town several times a year to make their purchases (typically in the spring and fall), consulted the advertisements to determine which houses to visit. With these personal interactions, merchants would establish relationships with their clients, and come to understand their financial situations; this usually ensured customer loyalty, especially if the merchant extended credit to the customer when necessary.

Seabury Tredwell’s Advertisement, Evening Post, 1812.

Seabury Tredwell’s first newspaper advertisement appeared on September 7, 1812. He advertised 30,000 musket flints (a form of quartz used to ignite firearms), and pistols. Tredwell & Kissam’s first advertisement appeared on August 16, 1816. As this was one year after Seabury took on a partner, it may indicate a deliberate decision on Seabury and Joseph’s part to expand the scope of their business. The ad boasts of the company’s “extensive assortment” of goods, and stress that they offer “liberal terms” for both retail and wholesale “by the package, or in quantities to suit the country trade.” In addition to hardware such as cutlery, waffle irons, tools, and cookware, the company also sold looking glasses, buttons, and ladies’ pocket books.

Newspapers like the Evening Post also regularly printed notices of ships’ arrivals in New York Port. On November 2, 1815, the ship Zodiac arrived after a 70-day voyage from Liverpool, England, bearing cargo for Tredwell & Kissam. These notices would then typically be followed by advertisements from the company announcing the goods they now had in stock.

Pearl Street, 1835. Valentine’s Manual. NYPL Digital Collections.

A Pearl of A Street

Prior to the Civil War, the mile-long stretch of the East River from the Battery to Corlear’s Hook (now at Cherry Street and the East River Drive), was home to the busiest wharves. Because of their proximity to the waterfront, where ships loaded and unloaded their cargo, streets such as Pearl, (especially the blocks north of Wall Street and south of Fulton), Front, South, Wall, Pine, and lower Broadway comprised the epicenter of commercial activity. Hundreds of merchants had their shops and warehouses on these streets. According to the Commercial Directory (1823), on Pearl Street alone, 90 mercantile firms vied for customers, selling everything from dry goods and cotton to china and fine jewelry. Auction houses were plentiful as well. Tredwell, Kissam and Company was one of eight hardware merchants on Pearl Street that year.

Seabury’s Daily Routine

Whether he ventured to his warehouse on Pearl Street from his boardinghouse a short distance away, or later from his home on Dey Street, when he had to walk a few blocks further, Seabury’s daily routine probably resembled the one described in The Old Merchants of New York:

“To rise early, to get breakfast, to go down to the counting house of the firm, to open and read letters – to go out and do some business…until twelve, then to take a lunch and a glass of wine at Delmonico’s; or a few raw oysters at Downing’s; to sign checks and to attend to the finances until half past one; to go on change [the Merchant’s Exchange]; to return to the counting house, and remain until time to go to dinner, and in the old time, when such things as packet nights existed [when the packet ships would arrive at port], to stay down until ten or eleven at night, and then go home and go to bed.”

Rising Stars

Bill to Elijah Boardman, September, 1812, Litchfield Historical Society.

Tredwell, Kissam, and Company achieved great success in the  hardware business. From their early days, they cast a wide net to acquire customers. Records indicate that, in addition to New York, they did business in Connecticut, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

On September 19, 1812, a storekeeper in New Milford, Connecticut, named Elijah Boardman paid $28.31 to Seabury Tredwell for goods, including “three dozen barber knives, 1 dozen teaspoons, and 1 dozen dustpans.”

Another undated bill of $3.56 to Elihu Harrison of  Morris, Connecticut, from Tredwell, Kissam, and Company, was for “steel knitting pins and thimbles.”

On November 22, 1827, the shop of William & Fairchild in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, ordered “brushes, spoons, thimbles, violin strings, steel traps, curry combs, sad irons, trace chains, etc.” from the firm.

As his business grew, Seabury and his partners continued the tradition of hiring clerks to do the daily work of the company while learning the trade. William Floyd-Jones, from Oyster Bay, Long Island, started out in 1831 as a clerk for “the highly respected wholesale hardware house of Tredwell, Kissam and Co.” and became a member of the firm in 1837, retiring in 1855.

Trade Token,
MHM 2006.0001

Trade Tokens

Trade tokens were often used by businesses either to provide sufficient currency during times of coin shortages (especially when stores were in remote locations away from banks), to extend credit, or as a form of advertising, to let potential customers know their location and the services and goods available. In 1823, and again in 1825-26, Tredwell, Kissam and Company issued trade tokens, struck by Kettle & Sons of England, to commemorate the opening of the Erie Canal, referred to on the coin as the “Grand Canal.” According to Robert D. Leonard, a collector of trade tokens, most of the pieces made for commemoration saw limited circulation as money.

Tredwell & Kissam Advertisement. The American. 1816.

The South Beckons

Seabury did not limit his business to the New England or Mid-Atlantic states. Like many other merchants who realized the huge market for goods in the South, he did business with and extended credit to storekeepers in Alabama and the Carolinas. As early as 1816, Tredwell & Kissam was advertising in Southern newspapers. In an advertisement placed in The American (Fayetteville, North Carolina) on October 17, 1816, they advertised hardware and cutlery “to suit the country trade.”

Typically, a traveling salesman, or “drummer,” would venture to faraway cities to provide catalogs, collect orders, and in many cases, settle overdue accounts. In a letter to Tredwell, Kissam & Company dated January 11, 1831, from a Montgomery, Alabama, storeowner named William Shute, he references a “Mr. Smith,” who was apparently a drummer for Tredwell, Kissam, and Company: “…your Mr. Smith left here a few days ago. He said you have a fine stock of guns and Memo to order. Below we hand you an order for such goods as we are in immediate want of which you will please ship by 1st vessel for Mobile.” Shute goes on to list the desired goods, including guns, corn mills, and padlocks.

Tredwell, Kissam and Company must have had strong commercial ties to North Carolina, for in 1831 they donated $100 towards the relief of citizens of the city of Fayetteville, after a disastrous fire that took place there on May 29.

John Jacob Astor. Portrait File, N-YHS.

A Famous Client

Undoubtedly the most famous client of Tredwell, Kissam, and Company was John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), the German-born fur trader and real estate investor who at his death was the wealthiest man in America, with a fortune worth approximately $20 million. Records of Astor’s American Fur Company indicate that he purchased guns from Tredwell, Kissam, and Company in 1832 and 1833, for use in trade with Native Americans in exchange for furs. In a “Memorandum of Guns to be Furnished,” dated October 31, 1832, Astor gives very specific instructions as to the quality of the guns, indicating that a previous shipment had been of less than desirable quality:

“The stocks of many of the guns you gave us last spring were made of two pieces of wood united at the gap … This must not on any account be the case with the present order…Our Indians consider them not new, but old arms patched up, and in numbers instances have returned them to our traders, [illegible] them with having practiced an imposition, by selling them a mended article for one that was new and perfect in every respect. The pernicious effect of such an impression is of too much importance to our interest to be overlooked.”

The Memorandum stipulates that the specific order of 410 guns must be “ready for delivery” by April 10, 1833, which gave Tredwell, Kissam and Company six months to import the guns from England, then pack and deliver them. This order indicates the long turnaround time from ordering to acquisition and delivery of goods.

Guns and Cotton Trade

English Fowling Gun, 19th Century. traditionalmuzzleloader.com.

The above-mentioned orders from Shute and Astor point to a shift from hardware to guns on the part of Tredwell, Kissam, and Company. Although America was beginning to manufacture guns in small amounts (Derringer in 1810, Remington in 1816, and Colt in 1836), by 1815 the British were mass-producing millions of guns per year; Seabury’s company relied on overseas production to readily fill their large orders. The English fowling gun, used to hunt birds and fowl, was made in Birmingham, England, and was primarily sold to Native Americans.

Although Seabury’s company did not engage in the rapidly growing cotton industry on a large scale (by the mid-1840s, cotton accounted for almost 45 percent of the gross national product), they did sell items that supported the trade, and, in at least one instance, sold cotton. In an advertisement in the Evening Post (December 23, 1819), the company offered “7 bales Cotton (new crop), landing from sloop Cashier.” This appears to be a one-time venture, however. What Seabury did sell in considerable quantities were cotton cards, tools used to process raw cotton in small amounts for lower-scale production. The cards disentangled and cleaned the raw cotton fibers after the cotton was picked. He also occasionally sold hemp cotton bagging, which was used to pack bales of cotton.

Tredwell, Kissam & Co. Advertisement, Evening Post, 1827.

Cotton Cards, 19th century. Heinz History Center L2012.3.1

A Rich Man

In 1822, Lanier’s A Century of Banking in New York, 1822-1922 (1922), included Seabury in a list of “The Rich Men of 1822,” wherein the value of his personal property, from 1815 to that date, was listed as $17,500. This was quite a significant amount of money for that time, especially considering that it references only Seabury’s personal property. Seabury was living in the boardinghouse during those years, so this amount represents the value of his business and whatever chattel he owned. The real property he owned at that time (Seabury’s real estate ventures will be discussed in the next post) was not included in this estimate.

A Prince among Princes

On January 11, 1834, one year before his retirement, Seabury was a pallbearer at the funeral Thomas Seaman Townsend (1771-1834), held at St. George’s Episcopal Church (then located on Chapel Street, now Beekman), where Townsend was a vestryman. Townsend was a wealthy merchant who was a neighbor of Seabury’s on Dey Street. The names of pallbearers who joined Seabury that day reads like a list of merchant elite of New York, including such highly regarded men as Benjamin Strong, Anthony Underhill, and Stephen Van Wyck.

The End of an Era

On February 4, 1835 the following notice appeared in a New York newspaper, indicating the end of a 20 year partnership:

“The firm of Tredwell, Kissam & Co. is dissolved by mutual consent. Seabury Tredwell and Samuel Kissam retire. Either of the Partners will attend to the settlement of the business, at 228 Pearl-street.” [Signed] Seabury Tredwell, Joseph Kissam, Samuel Kissam New-York, January 31, 1835.”

The same day, Joseph Kissam announced that he had formed a new partnership with James A. Smith and William Bryce, and would continue the hardware business under the name Kissam & Co.

Although Seabury was only 55 years old when he retired, he had been in the hardware business for many years, roughly from 1800 to 1835. That is a long career by any standard. After such an extended, successful run, it is no wonder Seabury decided to retire. And no doubt he trusted that his nephew Joseph would continue the business he had worked so hard to establish.

A New Life Uptown

On October 31, 1835, Seabury sold his home on Dey Street to his former partner Joseph Kissam for $10,000. Two days later, he purchased a new home at 361 Fourth Street, for the hefty sum of $18,000. The seller was Joseph Brewster, a hatter and real estate speculator, who had built the late-Federal and Greek Revival row house three years earlier. Seabury, with his wife, Eliza, and seven children, bid farewell to the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan, and moved to the elite Bond Street neighborhood. Thus began Seabury’s retirement, and another chapter in the life of this wealthy New York merchant.



  • Account of William & Fairchild. William B. Pennebacker Watermark Collection, 1710- ca. 1936. The Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera. Winterthur Museum. findingaid.winterthur.org: Box 3, Folder 15.
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April 18, 2019

Meet the Tredwells: Seabury Tredwell, Part 1 – The Early Years

by Ann Haddad

A Revolutionary Birth

When Seabury Tredwell was born in the village of Hempstead, Long Island, on September 25, 1780, his family and other members of his farming community were in the midst of the suffering and havoc caused by the ordeal of seven long years of British occupation during the American Revolution. The countryside had become one large British military camp, and residents (both Patriot and Loyalist) saw their property confiscated, their rights disregarded, and their families divided. No doubt an air of disillusionment and disorder pervaded the village; this continued for a time after the war ended in 1783 and the unimaginable had occurred: the Patriots had defeated the fearsome British Army. As Hempstead began to rebuild and restore its land and shattered village, as the new order of government was formed, and as the animosity that had severed family ties abated, Seabury Tredwell, a future “merchant prince” of New York City, was growing up.

Rev. Thomas Lambert Moore

Rev. Thomas Lambert Moore

A Classical Education

Seabury’s parents, Dr. Benjamin Tredwell and Elizabeth Seabury Tredwell, most likely decided to send their son to the school in Hempstead begun by Elizabeth’s father, Reverend Samuel Seabury (1706-1764).  Reverend Seabury became rector of St. George’s Church in Hempstead in 1743; to compensate for the inadequate salary the position provided, he opened the school sometime around 1762. According to an advertisement on March 27, 1762, in the New York Mercury, the annual tuition of 30 pounds sterling included room and board, as well as “washing and wood for school-fire.” Housed in the rear of the parsonage, the school acquired an excellent reputation over the years, while providing a classical education to the children of notable New York families and Tredwell relatives, including the Onderdonks and the Kissams. During Seabury’s school years, the rector of St. George’s (and likely Seabury’s teacher) was Reverend Thomas Lambert Moore (1758-1799).

Move to the Big City

It is uncertain when Seabury moved to New York City to begin his adult life and start a business. Most likely, he arrived in New York City sometime between 1798 and 1801, when he was between 18 and 21 years old, and had “come of age.” An obituary (source unknown), published at his death in 1865, notes that, “He came to this city in 1798 [he would have been 18 years old] and after serving as a clerk for three years started the hardware business on his own account.”

Two of Seabury’s older brothers had preceded him and were established as merchants by the time he arrived on the scene. Adam Tredwell (1772-1852), who became a hugely successful fur merchant, first appeared in the Directory 1795 as a partner in Tredwell & Thorne, on 21 Burling Slip, when he was 23 years old. John Tredwell (1775-1851) appeared in 1796 as a china and glassware merchant on 197 Water Street. He was 21 years old. Both men may have arrived earlier and clerked for others before becoming merchants in their own right.

Merchants and their families often shared living quarters with their employees “above the store.” As a clerk, Seabury may have lived in the shop of his employer; it is unclear if he would have been listed in the Directory as such. His two older brothers married in 1801, and it is doubtful that Seabury lived with them for any length of time. He is not listed in the 1800 Federal Census (the Census only listed the head-of-household and number of residents at each address); his name does not appear in the Directory until 1803, where he is listed as a merchant at 260 Pearl Street. He was 23 years old at that time.

Stages of Yellow Fever

Stages of Yellow Fever, by Etienne Pariset & André Mazet, 1819.

Yellow Fever Strikes

Seabury’s arrival in New York City may have been delayed by the appearance of the worst yellow fever epidemic in New York City history, in August 1798. It continued through late October, claiming 2,086 victims. Residents fled the city in hope of escaping the scourge. Seabury did not turn 18 until September 25 of that year; he surely waited for the epidemic to subside before moving to the city. The death of his first cousin, James Tredwell, on October 8, 1798, likely caused great consternation among Seabury’s family, discouraging him from leaving Hempstead. James was a physician who died at the age of 30 while treating yellow fever victims.

Seabury Tredwell, Volunteer Fireman

In 1805, two years after his first listing in the Directory, Seabury’s name again appeared in the public record. In the Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, May 20, 1805, it is noted:

Gurdon Manwaring, Seabury Tredwell and John L. Embree were appointed firemen of Company No. 18, instead of Alsop Hunt, Sands Ferris and Edmund Fanning resigned.”

Seabury became a fireman during the volunteer era of firefighting; firefighting in New York City did not become a salaried position until 1865.  New York City had established the voluntary New York Fire Department in 1786. The method of fighting fires involved mobilizing the volunteer company (each with 18 “able-bodied, sober men”), to participate in a bucket brigade, in which buckets of water were taken from a well and passed hand to hand to fill the cisterns of the hand fire engine pumps. In 1791, the Common Council passed an ordinance stipulating that each city ward have a designated Fire Warden. The Warden’s role was to examine the houses and buildings in his ward to ascertain that each possessed the required number of leather buckets (one per fireplace). The buckets, with a capacity of at least 2.5 gallons of water, were to be marked with the initials of the landlord (who purchased them at his own expense), and were to be hung by the front door.

Engine Co. No. 25, 1809, Tryon Row. Our Firemen.

The ordinance also required firemen to:

“at least once a month to exercise with their engines, etc., and to wash, clean, and examine them, under a penalty of six shillings; and for every failure to attend at a fire, and for leaving his engine while at a fire, and for failure to do his duty at a fire, a fine of 12 shillings is imposed, and to be removed from office as a fireman.”

According to Our Firemen: The History of the New York Fire Departments… (1887), Seabury’s Company, Engine Company 18, or the “Union,” was organized in April 1792, and was originally located on John Street, near Pearl Street. In 1813, its location was moved to 228 Water Street, and later to Fulton Street. The company was disbanded in 1828.

By 1805, the year Seabury was appointed Fireman, there were approximately 700 firemen in the ranks. We have no further record of Seabury’s involvement with the New York City Fire Department.

The Seaport Air Turns Sour

South Street from Maiden Lane, 1828. Valentine’s Manual. NYPL Digital Collections.

As a result of rapid urban growth and increasing commercial and mercantile development by the early 19th century, the lower Manhattan waterfront became an overcrowded, disease-prone, shanty-filled neighborhood that drew residents from all walks of life. The usual custom of living and working in a common space therefore became untenable to affluent gentlemen with families. Living “above the store” was no longer genteel. Adverse to socializing with the lower classes, these men of means sought to separate their homes from their businesses, and sought dwellings in cleaner and safer, i.e., more upscale, residential neighborhoods. Lower Broadway, and the neighborhood to its west, including streets that ran to the North (now Hudson) River, such as White, Barclay, Dey, Warren, and Vesey, became a popular haven for the wealthy. According to Burrows and Wallace in Gotham (1999),by 1810 more than half the merchants or professionals in the Directory listed separate work and living addresses. And, once they left the seaport area, the elite no longer wanted to provide living quarters for their workers.

A City of Boarding Houses

This presented a dilemma for single young men newly arrived in the city. They could neither afford to live in nor did they need an entire house for themselves in more expensive neighborhoods. As a result, the humble boarding house became the solution to their housing needs. These were public establishments (often converted from the former homes of the wealthy who had moved on to more appealing surroundings) that provided room and board for a price; they became a popular living option for men like Seabury Tredwell. Wendy Gamber, in The Boarding House in Nineteenth-Century America (2007), estimates that “between a third and a half of nineteenth century city dwellers either took in boarders or were boarders themselves,” and of the latter, the majority were single young men.

Scene In a Fashionable Boarding House, [1830s]. American Antiquarian Society.

Many boarding houses were located in the center of town, that is, the congested, dirty, mercantile area, near the bustling wharves of the East River. Here the warehouses that could provide employment were nearby, and housing was affordable. Living in a boarding house often brought together men of similar interests; newcomers sat side by side at the dinner table with more experienced residents, who could educate them in the social and work habits of city people, and provide companionship.

We don’t know what Seabury’s rent was during his boarding house years. Gamber states that in the mid-nineteenth century the standard weekly rate for lodging and meals was between $3 and $4, equivalent to approximately $125 today. Seabury, who boarded from approximately 1800 to 1820, most likely paid less.

Widow Williams

The two boarding house owners who figured prominently in Seabury’s story were widows. Widow Susannah Williams, who ran the boarding house where Seabury eventually lived, first appeared in the New York City Directory in 1799, when her establishment was on 31 Lumber Street (now Trinity Place). She subsequently moved to Harmon Street (now East Broadway), then to 263 Pearl Street, in 1805. Seabury’s first location of his hardware business (from 1803 to 1809), was 260 Pearl Street; Mrs. Williams’ boarding house was across the street. Their proximity may be what led them to meet. In 1810, Mrs. Williams relocated to 282 Pearl Street, and two years later, in 1812, Seabury Tredwell was listed at this address in the Directory.

It is noteworthy that in the 1812 Directory, the occupants of Mrs. William’s boarding house are actually listed. Seabury’s name appears, as does his younger brother George Tredwell (1784-1848), who first appears in the Directory in 1805, at the age of 22, at Seabury’s business address of 260 Pearl Street. Perhaps George apprenticed under Seabury; he would eventually join his brother John in the china business.

Due to space and financial constraints, boarders frequently shared rooms with one another. Seabury and his brother George, two of four boarders at Mrs. Williams’ in 1812, probably shared a room (and a bed) when they lived there.

Widow Parker

In 1814, approximately one year after the death of her husband, Seabury’s future mother-in-law, widow Mary Earle Parker, took over Mrs. Williams’ boarding house at 282 Pearl Street. Despite the conveniences of boarding house living, it was nothing like the domestic ideal so beloved in America at this time. In The Physiology of the New York Boarding-Houses (1857), the author states, “A Boarding-House is emphatically, NOT a home.” Having grown up in a large family, Seabury perhaps welcomed the arrival of Mrs. Parker and her four children, including 17 year-old Eliza. He was 34 years old, and had been living as a boarder for approximately 15 years, which was much longer than the average length of stay for single men. According to Kenneth Scherzer in “The Unbounded Community” (1992), “A few people boarded into their late twenties and even into their thirties, but for most, boarding was simply a passing stage of the life cycle.”

Love at 282 Pearl Street

In 1814, when Seabury met Eliza Parker, he was 34 years old, well-established in his lucrative hardware business, and most likely eager to marry. And despite the assertion by the author of Boarders and Boarding House Keepers (1847) that”Landladies are … inevitably cognizant of most of the little meannesses, jealousy, and faults of their boarders – for in no place does an individual exhibit himself more completely in his true colors than in a Boarding-House,” Seabury and Eliza must have found much to admire in one another, for love soon blossomed.

The Battery Promenade, 19th Century.

The Battery: The “Lover’s Lane” of Its Day

We can only imagine how Seabury’s courtship of Eliza played out. It must not have been easy, living under the same roof and the watchful eye of Mrs. Parker. No doubt the couple sought ways to escape the confines of the boarding house for some private moments. Most likely they walked to the Battery, a popular trysting place for lovers, where the paved walkway, the stately trees that lined the waterside, and the fresh air made it seem like an oasis from the congestion of their neighborhood. Perhaps Seabury and Eliza, from this vantage point, admired the handsome private homes that lined State Street, and talked about their future.

Another romantic spot for young couples in search of privacy was the genteel Vauxhall Garden, located between Bowery and Broadway on what is now Lafayette Street. Seabury and Eliza perhaps hired a hackney coach (for 25¢ per person), up to this bucolic garden, where they could enjoy ice cream, and music or theatrical performances. (See my post of January 2018, Vauxhall Garden: The Coney Island of Its Day).

A Wedding and a New Home

Seabury and Eliza Tredwell’s Wedding Announcement. The Evening Post, June 14, 1820.

Seabury and Eliza were married on June 13, 1820, at St. George’s Episcopal Church on Chapel (now Beekman) Street. Seabury was 40 years old; his young bride was 23. (See post of June 2016, “Seabury Tredwell to Eliza Parker:” A New York City Wedding) After their wedding, Seabury, by that time a successful merchant and real estate investor, no doubt was eager to find a home for himself and his new bride; one that would provide the privacy he had long been without, and which would be large enough for a family. Most likely Seabury knew of the attractive house for sale on fashionable Dey Street through the advertisement that ran in the Evening Post from January 12 to February 3, 1820, which offered:

“The very neat two story house, No. 12 Dey street, brick front and iron railings. The house is replete with every convenience and is in excellent order.”

Advertisement for 12 Dey Street, January 12, 1820.

Seabury must have rented the house after his marriage, for the 1821 Directory lists his home address as 12 Dey Street. In the 1822 Directory, however, Seabury is listed at 34 Cedar Street, which was another boarding house, located east of Broadway near Pearl Street. It was surprising to discover that in May of 1822, an advertisement ran in the Evening Post, offering boarding to to “a few gentlemen”  with “a small respectable private family” at 12 Dey Street. The ad asked that inquiries be directed to“Rev. M’Vickar, Columbia College” This no doubt was Reverend John McVickar (1787-1868),  Professor of Moral Philosophy and Rhetoric at Columbia College. It is unclear why Seabury moved out, and Rev. McVickar moved in.

By 1823, Seabury and Eliza, along with their two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, were back in the house on Dey Street. According to New York City Land Records, on April 1, 1823, Seabury purchased the house from Elizabeth Gillespie, widow of dry goods merchant George Gillespie, for $6,000. Seabury and Eliza made their home and raised their family at 12 Dey Street for 12 years, until 1835, when Seabury retired and bought the house on Fourth Street.

Broadway from the Bowling Green, 1828. J.R. Hutchinson, after J. Bennett. NYPL Digital Collections.

Moving Up in the World

Today, Dey Street today runs only two blocks, from Broadway to Church Street, but in Seabury’s day it was much longer, running all the way to West Street. Homes built on this street were brick rowhouses, typically 75-80 feet long by 25 feet wide, and therefore were large enough to accommodate a growing family. The house at 12 Dey, which was close to Broadway, had a new cistern and two grapevines in the garden. And Dey Street was on the fashionable, respectable west side of Broadway. Being the lady of the house on Dey Street was quite a social climb for Eliza, who spent her childhood in the poor Fourth Ward. In 1823, settled in their new home in the respectable, genteel part of town, Seabury and Eliza had arrived in elite society.


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March 21, 2019

Meet the Tredwells: The Ancestry of Eliza Tredwell, Part 2

by Ann Haddad

Click here to read Part One of this post, on Eliza Tredwell’s maternal ancestry.

Discovering Eliza’s paternal ancestry was, and remains, a challenge, because very little was known about her father, William Parker. Aside from his name, family lore related only that he was born in England, and was a soldier in the American Revolution. Research is ongoing, but has revealed enough information about this elusive family member that we can devote an entire post to his story.

Searching for William Parker

One suspects that Eliza Parker Tredwell (1797-1882) knew very little about her father, and passed little information on to her children, for in the Nichols Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society, there are records that reveal that Gertrude herself searched for her maternal grandfather’s ancestry. In 1926, her niece Lillie Nichols paid $6 on Gertrude’s behalf to have research done at the Bureau of Vital Statistics, New Jersey Department of Health. We don’t know if Gertrude found any information on William Parker or any other relatives.

Gertrude Tredwell’s Notes on Her Grandfather William Parker. Nichols Papers N-YHS

Gertrude Tredwell’s Notes on Her Grandfather William Parker. Nichols Papers N-YHS

In handwritten notes in the Nichols Family Papers, Gertrude referred to William Parker as “Major,” and noted that he was “of English descent under guardianship of Mr. Larger of Boston, served in the Revolutionary War.” Other documents in the Museum archives refer to him as “Colonel” and “Captain.”  There are quite a few inaccuracies in Gertrude’s notes on her ancestry (she was 86 years old at the time!), so we cannot be sure of the veracity of the information she provided on William Parker. We have not yet uncovered information on where William Parker was born, or how and when he arrived in New York City.

Loyalists in New York City

During the American Revolutionary War, New York City was under British occupation from September 1776 until November 25, 1783. Although initially a ghost town in the first year of occupation, by 1777 nearly 11,000 Loyalists (those who remained loyal to King George III) had returned from surrounding states as well as the New York hinterlands, where they had sought shelter. If William Parker was indeed of English descent, as was noted in several documents in the Museum archives, he would most likely have supported the British by either enlisting as a soldier in a Loyalist militia (as over 7,000 did in 1777 alone), or by joining a provincial unit which supplied provisions and services to the British troops.

St. Paul’s Chapel, Trinity Church Parish

St. Paul’s Chapel, Trinity Church Parish

A Double Wedding in a Garrison Town

Eliza Tredwell’s parents, William Parker and Mary Earle, married on September 19, 1779. The only way a couple could marry in the city during the occupation was if the groom was in the British Army, or if the bride and groom were Loyalists. Even the clergy were required to be Loyalists. According to “New York City During the War for Independence” (1931),

“In spite of the unsettled conditions, weddings were frequent, especially between officers of the British army and town belles. Not all who were married obtained the Governor’s license, however, because it was not uncommon, for soldiers to be married by their chaplains without such license.”

We don’t know if Mary Earle (1763-1839), Eliza Tredwell’s mother, was a “town belle” (in fact, we know nothing about her early life), but she and William Parker did obtain a marriage license from the Secretary of the Province of New York on September 14, 1779, and they were married on September 19, 1779, when Mary was 17 years of age. The ceremony most likely took place at St. Paul’s Chapel (on Broadway between Fulton and Vesey Streets), for although recorded as “Trinity Church Parish,” Trinity Church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1776, and St. Paul’s became the primary location for worship. (Trinity Church was rebuilt in 1790.) Joining Mary and William at the altar that day was Mary’s older sister Eleanor (1753-1837), who married Thomas Laurence.

On the Road Again

William Parker Residences (marked in red), Various Accounts of the British Administration of N.Y.C. N-YHS

William Parker Residences (marked in red), Various Accounts of the British Administration of NYC. N-YHS

Despite their allegiance to King George III, those who declared themselves Loyalists during the Revolution were treated poorly by the British. Every aspect of their lives was regulated by the ruling forces, from the food made available to them and its cost, to their living quarters. Residents were moved about town at the will of the British, as they sought to accommodate soldiers and the never ending flow of refugees. We have no knowledge as to the whereabouts of William Parker and his wife from after their marriage in 1779, to 1783. According to the Various Accounts of the British Administration of N.Y.C. During the Occupation Period, 1778-1783, from April through August 1783, William Parker, presumably with his wife and children, lived at three different addresses, all in what is now Lower Manhattan: Chatham Street (now Park Row), Fair Street (now Fulton), and Cherry Street. He must have endured financial hardship during the occupation, for his residence at Cherry Street is included in a list of “Houses Rented for Use of the Poor for 1783.”

So what exactly did William Parker do after the War? Research uncovered several clues that helped us arrive at an answer to that question.

Tory Refugees on their Way to Canada, by Howard Pyle, 1901.

Tory Refugees on their Way to Canada, by Howard Pyle, 1901.

The Post-Revolution Loyalist Exodus

Although the Revolutionary War did not formally end until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 4, 1783, the Colonists’ victory at Yorktown, Virginia, in October 1781, led to an end to battle. Loyalist regiments in New York and elsewhere were gradually disbanded.  New York City was reopened to Patriots, who began pouring in and demanding the restoration of their property. Loyalists had the option of remaining in the colonies and facing the ire of the Patriots, or seeking refuge in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and other Canadian provinces that were part of the British Empire. To that end, hundreds of Loyalists appealed to the Crown, in the form of petitions and memorials, in which they appealed for financial assistance, relief from hardship, and free land in Canada. It is estimated that about 42,000 Loyalists fled to Canada.

The First Clue: the Memorial of the Royal Artillery Regiment

In one such memorial, Memorial of Artificers and Laborers of the Civil Branch of the Ordnance [1783], a William Parker is listed as being a member of the Royal Artillery Regiment’s group of Officers, Artificers, and Laborers, who petitioned for asylum in Nova Scotia at the War’s end. It includes the following appeal:

“That they mean only to inform His Excellency that a Sett of men who have zealously done their duty thro’ the whole course of the War, and many of them thro’ the former War, are determined to continue to do it while their services are required, and only wish an Asylum for themselves and their families, when their personal exertions are no longer necessary.”

In this document, William Parker is listed as having a wife and two children, and gives his occupation as “painter.” This concurs with what we subsequently learned about him.

The Memorial of the Officers, Artificers, & Laborers of the Civil Branch of the Ordnance [1783]. National Archives of Great Britain, Kew. (William Parker marked in red.)

The Memorial of the Officers, Artificers, & Laborers of the Civil Branch of the Ordnance [1783]. National Archives of Great Britain, Kew. (William Parker marked in red.)

To Nova Scotia?

It is possible that William Parker did move to Nova Scotia in 1783, and that he was back in New York City by 1785.

Mary and William Parker’s first two children, William and John, were born in 1780 and 1782, respectively. The Parker family must have been living in New York from 1780 until 1782, because William and John’s baptismal records are in the Trinity Church Register. In 1785, Mary’s sister Eleanor and her husband, Thomas Laurence, had a son, also named Thomas. Mary and William Parker must have been in New York in 1785; they served as godparents to their nephew, who was born and baptized in New York.

While we know that the Parkers were in New York from 1780 to 1782, and again in 1785, it is possible that in the intervening years the family was in Nova Scotia. Further research is required to confirm this. From his name on the Memorial, we know that William Parker wanted to go; perhaps he made the journey and returned due to hardship or family ties. Many Loyalists who left after the War trickled back in as the years went on, once the hostility ceased and the threat of retaliation dissipated.

William Parker, Jr., (1780-1812) and John Parker (1782-1827) were Eliza’s two oldest brothers; they both died relatively young. Another brother, Edward Parker (1784-1825), may have been born in Nova Scotia, as there is no record of his baptism in the Trinity Church Register, as there is with his two older brothers.

No records can be found at this time of any other Parker children born between 1784 and 1790, when Thomas Laurence Parker (1790-1881) was born. Thomas was followed by Eleanor (Ellen) Parker (1794-1855); Eliza Earle Parker (1797-1882), the future Mrs. Seabury Tredwell; and Julia Ann Parker (1802-1869).

Letter Addressed to Eleanor Parker, 1810. Nichols Papers, N-Y HS

Letter Addressed to Eleanor Parker, 1810. Nichols Papers, N-Y HS

Two Letters Provide Another Clue

In the New York City Directory, a William Parker is listed as living at 104 Lombardy Street (now Monroe Street) from 1810 through 1812. His occupation is given as “painter and glazier.” In fact, William Parker, “painter and glazier,” is listed in the Directory from 1786 through 1812. In the Nichols Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society, there are two letters, dated 1810 and 1812, written to Miss Eleanor Parker, Eliza’s sister, at that same address. So we can conclude that this William Parker is indeed the father of Eliza Parker Tredwell, and, based on his occupation, that he is the same William Parker who signed the Memorial. It is interesting to note that at least three of William’s sons, John, Edward, and Thomas, became painters, likely apprenticing with their father.

The Wrong William Parker

Gertrude Tredwell was correct when she wrote of her grandfather William Parker as having “served in the Revolutionary War.” But she was far off the mark when she referred to him as “Major.” William Parker was not a British officer. He no doubt was a Loyalist “laborer,” who worked as a painter for the Royal Artillery. There was, however, a Major William Parker of the Royal Corps of Engineers in New York City at the same time; he had a wife and children in England, and died there after the War. Perhaps the Tredwell descendants confused this person with “our” William Parker. It is noteworthy that Mary Parker’s obituary (1839) referred to her as the wife of the “late William Parker,” with no mention of him having an official military rank.

Membership Certificate, General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen.

Membership Certificate, General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen.

The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen

Further research has revealed that William Parker was initiated into the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen in 1792. This mutual aid society, founded by a group of skilled craftsmen in 1785 in New York City, served to unite mechanics and tradesmen as they sought to improve their economic situation and recover from the devastation wrought by the Revolution. A “mechanic” during this time denoted a highly skilled craftsman who either worked for himself or was employed by a merchant. William, by virtue of his occupation (painter, gilder, and glazier), clearly qualified for membership.William had been proposed for membership by Jotham Post, a butcher, member of the Common Council, and Cherry Street neighbor (William Parker lived on Cherry Street from 1792 through 1796), who, like William, was a Loyalist during the War; and Joseph Jadwin, a cooper, and one of the General Society’s founding members. Both men, in recommending William for membership, were obliged to attest to his “industry, honesty, and sobriety.”

William Parker Initiation, G.S.M.T. Early Minutes, 1792. Courtesy of the Society. (Marked in red.)

William Parker Initiation, G.S.M.T. Early Minutes, 1792. Courtesy of the Society. (Marked in red.)

Polly Guerin, in her 2015 history of the General Society, paints a colorful picture of the stylish attire worn by merchants and tradesmen in the late 18th century:

“In those early years the merchant class and tradesmen were stylishly dressed, sporting a cutaway tailored coat, a waist length waistcoat and knee length breeches. The adornment of wigs was de rigeur, and a tricorne hat was proper.”

Although William Parker paid his initiation fee of $5, he was struck from the register of the society in June 1793, for being in arrears of his monthly dues of 12¢.

William Parker, Black Friars Club Member?

It is also possible that “our” William Parker was a member of the Black Friars Club, one of the popular fraternal orders formed in New York City after the Revolution. In the New York City Register and Directory, William is listed as a Cardinal in the organization from 1793 to 1799. No further information could be found about the club, except that, according to the New York Directory and Register for 1794, it was founded in 1784 for “local, charitable and humane purposes.” It must have been of some import in the City during its heyday, for the young, rising politician DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) gave an address at one of their meetings in November of 1794, in which he stressed the importance of benevolence.

Firemen at Work in 1800, printed in King's Handbook of New York City, 1893.

Firemen at Work in 1800, printed in King’s Handbook of New York City, 1893.

William Parker, Fireman?

William Parker may have been involved with the New York City Fire Department for several years. In 1789 and 1790 (when there was only one William Parker listed in the New York Directory), he is listed in the New York City Register as an “affiliant” under the List of Officers Belonging to the Fire Department. In 1792, a William Parker is listed as “Fireman of Number 16” (“in Liberty Street, near the new Dutch Church”). By 1792, there were two other men by that name in the New York Directory, but it is likely that that this is “our” William Parker. William may have been recruited by his friend Jotham Post, who was a fireman of Engine Co. 2 in 1786, or perhaps by his wife Mary’s relatives (several Elsworth and Earle names are listed in the rosters).

When Did William Parker Die?

Decorative shoe buckle belonging to William Parker, MHM 2002.3339

Decorative shoe buckle belonging to William Parker, MHM 2002.3339

William Parker’s last entry as a “painter” in the New York City Directory appears in 1812. There is no entry for either William or Mary in the 1813 Directory. In 1814, the entry “Mary Parker, widow, boardinghouse, 282 Pearl Street” appears for the first time. This indicates that William Parker most likely died in 1812-1813, and financial necessity compelled Mary Parker to go into business for herself. Further research located a burial record in the Trinity Church Register, which indicates that a William Parker, age 55, was buried at St. Paul’s Chapel Churchyard on March 3, 1813. New York City Municipal Death Records for 1813 indicate that a William Parker died on March 4 (either of these dates could have been written in error). He lived on Greenwich Street, and the cause of death was listed as “pleurisy” (lung inflammation). If William Parker was 55 years old in 1813, he would have been born in 1758, and was 21 years of age when he wed Mary Earle. It is very likely that these records refer to our William Parker, as he and Mary were married at St. Paul’s; and both his son William Parker, who died in 1812, and his brother-in-law Thomas Laurence, who died in 1804, are buried there, as would later be his son John, who died in 1827.

Portrait of Eliza Tredwell, by Jeanette Loop, 1874. MHM 2002.4502.

Portrait of Eliza Tredwell, by Jeanette Loop, 1874. MHM 2002.4502.

Love in Mrs. Parker’s Boardinghouse

In 1814, Mrs. Parker took over the management of the boardinghouse and its occupants previously run by a Mrs. Williams at 282 Pearl Street. Seabury Tredwell was a boarder at that time; hence, that is the year he met Mrs. Parker’s 17-year-old daughter, Eliza Earle Parker. Love clearly blossomed under Mrs. Parker’s roof, for Seabury and Eliza fell in love and were married in 1820. (Click here to read “Seabury Tredwell to Eliza Parker:” A New York City Wedding.)

Mamma Moves In

Mary Parker continued to run her boardinghouse through 1822, two years after Eliza wed Seabury. In 1823, the year her son Thomas Parker married and left home, Mary Parker’s name disappears from the City Directory. It is possible that she, along with her daughter Ellen, who never married, moved in with one of her other children at that time. She died in 1839, at the home of her daughter Eliza and son-in-law Seabury Tredwell, on East 4th Street. We do not know how many years she lived with the family. Her death notice in the New York Evening Post (July 6, 1839), reads: “Friday, July 5th, Mary, relict [widow] of late William Parker, in 77th y, son Thomas L., sons in law Henry S. Thorp and Seabury Tredwell, 361-4th St.” Mary is buried in St. Mark’s Church-In-The-Bowery (at the intersection of Second Avenue and Stuyvesant and East 10th Streets), along with her daughter Ellen, who also lived with the Tredwell family for a time, and who died in 1855 at their summer home in Rumson, New Jersey.

Timeline of William Parker's Life, based on research as of March 2019. Click to enlarge.

Timeline of William Parker’s Life, based on research as of March 2019. Click to enlarge.

Note: It is hoped that in a future post we will be able to provide more details about the life of William Parker.

Thanks to colleague Rich Fipphen for his assistance with this post.


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  • [Smith, John 1772-1786] Various Accounts of the British Administration of N.Y.C. During the occupation period, 1778-1783. BV NYC -Treasurer. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • St. George’s Episcopal Church Archives. New York, NY. Record of St. George’s Church/Baptisms 1809-1830/Marriages 1816-1837.
  • Trinity Church. Trinity Church Records of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials. www.registers.trinitywallstreet.org. Accessed 3/16/16.
  • Van Buskirk, Judith L. Generous Enemies: Patriots and Loyalists in Revolutionary New York. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
  • Wilson, James Grant, ed. The Memorial History of the City of New York: From Its First Settlement to the Year 1892 Volume II. New York: New-York History Company, 1892. www.archive.org. Accessed 2/11/19.
  • Young, Alfred F. The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763-1797. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967. www.books.google.com. Accessed 3/6/19.
March 8, 2019

Meet the Tredwells: The Ancestry of Eliza Tredwell, Part 1

by Ann Haddad

Eliza Tredwell's Ancestry (click to enlarge)

Eliza Tredwell’s Ancestry (click to enlarge)

In this post, the second in our “Meet the Tredwell” series, we will examine the ancestry of Eliza Earle Parker Tredwell. Part One will cover her maternal ancestry; Part Two will cover her father, William Parker.

Despite the importance of Eliza Tredwell (1797-1882), matriarch of the Tredwell family who occupied the house on East Fourth Street for nearly 100 years, little was known about her ancestry. Tracing Eliza’s maternal line was rather straightforward.

On her mother’s side, Eliza Tredwell was descended from both Dutch and English settlers.

Edward Earle, Emigrant and Landowner

Edward Earle (1628-1711), Eliza’s great-great-great grandfather, was most likely born in Great Tilse, Doncaster, Yorkshire, England. He was descended from the prominent Earle family, with branches all over England and ancestry that can be traced back to the 12th century and the reign of King Henry II.  Edward probably arrived first in Barbados in or around 1635, when he was seven years old. The next record of Edward Earle, dated 1664, places him in Maryland, when he was 37 years old. Three years later, in 1667, he married Hannah Baylis (1640-c.1729); they had one son, Edward Earle, Jr., in 1667 or 1668.

After spending several years in New York City, Edward and his family settled in Secaucus, New Jersey (an inland island that was a former Dutch settlement), no later than 1673. By 1676, Edward was the owner of over 2,000 acres of land, purchased from Nicholas Bayard for “2000 Dutch Dollars,” considered to be a very large sum of money for the time. His deed of ownership refers to him as “Edward Earle of New Yorke, Planter.” Upon this land he built an estate overlooking the Hackensack River; the homestead remained in the family for more than 130 years, until 1792. According to the History of Secausus, New Jersey (1950), an assessment done in 1676, which enumerates the contents of the estate, includes among its property: “four neggro[sic] men, five christian servants.” (New Jersey abolished slavery in 1804, through a process of gradual emancipation, but some slaves were kept as late as 1865).

Edward Earle was a socially prominent and influential member of his community, and served in the House of Delegates, the English governing body of New Jersey at the time.

Edward Earle, Jr., Sheriff and Gentleman

Home of Edward Earle, Jr., Secaucus, New Jersey. from The Earles of Secaucus.

Home of Edward Earle, Jr., Secaucus, New Jersey. from The Earles of Secaucus.

Eliza’s great-great-grandfather, Edward Earle Jr. (1667 or 1668-1713), the son and only child of Edward and Hannah, was born in Maryland, and was approximately eight years old when he moved with his parents to Secaucus. Little is known of his early life. He married Elsje Vreelandt (1671-1748), who was born in what is now Jersey City, on February 13, 1688 at Reformed Dutch Church in Bergen, New Jersey. Elsje was of full Dutch descent; her parents, Enoch Vreelandt and Dircksje Meyers, were from Amsterdam. Edward and Elsje had 12 children, and lived in a stone house situated on one half of his father’s estate. Edward Earle, Jr., held many important public offices during his lifetime, including High Sheriff of Bergen County (1692), County Clerk (1693), and Coroner (1694). Like his father, he served in the House of Delegates, and was a large landowner in New Jersey. Edward, Jr., died in 1713, 18 months after his father. He was about 45 years old.

Marmaduke Earle’s Birth and Baptism Record. U.S. Dutch Reformed Church Records, 1639-1989. ancestry.com.

Marmaduke Earle’s Birth and Baptism Record. U.S. Dutch Reformed Church Records, 1639-1989. ancestry.com.

Marmaduke Earle, Freeman of New York City

Eliza’s great-grandfather, Marmaduke (an Anglo-Saxon name meaning “a mighty noble”) Earle (1696-1765), the third son of Edward, Jr., and Elsje, was born in Secaucus. He married his brother Enoch’s wife’s sister, Rebecca William Morris (1696-c.1772), daughter of William Morris and Rebecca Anderson, circa 1721. Some time around 1730, Marmaduke moved his family to New York City. By 1738, he was thoroughly established in New York. In the Memorial History of the City of New York,Volume II (1892), he is listed as being admitted in that year as a “freemen” (a person entitled to political and civil rights, including the right to vote). Marmaduke and Rebecca had six children. Nothing else is know about Marmaduke’s life or death, except that he left his entire estate to one son, Morris Earle, who was a hat maker, and with whom Marmaduke eventually lived.

Edward Earle Marries an Elsworth

Very little is known about Edward Earle (1723-1780), Marmaduke and Rebecca’s son and Eliza’s grandfather, aside from the fact that he was born in Secaucus. Let us direct our attention to the ancestry of his wife, Eleanor Elsworth (1727-1760), Eliza Tredwell’s grandmother, whom he married on December 5, 1745, at the Dutch Reformed Church in New York City, and with whom he had six children.

T. Smit’s Valley in Early Times. Valentine’s Manuel, 1861. Collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

T. Smit’s Valley in Early Times. Valentine’s Manuel, 1861. Collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

Theophilus Elsworth, Mariner

Theophilus Elsworth (c.1625-1706), Eliza Tredwell’s great-great-great grandfather, was a mariner and boat builder who was originally from Bristol, England, and who in 1652 emigrated to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam via Amsterdam. Theophilus arrived six years after Petrus Stuyvesant (1610-1672) became Director-General of the colony, which was governed by the West India Company. Stuyvesant had spent those years whipping New Amsterdam into shape by enacting many ordinances that imposed order and sanitation; he also created a municipal market to boost the town’s economy. New Amsterdam was taken by the British in 1664 and renamed New York.

While in Amsterdam, Theophilus had married Annette Janse (1623-c.1695). In New Amsterdam, they lived in what was then known as “Smits Valley” (or Vly), located on the East River between Wall Street and Maiden Lane. Theophilus and Annette had eight children.

Nieuw Amsterdam, 1673.

Nieuw Amsterdam, 1673, when the Dutch briefly recaptured the island.

William and Theophilus Elsworth, Shipwrights

Eliza’s great-great grandfather, Willem “William” Elsworth (1670-1723), son of Theophilus and Annette, married Pietrenella Romme (1670-1735) in New York in 1694. Their eldest son, also named Theophilus Elsworth (1694-1760), Eliza’s great-grandfather, was a shipwright like his father (according to their wills). He married Johanna Hardenbroeck (1695-after 1751) in 1716, and had six children; his third child, Eleanor Elsworth, who became the wife of Edward Earle, inherited 50 pounds sterling upon her father’s death.

Marriage Record of Edward Earle and Eleanor Elsworth (marked in red), 1745, Dutch Reformed Church. ancestry.com.

Marriage Record of Edward Earle and Eleanor Elsworth (marked in red), 1745, Dutch Reformed Church. ancestry.com.

Children of Edward Earle and Eleanor Elsworth

Despite Reverend Isaac Newton Earle’s assertion in “History and Genealogy of the Earles of Secausus” (1924) that “We are not able to trace the descendants of Edward any further,” we did find that Edward Earle and Eleanor Elsworth had six children. Their oldest child, Johanna, died in infancy in 1746. Hannah (1748-1829), married George Fisher, and lived in New York City near her sisters before moving to Montezuma, New York. Eleanor (1753-1837), was married to Thomas Laurence on September 19, 1779. Little is known about their next two children, Rebecca (born 1750), and Joseph (born 1756).

Mary Earle, Eliza Tredwell’s Mother

Mary Earle (1763-1839), Edward and Eleanor’s last child and the mother of Eliza Tredwell, was born in New York City. Little is known of her early life; of paramount importance to us is that on September 19, 1779, in a double wedding with her sister Eleanor at St. Paul’s Chapel, she married William Parker, Eliza’s father. She was 17 years old.

No doubt Eliza Tredwell was proud of her Dutch ancestors, for her youngest child, Gertrude Tredwell, was given the middle name Ellsworth (spelled with two Ls, the name having changed over the years).

Part Two of this post will focus on the story of Mary and William Parker, including recent discoveries about the life of Eliza’s father.


  • Ancestry.com. 1790 and 1800 United States Federal Census. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Accessed 3/11/16.
  • Ancestry.com. History of Secaucus, New Jersey in Commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of its independence emphasizing its earlier development, 1900-1950. Secausus, N.J.: Secausus Home News, c1950. [database on-line]. Provo, UT: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2005.
  • Ancestry.com. Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930 [database-on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
  • Ancestry.com. New York County, New York, Wills and Probate Records, 1658-1880 (NYSA) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Accessed 2/11/19.
  • Ancestry.com. New York, Wills and Probate Records, 1659-1999 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Accessed 2/11/19.
  • Ancestry.com. United States Dutch Reformed Church Records from Selected States, 1660-1926. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2014. Accessed 3/11/16.
  • Burrows, Edwin G. and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Earle, Rev. Isaac Newton.  History and Genealogy of the Earles of Secaucus. Marquette, Mich., Guelff Printing Company, [1924]. www.babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 6/6/16.
  • Longworth’s American Almanac, New York Register, and City Directory. New York: Thomas Longworth, [1798-1840].
  • Roberts, Norma. Theophilus Ellsworth and Descendents. www.genealogy.com.  Accessed 2/11/19.
  • St. George’s Episcopal Church Archives. New York, NY. Record of St. George’s Church/Baptisms 1809-1830/Marriages 1816-1837.
  • Trinity Church. Trinity Church Records of Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials. www.registers.trinitywallstreet.org. Accessed 3/16/16.
  • Wilson, James Grant, ed. The Memorial History of the City of New York: From Its First Settlement to the Year 1892 Volume II. New York: New-York History Company, 1892. www.archive.org. Accessed 2/11/19.
February 20, 2019

Meet the Tredwells: The Ancestry of Seabury Tredwell

by Ann Haddad

With this post on the ancestry of Seabury Tredwell, we begin a new blog series: “Meet the Tredwells.”

A note about the variation of the spelling of Tredwell: Although early records seem to use “Tredwell” and “Treadwell” interchangeably, by the second generation in America “Tredwell” was used exclusively to denote this branch of the family. For the sake of clarity, this post will just use the spelling “Tredwell.”

In England

Seabury Tredwell’s ancestry can be traced as far back as 16th century England, to one Thomas Tredwell of Sibford Gower (before 1510-1545). His son, Alexander of Swalcliffe and Epwell (d.1603) was the father of Thomas (born c.1565). Thomas’ son Edward would leave England for the Colonies and begin the story of the Tredwell family in America.

Edward Tredwell, Emigrant

In 1635, Seabury Tredwell’s great-great-great-grandfather, Edward Tredwell (1607-1660), with his wife and two young children, emigrated from the small village of Swalcliffe, Oxfordshire, England, the seat of the prosperous Tredwell family. The family settled in the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts Bay Colony. In February 1637, the Massachusetts Bay Company granted Edward six acres of land “for planting.” Edward was one of over 20,000 emigrants who fled England for political, religious, and economic reasons, during what is known as the “Great Migration,” 1620-1640, and settled in New England.

17th Century Ships in Boston Harbor. Painting by William Formby Halsall ca. 1880.

17th Century Ships in Boston Harbor. Painting by William Formby Halsall ca. 1880.

And thus commences the story of the branch of the Tredwell family from which Seabury Tredwell (1780-1865) descended. The chronicles of this family, like the millions of others who came, and continue to come, to America, reflect the pursuit and attainment of the American Dream of peace, prosperity, and freedom.

In the ensuing years, Edward Tredwell, his wife, Sarah (nee Howes, 1609-1684), and their six children lived in the Colony of New Haven, and then Southold, on the North Fork of Long Island. By 1660, the year of his death, Edward Tredwell lived in Huntington, Long Island, then an agricultural area on the North Shore. No doubt he was a successful farmer, for upon his death his estate inventory was valued at 285 pounds sterling, a significant sum at that time.

Illustration of Madnan's Neck with the Tredwell property marked in red. (The Book of Great Neck, 1936.)

Illustration of Madnan’s Neck with the Tredwell property marked in red. (The Book of Great Neck, 1936.)

John Tredwell, Esquire

Seabury’s great-great-grandfather, John Tredwell (c.1644-before 1720), son of Edward and Sarah, moved from Huntington to Hempstead, Long Island, sometime around 1662. By 1685, John was farming 350 acres of land in Hempstead, an area known for its fertile ground, and for its abundance of wild game and fish. Throughout his adult life, John held many notable positions in the town, including assessor, county justice, auditor, constable, overseer, and surveyor. In court and civil records he was always referred to as “Gentleman” or “Esquire.” He married twice, first in 1666 or 1667 to Elizabeth Starr (who died before 1682), then to Hannah Smith (born before 1706-death unknown).  In 1696, John purchased a 250-acre farm from John Kissam of Madnan’s Neck (now known as Great Neck), North Hempstead. It was the homestead of the Tredwell family for the next 100 years.

John Tredwell had two children with his first wife, Elizabeth. It is unknown if he had any children with his second wife, Hannah.

Thomas Tredwell, Captain of the Militia

Seabury’s great-grandfather, Thomas Tredwell (before 1676-1722), son of John and his first wife, Elizabeth, continued farming the land at Madnan’s Neck; like his father, he also served as a vestryman and warden of St. George’s Church in Hempstead. In 1697, he was appointed by the Governor of the Province of New York to the office of Captain of a Company of Foot in Colonel Thomas Willet’s regiment. He held this position until his death, in 1722. His wife, Hannah Denton, whom he married sometime before 1698, died in 1748. Thomas and Hannah Tredwell had eight children. Clearly the Tredwell family had become wealthier over the years, for after his death Thomas Tredwell’s estate was valued at 825 pounds sterling.

St. George’s Episcopal Church, Hempstead, NY, c. 1734

St. George’s Episcopal Church, Hempstead, NY, c. 1734

Colonel Benjamin Tredwell

Seabury’s grandfather, Benjamin Tredwell (1702-1782), son of Thomas and Hannah, married his first wife, Phebe Platt, in 1727; she died in 1738 at the age of 28 years old. In 1739 or 1740, he married Sarah Allen (1717-1782). Benjamin, like his father and grandfather before him, was a farmer and a vestryman in St. George’s Church; he would later be instrumental in the building of a new church building in Hempstead.

He served as a Major in Colonel John Cornell’s regiment of the militia, and by 1750 was ranked as Colonel. According to Henry Onderdonk, Jr., in his Queens County in Olden Times (1865), Benjamin Tredwell was described as “a gentleman who ever supported an unblemished character and was remarkable for his hospitality, cheerfulness and affability.” Benjamin died just four months after the death of his second wife, Sarah.

Benjamin had four children with his first wife, Phebe, and five with his second wife, Sarah.

Dr. Benjamin Tredwell's amputation knives, National Museum of Health and Medicine. www.researchgate.net.

Dr. Benjamin Tredwell’s amputation knives, National Museum of Health and Medicine. www.researchgate.net.

Doctor Benjamin Tredwell, Adventurer

Seabury’s father, Benjamin Tredwell, Jr., (1735-1830), son of Benjamin and his first wife, Phebe, lived a long and eventful life in Hempstead and later in East Williston, part of the town of Westbury. In 1756, as a 22-year-old physician and surgeon (likely trained by apprenticeship), he joined a privateering expedition against the French during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) on board the ship Hercules.

Marriage to a Mayflower Descendent
Six years after completing the voyage, Dr. Benjamin Tredwell married Elizabeth Seabury (1743-1818), daughter of Reverend Samuel Seabury (1706-1764), who was rector of St. George’s Church from 1742 to 1764; her half-brother, also named Reverend Samuel Seabury (1729-1796), became the first Episcopal Bishop of the United States (see “Uncle Sam(uel): Bishop, Loyalist … Broadway Star? from July, 2016). Elizabeth’s third great-grandfather was John Alden, who with his future wife, Priscilla Mullins, arrived in the New World aboard the Mayflower in 1620.

Silhouette of Elizabeth Seabury Tredwell, MHM 2002.0327

Elizabeth Seabury Tredwell. MHM 2002.0327

Silhouette of Dr. Benjamin Tredwell, MHM 2002.0328

Dr. Benjamin Tredwell. MHM 2002.0328

A Loyalist Brush with the British
During the Revolutionary War, in August 1776, British troops occupied Long Island and imposed martial law. Hempstead and its Churches of England were centers of military and Loyalist life. Dr. Tredwell, a vestryman of St. George’s, was an ardent Loyalist; in fact, he was one of the signers from Queens County of the Declaration of Loyalty to the King, dated October 21, 1776. At one point during the war, he quartered Hessian soldiers at his home; this show of loyalty to the King, however, did not prevent him and many other Loyalists from being denied favor and enduring mistreatment by the British. In 1776, while riding alone, he was robbed of his valuable horse by Lieutenant-Colonel Birch, Commander of the 17th Light Dragoons. The eminent physician was sent home carrying his saddle. When he protested the injustice of the theft, Dr. Tredwell was labeled a “rebel” and threatened with arrest.

A Rabble of Rebels
Dr. Benjamin Tredwell’s wife, Elizabeth, also beloved by the community and known for her hospitality, was involved in an what must have been a frightening incident during the Revolution: on August 2, 1780, while returning from New York City in a chaise, she was robbed of her horse and money by a group of militant patriots. Her eight-year-old son, Adam, who in his adulthood became a successful fur merchant in New York City, was with her at the time. It is extremely fortunate that Mrs. Tredwell was unharmed during this incident, for one month later, on September 25, she gave birth to the eighth of her nine children, Seabury Tredwell.

Newspaper Advertisement, Dr. Benjamin Tredwell, Long-Island Star, 1826.

Newspaper Advertisement, Dr. Benjamin Tredwell, Long-Island Star, 1826.

Slavery and Servitude
The presence of the institution of slavery on Long Island during the 17th and 18th century is clearly documented in the historical record. Slave records exist in Long Island as early as 1683. Four generations of Seabury’s ancestors owned slaves who worked the Tredwell farms. According to the 1800 Federal census, Benjamin Tredwell, Seabury’s father, owned six slaves. Slavery was finally abolished in New York in 1827.

Dr. Benjamin Tredwell also hired indentured servants to work for him; indentures were legal contracts that bound a person to work for another for a specified period of years. In 1826, Benjamin Tredwell paid for an advertisement in the Long-Island Star, in which he offered $5 for the return of one James Carman, a runaway. Servitude remained legal in New York State until its abolition in 1917.

Slaves Freed
With the creation of the New York Manumission Society in 1785, abolitionist New Yorkers set about promoting the gradual manumission (release from slavery) of slaves. New York passed its first gradual emancipation law in 1799. This law provided that all children born into slavery after July 4, 1799 in the state would be freed when they turned 25 (for women) or 28 (for men). This meant that slaveholders would be able to retain their slaves during their most productive years. Slavery was finally abolished in New York in 1827.

Dr. Benjamin Tredwell legally freed three of his slaves in 1808, 1810, and 1819, by signing manumission registration certificates. The three slaves were adults at the time they received their freedom. Dr. Tredwell, along with the Overseers of the Poor of Queens County, who issued the certificates, had to guarantee that each freed person was “of sufficient abilities to provide for himself.” He retained at least one slave, however; in his Last Will and Testament, dated September 21, 1829, he bequeathed his “female slave, Cloe,” to his son Benjamin. Although this was illegal, it most likely was by mutual consent. If Cloe was incapable of supporting herself (perhaps she was elderly or disabled), this could be viewed as at act of charity. If she did not live with Benjamin’s son, her only other option, most likely, was the almshouse.

Receipt from Dr. Benjamin Tredwell, 1816. Author’s Collection.

Receipt from Dr. Benjamin Tredwell, 1816. Author’s Collection.

“Esteem and Confidence”
Family lore has it that on the birth of each of his children, Dr. Tredwell planted an evergreen tree in front of his house. By 1784, with the birth of his last child, George, Benjamin would have planted nine evergreen trees. All of Benjamin and Elizabeth’s children lived to adulthood.

Upon his death at the age of 95, Dr. Benjamin Tredwell’s obituary in the Long Island Telegraph and General Advertiser (June 24, 1830), stated:

“Such is said to have been the esteem and confidence of the community in this aged Physician, that to the last, he retained a large portion of the practice in the neighborhood where he resided.”

The next blog post in the series “Meet the Tredwells” will explore the fascinating story of Eliza Earle Parker Tredwell’s ancestors.



  • Ancestry.com. 1790 and 1800 United States Federal Census. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Accessed 3/11/16.
  • Ancestry.com. New York County, New York, Wills and Probate Records, 1658-1880 (NYSA) [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Accessed 2/11/19.
  • Ancestry.com. New York, Wills and Probate records, 1659-1999 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Accessed 2/11/19.
  • Cutter, William Richard, ed. American Biography: A New Cyclopedia, Vol XL. New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1930, pgs. 177-178.
  • Hawk, Alan J. “ArtiFacts: Benjamin Tredwell Jr.’s Amputation Knives.” Clinical Orthopedics and Related Research (2018) 476: pgs. 1715-1716. www.researchgate.net. Accessed 2/8/19.
  • Hoff, Henry B. Genealogies of Long Island Families, Vol. II. From The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record. Volume II. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, 1987.
  • Jones, Thomas. History of New York During the Revolutionary War, Volume I. New York: The New York Historical Society, 1879, p. 114-116. www.internetarchive.org. Retrieved 3/12/16.
  • Long-Island Star (Brooklyn, New York) 23 November, 1826, Thursday, p. 3. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 3/11/16.
  • Luke, Dr. Myron H. Vignettes of Hempstead Town 1643-1800. Hempstead, New York: Long Island Studies Institute, 1993.
  • Mather, Frederic Gregory. The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut. Albany, N.Y.: J.B. Lyon Co., 1913, p. 607-608. www.internetarchive.org. Retrieved 5/5/16.
  • Moore, William H. History of St. George’s Church, Hempstead, Long Island, N.Y. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1881. www.archive.org. Accessed 2/8/19.
  • Onderdonk, Jr., Henry. Documents and Letters Intended to Illustrate the Revolutionary Incidents of Queens County. New York: Levitt, Trow and Company, 1846., p. 117-128, p. 172-173, p. 244-249. www.ancestry.com. Accessed 3/11/16.
  • Robbins, William A. “Descendants of Edward Tre[a]dwell Through His Son John.” The New York Genealogical & Biographical Record. April, 1912 (Volume 43, No. 2), p. 127; Ibid., July, 1912, (Volume 43, No. 3), p. 221; Ibid., Oct, 1912 (Volume 43, No. 4). www.archive.org. Accessed 2/8/19.
  • Smith, Dean Crawford. The Ancestry of Eva Belle Kempton, 1878-1908, Part II: The Ancestry of Amanda Spiller 1823-1873. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2008.
  • St. George’s Episcopal Church Archives. New York, NY. Record of St. George’s Church/Baptisms 1809-1830/Marriages 1816-1837.
  • Treadwell, Thomas Alanson. “Tredwells in Search of Tredwells: Adventures in Ancestry.” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 104, No. 4 (1973): 195-204.
  • Tredwell, Thomas Allison., “Tredwells in Search of Tredwells” in New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 104 (1973): 195-204.
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December 11, 2018

“The Reign of Benevolence:” Christmas with the Tredwell Family, 1850

by Ann Haddad

"The Christmas Tree," by F.A. Chapman

“The Christmas Tree,” by F.A. Chapman, mid-19th century.

Christmas Rivals New Year’s Day

By the mid-nineteenth century, the celebration of Christmas Day in New York City had grown to such an extent as to rival the New Year’s Day festivities. (For a history and description of New Year’s Day celebration in New York, see my blog post of December, 2017: This Fine Old Custom”.)  According to the New York Daily Herald:

“Though Christmas is emphatically a church day, yet it has now become, in New York, a general holiday – as much so as New Year’s, which is kept up here after the style of our Dutch ancestors.”

The Christmas traditions of Santa Claus, decorated evergreen trees, stockings, and large Christmas feasts had taken hold. And, to the delight and profit of the City’s merchants, the custom of gift-giving as a Christmas gesture was embraced with enthusiasm.

Let’s Travel Back in Time!

Although we have no record of how the Tredwell family spent Christmas Day in 1850, let us step across the threshold of their home on Fourth Street in our imaginations, and see how they may have enjoyed the holiday. In 1850, there were 13 family members living on Fourth Street: Seabury and Eliza Tredwell, their eight children, two sons-in-law, and one granddaughter.

December 25, 1850, dawned cold, windless, and overcast. In the early morning, one-half inch of snow fell, and more was predicted. Two days prior, New York had been hit by a huge squall, with hurricane-like winds which brought the city to a standstill; ferry and train services were halted, and damaged ships lay stranded in the harbor. The New York Herald reported that “the sea ran high and dashed over the Battery wildly and tumultuously.”

Window Shopping, "The Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine," 1866.

Window Shopping, “The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine,” 1866.

Shop for Gifts Like It’s 1850

As we do today, the Tredwells spent the week before Christmas shopping for gifts for friends and loved ones. With new industrial technologies and mass production of goods, ready-made Christmas gifts became as popular as the traditional hand-made ones. And as the city was enjoying a period of prosperity due to a financial upturn, retailers did a brisk business in goods marketed as Christmas items. As the New York Daily Herald observed on December 21, 1850:

“The remarkable financial success of our citizens has produced such generous feelings among all classes, that Santa Claus will have unusually brilliant burdens to carry …”

As Christmas approached, the streets of Broadway grew crowded with throngs of shoppers in search of the perfect Christmas presents for their loved ones. The Herald (December 21, 1850), reported:

“… the great thoroughfares are thronged with people, intent upon making elegant selections; and, by the advent of Christmas, about a million of dollars will be moved in the metropolis alone …”

In addition to Stewart’s Department Store, then located on Broadway between Chambers and Reade Streets, and Lord & Taylor on Catherine Street, many other smaller shops, located primarily on lower Broadway, offered a myriad of goods for eager consumers. On December 24, 1850, the Herald observed:

“On Broadway … the toy shops and bookstores have dressed their windows with the most attractive of their wares. The jewelers display tempting specimens of bijouterie; confectioners and bakers are evidently under the prevailing influence; hardware merchants hang out their choicest specimens of skates and small sleds; while numerous shops display in their windows bushels of doll babies … Everything bespeaks the Advent of Santa-Claus and the reign of benevolence.”

A.T. Stewarts Department Store, 280 Broadway, ca. 1850 (NYPL)

A.T. Stewarts Department Store, 280 Broadway, ca. 1850 (NYPL)

"The Brilliant: A Gift Book for 1850" (MHM 2005.6035)

“The Brilliant: A Gift Book for 1850” (MHM 2005.6035)

The Tredwells’ Fantasy Christmas Gifts

The museum’s collection includes one gift we can definitively say was given at Christmas, 1850. Seabury and Eliza’s fifth child, Phebe, received The Brilliant: A Gift Book for 1850, from her oldest sister Elizabeth. The book, edited by T.S. Arthur with 15 lovely engravings and a richly embossed cover, is inscribed “P.E. Tredwell from her sister E. Decr 25, 1850.” Perhaps Elizabeth purchased this from J. Slater’s Book Store, 204 Chatham Square, near the Bowery.

Let us pretend to steal a peek at the other presents under the Tredwells’ Christmas tree. Our fantasy gift list below, for everyone from Seabury and Eliza to their first grandchild, one-year-old Adelaide Richards, includes the shops where they may have been purchased:

  • Seabury: Cravat, scarf, gloves, morning robe: J. Agate, 237 Broadway, corner Park-Place.
  • Eliza: Fur cape: Knox, 128 Fulton Street, and Diamond Brooch: Tiffany, Young, & Ellis, 271 Broadway
  • Elizabeth: French China dinner set: J. Souvenez & Co.,  594 Broadway, next to Niblo’s
  • Effingham: Pocket watch: S. Hammond & Co., 44 Merchants’ Exchange
  • Horace:  Top hat: Genin, 214 Broadway
  • Mary: Perfume: Dupuy, 609 Broadway
  • Charles: Embroidered toilet slippers, and morning gown: Cantrell, 336 Bowery
  • Adelaide: Toys and rattles: Tuttle’s Emporium, 345 Broadway
  • Samuel: Gold pen & pencil case: Francis & Loutrel, 77 Maiden Lane
  • Julia: Parisian shell combs: Osborne & Boardman, No. 413 Broadway at Lispenard Street
  • Sarah: Scrap book and set of stationery: Rich & Loutrel, 61 William Street
  • Gertrude: Toys: Tuttle’s Emporium, 345 Broadway; and Allen’s Improved Education Tables, “far preferable to toys.” John G. Haviland, 422 1/2 Broadway
  • The four servants who worked for the Tredwell family were not forgotten on Christmas Day. Mrs. Tredwell may have purchased dresses and other dry goods for them at Hitchcock & Leadbeater, 347 Broadway, which offered “many suitable cheap presents for servants.”

The Christmas Feast

While the Tredwell family attended church services at nearby St. Bartholomew’s Church (one block away on Lafayette and Great Jones Streets), and then exchanged their Christmas presents in the Greek Revival parlors, the four servants were engaged in the herculean task of preparing the family’s elaborate Christmas dinner. Preparations for this festive day began weeks earlier; including thoroughly cleaning the house; baking a myriad of sweets such as mince pies, tarts, cookies, and plum puddings; and ordering the groceries, as well as wines and other beverages. And, although the cook and her assistant bore the brunt of the Christmas Day labor, the parlor maid had her own set of important duties, for as Miss Leslie mentioned in The House Book: or A Manual of Domestic Economy for Town and Country (1844):

“You must see that the fires are in good order, and the lamps all lighted at an early hour, and that all the refreshments are actually in the house….”

"The Christmas Hamper," by Robert Braithwaite Martineau, ca. 1850

“The Christmas Hamper,” by Robert Braithwaite Martineau, ca. 1850

What’s for Christmas Dinner?

We don’t know the Tredwell family’s menu when they sat down for Christmas dinner in 1850, but it likely resembled this sample Christmas menu from Miss Leslie’s Lady’s New Receipt Book (1850):

Boiled turkey with oyster sauce
Two roast geese with apple sauce
Roasted ham
Chicken pie
Stewed beets
Turnips; salsify; winter squash
Plum pudding
Mince pie
Lemon custard
Cranberry pie

If Company’s Coming …

"Christmas Comes But Once a Year," by Charles Green

“Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” by Charles Green, mid-19th century

In addition to the 13 immediate Tredwell family members, other relatives and friends may have been invited to Christmas dinner. In that case, Mrs. Leslie offered a more elaborate menu:

Mock turtle soup
Stewed rockfish
Roasted ham
Roasted venison with currant jelly
Boiled turkey with oyster sauce
Roast geese with apple sauce
French oyster pie
Fricasseed chicken
Potato snow
Parsnips; beets; winter squash; cold-slaw
Plum pudding
Mince pie
Orange tarts
Cream coconut pudding
Spanish blanc mange
Vanilla ice-cream

"Buying the Christmas Turkey," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, December, 1865.

“Buying the Christmas Turkey,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, December, 1865.

Shop for Food Like It’s 1850

We do not know how involved Mrs. Tredwell and her daughters were in the preparations for Christmas dinner. (Most likely Gertrude wasn’t – she was only 10 years old). Nor do we know how much of the Christmas dinner menu was cooked from scratch. But chances are that at least part of the Christmas menu was outsourced, for shops that offered ready-made food were abundant. Below is a sample of some of the establishments (most of which were located in lower Manhattan) the Tredwells may have patronized as they shopped for Christmas dinner, with their specialties noted:

  • Roasted ham : Duncan & Sons, 407 Broadway
  • Boiled turkey with oyster sauce: Downings, Amity Street [now West 3rd Street] and Broadway
  • Pickled oysters: A. & P. Dorion, 11 and 12 Fulton Market
  • English Cheeses, sauces for epicures, Pate de Foix Gras: Bininger’s, 141 Broadway
  • Dried fruits (Zante currants, Malaga raisins, Madeira citron, Egyptian dates, and Smyrna figs); nuts; Calabrian licorice, rock candy: Gassner’s, 132 Chatham Street
  • Brandies and wines: Duncan & Sons, 407 Broadway
  • “Delicate wines for the Ladies,” (domestic currant wine): H.W. Prescott’s Wine Cellar, 11 Wall Street
  • Teas and coffees; chocolate for hot cocoa; cherry and raspberry cordials; English, Scotch, and American ale and porter; Congress and Pavilion Saratoga water: Gassner’s, 132 Chatham Street
  • Confections, including richly ornamented Plum, Pound, and Citron Cakes; Jelly; Charlotte Russe: Thompson & Son, Confectioners, 235 Broadway, opposite the Park Fountain
  • Candy: Stuart’s, Greenwich and Chambers Streets

When it came to ordering confections from a shop, Miss Leslie urged caution:

“Bespeak your confectionary at the very best shop; otherwise the things may be sent to you made of bad ingredients.”

For those matrons who required additional equipment, or perhaps entertainment for Christmas Day, they could rely on John Taylor (337 Broadway, opposite the Tabernacle). In addition to “moulds of ice cream, small articles to hold confectionery, imitation sofas, chairs, trunks, books, hats, etc. and suitable for Christmas trees, or for Santa Claus.” Taylor offered, “good waiters and musicians. China, glass, silver, candelabras, silver trays, cake baskets, to loan.”

Bake Like It’s 1850

If you are inspired by the baking skills of Mrs. Tredwell and her cook, and are eager to attempt popular 1850 Christmas desserts, here is a recipe from Miss Leslie’s Seventy Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats (the author’s first cookbook and still popular 22 years after its publication in 1828).

Christmas Desserts, from "Mrs. Beeton's Cookery Book," 1861.

Christmas Desserts, from “Mrs. Beeton’s Cookery Book,” 1861.


One pound of raisins, stoned and cut in half.
One pound of currants, picked, washed, and dried.
One pound of beef suet, chopped fine.
One pound of grated stale bread, or a pound of flour.
Eight eggs.
A quarter of a pound of sugar.
A glass of brandy.
A pint of milk.
A glass of wine.
Two nutmegs, grated.
A table-spoonful of mixed cinnamon and mace.
A salt-spoonful of salt.

You must prepare all your ingredients the day before (except beating the eggs) that in the morning you may have nothing to do but to mix them, as the pudding will require six hours to boil.
Beat the eggs very light, then put to them half the milk and beat both together. Stir in gradually the flour or grated bread. Next add the sugar by degrees. Then the suet and fruit alternately. The fruit must be well sprinkled with flour, lest it sink to the bottom. Stir very hard. Then add the spice and liquor, and lastly the remainder of the milk. Stir the whole mixture very well together.

If it is not thick enough, add a little more grated bread or flour. If there is too much bread or flour, the pudding will be hard and heavy.

Dip your pudding-cloth in boiling water, shake it out and sprinkle it slightly with flour. Lay it in a pan, and pour the mixture into the cloth. Tie it up carefully, allowing room for the pudding to swell. Boil it six hours, and turn it carefully out of the cloth.

Before you send it to table, have ready some blanched sweet almonds cut into slips, or some slips of citron, or both. Stick them all over the outside of the pudding.

Eat with wine or with a sauce made of drawn butter, wine and nutmeg.

The pudding will be improved if you add to the other ingredients, the grated rind of a large lemon or orange.

Illustration from "David Copperfield," by Fred Barnard, 1872.

Illustration from “David Copperfield,” by Fred Barnard, 1872.

A Recipe from Mr. Dickens

The Tredwells’ Christmas celebration most likely included a festive punch bowl. Here is a recipe for Charles Dickens’ Christmas Punch, taken from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1847:

“Peel into a very common basin (which may be broken in case of accident, without damage to the owner’s peace or pocket) the rinds of three lemons, cut very thin and with as little as possible of the white coating between the peel and the fruit, attached. Add a double handful of lump sugar (good measure, a pint of good old rum, and a large wine-glass of good old brandy (if it be not a large claret glass, say two). Set this on fire, by filling a warm silver spoon with the spirit, lighting the contents at a wax taper, and pouring them gently in. Let it burn three or four minutes at least, stirring it from time to time. Then extinguish it by covering the basin with a tray, which will immediately put out the flame. Then squeeze in the juice of the three lemons, and add a quart of boiling water. Stir the whole well, cover it up for five minutes, and stir again.”

“Mirthful and Jolly!”

Here is an excerpt from a poem entitled “A Christmas Carol,” by William P. Mulchinock, which appeared in the Evening Post, December 22, 1849:

“Then deck your gay homes with the evergreen holly!
And light ye the tapers to scare melancholy!
And drain ye the wassail bowl mirthful and jolly;
To-day joy is wisdom, but grieving’s a folly.”

Merry Christmas!!

"Christmas Morning," Godey's Lady's Book, December, 1850.

“Christmas Morning,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1850.


November 14, 2018

“My Conscience Acquits Me:” The Scandal of Bishop Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk

by Ann Haddad

"George Washington Visiting Onderdonk," detail from WPA mural, 1937.

“George Washington Visiting Onderdonk,” detail from WPA mural, 1937.

A 19th Century Church Scandal

Although the phrase “sexual harassment” did not come into popular use until the mid-1970s, accusations of mistreatment and abuse by women against men of power have been part of the historical record for centuries. In November 1844, such a charge was brought against one of the most powerful men in New York, the Reverend Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, then Episcopal Bishop of New York. The scandal, trial, and media circus that ensued in New York no doubt rocked the Tredwell family’s world, for Bishop Onderdonk was a relative (first cousin once removed) of Seabury Tredwell.

Breakfast with George

The name Onderdonk carried considerable cache in early 19th century New York. Many New Yorkers were likely familiar with the story of Hendrick Onderdonk (1724-1809), the enterprising grist mill owner of Roslyn, Long Island, who in 1773 established the first paper mill in Hempstead Harbor, and who once welcomed a famous guest to his table. On April 24, 1790, President George Washington wrote in his diary:

“Left Mr. Yooung’s before six on Saturday., and passing Mosquito Cove, breakfasted at Mr. (Hendrick) Underdunck’s [sic], at the head of a little bay [Hempstead Harbor] where we were kindly received and well entertained. This gentleman works a grist and two paper mills, the last of which he seems to carry on with spirit and for profit.”

Eliza Moscrop Onderdonk (1794-1887), westhempsteadnowandthen.blogspot.com

Eliza Moscrop Onderdonk (1794-1887), westhempsteadnowandthen.blogspot.com


A Star is Born

Hendrick Onderdonk’s son, Dr. John Onderdonk (1763-1832), was a distinguished physician in New York City for over 50 years, a vestryman of Trinity Church until his death, and at one time President of the Medical Society of New York. On July 15, 1791, his wife Deborah gave birth to a son, Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, who would go on to have an illustrious career in the Episcopal Church, until it was suddenly destroyed by scandal.

Benjamin graduated from Columbia College in 1809 (his older brother, Henry Ustick Onderdonk (1789-1858), was a physician and churchman who became Assistant Bishop of Pennsylvania in 1827). Because there were no seminaries in the country at the time, he was trained for the ministry by his mentor and then-Bishop of New York, John Henry Hobart. In 1813, he married Eliza Handy Moscrop (1793-1887); she bore him seven children. The family resided for many years at the Episcopal Residence at 106 Franklin Street, then (as now) considered a chic neighborhood in the city.

Trinity Church, 1846.

Trinity Church, 1846.

A Home in Trinity Church

After his ordination in 1815, at the age of 23, Bishop Onderdonk was appointed Assistant Minister at Trinity Parish in New York City. In the ensuing fifteen years, as he advanced his career in church administration, he earned a reputation for his superior knowledge of canonical law, his devout nature, his dedication to the poor, and his excellent managerial skills. His academic appointment was as Professor at the General Theological Seminary in what is now the Chelsea neighborhood.

Fourth Bishop of New York

Upon the sudden death of his mentor, Bishop Hobart, in September 1830, Onderdonk was elected as his successor, becoming the Fourth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. He was consecrated on November 26, 1830, in St. John’s Chapel on Varick Street. The Tredwells, who lived on Dey Street at the time, very likely were present to witness the bestowing of this prestigious honor upon their cousin.

Bishop to a Growing Church

During his episcopate, Bishop Onderdonk established many new parishes, and supported  missionary work in central and western New York State. Aware of the increasing disparity between the wealthy (who paid huge sums for the purchase of a pew) and the working poor, who by virtue of their poverty were excluded from worship, he spearheaded the creation of the Protestant Episcopal City Mission Society in 1831. The rapid growth of the Church in the state awakened the realization that one Bishop could not possibly supervise the entire Diocese; hence the formation of the Diocese of Western New York in 1838.

Bishop Onderdonk officiated at the marriages, baptisms, and funerals of the elite in New York. On June 26, 1844, just months before he was embroiled in scandal, he officiated at the wedding of President Tyler and Miss Julia Gardiner at the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue at 10th Street.

Church of the Annunciation, 14th Street

Church of the Annunciation, Fourteenth Street

The Oxford Movement

The tide began to turn against Bishop Onderdonk during the 1841 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, in which he voiced his support of the Oxford Movement, which promoted the reinstatement of older traditional Christian beliefs in the teachings and liturgy of the Church of England. In a speech given at the convention, Onderdonk advocated “a return to Christ – to the principles, faith, and order of His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Objections from certain members of the Episcopal clergy, many of whom felt threatened by the steady growth of the Catholic population, poured forth unceasingly. Bishop Onderdonk was now viewed negatively as the leader of the Oxford Movement; yet he had the full support of the popular Reverend Samuel Seabury, then Rector of the Church of the Annunciation on 14th Street. (This Rev. Samuel Seabury was the grandson of Seabury Tredwell’s uncle, also named Samuel Seabury. See Uncle Sam(uel): Bishop, Loyalist … Broadway Star? for more information on the original Rev. Seabury.)

The Carey Ordination

The outcry against the Oxford Movement (and subsequently Bishop Onderdonk), reached its peak in 1843, when he supported the ordination of Arthur Carey, a shining star at the General Theological Seminary. Despite objections from other Church leaders that Carey’s views were too sympathetic to Roman Catholicism, and ignoring the loudly voiced protestations of two rectors (Dr. Hugh Smith of St. Peter’s and Dr. Henry Anthon of St. Mark’s in the Bowery, who interrupted the ceremony by reading a formal protest aloud), on July 2, 1843, Bishop Onderdonk admitted Arthur Carey to the deaconate.

The Rumors Begin

As a result, a bitter assault was waged on Bishop Onderdonk in both the religious and secular press and in private meetings in New York. Meanwhile, unpleasant rumors began circulating – largely due to the efforts of Reverend James Richmond of Rhode Island (who himself often displayed, according to the Bishop, “erratic peculiarities,” and whose writing appears clearly to be the rumination of a troubled mind), that the Bishop was a drinker who had on more than one occasion acted indecently with women. The Bishop’s coarse manner and easy familiarity had often been remarked upon; it was a short hop from that to accusations of impropriety. Declaring, “I am going to Philadelphia to overthrow the Bishop of New York,” Richmond traveled to the convention on October 14, 1844, armed with affidavits signed by four women who claimed to be victims of Bishop Onderdonk’s indiscretions, and presented them at the General Convention held in Philadelphia.

Auguste Edouart. Silhouette of Bishop Onderdonk, 1840. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian.

Auguste Edouart. Silhouette of Bishop Onderdonk, 1840. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian.

“Buried Alive”

On November 7, 1844, after clergymen in Bishop Onderdonk’s own diocese of New York turned their backs on the charges that were made against him, three evangelical bishops from remote dioceses (William Meade of Virginia, Stephen Elliott, Jr. of Georgia, and James H. Otey of Tennessee) made formal charges against Bishop Onderdonk, accusing him of acts of “immorality and indecency.” The women involved, who were “virtuous and respectable ladies,” testified that the Bishop touched them inappropriately; his accusers stated that he “thrust his hands into her bosom,” and “‘impurely and unchastely’ passed his hand down and along the person and the legs of the said lady.” During one incident that supposedly took place in 1842, he “passed his hand in the most indecent manner down her body, so that nothing but the end of her corset-bone prevented his hand from being pressed upon the private parts of her body …” Bishop Onderdonk was said to be under the influence of “spirituous liquors” during several of the episodes. The incidents, which allegedly occurred between 1837 and 1842, took place while the Bishop was carrying out the duties of his office. The Reverend Samuel Seabury, a close friend, later stated that Bishop Onderdonk was “buried alive” by his own Church.

The Bishop Denies the Charges

Bishop Onderdonk, alerted to the tenor of the affidavits by three friends who were given access to them, stated that the affidavits contained “misrepresentations and gross exaggerations.” He learned that the laity had investigated rumors against him, and “calling on families where they had reason to hope they might hear something to my disadvantage.” The bishops, in their reply to this, stated that they “have not been collecting, but receiving and sifting testimony.” He accused the bishops of “malicious intent;” and stated that the appointed rumor mongers “have done more to bring public scandal on the church than all else connected with this business.”

Bishop Onderdonk did admit that his “habit of reciprocating friendly affection” was carried too far, and as a result “exaggerations and distortions have turned to ill what was really so neither in intent nor in deed.”

On Everyone’s Lips

The New York newspapers and others further afield published daily accounts of the trial. Opinions both in support of and horrified by the Bishop’s charges came from every quarter. According to the New York Daily Herald (January 1, 1845):

“The trial of Bishop Onderdonk now supersedes everything else. Even dandies stop on Broadway to lisp out, “anything new from St. John’s today?” and among our fashionable ladies “how is our dear man coming on?” or “what will be done with the old sinner?” 

Bishop Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, by William Sidney Mount, ca. 1830-1833. NY-HS.

Bishop Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, by William Sidney Mount, ca. 1830-1833. NY-HS.


Despite Bishop Onderdonk’s pleas for an opportunity to defend himself, the presiding bishops refused to share the affidavits with him, thereby keeping him in ignorance of both the charges and his accusers. From December 10, 1844, to January 2, 1845, the Court of Bishops held a trial at St. John’s Chapel. To the astonishment of many, Bishop Onderdonk was found guilty of eight charges by 11 out of 17 bishops. After the verdict was announced, he was summoned to appear before the Court; his denial was brief:

“I … do now protest, before Almighty God and this Court, my entire innocence of all impurity, unchasteness, or immortality …”

Despite Evidence to the Contrary

In an article in The Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church (March 1940), E. Clowns Chorley pointed out several facts that bring the charges against Bishop Onderdonk into question. Many of the charges were based on heresay; in one case husband and wife offered contradictory testimony; the circumstances of the alleged acts made it improbable that they took place; and Bishop Onderdonk was received as a guest at the home of his accusers long after the alleged events took place. Reverend Seabury, in his defense of the Bishop, pointed out that the verdict of the Court “was not unanimous: six of the Bishops wholly exonerated him from the charges of which the majority convicted him.”

Bishop Onderdonk’s only rebuttal to the verdict came in the form of a pamphlet, published on January 15, 1845, in which he methodically refuted every charge made against him.

New York Herald, January 7, 1845.

New York Herald, January 7, 1845.

Fake News

In a review of the case in the New York Herald (January 7, 1845), a particular passage resonates today, “It is well known to the community at large … that the clergy of all denominations claim a monopoly of every thing like virtue … and it is usually coupled with a condemnation of all those public institutions … which are likely to come into collision with the pulpit … We have often seen … with what violence the clergy of the Episcopal Church … have assailed the public press, falsely representing it as evil … they have inveigled against the indecencies of the newspapers, and have labored hard to show that its conductors are the most worthless and corrupt men in existence. The truth is, that there is a vast amount of hypocrisy, immorality, and impurity in the ranks of the clergy.” 

The Court of Bishops, much to the horror of Bishop Onderdonk’s supporters, published the proceedings of the trial, which sent tongues wagging with fervor. In a letter dated January 19, 1845, Helen Griswold wrote wryly to her husband:

“I understand that they are endeavoring to suppress the publication of Bishop Onderdonk’s trials, and it is thought that he will soon be restored, and that the statements have been misrepresented, I am sure that no lady would come forward publicly with such accusations unless they considered it an honor, and I am confident that he would never have taken such liberty unless he had reason to suppose they were willing. I cannot imagine for an instant how any delicate female could come forward with such statements …”

Bishop Onderdonk, ca. 1850s

Bishop Onderdonk, ca. 1850s


Because Bishop Onderdonk refused to resign, fearing that it would be interpreted as an admission of guilt, he was suspended indefinitely from the office of Bishop, and from all functions of the Sacred Ministry in the Episcopal Church. He was kept on salary, however, and paid $2,500 annually until his death. He also was permitted to receive Communion. Until 1852, the Diocese was governed by an Ecclesiastical Authority made up of the Standing Committee of the Church. That year, Mayhew Wainwright was elected Provisional Bishop of New York.

The decision of the Court of Bishops was final. The Church had provided for no appeal; and although urged to appeal to a civil court, Bishop Onderdonk steadfastly refused, as he maintained that the ultimate authority in the case lay with the Church.

How Did the Tredwells React?

We have no record of how the Tredwells viewed the accusations, the public trial, and the subsequent disappearance of Bishop Onderdonk from the Episcopal community in New York City. Did they distance themselves from the scandal? One wonders if Bishop Onderdonk had been expected to officiate at the wedding of Elizabeth Tredwell and Effingham Nichols, which took place in April 1845. Having his cousin, the Bishop of New York, officiate at his daughter’s wedding would certainly have been a social coup for Seabury. The disastrous turn of events, however, barred the Bishop from performing church duties, including marriages; perhaps this is what led the Tredwells to ask Reverend Samuel Nichols, the father of the groom, to officiate at Elizabeth’s wedding.

Attempts at Restoration

Between 1847 and 1859, several attempts were made by Episcopal clergy to remit the sentence and restore Bishop Onderdonk to his office; clemency was never granted. In an anonymous letter to the editor of The New York Times (September 17, 1859), a supporter pled:

“Strangers took the Bishop away from us. Let them restore him…the Diocese of New-York is good enough to take back the penitent, and strong enough to sustain itself in so doing”

Following his public humiliation, Bishop Onderdonk lived in seclusion at his home on Franklin Street, and after 1859, at his home at 35 West 27th Street. He attended church daily and took Communion at the Church of the Annunciation, then located on West 14th Street, where his close friend, Dr. Samuel Seabury, was rector. He never publicly expressed bitterness towards his accusers.

Among those who visited him on his deathbed, in April 1861, was Professor Clement C. Moore, whom he had not seen in 14 years. He maintained his innocence until his death:

“Of the crimes of which I have been accused and for which I have been condemned, my conscience acquits me, in the sight of God.”

“A Burning and Shining Light”

Bishop Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk died on Tuesday, April 30, 1861, at the age of 70, and in the 49th year in his ministry. His funeral was held one week later on May 7, at Trinity Church.  The throngs of people in attendance spilled into the street; and hundreds of clergymen participated in the service. Twelve pallbearers accompanied the coffin (could Seabury Tredwell have been one of them?); mourners included the students of the General Theological Seminary and children of Trinity School. The entire church was draped in black. Written accounts of the service describe the moment  when the coffin was laid in the aisle, “the sun burst forth from a previously clouded sky, and lit up the entire church.” Reverend Seabury, a stalwart champion of the Bishop through his ordeal, claimed in his eulogy that he had “never known the Bishop to utter anything that he should have been unwilling the angels of God should hear, or that he would wish unsaid at the Day of Judgment.” He quoted scripture (John 5:35): “He was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.”

Bishop Onderdonk is buried within a stone sarcophagus at Trinity Church; it depicts him lying in repose, yet crushing a serpent – “Scandal” – beneath his heel.

Sarcophagus of Bishop Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, Trinity Church.

Sarcophagus of Bishop Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, Trinity Church.


  • Chorley, E. Clowes. “Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk, Fourth Bishop of New York.” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Historical Society of the Episcopal Church: Vol. IX, No. 1, March, 1940. https://www.jstor.org./stable/42968753. Accessed 10/30/18.
  • Churchman’s Monthly Magazine. Vol 4, 1857, p. 384. books.google.com. Accessed 10/31/18.
  • Griswold, Helen Powers. Letter, 19 January, 1845. www.florencegriswoldmuseum.org.
  • Henry M. Onderdonk – Editor of the Hempstead Inquirer.” Friday 29 July, 2011. westhempsteadnowandthen.blogspot.com Accessed 9/29/18.
  • Lowndes, Arthur.  Archives of the General Convention, Volume VI, May, 1808 to February, 1811. New York: Privately Printed, 1912, pp. 456-468. books.google.com. Accessed 10/23/18.
  • New York Daily Herald. 1 Jan 1845, p. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 10/30/18.
  • New York Herald.  5 January, 1845, p. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 9/19/18.
  • New York Daily Herald. 7 January, 1845, p. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 10/30/18.
  • New York Tribune. 27 June, 1844, p. 2. newspapers.com. Accessed 9/19/18.
  • Onderdonk, Benjamin Tredwell. A Statement of Facts and Circumstances Connected with the Recent Trial of the Bishop of New-York. New York: Henry M. Onderdonk, 1845. cataloog.hathitrust.org. Accessed 9/19/18.
  • Onderdonk, Elmer. Genealogy of the Underdone Family in America. New York: Privately Printed, 1910. www.archive.org. Accessed 10/29/18.
  • Protestant Episcopal Church of the United Staes, Court of Bishops. The Proceedings of the Court Convened Under the Third Canon of 1844, in the City of New York. New York: D. Appleton, 1845. catalog.hathitrust.org. Accessed 9/19/18.
  • Richmond, James C. The Conspiracy Against the Late Bishop of New-York. New York: James C. Richmond, 1845. Project Canterbury. www.anglicanhistory.org. Accessed 10/30/18.
  • Seabury, Samuel, D.D. Witness Unto the Truth: A Sermon Preached in Trinity Church, New York, on Tuesday May 7th, 1861. New York: Mason Brothers, 1861. books.google.com. Accessed 10/30/18.
  • Trow’s New York City Directory, 1853-1861. catalog.hathitrust.org. Accessed 10/31/18.
September 27, 2018

Ladies of Refinement: The Women Who Educated the Tredwell Daughters

by Ann Haddad

Six Tredwell Daughters to Educate!

As the daughters of a prosperous merchant, the six Tredwell girls were granted all the privileges of the elite class in which they were raised, including a private school education. From among the many girl’s schools in New York City, Seabury and Eliza chose two of the best for their daughters – Mrs. Okill’s and Mrs. Gibson’s. [For a discussion of private school education for boys, click here to read “Samuel Tredwell’s School Days,” September, 2017.]

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mary Jay Okill owed a debt of gratitude to the Tredwell family. Mrs. Okill (1785-1859), was the headmistress of one of the most highly regarded female academies in New York City in the Antebellum era. Seabury and Eliza Tredwell, by entrusting her with the education of all six of their daughters over a period of at least 20 years, demonstrated support for Mrs. Okill’s system of education, at a time when the wealthy and elite families of the City could choose from among many similar private institutions. The decision by the Tredwells to send their daughters to Mrs. Okill’s likely influenced other wealthy families in their circle.

Classroom at Mrs. Okill's Academy, drawn by a boarding student in 1850.

Classroom at Mrs. Okill’s Academy, drawn by a boarding student in 1850.

The Finishing Touch Plus Morality

In the first half of the 19th century, the aim of elite female education was to provide young ladies with the social graces and manners befitting their place in society, and to instill a basic knowledge of literature, classics, arithmetic, and geography. Several schools also included instruction in the religious and moral principles that would lead to the development of virtuous, charitable, and benevolent character. This approach, which Mary Okill outlined in detail in her first advertisement for her new academy in the Christian Journal, and Literary Register (1823), certainly appealed to parents such as Seabury and Eliza Tredwell, for it would essentially “finish” their daughters by preparing them for the most important roles within their sphere: those of wife and mother. As the advertisement states:

“… while every attention will be paid to the ordinary and ornamental branches of a finished female education, the department of religious instruction will receive particular care. Mrs. Okill … will devote her time to the superintendence of her school, and to the religious principles, morals, and manners of those young ladies who may be confided to her care.”

So Many Choices!

The single-gender “academy,” copied in style and substance from the British finishing school, was extremely popular among the wealthy of New York City in the early-mid 19th century. Such schools, which occupied rented houses run by a head teacher, typically offered opportunities for both day and boarding school students; the staff, who lived at the establishment, included other teachers, cooks, and domestic servants. Teacher training and curriculum was not standardized. With time and the increasingly progressive nature of female education, the homelike atmosphere gradually transitioned to larger, more structured female academies (also called seminaries), with formally trained teachers and rigorous curriculums. [For a detailed description of what the Tredwell girls would have experienced while students at Mrs. Okill’s, see Mary Knapp’s An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65 (2012)].

Mrs. Okill’s Tops the List

Competition for students must have been fierce among the women who ran the schools. Every year, beginning in late August and continuing through mid-September, advertisements for the schools, complete with names of notable individuals who were willing to provide endorsements, appeared in the daily newspapers. In New York As It Is (1833-1837), Mrs. Okill’s name is at the top of a list of 20 “Principal Female Seminaries” spread throughout the city. Ten years later, that number had grown significantly. In addition to Mrs. Okill’s, some of the other renowned female schools during this period, as mentioned by Catherine Elizabeth Havens (1839-1939), in her Diary of a Little Girl in Old New York (1919), were:

“Madame Chegaray’s, Madame Canda on Lafayette Place [both french schools], Mrs. Gibson on the east side of Union Square [more about her later], Miss Green’s on Fifth Avenue, just above Washington Square, and Spingler Institute on the west side of Union Square, just below Fifteenth Street.”

School Advertisements, Evening Post, August 30, 1847.

School Advertisements, Evening Post, August 30, 1847.

Influential  Connections

When one considers that Mrs. Okill included the name of Reverend Benjamin Tredwell Onderdonk (1791-1861) as a reference in her advertisements, it is understandable that Seabury Tredwell supported the school. Onderdonk was a relative of Seabury’s, and, as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, a highly respected clergyman (until he wasn’t: stay tuned for a future post that will discuss his 1845 downfall). Other renowned citizens of New York, including Bishop Hobart, James Bleecker, and Peter A. Jay, also endorsed her school, which served to guarantee her cachet among the upper class.

Mrs. Okill Illegitimate … and a Divorcee?

Several circumstances of Mrs. Okill’s life, however, turn her pedigree on its head, notably her illegitimate birth and her divorce.

John Jay, by Gilbert Stuart, 1794.

John Jay, by Gilbert Stuart, 1794.

Mary Jay Okill was the daughter of Sir James Jay (1732-1815), oldest brother of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Sir James, known primarily as the inventor of an invisible ink used by George Washington and his spies during the American Revolution, was also a physician and member of the New York State Senate; he was knighted by King George III for his fundraising efforts on behalf of Kings’ College.

According to an article in the Newsletter of the Bergen County Historical Society (2015-16), Sir James Jay never married Mary Jay’s mother, Anne Erwin (1750-1840), although they lived together in Springfield, New Jersey.  A staunch advocate of a woman’s right to education, Miss Erwin refused to “honor and obey” Sir James, and therefore no marriage took place.

Mary Jay married John Okill, a merchant, on August 13, 1807, at Saint John’s Church on Varick Street. City Directories indicate that from 1807 through 1814, the couple lived with her father at various addresses on Greenwich Street and White Street. After Sir James’ death in 1815, neither Mary nor John Okill appear in the directories until 1819, when John Okill is listed as a broker on Wall Street.  This entry remains unchanged until 1823, when he disappears entirely from the directories. The date and place of his death could not be determined.

In his will, probated in 1815, Sir James Jay stipulated that his daughter Mary’s inheritance, which included nearly 1,000 acres of land in what is now Closter, New Jersey, be put in trust “free of any control of her present husband, John O’Kill [sic].” According to the aforementioned article, Mary Okill divorced her husband in order to claim her inheritance. To earn a living, and perhaps influenced by her mother’s feminist beliefs, she opened a school for young ladies. Mary Okill is first listed in the 1823-4 City Directory as the proprietor of a “boarding school,” located at 43 Barclay Street. She remained at this location until 1838, when she moved to 8-10 Clinton Place (now 8th Street). She maintained her school until her death in 1859. Her establishment was always known as Mrs. Okill’s Academy.

What a Woman!

The New York Herald, January 11, 1845

The New York Herald, January 11, 1845

It is remarkable that, despite the social stigma associated with illegitimacy and divorce during the 19th century, Mary Okill was able to achieve such renown, especially among the privileged class, who valued family pedigree above all else. One wonders what shielded her from disgrace? Did her wealthy patrons know of her past, and decide to simply look the other way, due to the reputation of her uncle, John Jay? Or did she somehow manage to keep her background and divorce hidden from public scrutiny? In whatever manner she managed to maintain her reputation, her school was continuously celebrated as being run by “a lady of distinction,” and was undoubtedly a huge financial success.  In an article in the New York Daily Herald (January 11, 1845), Mrs. Mary Okill is one of only a handful of women included in a list of the “wealthiest citizens” of New York City, with a net worth of $150,000. She joined such wealthy men as Adam Tredwell, Seabury’s brother, whose net worth was listed at $200,000.

The Tredwell family had an indirect connection to John Jay, which may have been a factor in their loyalty to Mary Okill. Reverend Samuel Nichols, Elizabeth Tredwell’s father-in-law, who married Elizabeth and Effingham in 1845, pronounced the eulogy at the Chief Justice’s funeral in 1829. Additionally, one of Effingham’s brothers, John Jay Nichols, was his namesake.

Co-Ed for the Children

Although it was known primarily as a female school, Mrs. Okill’s Academy also welcomed very young boys as students. Julia Lawrence Hasbrouck (1809-1873), who lived on Greenwich Street, enrolled her six-year-old son Louis and her five-year-old daughter Julia in Mrs. Okill’s Academy in 1843. She wrote her positive impressions of the school in her diary on November 30, 1843:

“The room was neat, comfortable, and well arranged. The little boys all looking happy, and merry. We went from there, to the little girls room, where I was equally pleased. The little creatures are not pinned down to their seats like prisoners, pale, and wearied; but were skipping around, combining study and amusement, the only safe method of instructing children.”

Although young Julia Hasbrouck attended Mrs. Okill’s at least through 1850, her brother Louis eventually joined another brother at an all-boys school. It is possible, then, that the Tredwell girls (and perhaps boys) attended Mrs. Okill’s from a much earlier age than was previously assumed.

Isabella Stewart Certificate of Excellence from Mary Okill, 1855. ARC.oo8657. www.gardnermuseum.org.

Isabella Stewart Certificate of Excellence from Mary Okill, 1855. ARC.oo8657. www.gardnermuseum.org. (Click to enlarge.)

Notable Students

In addition to the Tredwells, Mrs. Okill’s school attracted other families that made up the glitterati of New York society.

One of Mrs. Okill’s students was Eliza Hamilton Schuyler (1811-1863), the granddaughter of Alexander Hamilton. In 1825, when she was a 14-year-old student, Eliza was given a “prize book” from Mrs. Okill. In the Hamilton-Schuyler Family Papers at the University of Michigan, there are references to “Miss Okill’s ‘Testimonials’ for Eliza on that dainty embossed note paper …” and “While Eliza Hamilton was at Mrs. Okill’s School winning her encomiums …”

Another was Isabella Stewart (1840-1924), the daughter of a wealthy merchant, who would later marry John Lowell Gardner and become a famous art collector and philanthropist. From ages 5 to 15, while living with her family at 10 University Place, Isabella attended Mrs. Okill’s Academy. In 1855 she was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by Mrs. Okill, in return for a commitment to “remain till the close of school to receive it.” One year later, Isabella embarked on the Grand Tour of Europe with her parents and was enrolled in a French school to finish her education.

After Mary Okill’s death in 1859, the school closed, but her widowed daughter, Jane Swift, who had been a teacher at the school, continued to reside there. By May 1860, when the family moved to West Point, New York, the “very valuable property” on Clinton Place was up for sale. Like Mrs. Okill herself, the buildings were considered to be “of a superior character.”

Gertrude Tredwell, the Transfer Student

Gertrude Tredwell's Penmanship Book, Mrs. Okill's Academy, 1853-54. MHM 2002.4602.29.

Gertrude Tredwell’s Penmanship Book, 1853-54. MHM 2002.4602.29. (Click to enlarge.)

Among the copybooks belonging to the Tredwell girls in the Merchant’s House Museum archives, several belonged to Gertrude Tredwell. One, dated from December 16,1853, through February 13, 1854, (when Gertrude was 13 years old), indicates that Gertrude attended Mrs. Okill’s School, for at the end of a composition, a withering comment appears, written by the headmistress herself:

“Dear Gertrude, I regret to say that your writing is carelessly done. M. Okill”

Other copybooks of Gertrude’s, which date to 1858, do not contain any teacher’s notes. The Museum’s copy of Seabury Tredwell’s ledger book includes entries for payment of bills for “Gertrude’s tuition at Mrs. Gibson’s,” dating from 1855 and 1858 (tuition at the private academies averaged approximately $70 per year). We don’t know the reason for Gertrude’s departure from Mrs. Okill’s School. Whatever the reason for the transfer, Gertrude finished her education at the age of 18, under the tutelage of Mrs. Gibson.

Mrs. Gibson

In 1832, nearly ten years after Mrs. Okill opened her female academy, Mrs. Agnes Mason Gibson (1787-1872), from Edinburgh, Scotland, established her own school, assisted by three of her daughters. Originally located on Broome Street and operating as a day school, it was advertised on April 10, 1832, in the Evening Post:

“The Misses Gibson, having been educated under the first masters, are prepared to give instruction in all the branches of a useful and ornamental female education. Pupils will be received for French, Italian, Music, or Drawing, who may not wish to enter for other branches. Instructions upon the pianoforte and guitar will also be given in private homes. [Guitar instruction was not unusual. Christian Frederick Martin, the famous guitar maker who established his shop in New York City in 1833, sold several guitars to Mrs. Okill]. A class for conversation and composition in French will be opened on Saturdays, for young ladies who have made proficiency in the language.”

Advertisement for Jones's Elementary Writing Books. Evening Post, September 1, 1838.

Advertisement for Jones’s Elementary Writing Books. Evening Post, September 1, 1838.

A Resounding Success

Two months later, Mrs. Gibson “expanded her plan” to include boarding students. Within a few years, her school achieved a remarkable degree of popularity; Mrs. Gibson became an influential educator in New York City. Manufacturers of school supplies sought her out for endorsements. In September 1838, an advertisement in the Evening Post featured Mrs. Gibson’s endorsement of Jones’s Elementary Writing Books. Mrs. Gibson stressed the importance of having children instructed in “large hand exercises:

“I attribute the defects in the hand writing of young ladies to injudicious teaching in giving fine-hand exercises to write, before any foundation or command of the pen is acquired in large characters.”

“An Excellent Seminary”

As the school expanded it relocated several times, from Broome Street to Broadway to 21 Bond Street (just two blocks from the Merchant’s House), where in 1845, Mrs. Gibson gave an exhibition of her students’ work, which was lauded in the New-York Tribune. The school was referred to as “an excellent seminary – one of the best in the city for the instruction of young ladies.” The article goes on to say:

“We were particularly struck with the taste and judgment displayed in the elocutionary exercises. The French dialogues were given in a sprightly and graceful manner, and the vocal music was charming. We traced throughout the evening the workings of an intelligent, kindly, and well sustained course of instruction.”

The New York Post also covered Mrs. Gibson’s May Day Festival in May 1849:

“Of note were the performances of charades, in which the ingenuity and invention of the youthful scholars were exhibited. Many of the former pupils were present. It is charming thus to see wisdom’s ways made ways of pleasantness.”

The Dear Scottish Daughters

One of Mrs. Gibson’s students was Julia Cullen Bryant (1831-1907), daughter of poet and New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), who attended the school in 1844 at age 13. The family must have formed a strong attachment to Mrs. Gibson and her daughters, for William Bryant maintained a correspondence with his daughter’s teachers, Christianna Gibson in particular, until his death.

Sarah Tredwell's Composition Book, 1850-1854. MHM 2002.4603.48

Sarah Tredwell’s Composition Book, 1850-1854. MHM 2002.4603.48 (Click to enlarge.)

The Final Move

In 1851, Mrs. Gibson moved again, from 21 Bond Street to larger quarters at 38 Union Place, to accommodate her growing enrollment. Gertrude attended the school at this location, which was a short walk from her home on Fourth Street. The school operated at this location at least until 1861; eventually, Mrs. Gibson returned to Scotland with her daughters, where she died in 1872.

“An Annoyance and a Pleasure”

Despite the number of filled copybooks belonging to the Tredwell girls, all but one lacked any clues about the young women’s sentiments toward their schools. Only 18-year-old Sarah was brave enough to venture an opinion about her school years and the education she received. In a composition entitled “To a Dear Friend,” dated May 18, 1853, she expressed her ambivalence about her experiences and the end of her school days:

“Some say our school days are the most happy. I believe it to be true though there are certainly many things pertaining to school which are of a very perplexing nature. I will leave school the first of July, when I am to leave forever that place which I have frequented so many years and which has been to me both an annoyance and a pleasure. To those to whom I have grown and with whom I have shared the troubles of a school day life and to whom I must ever feel attached I must bid adieu but I hope not forever.”


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May 30, 2018

“A Scene of Radiant Joy:” The Wedding of Elizabeth Tredwell & Effingham Nichols

by Ann Haddad

This is the fourth and final of a series of blog posts on mid-19th century courtship and wedding customs. Click for Part One, on 19th century courtship; Part Two, on marriage proposals and engagements; and Part Three, on wedding preparations.

A “Royal” Wedding in Old New York City

Elizabeth Tredwell (MHM 2002.0114)

Elizabeth Tredwell, 1840-1845 (MHM 2002.0114)

The recent marriage of Prince Harry, the younger grandson of Queen Elizabeth, and Meghan Markle, an American actress, caused a stir both in England and in America. Even those who scoff at the notion of monarchy may have been entranced by the pomp and spectacle surrounding the  “Royal Wedding,” finding it to be both thrilling and heartwarming.

In 19th century New York City, there was a flourishing royalty of a sort, led by the “merchant princes,” whose success in business and resulting wealth endowed them with economic and social power. Seabury Tredwell was one such wealthy merchant, and the marriage of his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, to Effingham Nichols, on April 9, 1845, could also be considered a ‘“royal” event, for it united two established families who occupied prominent positions among the aristocratic elite of New York society.

Why April?

Why did Elizabeth choose an April wedding, and on a Wednesday? Spring was always a popular time for nuptials; perhaps Effingham’s work as an attorney eased up a bit in April. Or perhaps Elizabeth was familiar with the old adage:

“Marry in April when you can,
Joy for Maiden and for Man.”

Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays were usually chosen for a wedding, likely because the clergyman was frequently occupied with his regular pastoral duties on the weekend.

Church or Parlor?

In 1845, American wedding practices were on the cusp of great change. Weddings were evolving from simple, intimate family affairs to elaborate public events, rich in tradition and ritual. We have no surviving records that describe the Tredwell and Nichols union. The only certainty is the date of their wedding and the officiant, the Reverend Samuel Nichols, father of the groom. (Coincidentally, the Reverend James Milnor, who officiated at Seabury and Eliza’s wedding on June 13, 1820, at St. George’s Chapel, died on April 8, 1845, the day before Elizabeth’s wedding.)

Wedding Announcement, Effingham Nichols and Elizabeth Tredwell, New York Post, Friday, April 11, 1845.

Elizabeth’s wedding announcement, New York Evening Post, April 11, 1845.

Elizabeth and Effingham’s marriage announcement, published on Friday, April 11, in the New York Evening Post, did not mention a church wedding, so chances are that the couple were wed in the elaborate Greek Revival double parlor of the Tredwell home on Fourth Street.

The First St. Bartholomew’s Church, Lafayette Place and Great Jones Street, 1835-1872.

The First St. Bartholomew’s Church, Lafayette Place and Great Jones Street, 1835-1872.


If the couple had been married in church, it most likely took place at St. Bartholomew’s, then located at Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place, one block away from the Tredwells’ home. In the mid-19th century, there was a growing trend away from small weddings held in the bride’s family parlor, in favor of a church wedding. A church’s large public space accommodated more guests. If Elizabeth and Effingham had been married at St. Bartholomew’s instead of at home, the Tredwells might have chosen a church setting for this reason; or because of the close ties both families had with St. Bartholomew’s. Effingham Howard Warner, the groom’s uncle and namesake, was one of its founders, and the Tredwells had worshiped there since its consecration in October 1836, one year after their move to the elite Bond Street neighborhood.

Your Hosts: Mr. and Mrs. Tredwell

Whatever location was chosen for the wedding ceremony, there was never any choice as to the venue for the reception: custom dictated that it be hosted and paid for by the bride and her parents at their home. As Elizabeth was the first of their children to marry, Seabury and Eliza likely seized the opportunity to display their wealth, refinement, and sophistication, both for their children’s benefit (five unmarried daughters were still at home), and to impress their guests.

Set and Lighting Design for the Performance

In preparation for Elizabeth’s marriage, the entire Tredwell house must have been turned upside down, for although the grand double parlor was the main stage for the action, the entire house required cleaning from top to bottom; everyone, especially the Tredwells’ four servants, was engaged in this task. New furnishings may have been purchased; and, to show the home to its best advantage, additional lighting may have been rented for the occasion. The house was elaborately decorated with an abundance of white flowers that covered nearly every surface, possibly ordered from Dunlap & Carman, located at 635 Broadway, near Bleecker Street. Musical entertainment, ranging from a soloist at the pianoforte to a quartet, may have been arranged; and dancing was common at evening wedding receptions.

In a diary entry from Wednesday, February 19, 1845, Mrs. Abiel Abbot Low described the process of readying a house for a wedding reception:

“Mr. Nevers made preparations for lighting the house. This afternoon he is having a chandelier with four burners in each parlor, four solar lamps at the folding doors, and two candelabras for five candles each, on either side of the mirrors. Abbot bought a handsome brussels carpet for the tearoom, and a handsome sideboard, as a pleasant surprise for me. Borrowed a few pieces from our friends, including a full length mirror for the ladies’ dressing room.”

Mary Harris Lester summed up the whirlwind of activity surrounding the house preparations when she hurriedly wrote in her diary on Monday, December 15, 1847, just several days before her wedding:

“Mother went with me today to order things for next Monday evening, have a great deal to attend to at present.”

Marriage certificate, Smith Jennings and Nobelia Lockford, Stamford, N.Y., October 26, 1853. Lockwood Family Papers (1814-1878), Manuscripts Division, NY-HS.

Marriage certificate, October 26, 1853. Lockwood Family Papers, NY-HS.

License Not Required

In 1845, the only available record that provided proof of marriage was the bridal certificate, issued by the church where the wedding was held, or, in the case of home weddings, obtained by the clergyman from his own parish church. Prior to 1847, no marriages were recorded by any cities or towns in New York State. Wedding announcements were traditionally published in local newspapers within several days of the event.

Dressing the Bride

The Art of Good Behavior (1845) states unequivocally that “it is the duty of the bridesmaids to assist in dressing the bride.” On Elizabeth’s wedding day, she was almost certainly assisted by her sisters Mary (then age 20) and Phebe (age 16). They most likely dressed in one of the bedrooms on the third floor. After dressing themselves in their own simple white dresses, the sisters helped Elizabeth into her wedding dress; tied up her silk or satin slippers; affixed her lace or net veil with a wreath of orange blossoms, as was the fashion (being careful not to disturb Elizabeth’s hair, which had been dressed at home by a hairdresser); put on her gloves; and, when all else was in readiness, hand her a white leather prayer book or embroidered handkerchief to carry.

Henrik Olrik, The Bride Adorned by Her Friend, 1850.

Henrik Olrik, The Bride Adorned by Her Friend, 1850.

The Bride and Bridesmaid, 1846. Digital Collections, NYPL.

The Bride and Bridesmaid, 1846. Digital Collections, NYPL.

Toasting the Groom

The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony (1852) states the essential requirements of the groomsmen: “Young and unmarried they must be, handsome they should be, good humored they cannot fail to be, and well dressed they ought to be.” 

It was customary for the groom, after dressing at home, to meet his groomsmen at the home of his future wife. Upon arriving at another third floor bedroom in the Tredwell house, Effingham may have found his friends gathered around a punch bowl, ready to toast him with a tumbler or two, and to make sure that he, too, enjoyed a nip of “liquid courage.”

The chief groomsman also needed to be certain that the wedding ring, wrapped in silver paper, was securely placed into the groom’s waistcoat prior to the ceremony. Among his other duties was to greet the clergyman upon his arrival and introduce him to the family and friends who gathered in the parlor to witness the ceremony. It is at this time that he obtained the certificate of marriage from the clergyman, to present to the groom after the reception.

Sarony & Major. The Marriage, 1846.

Sarony & Major, The Marriage, 1846.

Here Come the Bride and Groom!

Once a servant announced to the gentlemen that the ladies were ready, the men joined their partners in the hallway, and, arm in arm, with the bridal pair bringing up the rear, descended the staircase to the parlors on the first floor, where the invited guests were waiting. Even if Elizabeth had been married in church, her father, Seabury, most likely did not escort her; contemporary diaries of this period indicate that the bride and groom simply took their place before the altar. It wasn’t until the mid-late 19th century and the prevalence of church weddings that the ritual of the father “giving away his daughter” became commonplace.

Upon entering the front parlor, the bridal party positioned themselves in a semicircle facing the guests, who were either seated or standing, depending on the number attending. The bride stood to the right of the groom, and was flanked on her right by her bridesmaids; the groomsmen stood to the left of the groom. The clergyman then proceeded with the ceremony, taken from The Book of Common Prayer; vows were exchanged; then the groom removed from his waistcoat pocket the plain gold wedding ring (perhaps engraved with their initials and the wedding date) and placed it on the fourth finger of the bride’s left hand.

Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans. The Bride, 1858.

Josephus Laurentius Dyckmans, The Bride, 1858.

Mrs. Nichols

Once the nuptials were completed and Effingham kissed his bride, the clergyman addressed Elizabeth for the first time by her newly acquired name, “Mrs. Nichols.” The newlyweds were congratulated first by Seabury and Eliza, then Effingham’s parents, followed by family and friends, who were escorted to the couple by the chief groomsman.

After all the congratulations had been offered, the bridal party was free to mingle with the guests.

At some point after the ceremony, it was the responsibility of the chief groomsman to quietly thank and compensate the clergyman for his services. The sum was determined by the financial ability and generosity of the groom.

Henry Patterson wrote in his diary of his wedding, which took place on Thursday, July 18, 1844:

“Thursday [the wedding day] I spent at my usual business until four o’clock, [note that he worked as usual on his wedding day!] then went home and dressed. ….went to Mrs. Wright’s at 7 o’clock. From then until a quarter after eight the company was assembling and preparations going forward then all being ready, Ophelia acting as bridesmaid and Turner as groomsman, we walked into the room, and were immediately married by Mr. Hatfield. The ceremony was short, but impressive, and suited us both. After receiving the congratulations of our friends who were present, the evening was passed with conversation, a little music, and by eleven o’clock all had dispersed.”

And on December 27, 1855, Edward Tailer wrote sweetly in his diary of his wedding to Agnes Suffern, and of the moment when he first heard his wife addressed by her married name:

“The Dr. read the service in an impressive manner and occasionally a tear could be seen trickling down the face of those who loved us both, and who had our interests at heart, but a few moments sufficed to proclaim us to be man and wife, and it was not until I heard our mutual friends calling Agnes “Mrs. Tailer,” that I could realize that any change had taken place or that new responsibilities have been assumed by me. It was a pleasant affair, and all appeared to enjoy themselves, about 110 persons being present. Numerous were the congratulations of our friends and if all the kind wishes which were expressed within my hearing could only be realized, I shall be a very happy man.”

Eat, Drink, and Faint!

Guests to a home wedding were usually invited for 8 p.m. Other than the requirement that the wedding reception be held at the bride’s parent’s home, there were no hard and fast rules about the number of guests, the type of reception, or the entertainment. Upon arriving at the Tredwell home, guests proceeded directly up to the second floor, where Seabury and Eliza’s bedroom had been turned into “dressing rooms,” for guests to fix their hair, adjust their gowns, or polish their boots, assisted by one or two servants. They then went down to the front parlor, where Mr. and Mrs. Tredwell greeted them as for any sociable.

Wm. A. Tyson, Caterer, New York Tribune, Thursday, December 24, 1846 (click to enlarge)

Wm. A. Tyson, Caterer, New York Tribune, Thursday, December 24, 1846 (click to enlarge)

Depending on the size of the guest list, Mrs. Tredwell may have elected to have the wedding buffet feast catered, perhaps by William A. Tyson (see advertisement of December 24, 1846), who, in addition to preparing the food, provided equipment, servers and cooks to assist with the reception. The lavish “wedding supper,” which was typically served at 11 p.m., consisted of oysters, cold meats, fish, fruits, and various confections. Beverages included lemonade, punch, wine, and champagne. The table was usually set up in the rear parlor and the overflow of the many guests spilled into the halls and tea room. Imagine the scene of the Tredwell front hall, tearoom, and both parlors crowded with guests trying to reach the supper table!

Mrs. Abiel Abbot Low wrote in her diary Sunday, February 2, 1845, of one parlor wedding she attended:

“I should judge there were more than three hundred present during the evening. I never was at so crowded company before. There was a band of music and some dancing during the evening. Supper was announced at 11 o’clock and a most bountiful and elegant repast it was, but such crowding in a supper room I never witnessed before. The drawing room was so warm at one time, and the air so perfumed with the profusion of flowers that several of the ladies fainted. We returned home between 12 and 1 o’clock.”

(Artist Unknown). The Wedding Feast, c. 1850.

The Wedding Feast, c. 1850. (Artist Unknown).

John Hadden, a young man who lived at 20 Lafayette Place, right around the corner from the Tredwells, could have been describing the Tredwell home when he wrote of a lively and somewhat chaotic wedding reception he attended on Tuesday, January 17, 1843:

“It was a very pleasant party. The whole house was open. The two drawing rooms for dancing, and on the back stoop which was enclosed a small room [like the Tredwell tea room] with a little refreshment, punch and lemonade with cake, the piazza having a couch where the bride sat and received the company. The second story back room for the ladies, the front room for the gents. As usual at most crowded parties the company went to the supper room about 3/4 of an hour before things were ready and we had to stand until everything was in order. Before this was accomplished Mr. Wright took up a bottle of champagne from the table and was about to open it, one of the waiters told him the table was not ready yet, but he took it out of the supper room with him and opened it somewhere else.”

For those of lesser financial means, a simple menu of wedding cake, wine, and lemonade was customary. Usually within two hours after the reception commenced, the bride quietly left the festivities and, escorted by her attendants, retired to her bedroom. There they helped her undress and perform her “night toilette.” According to The Art of Good Behavior (1845): “The groom retires without ceremony or notice.” According to contemporary diaries, guests typically lingered until anywhere between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Let Them Eat Cake

Queen Victoria’s Wedding Cake, 1840.

Queen Victoria’s wedding cake, 1840.

Until the mid-1850s, when tiered cakes became popular, the bridal cake was usually of a single layer, and typically consisted of a rich, dark fruitcake covered in almond paste and a hard, white sugar icing. It was either baked at home or, as was probably the case with Elizabeth’s cake, ordered from one of the many confectioners in the city that prepared fancy desserts, such as James Tompson’s Premium Bakery, located at 40 Lispenard Street.

The cake, usually decorated simply with fresh flowers, was placed on a rectangular table covered with a white cloth. When the cake was ready to be cut, Elizabeth and Effingham sat in front of it, surrounded by their bridesmaids and groomsmen, who stood at either side, while their parents took their places at either end. The rector stood opposite the bride and groom. Champagne was usually served, then the chief groomsman offered a toast to the newly married couple, and to the health of the parents of the bride. The bride then cut the cake (sometimes with a special saw, as the cake was typically too thick and hard to cut with a regular knife!), which her bridesmaids, assisted by the servants, distributed to the guests.

Wedding Favors for Dreaming

It was customary for the bride and groom to give away tiny boxes of wedding cake to guests. These slices were cut from a second cake baked specifically for this purpose before the wedding. Many stationers, such as Stouts, located at the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane, advertised special cake boxes, as in this ad from December 21, 1848: “elegant boxes for cake at $8 per hundred.” Mary Harris Lester wrote on the eve of her wedding on December 18, 1847, “… house all in order quite busy all evening in tying up boxes of cake.”

The evening before the wedding, the bridesmaids helped the future bride to ready the cake boxes, which were distributed to the guests upon their departure from the reception.

It was important for newlyweds to let their friends and acquaintances know when they would commence receiving well-wishers at their home upon returning from their bridal tour. A new “at home” card was made expressly for this purpose; it was attached to the wedding cake boxes as a convenience for the guests. Stout’s wedding cards were advertised as “elegantly engraved and printed…”

Etiquette and fashion experts stressed that a woman may not distribute a card bearing her married name until after she utters her marital vows. As stated in the New York Evening Mirror on November 14, 1844: “It is tampering with serious things, very dangerously, to circulate the three words ‘Mrs. John Smith,’one minute before the putting on of the irrevocable ring. The first proper use of the wedded name is to send it with parcels of wedding cake … to friends and persons desired as visiting acquaintances.”

Elizabeth and Effingham’s “at home” card may have been written as:

Mr. and Mrs. Effingham Nichols
       at home
on the morning of Tuesday, Wednesday,
      Thursday, and Friday next,
       from 12 till 4.
361 Fourth St.

A popular tradition surrounding the boxed wedding cake called for an unmarried lady to sleep with the cake beneath her pillow on the night of the wedding. As a result her dreams would be “sweetened,” and she would be granted a vision of her future husband.

Wedding Gifts

Elizabeth Tredwell's wedding silver (MHM2002.2826)

Elizabeth Tredwell’s silver (MHM2002.2826)

At the time of Elizabeth and Effingham’s marriage, wedding gifts were usually bestowed only by the immediate family and very close friends of the couple. They were never of a practical nature (giving such gifts would be perceived as an insult, for it would imply need on the part of the receiver); in fact, they usually denoted a personal relationship with the bride and were often handmade. Typical gifts included shawls, clocks, fancy fans, richly ornamented thimbles, pictures, gold pencils, and gift books. Two popular books were The Bridal Keepsake, by Mrs. Coleman (1846), a collection of writings on religious and moral themes, and Austin’s Voice to the Married (1848), advertised as “The Best Bridal Gift.”

As the century progressed, it became more common to receive wedding gifts from relatives and friends. By the late-19th century, gift-giving became so profuse (a custom frequently renounced by preachers, etiquette manuals, and Godey’s Lady’s Book) that among the elite, special areas of the future bride’s home were set up to display the items; the bride-to-be would offer visiting hours to show off her silver and other acquisitions, which silently announced that her future prosperity was assured.

Silverware was always a gift to the bride, and thus was always engraved with the bride’s maiden name or initials; Elizabeth’s silver thus bears the mark “E.T.”

Bridal Cushion (Globe de Mariee), French, c. 1850.

Bridal Cushion (Globe de Mariee), French, c. 1850.

The “Bridal Cushion”

One popular wedding gift offered for sale by fancy dry-goods stores in the 1840s was the “bridal cushion.” Known as a Globe de Mariee in France, where the custom originated, it consisted of a tufted velvet cushion, usually red in color, that sat under a glass dome or globe decorated with gilt metal flora and fauna, as well as little mirrors.  It was used to convey the love and hope brought to a marriage through meaningful objects accumulated by the couple throughout their lives. The bride would nestle her wedding mementos on the cushion; over the years she would add significant objects to the display. The cushion occupied pride of place in the Victorian parlor. Guests shopping for a bridal cushion for Elizabeth may have patronized Woodworth’s, located at 325 Broadway. In an advertisement on November 2, 1841, the shop offered “a new and beautiful collection of French Fancy Articles…which have been selected with great care by our tasteful agents in Paris.”

The Bridal Tour

The post-wedding trip, or bridal tour, taken by couples was an imitation of a ritual begun in 19th century England. Typically lasting one to two weeks, the journey served to as a means by which the pair traveled to visit friends and family who could not attend the wedding ceremony. Fashionable spots included Philadelphia, Washington D.C., as well as Niagara Falls and other natural wonders that were not too far from home. Overseas trips were largely unheard of. Couples were often accompanied by relatives or close friends. In the late 19th century the bridal tour became an exclusive, private trip for the newlyweds, and evolved into what we know of today as the traditional honeymoon.

Make Room for the Groom

As Charles Bristed mentioned in The Upper Ten Thousand: Sketches of American Society (1852): “It is the invariable custom that the young couple shall reside with the bride’s father for the first four or six months.”

Judging by the contemporary diaries of the period, very little advance preparation or thought was given to the groom’s move into his wife’s family home. In fact, like so many of the other wedding customs at this time, it was all rather last minute. On December 26, 1855, the day before his wedding, Edward Tailer wrote in his diary: “Mother assisted me in packing my trunk, and I am to send it over to Mr. Suffern’s [his father-in-law] after dark.”

And Henry Patterson wrote in his diary on July 21, 1844: “Wednesday forenoon [the day before the wedding] I sent my furniture, clothing, etc. to Mrs. Wright’s.

Bristed provided a hilarious description of the items his fictional groom brought to his bride’s home (earlier on the day of his wedding!):

“… seven coats and twelve pairs of trousers, and about thirty waistcoats, no end of linen, and carpet-bags full of boots, a gorgeous dressing-gown, and Turkish slippers, and smoking cap, and cigars numerous, and all sorts of paraphernalia generally, until the little dressing room adjoining the nuptial chamber is overflowing with foppery.”

(Artist Unknown, French). Bride and Bridegroom, The Wedding Night. nd.

(Artist Unknown, French). Bride and Bridegroom, The Wedding Night. nd.

Gaining A Son

After returning from their bridal tour, Effingham and Elizabeth took up residence in the Tredwell home on Fourth Street, and, in a decided departure from tradition, remained there for eleven years! (For a description of their married life, see the blog post of April 2017 “Days of Sorrow, Days of Rejoicing). Once settled at home, they commenced receiving congratulatory wedding calls from friends and acquaintances. In keeping with the custom of the time, Elizabeth may have worn her wedding dress, without the veil, for these visits.

Love’s Devotion

As Elizabeth and Effingham enter into the “divine” institution of marriage, let us imagine a lovely scene similar to the one described in the following poem, “Eras of Life: Marriage,” by Mrs. A.F. Law, which appeared in the January 1851 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book:

“One sacred oath hath tied
Our loves; one destiny our life shall guide;
Nor wild nor deep our common way divide!
Ushered thus, we haste to enter on a scene of radiant joy—
List’ning vows in ardor plighted, which alone can death destroy.
Passing fair the bride appeareth, in her robes of snowy white,
While the veil around her streameth, like a silvery halo’s light;
And amid her hair’s rich braidings rests the pearly orange bough,
With its fragrant blossoms pressing on her pure, unclouded brow.
Love’s devotion yields the future with young Hope’s resplendent beam;
And her spirit thrills with rapture, yielding to its blissful dream!”


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  • Anonymous. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony. London: David Bogue, 1852. books.google.com. Accessed 1/18/18.
  • Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Tuesday, November 2, 1841, p. 1. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 3/16/18.
  • Bristed, Charles Astor. The Upper Ten Thousand; Sketches of American Society. London: John W. Parker and Son, 1852.  www.babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 2/13/18.
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  • The Evening Post. Thursday, December 21, 1848, p. 2. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 2/19/18.
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  • New York Tribune. Thursday, December 24, 1846, p. 1. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 4/4/18.
  • O’Neil, Patrick W. Tying the Knots: The Nationalization of Wedding Rituals in Antebellum America. Dissertation Thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2009. www.cdr.lib.unc.edu. Accessed 3/15/18.
  • Patterson, Henry. Diaries, 1832-1848. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
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  • Tailer, Edward Neufville. Diaries, 1848-1917. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Thornwell, Emily. The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility: In Manners, Dress, and Conversation. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856. www.archive.org. Accessed 1/17/18.
  • Wallace, Carol McD. All Dressed in White: The Irresistible Rise of The American Wedding. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.
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April 26, 2018

The Wedding “Whirl and Vortex:” Mid-19th Century Wedding Preparations

by Ann Haddad

This is the third in a series of blog posts on mid-19th century courtship and wedding customs. Click for Part One, on 19th century Courtship, and Part Two, on Marriage Proposals and Engagements.

High Spirits at the Tredwells

Imagine the excitement in the family room of the Tredwell home on a spring evening in late March, 1845. Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Seabury and Eliza Tredwell, had just named Wednesday, April 9, as the date of her wedding to Effingham Nichols. One can picture Elizabeth and her betrothed, perhaps along with her mother, Eliza, and her sister Mary, seated around the table in the family room, composing the guest list and writing out the wedding invitations. The wedding was only two weeks away, and so much needed to be done! The Tredwell family was about to leap head-on into what one contemporary etiquette manual referred to as “the whirl and vortex” of a wedding. This post will address three important aspects of mid-19th century wedding planning: invitations, the trousseau, and the duties of the groom.

The Transformation of the American Wedding

Elizabeth and Effingham were married in 1845, at a time when the form of the American wedding was gradually transitioning from a simple, family-centered, informal celebration to an elaborate, public, and expensive spectacle. We have no record of their wedding, so it is impossible to know the location, format, or style of their festivities. Seabury, however, given his wealth and social status, could afford to give his eldest and first-wed daughter an elaborate wedding with all the trimmings.

"The Wedding," 1855, by John Forrest.

“The Wedding,” 1855, by John Forrest.

What Wedding Industry?

Up until the mid-19th century, the “wedding industry” (as the providers of services and goods for weddings are collectively known today), barely existed. Because a home wedding was the standard, and the bride’s family hosted the reception, gatherings were usually small and intimate. Many of the items in the bride’s trousseau were made by hand by family members, and the wedding dress was usually the work of a reputable dressmaker known to the family. New York City newspapers from the 1840s featured no advertisements for dedicated commercial wedding “vendors,” or professionals who furnish the trappings of an elaborate wedding. Whereas florists, jewelers, confectioners, and dry goods stores existed, very few items, save for wedding attire, were marketed with a specific eye to wedding celebrations.

This would all change in the late 1850s and especially after the Civil War, as the wedding industry became a huge commercial enterprise, and wedding rituals, especially among upper class families, became more formal, public, and elaborate. Businesses sprang up to cater to the needs of the bride-to-be, including stores that offered ready-to-wear bridal dresses and complete trousseaus. Women were faced with many more choices to consider in every aspect of their wedding, and therefore required more time to shop and plan. Moving the ceremony from the home to a church, along with, some years later, the option of holding the reception in a grand hotel, meant that many more guests could be accommodated; hence, guest lists grew accordingly.

Silk Wedding Dress, American, 1845-1850, Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.920a, b.

Silk Wedding Dress, American, 1845-1850, Metropolitan Museum of Art 2009.300.920a, b.

Such Short Notice!

According to wedding etiquette manuals and contemporary diaries, in the first half of the nineteenth century wedding invitations were sent out anywhere from four days to two weeks prior to the wedding date. This short span of time between the date of the invitation and the actual wedding date reflects the simplicity of the wedding form and the minimal advance planning it necessitated.

For example, on Saturday, December 11, 1847, just eight days before her wedding to Andrew Lester, Mary Harris wrote in her diary: “… we were very much engaged in preparing the invitations to be sent next Monday if nothing happens.”

In a letter dated November 1, 1854, from Phebe Tredwell to her sisters (who were at the family summer home in Rumson, New Jersey), she stated: “Shortly after you left on Saturday we received an invitation to Caroline Quackenbush’s wedding next Wednesday from 1 to 3.”

And on November 24, 1855, one month before his marriage to Agnes Suffern, Edward Tailer wrote in his diary: “It will soon be time for us to spend several evenings in directing the invitations.”

The Tredwell/Nichols Guest List

We know neither the size of the guest list for Elizabeth and Effingham’s wedding, nor the names of those invited. Both the Tredwell and Nichols families were wealthy and prominent members of elite New York society. Both had large extended families; Seabury had many former business associates; Effingham had colleagues; and undoubtedly both families had a large circle of friends. So chances are the guest list was long, especially since the Tredwells could accommodate a large gathering in their Greek Revival double parlors, and guests were accustomed to having to cram into the indoor spaces for the festivities.

The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony (1852) warns, however, that any friends denied an invitation to the reception, because of lack of sufficient space, should not feel affronted. Rather, “It is considered a matter of friendly attention to those who cannot be invited, to be present at the ceremony in the church.”

A Sociable, or a Wedding?

Wedding invitations were hand written, in the same style as an invitation to a sociable (the 19th century term for a social gathering). The invitation usually did not announce that a wedding was to be celebrated. This speaks to the rather informal approach taken to the wedding itself, and the fact that most weddings were held in the home of the bride’s parents. So how did guests know to expect nuptials? For one thing, relatives and friends knew of the couple’s engagement, which had gone on for several months at the very least. And once the date had been set by the bride-to-be, both hers and the groom’s families shared the details within their circles by word-of-mouth. In that sense, the written invitation was a formality. In an article on New York fashion in the Buffalo Daily Courier from 1849, a gentleman commented on the speed with which news of a wedding date got around: “It is known in an hour from Union Square to the Battery.”

Wedding Invitation, 1854, Floyd-Jones Papers, NY-HS.

Wedding Invitation, 1854, Floyd-Jones Papers, New York Historical Society.


In an 1844 article in the New York Daily Herald, one observant young friend of a future bride detected something in the air:

“For several days previous, the bright and happy faces of the fair ones told me that the gala night was nigh at hand. At length all doubt was removed, when a note of invitation was left at my address, stating that Miss B— would be at home on Wednesday evening, January 3rd; and then I knew that the bridal of one of our fairest maidens was to take place.”

Etiquette dictated that the wedding invitation include only the name of the bride’s parents, the date and the time. In the invitation pictured at left, written on April 15, 1854, for an April 25 wedding, no mention of a wedding is made:

“Mr. And Mrs. D.R. Floyd-Jones request the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. L.W. Jones’ company on Tuesday evening, 25th just at 8 1/2 o’clock.

April 15th

As the bride was married at her parents’ home, mentioning that a wedding was to take place was deemed unnecessary. Note the evening hour, 8:30 p.m., which was typical for a home wedding.

A church wedding, on the other hand, usually took place in the morning. According to The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness (1860):

“In this case [weddings at church], none are invited to the ceremony excepting the family …”

Additional guests were invited to the reception, held at the bride’s parents’ home following the church ceremony. If Elizabeth and Effingham were married at church, their wedding invitation may have read as follows:

Wedding Invitation, 1865, Emily Hosack Rodgers Collection, NY-HS

Wedding Invitation, 1865, Emily Hosack Rodgers Collection, NY-HS

“Mr. and Mrs. Seabury Tredwell
request the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. Jones’ company,
on Wednesday morning next, at eleven o’clock,
361 Fourth Street [the house number in 1845]
Thursday, April 2nd”                                                                                                   

All Those Penmanship Drills Pay Off

In the 1840s, wedding invitations were hand written in a fancy cursive script on white card stock. This was hardly a challenge for well-educated young ladies; excellent penmanship was considered an essential requirement for completion of finishing school. Engraved and printed invitations did not become popular until the early 1860s; ten years later, in keeping with the formality and grandeur of the wedding itself, and more practical given the longer guest lists, such mass produced invitations became de rigueur. Note the engraved invitation (pictured at right) to the 1865 wedding of the daughter of Mrs. J. Kearny Rodgers at Trinity Chapel. Despite the formality of the style, the bride-to-be’s name is not mentioned. One assumes that Mrs. Rodgers had only one daughter!

The Bridal Trousseau

The custom of a bridal trousseau, i.e. the clothing and “soft goods” (such as bed and table linens) that a bride brought to her marriage, became increasingly popular in the mid-19th century. The size of a trousseau depended on the family’s wealth and the position the couple would be assuming in society. For Elizabeth, as the wife of a well-to-do attorney who no doubt had many social obligations, a proper trousseau consisted of a lady’s complete wardrobe (including the wedding gown) sufficient for at least an entire year. This elaborate trousseau assemblage undoubtedly occupied most of Elizabeth’s time prior to her wedding.

Louis Vuitton. Doll, Trousseau, and Its Trunk, 1865. Les Arts Decoratif.

Louis Vuitton. Doll, Trousseau, and Its Trunk, 1865. Les Arts Decoratif.

According to The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette, Fashion, and Manual of Politeness:

“In preparing a bridal outfit, it is best to furnish the wardrobe for at least two years, in under-clothes, and one year in dresses, though the bonnet and cloak, suitable for the coming season, are all that is necessary, as the fashions in these articles change so rapidly.”

Shop ’Til You Drop

Elizabeth no doubt received a sum of money from her father with which to purchase her trousseau. It is impossible to know the cost of a trousseau in 1845, as it varied depending on the family’s social status and financial resources. In 1850, Godey’s Lady’s Book estimated that the cost of the wedding dress and veil alone to be $650. Add to that all the other complements of the trousseau, and one may safely assume that the amount spent on a trousseau by a wealthy family like the Tredwells would be upwards of $1,000 (approximately $30,000 today).

Lord and Taylor, original store, Catherine Street, 1834-1854.

Lord and Taylor, original store, Catherine Street, 1834-1854.

Upon the announcement of her engagement, Elizabeth, assisted by her mother, sisters, and close friends, likely commenced sewing many of the personal items included in the trousseau, such as petticoats, corset covers, nightgowns, dress sleeves, and handkerchiefs. Once her wedding date was set, the shopping began with a vengeance at popular dry-goods stores, such as A.T. Stewart, then located on Broadway near Chambers Street, and Lord and Taylor, then located on Catherine Street. These emporiums stocked many trousseau items in addition to dresses, such as sewing implements, linens, shawls, slippers, and hair combs and brushes.

In the short story Incompatibility of Temper, by Alice B. Haven, published in the January 1862 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the author describes how the bride’s trousseau has taken over one bedroom:

“The best bedroom was draped with the new dresses that had been made up with much thought and consultation of the fashion magazines; the clothes-press was entirely occupied by the wedding dress itself, over which a sheet was carefully hung to protect it from all possible contact with dust or flies; and Marie’s own drawers were overflowing with the four dozen cotton and two dozen linen, to say nothing of nightcaps, which were at least happily completed. There were twenty things to be done yet …”

Wedding Costume, Godeys Ladys Book, 1840.

Wedding Costume, Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1840.

The Most Important Item of a Trousseau: the Wedding Dress

According to the August 1849 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, the “etiquette of trousseau” dictated that a fashionable wedding dress be made of white silk or satin, with a Brussels lace over-dress with a fitted bodice and full skirt. A white veil, long and full, and most likely made of Brussels lace, was attached to an artificial wreath of orange blooms (popularized by Queen Victoria, who wore them at her wedding in 1840) that encircled the head. Flat white satin or silk slippers decorated with ribbons; white silk stockings; short white kid gloves; and an embroidered handkerchief (perhaps with interlaced initials of the bride and groom), completed the ensemble.

According to etiquette manuals such as The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility (1846), jewelry was practically forbidden: “She should wear no ornaments but what her intended or  father should present her for the occasion.”

In a letter sent by a “Sarah” from Manhasset, Long Island to Ida A. Coles, dated April 18, 1847, she wrote:

“She [the bride] has ten new dresses and some of them are very handsome. The wedding dress is white satin with an embroidered lace over, it is beautiful. She has not purchased her veil as yet.”

Dressmaker Required

Eliza Tredwell most likely hired a dressmaker to create Elizabeth’s wedding ensemble. The seamstress may have lived with the family for a few weeks before the wedding, sewing the dresses in return for room and board, or for a set fee. Imagine the excitement with which Elizabeth and her mother examined the latest silk and satin fabrics, imported from France and widely available at the many dry-good stores that catered to ladies’ fashions, such as H. Myers & Gedney, located at 375 Broadway.

Silk slippers, 1820-1830, MHM 2002.1152

Silk slippers, 1820-1830, MHM 2002.1152

Elizabeth’s fine white bridal slippers may have come from J.B. Miller’s shoe store, located at 142 Canal Street, which in 1844 advertised “White and Black satin, also french, Morocco and Kid slippers, for Balls, Parties, Weddings, &c.”

Ready-to-wear bridal dresses were not widely available in stores until the 1860s, but the earliest advertisements for “wedding dresses,” as distinct from dresses for other occasions, and made in France, appeared in New York newspapers by the mid-1840s. One enterprising woman was selling them in 1844, according to an advertisement in the New York Daily Herald:

“Madame N. Scheltema informs her customers … that she has just received per last Havre packet, a new and splendid assortment of rich embroidered and other Wedding Dresses.”

James Beck & Co., and William A. Smets, two dry-goods stores located on Broadway, advertised “Wedding and Soiree Dresses.” Shops like these, however, no doubt catered to the wealthy upper class, who could afford the fine items sold there. The Tredwell family probably patronized these establishments.

Dressing the Rest of the Family

One can only imagine Eliza’s state of mind in the weeks before her daughter’s wedding. Not only did she have to oversee Elizabeth’s trousseau and all it entailed, she was also faced with the daunting task of dressing herself and her FIVE other daughters! There were new ensembles to be purchased (white dresses for those sisters chosen to be bridesmaids); and a hairdresser to be engaged for Eliza, Elizabeth, and perhaps Elizabeth’s sister Mary (who at 20 was considered a young lady). Her wealth would have allowed Eliza to hire a dresser to assist the women with their toilettes.

Woman in Bridal Gown with Other Women, 1844, Digital Collections, NYPL.

Woman in Bridal Gown with Other Women, 1844, Digital Collections, NYPL.

Eliza also bore the responsibility of making sure that Elizabeth’s younger brothers Horace and Samuel (ages 21 and 18, respectively), were properly attired. Whether or not they were groomsmen, because of their age their outfits would have been very similar to Effingham’s (described below).

Mrs. Abiel Abbot Low, a wealthy woman who lived in Brooklyn Heights, recorded in her diary the extensive preparations for the wedding of a family member, to be held on Sunday, February 2, 1845 (just two months before Elizabeth’s wedding). She made frequent trips by coach back and forth from her home in Brooklyn to Manhattan for this purpose. On Thursday January 23, 1845, she wrote: “I selected a superb silk dress at Stewart’s to wear to Josiah’s wedding.”

Several days later, on Thursday January 30, she noted: “I went to New York to engage Martelle to dress my hair for the wedding, but he was engaged for the time that I needed him. I bought a pretty evening fan …”

What Does Effingham Do?

Compared to Elizabeth’s multiple wedding chores, Effingham had relatively little to do. As his father, the Reverend Samuel Nichols, was to perform the wedding ceremony, it spared him the headache of having to track down an available rector, as Henry Patterson indicated in his diary on July 14, 1844, one week before his wedding:

“I made an engagement with Mr. Edwin Hatfield pastor of the Presbyterian Church, corner of Broome and Ridge Street, to perform the marriage ceremony for us, next Thursday evening at eight o’clock. I endeavored to get Mr. Bellows or Mr. Dewey, but they are both absent from the city.”

Custom dictated that the groom was also responsible for finding a suitable home for his bride. Effingham was spared this task, however; after the wedding and travel (if any) he simply joined his bride at the Tredwell home on Fourth Street. It was not atypical for newlyweds to live with family, which gave a man time to establish himself in business before buying a home.

If a “wedding tour” (as it is called in The Art of Good Behavior) was planned for after the marriage, Effingham made the arrangements, including clearing his work schedule for anywhere from two weeks to one month to accommodate his absence.

Embroidered Silk Wedding Waistcoat, American, mid-19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.l.55.1.17.

Embroidered Silk Wedding Waistcoat, American, mid-19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.l.55.1.17.

Effingham Gets Dressed Up, Too

Men’s fashion in the 1840s was characterized by low, tightly cinched waists; snug waistcoats and trousers; high collared shirts tied with a cravat; and flared frock-coats. The groom’s attire is described in The Art of Good Behavior:

“The bridegroom must be in full dress, black or blue dress coat, which may be faced with white satin; a white vest, black pantaloons, and dress boots, or pumps, with black silk stockings, and white kid gloves, and a white cravat. The groomsmen should be dressed in a similar manner.”

In the 1840s, a colorful, embroidered waistcoat was a fashionable item in a groom’s attire. The waistcoat was occasionally worked by the bride, and presented as a wedding gift to the groom. Elizabeth may have shopped at William T. Jennings on Broadway, which advertised in 1844, “a lot of rich silk and satin vestings, suitable for ball and wedding vests,” for material for Effingham’s waistcoat.

Destroy the Evidence!

The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony also strongly recommended that a gentleman begin his marriage with a clean moral slate, by divesting himself of certain bachelor friends whose company would not be deemed fitting for a newly married gentleman. Burning one’s bachelor letters is also considered essential, for: “Not to do this might hereafter lead to inconvenience.”

Not a Whisker Out of Place

One other concern may have occupied Effingham’s mind before the wedding.  If he sported whiskers, they must be neat and full by his wedding day. So, he may have followed the lead of Henry Patterson, who on Sunday, May 19, 1844,  approximately two months before his wedding, wrote in his diary: “I cut off my whiskers, intending immediately to let them grow again, so as to have a new sett [sic] on my wedding day.”

With This Ring I Thee Wed

The task that probably had the greatest significance for Effingham was purchasing Elizabeth’s wedding ring. The fashion for wedding bands was plain, thick gold. Although jewelry store advertisements were plentiful in newspapers in 1845, only one, William Wise, located at 79 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, offered “gold wedding rings” for sale. To ensure that the ring was properly sized for his bride, according to the Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony, the man must: “… get a sister of your fair one to lend you one of the lady’s rings.” One can just picture Effingham convincing Mary to secretly remove a ring from Elizabeth’s jewelry box!

In the poem “The Bridal” (1849), which one may imagine had been written with Elizabeth and her sisters in mind, one finds reference to the wedding ring:

“Oh! They are blest indeed, and swift the hours
Till her young sisters wreathe her hair in flowers.
Then before all they stand; the holy vow,
And ring of gold—no fond illusion now—
Bind her as his.”

Stay tuned: the next blog post will cover the wedding day!


Opens Thursday, May 2
Exhibition – Tredwell Brides: Changing Wedding Traditions in the 19th Century
This exhibition explores the changes in wedding customs as the 19th century progressed, including the trousseau, printed invitations, and the giving of gifts. Highlights include Eliza Tredwell’s 1820 empire-style embroidered cotton wedding dress and Sarah Ann Tredwell’s 1872 silk bridal dress made in Paris, the highest fashion of the post-Civil War bustle period.Save the Date!
Saturday, June 9, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

“Dearly Beloved:” 1845 Wedding Reenactment and Reception
Join us in the museum’s Greek Revival double parlor as we recreate the 1845 wedding Elizabeth Tredwell and Effingham Nichols. After the ceremony, guests are invited to join the bride and groom in the garden for cake and light refreshments. 19th century attire is encouraged.

Click here for more information.




  • Anonymous. The Art of Good Behavior, and Letter Writer, on Love, Courtship, and Marriage: A Complete Guide. New York: Huestis & Cozans, 1845. Main Collection, New-York Historical Society.
  • Anonymous. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony. London: David Bogue, 1852. books.google.com. Accessed 1/18/18.
  • Bradford, Isabella. “A Fashion Worth Revisiting? A Bridegroom’s Embroidered Wedding Waistcoat, 1842.” Two Nerdy History Girls. Tuesday, November 11, 2014.  www.twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com. Accessed 4/4/18.
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Wednesday, March 5, 1845, p. 3. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 4/6/18.
  • Coles Family Papers, 1803-1859. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • David R. and Mary Floyd-Jones Invitation, 1854 April 15, Floyd-Jones Papers. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Emily Hosack Rodgers Collection, 1848-1888. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • “Etiquette of Trousseau.” Godey’s Lady’s Book.  August, 1849.
  • The Evening Post. Tuesday, 16 January, 1844, p. 3. www.nespapers.com. Accessed 3/6/18.
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  • New York Daily Herald. Tuesday, 27 February, 1844, p. 1. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 3/13/18.
  • New York Daily Herald. Saturday, May 18, 1844, p. 3. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 3/11/18.
  • New York Daily Herald. Thursday, April 24, 1845, p. 1. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 3/16/18.
  • “New York Fashions.” Buffalo Daily Courier. Monday, 5 November, 1849, p. 3. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 3/18/18.
  • New York Tribune. Saturday, 28 December, 1844, p. 3. www.newspapers.com. Accessed 3/7/18.
  • O’Neil, Patrick W. Tying the Knots: The Nationalization of Wedding Rituals in Antebellum America. Dissertation Thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2009. www.cdr.lib.unc.edu. Accessed 3/15/18.
  • Patterson, Henry. Diaries, 1832-1848. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Pinckney, Cotesworth, ed. The Wedding Gift, To All Who are Entering the Marriage State. Lowell: Milton Bonney, 1849. www.babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 4/5/18.
  • Reeves, Emma. History of the Bridal Trousseau. September 15, 2016.  www.theribboninmyjournal.com. Accessed 3/18/18.
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  • Tredwell, Phebe. Letter, November 1, 1854. Nichols Family Papers. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Victoria and Albert Museum. “History of Fashion 1840-1900.” www.vam.ac.uk. Accessed 4/4/18.
  • Wallace, Carol McD. All Dressed in White: The Irresistible Rise of The American Wedding. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.
  • “Wedding Memories: The Bride’s Trousseau.” Magpie Wedding. www.magpiewedding.com. Accessed 4/9/18.
March 20, 2018

Mine and Mine Only: The Marriage Proposal and Engagement

by Ann Haddad

The Proposal, 1862.

“The Proposal,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1862.

This is the second in a series of blog posts on mid-19th century courtship and wedding customs. Click here to read the first post, on 19th century courtship.

A Horse and a Wife

Charles A. Bristed, in his satirical sketch of American society, The Upper Ten Thousand (1852), noted:

“The first thing, as a general rule, that a young Gothamite does is to get a horse; the second, to get a wife.”

Although it is uncertain if Effingham Nichols owned a horse, he did indeed acquire a wife, the bride being none other than Elizabeth Tredwell, eldest daughter of Seabury and Eliza Tredwell. Effingham was only two years into his law practice, located on 7 Nassau Street, when he wed the very eligible 23-year-old Elizabeth on April 9, 1845. We do not know the duration of their courtship, but Effingham must have received significant encouragement from the young lady during that time, emboldening him to declare his love and to propose marriage.

Never Flirt!

Asking a young woman for her hand in marriage was never perceived as an easy task for a gentleman. After all, his fate rested in her hands! For this reason, the etiquette manuals of the day warned women repeatedly not to trifle with a young man’s affections, lest it earn the woman the dreaded reputation of being a flirt. If a gentleman’s behavior towards a woman conveyed romantic feelings, and she did not wish to encourage him, she was to do her utmost to gently rebuff his sentiments in a kindly manner, and gradually withdraw from his company. An honorable woman never shared (except with her parents) that she had rejected a suitor. As A Manual of Etiquette (1868) stated:

“If you possess either a decent generosity, or the least good breeding, you will not divulge a secret which should be sacred between you.”

Passing the Test

Queen Victoria Proposing to Albert, 1840.

“Queen Victoria Proposing to Albert,” 1840.

After their courtship had gone on for an appropriate period (etiquette manuals were reluctant to establish the proper length of the courtship period), a woman who found the attention from her suitor more than agreeable indicated in unspoken ways that a proposal of marriage would be welcome. She, of course, could not propose to a gentleman (only queens were permitted to do so; Queen Victoria notably proposed to Prince Albert); but, according to the Dictionary of Love (1858):

“… she may lawfully do all in her power to put him in the notion of proposing. She may be very glad to see him when he calls, she may gently chide him for staying away so long ‘We feared you had forgotten us,’ or she may, by the purest accident, always happen to get a seat very near him whenever she is in his company. It is clearly a lady’s right to modestly open the way for the approaches of a gentleman whose heart she honorably wishes to obtain.”

A young lady’s father (especially a wealthy one like Seabury Tredwell, who needed to protect his daughter from fortune hunters) had already assessed the suitor’s finances (were his prospects good enough to provide a home for and support a wife and children?), scrutinized his lineage (did he come from a reputable family?), and deemed him acceptable. At this point, it was safe and indeed incumbent on the young man to seize the opportunity and proceed with a proposal. As stated in The Art of Good Behavior (1846), a popular etiquette manual:

As a general rule, a gentleman need never be refused. Every woman, except a heartless coquette, finds the means of discouraging a man whom she does not intend to have, before the matter comes to the point of a declaration.”

An unidentified young clerk in New York City indicated his confidence that he had a future with his beloved Julia when he wrote in his diary on October 13, 1844:

“Was much amused at a remark Julia made. She said ‘I don’t know how to take you.’ I replied ‘Take me as I am.’ She answered, ‘I expect I shall be obliged to.’ It may be a prophetic remark.”

Once the suitor determined that his offer of marriage would be welcomed, there was nothing left to do but “pop the question” (an idiom in use since 1826). The Art of Good Behavior perfectly captured the anxiety of the moment:

… and though he may tremble, and feel his pulses throbbing and tingling through every limb; though his heart is filling up in his throat, and his tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth, yet the awful question must be asked.”

Sarony & Majors. Popping the Question, 1846. Henry T. Peters Collection, Smithsonian Institute.

Sarony & Majors. “Popping the Question,” 1846. Henry T. Peters Collection, Smithsonian Institute.

Will You Marry Me?

Should a gentleman find elusive the right words with which to propose, he needed only consult one of the popular etiquette manuals, which offered many suggestions. Here are some from The Art of Good Behavior:

“Will you tell me what I most wish to know!”
“Yes, if I can.”
“The happy day when we shall be married?”

“Have you any objection to change your name?” “How would mine suit you?”

“One word from you would make me the happiest man in the universe.”

“Well, Mary, when is the happy day?” “What day, pray?” “Why, everybody knows we are going to get married, and it might as well be one time or another; so, when shall it be?”

And then there was the laconic gentleman who, according to the Evening Post of August 14, 1840, proposed in the following manner:

“Pray, madam, do you like buttered toast?”  “Yes, sir.” “Buttered on both sides?” “Yes, sir.” “Will you marry me?”

Currier & Ives. "Youth: The Season of Love,"  1868.

Currier & Ives. “Youth: The Season of Love,” 1868.

The joyous declaration of love was described in the Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony (1852):

“The happy moment of opportunity arrives, in sweet suddenness, when the flood gates of feeling are loosened, and the full tide of mutual affection gushes forth uncontrolled.”

James R. Burtin, a young New York gentleman who worked as an engraver, recorded in his diary the exciting moment when, after nearly two years of courtship, he proposed to his beloved Ann Elisa on February 18, 1844:

“This is an evening I shall always remember with mingled feelings of pleasure and pain. One question I asked my dear Ann, the answer of which depended my future happiness or misery and she hesitated to answer it. It was a moment of suspense tho if she knew how I loved her and how dear she is to me she would have given me an answer at once. I did not doubt but that her answer would be such as one as I wish and the answer was one that put all doubt aside. She loves truly and I love her and whatever may take place I shall love her as long as life shall last. She is dearer to me than Mother, brother or Sister. Without her I may almost say that life would be unendurable, but now all doubts are at an end. She is mine and mine only.”

Put It in Writing

For those timid, tongue-tied gentlemen who could not bear the thought of proposing in person, etiquette manuals, such as the American Fashionable Letter Writer (1845), also offered sample proposal letters, such as:

“Every one of those qualities in you which claim my admiration, increased my diffidence, by showing the great risk I run in venturing, perhaps before my affectionate assiduities have made the desired impression upon your mind, to make a declaration of the ardent passion I have long since felt for you.”

On October 28, 1843, Henry Patterson, a contemporary of Burtin’s, wrote in his diary about his written proposal of marriage to Eleanor Wright:

“Last week Thursday I made proposals of marriage to her in writing; Sunday evening I received a conditional acceptance, also in writing, and Wednesday evening we spent in unfolding to each other our situation, prospects, hopes, principles, feelings, in short everything which would tend to a judicious and proper settlement of the question now the subject of our joint consideration. I will only record, that as I become acquainted with her, I become more thoroughly convinced of our suitableness to each other; and the outpouring of tender feelings which I enjoyed on Wednesday evening, that sensation of mutual love and trust which I have since felt within us, renders the present the happiest period of my life.”

Charles Baugniet. Indecision, n.d.

Charles Baugniet. “Indecision,” n.d.

I’ll Get Back to You

When a gentleman made an offer of marriage either in person or by letter, it was incumbent upon the young lady to receive it graciously. She knew, either by instruction from her parents or by the advice provided by etiquette manuals, never to accept or reject the offer immediately. Such an important decision merited deep reflection, and discussion with her parents, whose consent was necessary before any answer was given. As Farrar reminds her readers in The Young Lady’s Friend (1837):

“It should be an avowed principle of your life, that you will never marry without the consent of your parents, nor merely to please them.”

If the young lady’s parents opposed the match, the couple carefully considered the objection, and perhaps delayed their marriage until the reason for the disapproval had been overcome.

The American Fashionable Letter Writer provided an example of a young lady’s written reply to a proposal of marriage:

“There are many points beside mere personal regard to be considered; these I must refer to the superior knowledge of my father and brother, and if the result of their inquiries is such as my presentiments suggest, I have no doubt my happiness will be attended to by a permission to decide for myself.”

Man to Man

After proposing marriage, the next daunting step for the gentleman was a formal meeting with the woman’s father, to officially ask for his consent to the marriage. It is noteworthy, with regard to parental consent, that the opinion of the young woman’s parents appears to be the only one that matters. None of the diaries consulted for this post made any mention of the suitor’s parents in any aspect of the courtship or engagement. As Ellen K. Rothman concluded in Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America (1984), “A woman’s parents were asked; a man’s parents were told.”

Seabury Tredwell was probably not surprised when Effingham Nichols entered his study to request Elizabeth’s hand in marriage; he most likely was expecting it. Effingham would have been prepared to discuss his law practice, his future prospects, and his financial situation in detail. He was, after all, responsible for providing a stable economic environment for Seabury’s daughter; it was critical that he explain how he planned to go about this. Seabury already knew Effingham came from an excellent family, and must have been willing to accept Effingham’s status and envision his future success. Imagine the joyful scene on Fourth Street when, once Seabury gave the couple his blessing, Elizabeth and Effingham shared the happy news with her mother, Eliza, and her siblings!

James Hayllar. The Only Daughter, 1875

James Hayllar. “The Only Daughter,” 1875.

The parents of Eleanor Wright, the young woman with whom Henry Patterson was in love, were separated (separation and divorce were not as uncommon as we might think — a topic for a future blog post). That may explain why it took two months for Henry to meet with her father. On December 30, 1843, he wrote:

“By mutual agreement that it was advisable, I called the next morning on her Father, in Fifth Street, and briefly acquainted him with my past intercourse with his daughter and my plans for the future; I asked his approval. He expressed his approbation as far as he was acquainted with the circumstances, and treated me in every respect in a gentlemanly manner.”

We have no idea what Elizabeth’s siblings thought of her suitor, Effingham Nichols. The opinion of brothers and sisters held little weight when it came to choosing a mate for life. Elizabeth Brevoort was a young girl of fourteen when on July 31, 1848, she wrote in her diary of her sister’s love interest:

“I must say it is not the marriage I wish for her but if she thinks she will be happy with him, I am sure it is none of my business.”

The Engagement Period

Patrick W. O’Neil, in his dissertation thesis, Tying the Knots: The Nationalization of Wedding Rituals in Antebellum America (2009), described the engagement period (which typically lasted from six months to two years, depending on the family circumstances and the age of the couple) as a moment of transition between courtship and married life wherein couples could come to a full understanding of the meaning behind their commitment to one another. It was viewed as an opportunity for the lovers to imagine themselves married, and to declare their suitability to the world. In doing so, they experienced a loosening to some extent of the restrictive bonds of decorum, and hence were able to deepen their knowledge of each other. O’Neil cautioned, however, that the easing of rules in this rigid society only went so far:

“None of this is to say that the middle-class men pursued gender equality in their married relationships: they would not have taken kindly to assertions of autonomy from their future wives.”

In the mid-19th century, once the young lady and her parents consented to the marriage, the announcement of the engagement was initially made to family and intimate friends only; this was typically done in writing. This allowed all involved to take a collective breath and live with the idea; it would be during this time that either party could gracefully break off the engagement without doing widespread damage. After a week or two, the wider circle of friends and acquaintances would receive news of the engagement.

John Shirley Fox. The Engagement Ring, 1898.

John Shirley Fox. “The Engagement Ring,” 1898.

The Ring-Bearers

According to Ellen Rothman, in Hands and Hearts, the custom of presenting one’s betrothed with a ring upon engagement began in the 1840s. The simple bands, which sometimes included a cut stone, were mutually exchanged; they served as a public sign of the couple’s commitment to each other. Occasionally, another personal token, such as a portrait miniature of the future bride, was presented to the groom-to-be in place of a ring. Diamond engagement rings as we know them today did not become popular until Tiffany & Co. introduced the Tiffany setting in 1886.

Behave Yourselves

Not surprisingly, the conduct of a betrothed couple was also governed by a strict protocol. When in public, any overt signs of familiarity and exclusivity were forbidden. The gentleman was to behave gallantly and honorably toward any woman in his presence, not just to his fiancée; and his future bride refrain from pouting or reacting with jealousy and anger when he did so. That didn’t mean, however, that the gentleman refrained from being protective of his sweetheart, or that she ignored him. Ideally, they presented to the world an image of blissful and contented happiness. Although the couple did not isolate themselves from the society of others, the woman was careful to avoid spending time with any other man in private. When attending sociables and other entertainments in the absence of her betrothed, etiquette dictated that she be accompanied by a family member or intimate family friend.

In private, a gentleman never took advantage of his bride-to-be, for he had her honor to maintain. As the Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony (1852) pointed out: “he is dealing with his future wife.” Whenever he was in the presence of his betrothed, it was a young man’s duty to avoid any display of fatigue, low spirits, or “excessive animation.” Several etiquette manuals also discussed the engagement period as a time when a gentleman bore the responsibility of advising and guiding his betrothed, by correcting her faults and helping to mold her character. It was the rare mid-19th century treatise, such as Mrs. A.J. Graves’ Woman in America (1858) that challenged this notion, stating, “woman was not given to a man for a toy to amuse his idle hours; but to be, in truth and in reality, a helpmate to him – a minister for good.”

The Welcome Mat

Once the engagement was underway, the gentleman was expected to pay frequent calls at his bride-to-be’s home. He was to ascertain, however, the time most convenient for his call; and when he visited, he was to focus attention on the entire family, not just on his betrothed. His aim in making the calls was to gradually win the affection of the family, especially the girl’s mother. The visits were usually made in the evening, with the gentleman wearing evening attire, as he would for the theatre or a concert. As the Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony stated,

“The neglect of this point would betray, first, a carelessness in habits, next, a want of deference to the lady’s family, and lastly, a deficiency in due respect to herself.”

According to their diary entries, both Henry Patterson and James Burtin could be found almost nightly at the homes of their betrothed. Often they had tea with the family in the afternoon and then return in the evening! Burtin, who had made a habit of frequent visits even before his engagement, wrote in his diary on November 16, 1843:

“I am inclined to think that love makes a fool of a man , that is in other people’s estimation, but what is the use. I love Ann Elisa and when I can see her there is not the least doubt but that I will.”

Currier & Ives. Kiss Me Quick, ca. 1845.

Currier & Ives. “Kiss Me Quick,” ca. 1845. D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, MA.

Stealing a Kiss

Despite the protocol set forth in popular etiquette manuals, evidence in diaries of this period indicates that betrothed couples were frequently left alone in the young lady’s home, often until 1 or 2 a.m. Henry Patterson and Eleanor Wright spent many evenings alone in her parlor, playing chess, whist, reading to one another, and ultimately exchanging mutual affection. On January 21, 1844, he wrote:

“Monday evening I spent with Eleanor, with chess, reading, and conversation, all of which, having mingled with them expressions of the most tender love and kindest feelings, served to render that evening one of the happiest seasons of my life.”

James Burtin even exercised with Ann Elisa, as he wrote on his diary on May 25, 1843:

“In the evening called over to see Ann Elisa found her jumping the rope joined in with her and had some fine exercise but found it rather warm work.

“This is a Waste of Our Time” 

Once betrothed, couples were permitted to go out together unaccompanied: for walks on the Battery; to concerts at Niblo’s Garden; to museums, theatre, church, lectures, and to weddings of friends and family. After months of such activity, with no wedding date yet set, Henry Patterson was growing increasingly frustrated. He wrote in his diary on March 24, 1844:

“Oh! how tired and impatient I feel, to be thus compelled to take a part in amusements, and join in company for which I feel no affinity. Enjoying alone Eleanor’s society, with no restraints on the interchange of tokens of love, is almost the only thing that is at all satisfactory to me: how painful to me that this is a waste of our time, in foolery, and empty amusements. Yet, may it not be played upon us to exercise our patience, and and learn us to prize more highly and justly the unspeakable blessing which we do enjoy?”

Fixing the Day

The days of idle amusements were soon over for Henry and Eleanor; once their marriage date was set (by the woman, this being one of her express privileges), they found themselves busier than ever. There was a household to set up, a trousseau to purchase, and a wedding to arrange. As the wedding industry was in its infancy, it was typical for a wedding date to be announced only two to three weeks prior to the actual date. As a result, the wedding preparations were intense and extensive, requiring hard work by both parties. The burden, as we shall see, rested more on the woman’s shoulders, for as Rothman points out in Hands and Hearts: “While engagement interfered with a man’s work, it was a woman’s work.”


  • Anonymous. The American Fashionable Letter Writer, Original and Selected. Troy, N.Y.: W. & H. Merriam, 1845. www.catalog.hathitrust.org. Accessed 3/1/18.
  • Anonymous. The Art of Good Behavior, and Letter Writer, on Love, Courtship, and Marriage: A Complete Guide. New York: Huestis & Cozans, 1845. Main Collection, New-York Historical Society.
  • Anonymous. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony: With A Complete Guide to the Forms of a Wedding. London: David Bogue, 1852. www.books.google.com. Accessed 2/2/18.
  • Arthur, T[imothy]S[hay]. Advice to Young Ladies on Their Duties and Conduct in Life. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1847. babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 1/16/18.
  • Brevoort, Elizabeth. Diary, 1848. Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, New York Public Library.
  • Bristed, Charles Astor. The Upper Ten Thousand; Sketches of American Society. London: Parker and son, 1852.  www.babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 2/13/18.
  • Diary of an Unidentified Clerk in New York City, 1844-45. MssCol. 2147, Rare Books and and Manuscripts Division, New York Public Library.
  • Diary of an Unidentified Young Man [James R. Burtin], January 1, 1843- 1844. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Farrar, Mrs. John. A Young Lady’s Friend. Boston: American Stationers’ Company, 1838. www.archive.org. Accessed 1/23/18.
  • Graves, Mrs. A.J. Woman in America; Being an Examination into the Moral and Intellectual Condition of American Female Society. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1858. www.catalog.hathitrust.org. Accessed 3/2/18.
  • Johnson, S. O. [Sophia Orne]. A Manual of Etiquette with Hints on Politeness and Good Breeding. Philadelphia: D. McKay, 1868. www.archive.org. Accessed 2/26/18.
  • O’Neil, Patrick W. Tying the Knots: The Nationalization of Wedding Rituals in Antebellum America. Dissertation Thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2009. www.cdr.lib.unc.edu. Accessed 3/1/18.
  • Patterson, Henry. Diaries, 1832-1848. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • “Popping the Question.” The Evening Post, Fri., August 14, 1840, p. 2. www.newspapaers.com. Accessed 2/28/18.
  • Rothman, Ellen K. Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1984.
  • Theocritus, Junior [pseud.]. Dictionary of Love. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1858. www.archive.org. Accessed 2/5/18.
  • “Tiffany and Co. History,” Tiffany & Co. www.press.tiffany.com. Accessed 3/2/18.
February 13, 2018

Romance and Sweet Dreams: Mid-19th Century Courtship

by Ann Haddad

Valentine, 1847.  MHM 2002.4606.44.

Valentine, 1847. (MHM 2002.4606.44)


Valentines for an Eligible Lady

Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries, but only became entrenched in American culture in the early 1840s, with the rise in popularity of commercially produced paper valentine cards. Made of delicately embossed and perforated lace papers, valentines became the fashionable way to convey romantic interest and to freely express the desire for romantic love.

The lovely Elizabeth Tredwell, eldest daughter of Seabury and Eliza, no doubt received her share of valentines from young men of her class. She was pretty and accomplished, and would certainly have been considered an eligible young lady. The Tredwell Archives contain several charming valentines; however, the senders and recipients are unknown.

On April 9, 1845, Elizabeth married Effingham Nichols (see our April 2017 blog post, “Days of Sorrow, Days of Rejoicing: The Marriage of Elizabeth Tredwell and Effingham Nichols”). We do not know when and how Elizabeth and Effingham met, nor are we aware of the length of their courtship. Based on the many strict codes of etiquette that governed courtship, however, we can assume theirs followed a dictated course.

Romantic Love

In the mid-19th century, romantic love was viewed as the solid rock upon which a healthy marriage was built; according to Karen Lystra, author of Searching the Heart (1989), it was only within the sacred state of marriage that one’s “ideal self” could be revealed. Courtship, therefore, was respected as a special time in the lives of a young couple. This period, after introductions and before a formal engagement, served to intensify the feelings of romantic love; to insure that the bond formed between a couple was true; to guide one in learning the real character of the other; and to ensure that their attraction was based on mutual respect and admiration. In Theocritus’ The Dictionary of Love (1858), it is defined as the period that is “all romance, excitement, hope, desire, expectation, and sweet dreams.”

Before Courtship: Under Mama’s Watchful Eyes

The time for a young woman to enter society and assume her role as a marriageable woman was determined by her parents; it depended not on her age, but on her level of maturity. A woman was also expected to have completed her education, or “finishing,” typically between the ages of 16 and 18, before entering society. Elizabeth most likely went “into company” (or “came out,” as it was later called) sometime around the age of 20.

Mrs. Okills Academy, attended by Elizabeth Tredwell and several of her sisters, held musical soirees to showcase the accomplishments of students. New York Herald, 1840.

Mrs. Okill’s Academy, attended by Elizabeth Tredwell and several of her sisters, held musical soirees to showcase the accomplishments of students. New York Herald, 1840.

Courting before this age was highly frowned upon. After completing her schooling, a daughter remained at home (which was viewed as a woman’s empire), under the watchful eyes of her mother. Here she learned domestic arts; assisted with rearing her younger siblings; and was instructed in the rules of manners and civility, which were highly valued in society. A young lady was chaperoned at public entertainments, such as theatre or dances, by her parents, brothers, or an intimate family friend. (Once she became formally engaged, her lover became her “legitimate protector and companion.”) She was expected to rebuff any male attention, and maintain a polite disinterest in courtship. Mrs. John Farrar, in A Young Lady’s Friend (1837), writes,

“The less your mind dwells upon lovers and matrimony, the more agreeable and profitable will be your intercourse with gentlemen. Regard men as intellectual beings who have access to certain sources of knowledge to which you are denied.”

Elizabeth also received guidance from her mother (likely culled from popular advice books such as Lydia Maria Child’s The Frugal Housewife (1829); Godey’s Lady’s Book; and etiquette and conduct manuals) about acceptable behaviors that reflect what Mrs. John Farrar called “delicacy and refinement” when in the company of young men. Never let a man hold your hand; decline his offer of assistance with getting in and out of carriages; never squeeze into a tight space with a gentleman; never speak of your private affairs or feelings; always have a friend present for carriage rides; never borrow money from a man; avoid gossip. Mrs. Farrer stressed:

“Your whole deportment should give the idea that your person, your voice, and your mind are entirely under your own control. Self-possession is the first requisite to good manners.”

Above all, a young lady was never to make obvious public plays for the attention of a young man, or insinuate that she wanted an invitation from him. According to T.S. Arthur, author of Advice to Young Ladies (1847), such inappropriateness indicated “an outrageous want of all decent respect for herself.”

Money and Religion

Aside from the usual parental concerns associated with finding a suitable partner for their daughter, Seabury and Eliza Tredwell had another reason to be extremely careful when vetting young men who were interested in courting Elizabeth: the family’s enormous wealth. Guarding against any unprincipled suitor who viewed a fortune as indispensable when choosing a wife was no doubt of utmost importance. They therefore sought to find a husband for Elizabeth whose own wealth was equal to or greater than her own. Similarity of religion was also considered to be a requisite; whoever sought and won Elizabeth’s hand had to be of the Episcopal faith (see our February 2017 blog post, “The Man That Got Away,” for a discussion of the aborted romance of Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Gertrude, and Luis Walton).

A Formal Introduction

A gentleman did not consider courting a woman unless he had been formally introduced to her. (Men were not without their etiquette manuals: Lord Chesterfield’s Advice to His Son on Men and Manners, first published in 1774, was the popular source.) Effingham may have been introduced to Elizabeth through her father or one of her uncles, or through a respected friend of the family. For those without known connections, it was the gentleman’s task to respectfully make her acquaintance. Upon noticing a woman at a dance, for example, he first learned her name by making discreet inquiries, and then, through his societal connections, asked for an introduction. As the couple became acquainted through conversation, the gentleman ascertained the woman’s level of interest, and whether any further attentions were welcome.

Elizabeth Tredwell (MHM 2002.0114)

Elizabeth Tredwell (MHM 2002.0114)

Effingham Nichols (MHM 2002.0122)

Effingham Nichols (MHM 2002.0122)

Dear Mr. Tredwell

If he perceived that she was not averse, and he was confident that his position in life and circumstances were sufficient to allow him to proceed, a gentleman took the next step — writing to the woman’s father to ask permission to pay a visit to their home. In this important communication, he stated his position and prospects, and mentioned his family. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony (1852) cautioned the suitor against any smugness or over-confidence at this stage:

“Never think you are doing the family a favor. A man must convey delicate respect towards the parents, to prove himself worthy of the treasure of which he is about to deprive them.”

Valentine, mid-19th century MHM 2006.4606.43

Valentine, mid-19th century (MHM 2006.4606.43)

The following portion of a sample letter from The Art of Good Behavior (1845) may be similar to one sent to Seabury Tredwell from Effingham Nichols, when he desired to begin courting Elizabeth:

“The subject upon which I presume to address you is one so near to my heart, and so connected with my prospects of happiness in this life, that I find it difficult to summon resolution for the task; but sir, I have dared to entertain so high an opinion of your goodness, that I am emboldened to write to you with candor, to solicit the greatest favor it is in your power to bestow.”

Emily Thornwell, in The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility (1856), defined the proper look of a letter from a potential suitor to a young woman’s father:

“Observe that letters of introduction are never sealed by well-bred people. Every letter to a superior ought to be folded in an envelope. It shows a want of respect to seal with a wafer; we must use sealing wax; men usually select red.”

Once permission was obtained from the father, the young lady in question then extended a letter to the gentleman, inviting him to pay a call. She avoided displaying any excessive interest in him, however. Thornwell emphasized the importance of restraint:

“You should not remark to a gentleman, ‘I am very happy to make your acquaintance;’ because it should be considered a favor for him to be presented to you, therefore the remark should come rather from him.”

The Trial Period

As soon as the father established that a young gentlemen was suitable company for his daughter (accomplished through inquiries among his set as to the family and status of the suitor), courtship commenced. In the young lady’s front parlor, with a chaperone present, a courting couple engaged in allowed activities including singing, talking, piano playing, and parlor games with other guests. Supervised carriage rides and outdoor excursions to dances, picnics, dinners, and concerts were also permitted. During this time, the couple observed one another’s habits and conduct for evidence of good moral character and virtuous principles, and hence suitability.

A Receipt for Courtship, n.d., Library of Congress

A Receipt for Courtship, n.d., Library of Congress

A woman considered positive traits, such as a man’s ability to speak with ease, respect, and courtesy to all; a neat appearance; excellent manners and deference to all women; and his readiness to honor and defend the opposite sex. Among the negative qualities that put a woman on her guard, as noted in The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony, were:

“Keeps irregular hours
His studies do not form the subject of his conversation, as bearing on his future prospects
Shows disrespect for any age
Laughs at things sacred
Absents himself from regular attendance at church
Shows an inclination to expensive pleasures, or to low and vulgar amusements
Betrays a desire for enjoyments beyond his means or reach
Makes his dress a study
Betrays a continuous frivolity of mind.”

Etiquette manuals were replete with warnings to young ladies to beware being dazzled by “morally depraved” men or, as stated in Advice to Young Ladies:

“A young lady should be careful that brilliant qualities of mind, a cultivated taste, and superior conversational powers, do not overcome her virtuous repugnance to base principles and a depraved life.”

The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony also provided guidelines for gentlemen as they waded into the murky waters of courtship. A woman who was kind, patient, benevolent, peaceful, and charitable; and who enjoyed home-centered pleasures, was worth pursuing. But a gentleman should “retire speedily but politely” from a woman with any of the following traits:

The Lovers Walk, Currier & Ives, 1856.

The Lovers Walk, Currier & Ives, 1856.

“Has the heartless buzzing of a flirt
Gives smiles to all and a heart to none
An uneven temper
Is fond of dress, and eager for admiration
Is ecstatic in trifles and nonsense, and frivolity
Is weak in her duties
Is petulant, saucy, or insolent
If the holiness of religion does not hover like a sanctifying dove ever over her head
Is prideful, boasting, vane, sharp rather than quiet

When choosing to cast his eye upon a young lady with views toward matrimony, a gentleman needed to be mindful of the following:

“You do not catch us by mere beauteous look,
Tis but the bait, floating without the hook.”

Despite all these dire warnings, the author ended on an uplifting note:

“In nine out of ten cases it will be found that some demonstration of gentleness, benevolence, devotion, or self-sacrifice will invariably have been the foundation and first cause of serious thoughts of matrimony.”

No Gifts, Please

Another rule of courtship prohibited a young lady from accepting presents from a gentleman, prior to his having made a distinct proposal of marriage. It was considered improper and unbecoming, and implied an obligation on her part. Should the gentleman insist on her accepting a gift, she was to acknowledge its receipt in the presence of her parents, thereby removing any trace of impropriety. Any gifts received anonymously were put away and never mentioned. According to T.S. Arthur’s Advice to Young Ladies, flowers, fruit, and candy were the only acceptable presents from a young man to a young lady prior to their engagement, because:

“their perishable nature exempts them from the ban put upon more enduring memorials.”

Love Letters: “The Sweetest Things”

With all the restrictions placed upon young lovers during their courtship, letter writing became the allowed means by which they could express their feelings, continue the process of getting to know one another, and hopefully, fall in love. In the mid-19th century, suitors had at their disposal numerous letter-writing manuals that offered sample letters for every occasion, including expressions of romantic love and marriage proposals. In The Dictionary of Love (1858), love letters were referred to as, “among the sweetest things which the whole career of love allows.” The author of The Art of Good Behavior wrote: “The delicate and interesting preliminaries of marriage are oftener settled by the pen, than in any other manner.”

"St. Valentine's Day. Looking Out for the Letter-Carrier," Godey's Lady's Book, 1862.

“St. Valentine’s Day. Looking Out for the Letter-Carrier,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1862.

Love letters were considered sacred and sincere testaments to a couple’s love; such intimate correspondence was regarded with respect and a deep sense of privacy. A family member would never open a daughter’s or sister’s love letter; upon receiving it she retired to her room to read its contents in private.

Valentine, n.d., Butler-Laing Family Papers, NYHS

Valentine, n.d., Butler-Laing Family Papers, NYHS

It comes as no surprise to learn that rules governed the writing implements, paper, and even stamps, for love letters. The Art of Good Behavior insists:

“For a love letter good paper is indispensable. When it can be procured, that of a costly quality, gold-edged, perfumed, or ornamented in the French style, may be properly used. The letter should be carefully enveloped, and nicely sealed with a fancy wafer – or what is better, plain or fancy sealing wax. The whole affair should be as neat and elegant as possible.”

We have no surviving love letters between Effingham and Elizabeth. Perhaps one might have been similar to the following, from the Butler-Laing Family Papers (NYHS), written in 1861 by Frank Butler to his cousin Mary:

“My dear Cousin if you could only realize how deep an attachment I have found for you, and how sincerely and fondly I have learned to love you, even from the very first hour of our meeting, you might then imagine the thought of being so wholly separated from you, for how long a time God only knows, can be attended with painful feelings only.

Goodbye Mary, and may God bless you and the other members of the happy family with which you are connected. And may you sometimes, in your nightly visions think of one who holds you in highest admiration and unlimited affection.
Devotedly your cousin,
Frank Butler”

Valentine, c.1845. Emily Hosack Rodgers Papers, NYHS

Valentine, c.1845. Emily Hosack Rodgers Papers, NYHS

Another, unsigned and undated, from the Emily Hosack Rodgers Collection (NYHS), indicated the freedom a gentleman felt in writing to his love interest:

“If you love me, I will seek only to enfold your whole existence within the arms of a true and devoted love. With the true wisdom of an affectionate heart I will only seek, will only desire to find my own happiness in yours.”

A Valentine’s Day Poem

The Obituary Record of Yale University (1902) mentioned that Effingham Nichols wrote poetry and prose. Perhaps he sent a valentine poem to Elizabeth during their courtship. It may have been similar to this one, “Friendship Offering” (NYHS), written in 1832 to Anna Brooks:

“If though thinkest, Anna
That I shall complement thee now,
And say how well you play on the piano,
And praise the brightness of thy brow;
Or tell thee that thy voice is sweet,
Or that thou hast a lovely face,
Or snowy hands, or pretty feet,
Or complement one single grace,
That throws its glory o’er thy manner,
Or even praise those eyes of thine!
Thou art indeed mistaken, Anna;
Although in every Valentine,
I know thou hast a right to think
Such praise would be given to thee;
But thou! oh, thou couldst never drink,
Deep of the cup of flattery:
For in the depths of thy young mind,
Life’s holiest treasures are enshrined.
Learning and wit, and beauty bright,
And virtue – charms that alone delight
The soul – Yes! All these blessed gifts are thine.”

Our next blog post will address the rituals surrounding marriage proposals and engagement. Happy Valentine’s Day!



  • Anonymous. The Art of Good Behavior, and Letter Writer, on Love, Courtship, and Marriage: A Complete Guide. New York: Huestis & Cozans, 1845. Main Collection, New-York Historical Society.
  • Anonymous. The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony. London: David Bogue, 1852. books.google.com. Accessed 1/18/18.
  • Arthur, T[imothy]S[hay]. Advice to Young Ladies on Their Duties and Conduct in Life. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, 1847. babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 1/16/18.
  • Brooks, Anna. Valentine’s Day Poem, 1832. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Butler-Laing Family Papers, 1818-1892. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Emily Hosack Rodgers Collection, 1848-1888. Manuscripts Division, New-York Historical Society.
  • Farrar, Mrs. John. A Young Lady’s Friend. Boston: American Stationers’ Company, 1838. internetarchive.org. Accessed 1/23/18.
  • Halttunen, Karen. Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.
  • Knapp, Mary L. An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
  • Lystra, Karen. Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Rothman, Ellen K. Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1984.
  • Theocritus, Junior [pseud.]. Dictionary of Love. New York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1858. internetarchive.org. Accessed 1/22/18.
  • Thornwell, Emily. The Lady’s Guide to Perfect Gentility: In Manners, Dress, and Conversation. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856. internetarchive.org. Accessed 1/17/18.
  • Valentines. American Antiquarian Society. americanantiquarian.org. Accessed 1/24/18.
  • Yale University. Obituary Records of the Graduates of Yale University Deceased from June,1890 – June, 1900. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1902, p. 672.
January 16, 2018

Vauxhall Garden: The Coney Island of Its Day

by Ann Haddad

From the early 18th century, pleasure gardens – outdoor complexes that offered landscaped vistas, various entertainments, and refreshments – were popular escapes for New Yorkers starved for open space in the rapidly expanding city. Central Park was not established until 1857.

In 1835, when the Tredwell family moved to fashionable Fourth Street (well within the boundaries of the elite “Bond Street area”), the neighborhood was in the midst of significant development. One enormous change was the transformation of the pleasure garden know as Vauxhall Garden into residential and commercial properties. The Garden, which abutted the Tredwells’ rear garden wall, originally occupied a three acre area bounded on the south by Fourth Street, on the north by Art Street (now Astor Place), west by Broadway, and east by the Bowery Road (now 4th Avenue). It was the third and final iteration of Vauxhall Garden. But the land that became Vauxhall Garden had been well known, in the mid-to-late 18th century, as the site of Sperry’s botanical garden.

A Botanical Garden

Sperry's Garden on Bowery Lane, 1803.

Sperry’s Garden on Bowery Lane, 1803.


Jacob Sperry was a young man of 20 when he arrived in New York City from Zurich, Switzerland, in 1748. Although trained as a physician, his passion was horticulture; in 1771 he turned a plot of pastureland into a garden that, despite its two-mile distance from the city proper, became the go-to florist shop of its day. So famous had the spot become, wrote the New York Daily Herald  in 1855, that:

“Thousands, who now live, remember the time when Sperry’s garden was the great resort of belles and beaux for the purchase of their bouquets.”

John Jacob Astor, photogravure after painting by Gilbert Stuart.

John Jacob Astor, photogravure after painting by Gilbert Stuart.


Imagine Seabury Tredwell as a young single gentleman, riding up to Sperry’s to purchase a posey for a young lady!

Sperry cultivated the land until 1803, when he sold the property to John Jacob Astor for $45,000. Astor, who had turned his attention from the fur trade that brought him great wealth to the acquisition of real estate, undoubtedly realized that the property’s value would only increase as the city’s population migrated further and further uptown.

The Three Vauxhall Gardens

Once it became a British colony in 1674, New York adopted the customs and manners of the mother country; tea-drinking became extremely popular. To quench the public’s thirst for this beverage, Samuel Fraunces (popularly known as the owner of the tavern that still bears his name), opened the first Vauxhall Garden, named after London’s famous Vauxhall, in 1767. Along with tea, it served other beverages, hot rolls, and the new “ice cream” dessert. Situated on a hill near Greenwich Street between what is now Warren and Chambers Streets, it afforded sweeping views of the North (Hudson) River. In addition to admiring the flowering shrubs and trees, guests strolled through the wax museum, and were awed by the fireworks displays. After the Revolutionary War, Fraunces sold the property and the site became a pottery.

The second Vauxhall Garden, located near present-day Grand and Mulberry Streets, was established in 1798 by Joseph Delacroix, a Frenchman who had previous careers as a distiller and confectioner. He operated the garden until 1803; upon learning that Sperry’s former garden was for rent, he immediately obtained a 21-year lease from its owner, John Jacob Astor. It was here that Delacroix achieved fame and fortune, for the third and final Vauxhall Garden became one of the most popular and fashionable attractions in the city.

A Place for Romance

In laying out his new garden, Delacroix wisely retained Sperry’s lovely flowers, trees, and shrubs; he added meandering gravel paths; fountains; strings of hanging lamps configured as stars, serpents, and moons; and statuary, including a central equestrian figure of George Washington. The orchestra was situated amidst the trees, which, according to The Picture of New York (1807):

“… gives to the band of music and singing voices, a charming effect on summer evenings.”

The garden was surrounded by a high board fence, with entrances on Broadway and Bowery Road. Alcoves for seating were discreetly arranged along the inner perimeter of the garden fence; they provided areas of elegant seclusion, and afforded many a young gentleman the privacy required for courtship. According to the New York Daily Herald in 1855:

“How many couples that still live remember Vauxhall Garden as the place where their first vows were made!”

Drinks and Theatre

Sperry’s former greenhouse was converted into a saloon, offering desserts such as “Delacroix cream” (ice cream), as well as alcoholic beverages. Delacroix was known for the cordials and brandy made in his distillery, in flavors such as anisette, cinnamon, cherry, and one with the intriguing name “Matrimony.” He later bottled and sold a “Vauxhall Beverage,” a concoction of herbs and milk, which was guaranteed made fresh every morning, and which caused one teetotaler to write in 1820:

“Our drinkers would be much more benefited by your fresh and mild beverage, than by the strong liquors unfortunately much in fashion.”

Elizabeth Arnold Poe (Library of Congress).

Elizabeth Arnold Poe (Library of Congress).


A small theatre in the Garden offered dramatic tableaux; these proved to be exceedingly popular, due in part to the fact that the downtown Park Theatre (on Park Row near City Hall), was closed during the summer months. Martha Lamb, in A Neglected Corner of the Metropolis (1886), claims that in the summer of 1809, David Poe, Jr., and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, the parents of Edgar Allan Poe, made their first appearances in a New York theatre at Vauxhall in Fortune’s Frolic:

“‘She was young and pretty,’ the critics said, ‘and evinced talent both as a singer and an actress; but Poe was literally nothing.’”

Vauxhall Garden’s season ran from May through September. To keep out those who were “not genteel in character,” and to avoid use of the Garden simply as a place to promenade, Delacroix charged an admission fee of 2 shillings per person, which entitled the visitor to “one glass of any refreshment.” For his patrons’ convenience, and for a small fee, he engaged a special coach to make round trips from the City Hotel, located on Broadway and Cedar Street, to the Garden.

A View of the Balloon of Mr. Sadler’s Ascending, 1811. (loc.gov)

A View of the Balloon of Mr. Sadler’s Ascending, 1811. (loc.gov)

“As Gay a Place”

As early as 1806, huge crowds were drawn to Vauxhall Garden to see the popular balloon ascensions, and numbered nearly 20,000 for special events, especially for the elaborate Fourth of July fireworks spectacular. Delacroix’s advertisement in the Evening Post, June 24, 1805, gave a preview of the grand display that was to come.

The Evening Post, Monday, June 24, 1805 (click to enlarge)

The Evening Post, Monday, June 24, 1805 (click to enlarge)

Delacroix enjoyed 16 years of unparalleled success as owner of Vauxhall Garden. No doubt he would not be surprised to read the following, written nearly 100 years after his retirement in 1819:

“All the town flocked to it. It was to the New York of that day something like what Coney island is to the New York of today. The people of New York considered it to be about as gay a place of recreation as could be found anywhere.”

Lots Showing Original Sperry Land, n.d. collections.mcny.org. (Note location of Lafayette Place bisecting the garden)

Lots Showing Original Sperry Land, n.d. collections.mcny.org. (Note location of Lafayette Place at center)

Cut through the Heart: Lafayette Place Opens

The slow decline of Vauxhall Garden began after 1820; Delacroix’s son, Clement, who succeeded as owner, simply did not have the name cachet to attract the public.The greatest blow came in 1826, however, when John Jacob Astor opened broad Lafayette Place, which extended from Great Jones Street to Astor Place, and cut right through the heart of the establishment. The new street ran parallel to Broadway and the Bowery Road, thus reducing the Garden to half its original size. Joining coveted properties on Bleecker, Bond, and Great Jones Streets, Lafayette Place became a fashionable residential street, especially after fancy LaGrange Terrace was built in 1833.

Vauxhall Becomes Second-Class

After 1830, Vauxhall Gardens went through a series of managers, each of whom struggled unsuccessfully to restore its former glory. The entertainment was reduced to minstrel shows, low-budget concerts, and so-called “calico balls” (no society woman would be caught dead in calico). At various times it was the site of livestock fairs, a riding academy, a dancing school, and a place to test fire safes. The elite were drawn to more elegant and upscale destinations, such as Niblo’s Garden, which opened in 1828 on Broadway and Prince Street. By that time the patrons of Vauxhall were largely members of the working class, and rowdiness, drunkenness, and brawls between rival street gangs were regular occurrences. Complaints of disturbances of the peace became commonplace, especially on Sundays, when the din emanating from within the Garden’s walls interfered with neighboring church services. On July 11, 1843, a passerby complained of the loud music emanating from the Garden, as well as:

“… the loud hammering of the visitors upon the tables to attract the notices of the servants, the loud calls for ice cream, &c. So loud were the strains from the band that all four congregations must have been seriously disturbed, not to speak of the neighbors who might wish to enjoy a quiet Sabbath at home.”

P.T. Barnum, 1851. Hollis.Harvard.edu

P.T. Barnum, 1851. Harvard.edu



Barnum Has a Go

Even the showman and impresario Phineas (P.T.) Barnum tried his hand at resuscitating Vauxhall Garden. He leased the establishment from 1840 through 1841. His offerings included variety shows that featured low-budget, plebeian entertainment; in one instance he presented:

“Feats of Legerdemain and Necromancy [magic tricks and communicating with the deceased] by the wonderful young Sybil and Enchantress, Miss Wyman, only 14 years of age.”

But the meager profits earned after two seasons of managing Vauxhall Garden were not enough for the ambitious Barnum, who went on to more lucrative ventures.

The Last Nail in the Coffin

The event that no doubt doomed the Vauxhall Garden to its eventual demise was the Astor Place Riot on May 10, 1849, which took place outside the Astor Opera House, just steps away from Vauxhall. A violent encounter sparked by the rivalry between two actors, one British and one American, but reflective of the growing class tensions in New York, the melée left 22 dead and more that 150 injured. At least one of the wounded allegedly died on a billiard table in Vauxhall Garden.

"Great riot at the Astor Place opera house," 1849. NYPL.org.

“Great Riot at the Astor Place Opera House,” 1849. NYPL.org.

When the Astor Library (now the site of the Public Theatre) was built in 1853, Vauxhall Garden was whittled down to one eighth of its original size. The Bowery, lined with taverns, became the destination for those seeking risqué entertainment; the Garden ultimately was reduced to a shabby vaudeville and burlesque house and saloon, and became a popular site for political meetings. It closed in 1859, a victim of commercial ventures and the urbanization of New York City.

It is doubtful that the Tredwell family would have frequented Vauxhall Garden; its attractions were losing popularity among the elite by the time the family arrived at Fourth Street in 1835. They need only step into their back yard to hear the music, see the fireworks — and in the Garden’s waning years, be disturbed by the rowdiness of its clientele.


  • Bayles, William H. Old Taverns of New York. New York: Frank Allaben Genealogical Company, 1915. www.archive.org. Accessed 1/9/18.
  • Bristed, Charles Astor. The Upper Ten Thousand: Sketches of American Society. London: John W. Parker and Son, 1852. www.babel.hathitrust.org. Accessed 1/5/18.
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December 14, 2017

“This Fine Old Custom:” New Year’s Day “Calling” in Old New York

by Ann Haddad

The holidays often elicit memories of Christmases and New Year’s gone by, and of the family and friends who shared those joyful days. Let us venture beyond our own past for a moment and imagine a New Year’s Day at the Tredwell home on Fourth Street in the mid-19th century; for no doubt this New York family was celebrating what was considered to be the most important and festive day of the entire year.

A Day of Calling as Social Atonement

“New York without New Year’s would be like Rome without Christmas.” So wrote Matthew Hale Smith in his Sunshine and Shadow in New York (1879) of the unique custom of paying social calls on New Year’s Day. Dating to the arrival of the Dutch in New Amsterdam, this “day of social atonement,” served to redeem social sinners who had neglected family ties and friendships; visiting all the households within one’s circle was a way of renewing and strengthening old bonds. While the ladies remained at home to receive guests (indeed, no genteel woman would be seen on the streets on New Year’s Day), gentlemen ventured to the homes of esteemed women of their acquaintance, to pay their respects and offer good wishes for the New Year.

1789: His Excellency Approves

George Washington was introduced to this New Year’s Day custom in 1789, when, as newly elected President, he received calls from the elite gentlemen of New York society at his residence on Cherry Street. Upon being told that it was a tradition handed down by the Dutch forefathers, Washington remarked,

“The highly favored situation of your city will, in process of time, attract numerous emigrants, who will gradually change its ancient manners and customs, but never give up the cheerful, friendly observance of New Year’s Day.”

"New Year’s Day Among the Ancient Knickerbockers," Digital Collections, NYPL.

“New Year’s Day Among the Ancient Knickerbockers,” Digital Collections, NYPL.

Drawing on the Family Purse

To provide a dose of the generous hospitality for which New Yorkers were known, and to be ready for the onslaught of guests that would arrive on New Year’s Day, the entire Tredwell household was thrown into a frenzy of costly and elaborate preparations for several weeks in advance. The four servants were charged with cleaning the house from top to bottom; families sometimes went so far as to purchase new furniture, carpets, and curtains for the occasion.

As the matron of the house, Mrs. Tredwell oversaw the preparations of her New Year’s Day buffet; it must be elegant and luxurious, set with her finest china and silver, and ample enough to feed at least 100 callers. No doubt all the Tredwell women, as well as their four servants, rolled up their sleeves for the marathon baking, roasting, and brewing that was required. The lavish menu might include boned turkey; chicken salad; sandwiches; jellied tongue; pickled oysters; iced plum cakes and pound cakes; and macaroons, Dutch crullers, and other sweetmeats. The spread invariably included alcohol: wine, Madeira, or a festive whiskey punch. One popular brew, “Perfect Love,” was a whiskey, honey, and water concoction the origins of which can be traced back to early 17th century New England.

"New Year's Day" by Thomas Nast. Harpers Weekly, 1864.

“New Year’s Day.” Thomas Nast. Harpers Weekly, January 2, 1864.

. . . .


The Buffet

As the New Year’s Day calling ritual grew in popularity, New York City merchants were quick to seize the opportunity for profit by offering extravagant options for the buffet. Many city bakers sold special oversized “New Year’s Cakes,” and often made them available for viewing prior to the holiday, for a price. The following advertisement was noted in The Evening Post on December 22, 1838:

“The largest plum cake ever exhibited in America can be seen at Amelie’s Saloon, no. 395 Broadway. It is an immense mass of the richest materials, weighing over three thousands pounds, and is 18 inches larger in diameter than the cake of last year. It is deservedly called the “Ne Plus Ultra.” An elegant Grecian Temple, ornamented with exquisite taste, contains this luscious Monster. Admission to the cake 12 1/2 cents. The above cake will be cut on Monday next for New Year’s Day.”

As coffee was considered a necessary beverage at the buffet (perhaps as an antidote to all the alcohol consumed), newspaper advertisements for coffee urns were plentiful in December. One creative merchant, Boardman and Hart, on Burling Slip, offered the following ditty as an enticement to shoppers in 1837:

“And while the bubbling loud and hissing Urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cup
That cheers, but not inebriated, waits on each
So let us welcome cheerful New Year in.”

Bedecked and Bejeweled

Holiday Dresses. Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1859.

Holiday Dresses. Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1859.

Equally as important as the buffet to the fashionable New York women of means was their attire. Magnificent new dresses were commissioned from the dressmaker, and new or cherished jewels proudly worn. Hairdressers were in high demand, and often arrived at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to work their magic:

“From twelve o’clock midnight till twelve o’clock noon, New Year’s, the lady with the ornamented head-top maintains her upright position, like a sleepy traveler in a railroad car, because lying down under such circumstances is out of the question.”

One can only imagine the scene of mayhem in the Tredwell household on New Year’s Day morning, with the cooks toiling in the kitchen, the two other servants assisting the six daughters with their toilettes, and
Mrs. Tredwell running up and down stairs supervising it all!

Calling as a Military Campaign

Card Case, 1800-1850, MHM 2002.3225

Card Case, 1800-1850, MHM 2002.3225

. . . .

Gentlemen (with the exception of the newly-married, who would remain behind with their wives to receive), made their calls between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. They carried their list of addresses, and a full supply of calling cards, which conformed to a certain standard:

“A gentleman’s visiting card should be small, plain, ungilt, and unglazed. Have your name engraved distinctly in neat characters. Never have your card printed.”

Seabury Tredwell, who perhaps made calls with his sons Horace and Samuel Lenox, no doubt considered a pair of comfortable shoes to be a necessity if he was to travel on foot to all the homes on his list. In 1866, John Ward, who lived near the Tredwells, related his New Year’s Day travels in his diary:

“Called at 107 houses, leaving cards at 36 of them, and finding 71 at home. Started at Washington Square, thence to Bond St, up 2nd to 17th, to Union Square, down the east side to 10th St, up the West Side to 21st, then back and forth, east and west of Fifth Avenue until we reached 47th Street.”

In a satirical piece published in the Long Island Star in January 1845, one energetic young man related to a friend how he managed to make 184 calls between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.:

“Twelve hours multiplied by 60, shew (sic) 720 minutes — 720 minutes divided by 4, shew 180 visits, four minutes to a visit; and so I went by calculation.”

Men's Fashions, "Il Gionale dei Sarti," August 1853

Men’s Fashions, “Il Gionale dei Sarti,” August 1853

Another young New Yorker, Richard Stoddard, likened his New Year’s Day calling adventure to a military campaign:

“So the campaign opened, and so the engagement went on … Recruits of eighteen and twenty may have blundered somewhat in their drill before the Day was over, but old soldiers of twenty-four pressed on unflinchingly until nightfall. We were brave, we were young, we were light-hearted, and if we had a little headache in the morning we didn’t mind it much.”

On New Year’s Day, 1844, diarist Philip Hone (1780-1851), former New York City Mayor, merchant, and philanthropist, set out from his home on Broadway and Great Jones Street (one block from the Tredwells):

“I was out more than five hours, and my girls tell me they received one hundred and sixty-nine visits. This fine old custom, almost peculiar to New York, does not lose favor in the eyes of our citizens.”

In the event of bad weather, and as the city boundaries extended, gentlemen might opt to hire a pair of horses from a livery stable to make their rounds, or hire a carriage driver, who would of course raise his prices, charging up to $50 for the day’s service. The city presented a general spectacle, as Matthew Hale Smith noted in 1879:

“With its sidewalks crowded with finely-dressed men, its streets thronged with the gayest and most sumptuous equipages the city can boast, the whole looks like a carnival.”

The Ladies Were “Monstrously Dignified”

F.O.C. Darley. Mrs. Pegu, 1859. www.harpweek.com.

F.O.C. Darley. Mrs. Pegu, 1859. www.harpweek.com.

Upon arrival at the Tredwell house, a gentleman presented his card to a servant bearing a silver tray; he was then escorted into the formal Greek Revival double parlor. (He would not be invited to remove his coat.) There he was greeted with a curtsy by the ladies of the house, and he bowed in return. Mrs. Tredwell, as hostess, invited him to partake of the buffet, and he politely nibbled on an oyster or a piece of cake, and enjoyed a cup of punch. Then conversation would ensue; approved topics included the weather, compliments on the finery of the women, and the elaborateness of the buffet. After about five minutes, the gentleman was off to his next call. Social etiquette prohibited any variation from this protocol. In 1842, young Theodore Cuyler wrote to his aunt of the Misses Chauncey he had met:

“Oh! what Paragons! worth about $150,000 apiece – tall – handsome – intellectual – good tempered – and so monstrously dignified that the slightest faux pas in etiquette would throw them into convulsions.”

No doubt a certain amount of flirting (out of earshot of the ladies’ mother) took place between the young single ladies and gentlemen. In 1861, John Ward wrote:

“I complimented Miss Julia [Carville] on her personal appearance and she replied that I was at my old ways again and wished she could hear what I said to the next lady if she could be behind a door!”

Too Much of a Good Thing

As the population surged and social circles widened, the number of calls made by elite gentlemen increased, and the effects of over-consumption of alcohol became more apparent. (The pro-Temperance set had warned against serving “the deadly poison” on New Year’s Day for years.) Etiquette was ignored, artifice replaced honest sentiment, and women were shocked and embarrassed by the men’s behavior. In her novel, Rose in Bloom (1876), Louisa May Alcott depicts the heartbreaking disappointment endured by her heroine, Rose, when her beloved cousin Charlie breaks his promise and returns to her inebriated after a day of New Year’s calls:

“O Charlie! How could you do it! How could you when you promised?”

Gentlemen’s New Year’s Calling Card, 1877. www.npr.org.

Gentlemen’s New Year’s Calling Card, 1877. www.npr.org.

. . .

Another practice that horrified society women on New Year’s Day as the century wore on was the increasingly prevalent calling on the part of utter strangers. Young men who worked together amassed in large groups to descend on the homes of their unsuspecting employers. In 1867, the New York Daily Herald reported that the wild parties:

“… swept through he streets, clearing the tables of everything edible, evaporating all the liquors, smoking all the cigars. One of these parties, numbering a full forty men – called the “Dead Beat Club,” called at several aristocratic mansions, and to the horror of the ladies who did the honors, fairly cleared the table before the day was half spent.”

By the 1880s, many women chose to retreat behind closed doors and instead placed baskets on their door knobs for the gentlemen’s cards.

An “Antiquated” Knickerbocker Custom

New Year’s Day Dinner Menu, Hotel Marlborough (New York City), 1894. Digital Collections, NYPL.

New Year’s Day Dinner Menu, Hotel Marlborough (New York City), 1894. Digital Collections, NYPL.

. . . .

As New York City extended its boundaries further north and the population boomed, it became impossible to maintain the intimacy of the New Year’s Day custom. By 1891, the New York Times called the tradition “antiquated,” ultimately giving way to the celebration of New Year’s Eve. Dinner parties, either at home or in restaurants, became de rigueur for New Year’s Day celebrations. The wealthy members of the upper class often escaped to their country homes for the holiday, only to return after the first of the year for the “winter season.” Edith Wharton references the demise of the custom among the social elite in her novella, New Year’s Day:

“… Mrs. Henry van der Leyden had clung to it … long after her friends had closed their doors on the first of January, and the date had been chosen for those out-of-town parties which are so often used as a pretext for absence when the unfashionable are celebrating their rites.”

In 1894, New Yorker Edgar Fawcett wrote:

“Christmas yet reigns, but her sister holiday is annulled and forgotten. And among the few mourners that survive her I confess myself one of the sincerest.”

Evelina Nack’s Autograph Album, 1852-53, New-York Historical Society.

Evelina Nack’s Autograph Album, 1852-53, New-York Historical Society.

Perhaps we should recall the words of New York poet James Nack (1809-1879), who in 1852 wrote a poem for his daughter Evelina, A New Year’s Greeting to My Daughter, which begins:

“So it is gone! another year!
A drop of time lost in the sea
Of dark and deep eternity,
In which we all must disappear!
Well, since so transient our career,
The blessings that attend our way
May precious grow with every day!”

At the Merchant’s House Museum, we continue the 19th century tradition of renewing, reviving, and reaffirming friendships on New Year’s Day. Please join us on Monday, January 1, from 2 to 5 p.m. for tours of the house, 19th century readings about New Year’s Day celebrations, and punch and confectionery.

Happy New Year!


  • Alcott, Louisa May. Rose in Bloom. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876.
  • An American Gentleman. True Politeness. A Handbook of Etiquette for Gentlemen. New York: Leavitt and Allen, 1848. NYHS BJ 1855. T9.
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  • Knapp, Mary. An Old Merchant’s House. Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
  • Lyman, Susan E.. “New Year’s Day in 1861.” New York Historical Society Quarterly, January, 1944, p. 21-28:
  • Morrell Family Papers, Box 1. Manuscripts Division. New-York Historical Society.
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  • Nevins, Allan and Milton Halsey Thomas, eds. The Diary Of George Templeton Strong. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1988.
  • The Evening Post, 27 Dec 1815, Wed, Page 2. newspapers.com, accessed 11/29/17.
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  • Pintard Papers, Box 7, Folder 8. Manuscripts Division. New-York Historical Society.
  • Smith, Matthew Hale. Sunshine and Shadow in New York. Hartford, CT: J.B. Burr and Co., 1879. internetarchive.org. accessed 12/5/17.
  • Stoddard, Richard Henry. New Year’s Day Half a Century Ago. New York: Bacheller, Johnson & Bacheller. [1896] New-York Historical Society. Pamph GT 4905.S76 1896.
  • Tuckermam, Bayard. The Diary Of Philip Hone, 1828-1851, Volume 1and 2. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1889.
  • Wharton, Edith. “New Year’s Day,” in Old New York. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1924.
  • Yates, Donald. “Beginning Tavern History,” Bottles and Extras, May-June, 2007, p. 38. www.fohbc.org. accessed 12/4/17.
August 21, 2017

Nature for Ladies: The Victorian Art of Flower & Seaweed Pressing

by Ann Haddad

Escaping the Summer Heat

As city dwellers do today, many 19th century New Yorkers desired to escape the wretched summer heat and humidity by retreating to the seaside or country for the fresh air and cooler temperatures. For the Tredwells, that usually meant traveling to Rumson, New Jersey, where they relaxed at their 850-acre farm near the ocean. But the summer of 1865 must have been a difficult time for the family. Their grief over the loss of Seabury Tredwell in March surely was still fresh, and they were only four months into their one-year mourning period.

White Mountain Station House, J.R. Hitchcock and Co., c. 1860, lithograph. Museum of the White Mountains, Plymouth State University.

White Mountain Station House, J.R. Hitchcock and Co., c. 1860, lithograph. Museum of the White Mountains, Plymouth State University.

A Change of Scenery

Perhaps that is why, in July 1865, 24-year-old Gertrude, no doubt along with other family members, chose a new destination. Instead of, or in addition to, summering in Rumson, they ventured to both the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and Northampton, Massachusetts. Popular tourist attractions in the mid-to-late 19th century, the White Mountains in particular drew many celebrated visitors, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, painter Thomas Cole, and Mary Todd Lincoln who, along with her son Robert, journeyed there in 1863. Northampton was called the “loveliest village of America” by The New York Times in 1865.

A Long Journey

Gertrude and her entourage could have taken two routes to reach the White Mountains. One was to hire a carriage to bring them to Peck Slip on the East River in lower Manhattan. There they would board the 3:15 p.m. steamer and travel to New Haven, Connecticut, then switch to the New Haven Railroad and later, a stagecoach, which would bring them to the White Mountains. Or, the carriage driver may have been directed to the New Haven Railroad depot at Fourth Avenue and 27th Street, where the group would board the 12:15 p.m. train and travel exclusively by rail. Either way, the day-long journey necessitated an overnight lodging, usually in Springfield, Massachusetts.

After spending a week or two enjoying the beauty of nature in the White Mountains, Gertrude and her fellow travelers made the return trip by rail, stopping for a time in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her party ascended Mt. Holyoke. Here she enjoyed another idyllic mountain scene, and the quiet beauty of the Connecticut River Valley, before returning home.

The Ox Bow of the Connecticut River from Mount Holyoke by Victor de Graily, ca. 1840.

The Ox Bow of the Connecticut River from Mount Holyoke by Victor de Graily, ca. 1840.

A Bounty in the Archives

How do we know for certain that Gertrude visited the White Mountains and Northampton in July 1865? The Tredwell Archives at the Merchant’s House Museum contain a large collection of pressed flowers and seaweed, both mounted in scrapbooks and on loose leaves, dating from 1858 to 1876. The scrapbooks bear Gertrude’s name and she made notations on several of the pages indicating where the specimens were obtained, such as “Mt. Holyoke,” “Northampton,” and “White Mountains.” They were dated either July 1865, or July 20, 1865.


Mother-Daughter Time

We are not certain if all of the pressings in the extraordinary collection were made by Gertrude. Her sisters may also have enjoyed the hobby. But we do know that both scrapbooks of pressed flowers, ferns, and seaweed bear her name; and many individual pages bear the initials “E.T,” and “E.E.T.” This can only be Gertrude’s mother, Eliza Earle Tredwell. Perhaps Gertrude developed her obvious passion for the craft from her mother; it may have been an activity they pursued and delighted in together.

(Click to enlarge.)

A Victorian Pastime

In the mid-19th century, flower pressing emerged as one of the most popular pastimes for Victorian middle and upper class women. With plenty of time on their hands, and no dearth of resources, they sought to explore their artistic side in unique ways. Wishing to be part of the skyrocketing craze for natural history at that time, yet restricted by virtue of their sex, many women found the art of identifying and collecting plant specimens to be a respectable way of examining the natural world, improving their scientific knowledge, and preserving the beauty around them. It became an acceptable way for women to merge the natural world with the domestic one; respect for nature was also viewed as a Christian road to God. A woman given to this pastime would pride herself on her “herbarium,” or collection of flora.

Women also pressed flowers for sentimental and romantic reasons. The flora pressed into a book or album served as a remembrance of a particular person or event; for Gertrude, her scrapbook also served in part as a travel log.

A Kindred Spirit

One well-known herbarium maker was the poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), who as a young girl pressed many specimens into a bound album, much like the ones created by Gertrude. In an 1845 letter to a friend, Emily wrote, “Have you made an herbarium yet? I hope you will if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you; most all the girls are making one.”

It is pleasant to imagine Gertrude and Emily (who lived only 10 miles away in Amherst) meeting on Mt. Holyoke as they pursued their shared passion!

How It Was Done

In order to maintain the freshness and vibrant color of the florals, Gertrude or Eliza purchased a wooden field press. Many stationers quickly caught on to the popularity of the hobby and rushed to stock presses and other needed supplies, such as paper and glue. For those who desired to learn the craft, popular magazines often published instructions, especially in the fall when the brilliant colors of the autumn foliage would inspire collecting.

Picking the flowers late in the afternoon ensured that all the dew had dried. They were then placed between sheets of blotting paper and pressed with a crank or straps to tighten and flatten the specimen. Once dried, the flowers were glued, sewn, or attached onto paper (which was plentiful and inexpensive during the Industrial Revolution), silk, velvet, or other fabric. Gertrude kept hers in a scrapbook; framing under glass was also a popular way to exhibit one’s work. Or the flowers could be pressed between the pages of a beloved book or family Bible.

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Many of the specimens in the Merchant’s House Museum collection are of delicate, intricately-patterned seaweed, probably gathered at the shore in New Jersey. Readily available, especially for women who spent summers at the seaside, seaweed emits a sticky, gelatinous substance when pressed, thereby eliminating the need for glue when mounting. The pungent smell subsided once the specimen was pressed. Seaweed presented an artistic and technical challenge (even for devotees such as Queen Victoria), for one had to work very carefully to avoid disrupting its complex structure. Added to that was the difficulty of wading into the water wearing heavy Victorian garb. The noted seaweed collector Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) recommended that “seaweeders” wear heavy men’s boots when wading: “Feel all the luxury of not having to be afraid of your boots.”

The collection also includes ferns gathered along the banks of the Shrewsbury River near to the family farm, as well as several specimens marked “Harlem,” reflecting the rural nature of that part of New York City in the mid-19th century.

Patience, Patience

One has to only glance at the Tredwells’ collection of pressed flora to realize the extraordinary precision, patience, and technical skill that was required to arrange the delicate specimens, especially the seaweed. Indeed, in a New York Times article from 1874, the reader is cautioned that seaweed pressing requires:


(Click to enlarge.)

“… the greatest delicacy of touch and the most absolute attention. It would not be a bad idea to serve a preliminary apprenticeship at lace-making.”

Although they did not label their specimens, both Gertrude and Eliza created unique arrangements that are works of art. It must have taken hours to do such painstaking work; clearly both women loved exercising their artistic talents in this manner. Many of the flowers still retain their bright colors because they have had little exposure to light.


It is uncertain if the trip to the White Mountains in July 1865 was the family’s first; they did make subsequent trips to the area, but none of the other pressings are marked as having been collected there. The latest specimen that bears Eliza’s name is dated August 24, 1876, and was collected from Seabright (another name for Rumson), when she was 79 years old! Eliza would die 6 years later, in 1882. We do not know how long Gertrude continued to enjoy the craft of flower pressing, or whether she derived joy from looking through the albums in later years. We like to think that they evoked sweet memories of happy days, and of her mother.


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April 9, 2017

“Days of Sorrow, Days of Rejoicing:” Elizabeth Tredwell & Effingham Nichols

by Ann Haddad

Bells Are Ringing!

Piano Book (MHM 2005.6100).

The magnificent row house on Fourth Street was surely buzzing with excitement on the morning of Wednesday, April 9, 1845, for it marked a Tredwell milestone: the first family wedding! Seabury and Eliza’s eldest child, 23-year-old Elizabeth Seabury, was about to tie the knot.

Born on July 23, 1821, in the Tredwells’ first home at 34 Cedar Street, Elizabeth was baptized on August 18 at St. George’s Chapel, then located at Beekman Street. She, like four of her sisters, attended the fashionably elite Mrs. Okill’s Academy, located at 8-10 Clinton Street (now 8th Street). In addition to the usual academic subjects, Elizabeth was instructed in the French language and in music, two skills considered essential to a young woman’s education. The Tredwell Books Collection contains one of Elizabeth’s music books, Instructions for the Attainment of the Art of Playing the Piano Forte, which was most likely also used by her sisters.

The Nichols Family: An Excellent Lineage

Elizabeth’s “finishing school” education was the preparation for the roles she was predestined to assume within the elite society in which she was raised, that of wife and mother. Meanwhile, the young man to whom she would one day be wed was being educated by a private tutor so that he would follow in his father’s footsteps and attend Yale University.

Effingham Howard Nichols, born on November 17, 1821, was surely considered a suitable match for Elizabeth; he came from a prominent New York family, counting among his ancestors Sir Richard Nichols, the first English Governor of New York. His father, Reverend Samuel Nichols, was an Episcopal clergyman and rector of St. Matthew’s Church in Bedford, New York, where Effingham was born. Effingham Howard Warner, his uncle and namesake, was one of the founders of St. Bartholomew’s Church. His mother, Susan Nexen Warner, was the daughter of millionaire George James Warner, who lived on Fourth Street and the Bowery, and owned a substantial amount of property in the neighborhood, including at one time the land on which the Tredwell home was built.

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1841, Effingham commenced the study of law, working as a clerk until 1843, when his opened his own law practice at 7 Nassau Street.

Effingham H. Nichols NYS Law License, Issued May 18, 1844. (Nichols Family Papers, NYHS).

Effingham H. Nichols NYS Law License, Issued May 18, 1844. (Nichols Family Papers, NYHS).

A Fashionable Wedding

We do not know when or how Elizabeth was introduced to Effingham. Most likely they met through their parents’ friends or through Seabury’s business associates. Alas, no written record exists of the couple’s courtship and wedding. (For a thorough and revealing discussion of the strict rituals of mid-19th century courtship, see Chapter 9, “A Fine Romance,” in Mary L. Knapp’s An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City,1835-65.)

Elizabeth Tredwell (MHM 2002.0114)

Elizabeth Tredwell (MHM 2002.0114)

Effingham Nichols (MHM 2002.0122)

Wedding Dress, American, 1845-50. (Metropolitan Museum).

Wedding Dress, American, 1845-50. (Metropolitan Museum).

The couple were wed by the groom’s father on April 9, 1845, at St. Bartholomew’s Church, then located at Great Jones and Lafayette Place. It is likely that after the church ceremony, the Tredwell family hosted a wedding reception for family and friends in their Greek Revival double parlor.

Elizabeth, undoubtedly aware of the new trend begun five years earlier by Queen Victoria upon her wedding to Prince Albert, may have worn a white or cream colored wedding dress. Godey’s Lady’s Book, a popular women’s magazine that was the arbiter of fashion and taste, wrote of the color in 1849:

“It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one.”

 Custom also dictated the bridal dress be made of satin and the veil be of Brussels lace “… well enough for city drawing-rooms;” the wreath and bouquet be composed of white flowers (although orange blossoms were popular); and white silk stockings and satin slippers finish the bride’s ensemble. Only a wealthy man like Seabury Tredwell would have been able to afford such finery for his daughter.

The Heiress Is Born!

Lillie Nichols, ca. 1856 (MHM 2002.0242)

Lillie Nichols, ca. 1856 (MHM 2002.0242)

In keeping with the tradition of the time, wherein newlyweds lived with the bride’s family while the groom established his career, the couple resided with Elizabeth’s parents on Fourth Street. Nine years later, on October 30, 1854, their first and only child, Elizabeth Howard “Lillie” Nichols, was born. Elizabeth was 33 years old. Phebe, one of Elizabeth’s sisters, recounted the birth in a surviving letter to her younger sisters, who were at the Tredwell family farm in Rumson, New Jersey:

“The Doctor came at 8 oc in the morning and did not leave until about 8 in the evening. I suppose you are very anxious to see the little stranger, she looks just like the Nichols light hair fair complexion and long fingers just like her daddy. She is the best little thing, and handsomest little creature you ever saw.”

In the early to mid-19th century it would have been highly unusual that nine years would pass before the birth of a couple’s first child. According to historian Judith Walzer Leavitt, in this period an American woman gave birth to an average of seven live children. As motherhood largely defined a woman’s identity, childlessness was usually explained by the high rate of miscarriage and stillbirth during the Antebellum period.

Real Estate Speculator

In addition to his law practice, Effingham became caught up in the mid-19th century Brooklyn real estate boom, in the area now known as the Fort Greene Historic District. Easily accessible to Manhattan by steamboat, the neighborhood attracted the burgeoning middle-class population who took up residence in the new three and four-story brownstone row houses. Between 1851 and 1859, Effingham bought and sold at least seven properties in the area; in 1859, after living for 14 years under Seabury’s roof, Effingham, Elizabeth, and five-year-old Lillie moved to the Brooklyn neighborhood.

Neighbors of the Astors

Between his real estate investments and his law practice, Effingham must have achieved considerable wealth, for in 1864 he followed other members of the fashionable upper class and relocated his family and four Irish servants to a brownstone at 339 Fifth Avenue, at 33rd Street. Several members of the Astor family, including Mr. And Mrs. William Backhouse Astor II, were neighbors at nearby 350 Fifth Avenue (now the site of the Empire State Building), an address that would become the epicenter of New York society, with Caroline Astor as its Queen.

The Nichols’ Fifth Avenue home was known to many Yale graduates for its warm and generous hospitality, for Effingham, described by his colleagues as “a delightful host and companion,” was devoted to his Alma Mater and served actively on the Fairfield County Alumni Association of Yale University. Sadly, the Nichol’s home was one of three brownstones torn down in 1890, nine years after Effingham sold it.

Railroad Baron

Beginning in 1865, Effingham switched his career path from personal law to corporate counsel for the Pacific Railroad and other large railroad enterprises. His involvement, from 1867 to the spring of 1873, necessitated him spending a large portion of his time in Washington, D.C. He had become a wealthy financier with an outstanding reputation among his peers as “a man of force, who strongly influenced his business associates.”

 In his later years, Effingham sold his railroad interests to devote more time to real estate law, and to the management of family interests, notably, the settlement of Seabury’s estate.

Country and City Pastimes

Leland House, Schroon Lake, NY. (Nichols Family Papers, NYHS).

Leland House, Schroon Lake, NY. (Nichols Family Papers, NYHS).

The Nichols family, in addition to spending summers at Greenfield Hill, Connecticut, where Effingham’s extended family resided, vacationed at Leland House, a grand hotel on Schroon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. They clearly left their mark on the town. Effingham was instrumental in the building of St. Andrew’s Chapel, serving as a warden from its founding in 1880 through at least 1885. He also financed the building, in 1870, of the “Effingham,” the first steam-driven commercial freight and passenger boat on Schroon Lake. In the Adirondacks, Effingham cultivated a deep love of the natural world. He also possessed an artistic nature, and was an occasional writer of prose and poetry. In New York City, he was a member of the Union League Club and the London Society of Science and Art, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Design.

Elizabeth’s Health Fails

The frequent trips to Schroon Lake were most likely attempts to restore Elizabeth’s health. We do not know when she developed the chronic bronchitis that would eventually take her life. A letter from Effingham to his father, dated July 27, 1873, from the Adirondack Mountains indicates that at age 52 she was already ill:

“Elizabeth I think is improving a little. Her fever has left her. But her cough still continues.”

 In another undated letter, Effingham expresses growing concern about Elizabeth:

“Early in the evening the Doctor (Horne of NY) thought she might not live through the night. But she has rallied some and now he thinks we may be able to move her to NY if she continues to rally for three or four days. Poor Lillie has ten times the nerve that I have. It is very sad indeed.”

“A World of Sorrow”

In 1878, writing to Elizabeth’s sister Julia from Schroon Lake, Effingham’s tone is despairing and melancholy:

“Elizabeth is very, very weak. It is very doubtful about being able to move her. This is indeed a world of sorrow.”

Elizabeth was 58 years old when she died on January 7, 1880, at her home at 339 Fifth Avenue. She was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Lillie was 25 years old at the time of her mother’s death.

In October 1881, Effingham wed Caroline Robins of Metuchen, New Jersey. He and his new wife moved to 620 Fifth Avenue, at 50th Street, and then in 1895 to Park Avenue and 75th Street, where he lived until his death. He died at the age of 77 on November 4, 1899, at his summer home in Greenfield Hill, Connecticut.

Lillie never married; she died in 1944 at the age of 90. It was she who inherited the Tredwell home on Fourth Street after her aunt Gertrude’s death; she then sold it to George Chapman in 1934. Thus the Merchant’s House Museum was born.

Reflecting on his life in an essay published in University Magazine in 1892, Effingham wrote:

“Providence has thus far dealt gently with me. I have met with fortune and misfortune, with days of sorrow and days of rejoicing; but my blessings have been greater than I deserved.”

A Lasting Union

Railroad Depot, Effingham, KA, 1958. (www.thenewsleaf.com).

Railroad Depot, Effingham, KA, 1958. (www.thenewsleaf.com).

Although we have no written testimony that sheds light on the marriage of Elizabeth and Effingham, it is apparent from his letters and work on their behalf that Effingham bore deep affection and concern for his wife and her family. The marriage, ended only by death, lasted 35 years.

In 1868, Effingham Howard Nichols had had the distinction of having a town, Effingham, Kansas, named in his honor. As a promoter of the Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad, he was instrumental in the growth of the town. Effingham no doubt was privileged to name at least three of the streets, for they bear the names Seabury, Howard, and most endearingly, Elizabeth.


  • ancestry.com. U.S. Newspaper Extractions from the Northeast, 1704-1930. New York Evening Post, 11 April, 1845. Accessed online 3/30/17.
  • ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995. Accessed online 3/30/17.
  • Godey’s Lady’s Book.Etiquette of Trousseau,” August, 1849. www.godeysladysbook.com. Accessed online 4/3/17.
  • King, Greg. A Season of Splendor: The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009.
  • Knapp, Mary. An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65. New York: Girandole Books, 2012.
  • Levitt, Judith Walzer. Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America, 1750-1950. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Fort Greene Historic District Designation Report. September 26, 1978. www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/FortGreene_DR.pdf. Accessed online 3/31/17.
  • Nichols Family Papers, 1810-1833. Manuscript Collection, New-York Historical Society.
  • Post-Standard, 28 September 1972, p. 30. www.newspapers.com. Accessed online 4/4/17.
  • Proceedings of the New York State Bar Association. Albany, New York, January 15-16, 1901, p. 364. Accessed online 4/4/17.
  • Town & Country, Vol 79, p.14., September 1, 1922. Accessed online 3/29/17.
  • Yale University. Obituary Records of the Graduates of Yale University Deceased from June,1890 – June, 1900. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1902, p. 672. Accessed online 3/29/17.
  • Yale University. University Magazine, Vol. 4, 1892, p. 49-51. Effingham Nichols File, Merchant’s House Museum Archives.
  • Yale University Class of 1841. Semi-centennial Historical and Biographical Record. New Haven: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1892, p.152-156. Accessed online 3/29/17.
February 10, 2017

The Man That Got Away: Gertrude’s Lost Sweetheart

by Ann Haddad

Dance Card, February 14, 1849, MHM 2002.4601.66a

An Abundance of Daughters

By anyone’s measure in antebellum New York City, the Tredwell daughters would have been viewed as highly desirable marriage prospects. As the children of Seabury Tredwell, a wealthy merchant with a fine home in the elite Bond Street neighborhood, they stood to inherit a portion of their father’s estimable worth. They counted among their social circle other members of the New York City upper class, and would have mingled with many eligible young men at the frequent soirées held at one another’s homes, or at other socially acceptable venues.

Party Girls

The Museum archives contain several items, including dance cards and playbills, that provide a glimpse of the Tredwell daughters’ social whirl. One is a silver Valentine’s Day dance card from the “Junior Bachelor’s Third and Last Soirée,” dated February 14, 1849. The lovely dresses in the Museum’s collection that belonged to the sisters indicate that they had the means and the sophisticated taste to keep up with fashion trends.

A Gentleman Caller

Gertrude Ellsworth Tredwell, born in 1840, was the youngest child of Seabury and Eliza. Family lore has it that when she was a young woman, Gertrude had a suitor whose name was Luis Walton. We don’t know if Luis ever had the opportunity to enter the Tredwells’ formal Greek Revival parlor to meet Gertrude’s father, and perhaps ask for her hand in marriage; however, we can be fairly certain the young man had three strikes against him. First, Luis’ father was a physician, from England. Physicians, especially those trained in England, were held in much lower esteem than they are today. Moreover, Seabury, a believer in homeopathy (see my blog post of October 18, 2016), might well have cringed at the idea of an allopath like Luis’s father becoming a member of his family. Second, Luis and his family were Roman Catholic. The Tredwell family came from a long line of staunch Episcopalians, and anti-Catholic prejudice ran deep in antebellum New York.

Thomas Nast. "The American River Ganges." Harper's Weekly, 1875. (commons.m.wikimedia.org)

Anti-Catholic political cartoon by Thomas Nast. Harper’s Weekly, 1875. (commons.m.wikimedia.org)

Finally, his mother was Irish; well, the Tredwell servants were Irish! The Irish were on the lowest rung of the social ladder; the contempt towards members of this large immigrant group was strenuous and prevalent. Surely, Luis could not expect to meet Seabury’s high standards of eligibility for Gertrude’s hand in marriage. And so, after his brief appearance on the Tredwell stage, Luis Walton vanished forever. Or did he?

A Liverpool Lad

Luis Puertas Richard Walton was born in Liverpool, England on November 18, 1840. The England census record of 1841 indicates that at the time of Luis’s birth, the family had a boarder named Luis Puertas, who was listed as a “cigar dealer from foreign parts.” This must have been Luis Walton’s namesake!

Luis’s father, Henry Christmas Walton, was a licensed physician and apothecary. His mother, Elizabeth, was from Ireland. In 1849, Luis was baptized Roman Catholic at the Church of St. Peter in Liverpool.

A Neighborhood Boy

Life must have been difficult for the Walton family, for in 1844 Dr. Henry Walton declared bankruptcy in London. This may be what compelled him to immigrate to New York City in 1850 with his wife and four children, when Luis was 10 years old. The family’s first identified residence was on 590 Houston Street, on the corner of Mercer Street, a short walk from the Tredwell home on East Fourth Street. From there they moved to West 10th Street.  By 1860, the family was comfortably ensconced in their own home on 37 West 16th Street, with five servants in their employ, indicating that the family’s financial situation must have vastly improved. We don’t know if Seabury was aware of their good fortune, but the young man’s religious and cultural disadvantages most likely prevailed in Seabury’s consideration of him as a potential son-in-law.

Luis Walton, 1861

Luis Walton, 1861

On to Medical School

We can only guess that Gertrude and Luis, living in such close proximity to one another, met somewhere in the neighborhood through mutual friends. We don’t know if they saw each other once Seabury expressed his disapproval. Luis may have been discouraged, but he clearly wanted to make something of his life. He pursued an education at Columbia College (then at Madison Avenue and 49th Street), earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1861, and three years later a Masters of Arts degree from the same institution. In 1870, after a two year course of study, he received his M.D. from the prestigious Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (then located at 4th Avenue and 23rd Street). His father was one of his preceptors during his medical training.


A Successful Medical Career

Luis became a successful physician in New York City. After medical school, he resided and practiced for several years on West 17th Street; he then lived at various residences in the West 30s, until his final move to 73 West 50th Street, where he lived and maintained a lucrative general practice until his death. No doubt he followed his well-off private patients as they moved further uptown. He was a member of the Medical Society of the County of New York (1888-1903), as well as the New York Clinical Society.

Dr. Luis Walton (on right), with Dr. and Mrs. Edward Trudeau, circa 1880. (https://localwiki.org).

Dr. Luis Walton (on right), with Dr. and Mrs. Edward Trudeau, circa 1880. (https://localwiki.org).

Friendship with Edward Livingston Trudeau

In addition to his private practice, Luis served as an Attending Physician at both the Northern Dispensary (at Christopher Street and Waverly Place), and the Demilt Dispensary (at Second Avenue and East 23rd Street), charitable institutions that provided care to the poor and destitute of New York City. One of his colleagues at Demilt, who co-taught a class on diseases of the chest, was public health pioneer Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915). Trudeau, himself a victim of tuberculosis, would in 1885 establish a famous sanatorium for victims of the disease in Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Mountains and, several years later, the first laboratory in the United States dedicated to the study of tuberculosis. In his autobiography, Trudeau makes frequent mention of Luis Walton, and credits his friend with drawing his attention to the work of the German physician Dr. Hermann Brehmer in establishing the practice of open-air treatment for tuberculosis. On a more personal level, Trudeau reveals Walton’s frequent calls and assistance during his bouts of illness:

“Dr. Walton was the greatest comfort at that time, and assured me he would look after my wife and ‘those dreadful little Trudeau brats,’ and he certainly kept his word. Walton all through the summer made regular pilgrimages to Little Neck [where Trudeau’s family stayed while he was recuperating in the Adirondacks], and reported to me of their welfare, while assuring me what a nuisance it was to have to look after another man’s family.”

Luis Walton Obituary. New York Herald, September 9, 1903.

Oh, to Be in England

Luis clearly loved the country of his birth. An avid Anglophile, he was a member of the prestigious St. George’s Society of New York, a charitable organization that offered assistance to those born under the British flag. He also made frequent excursions to London, where he was a member of the elite Bath Club in Piccadilly. On September 8, 1903, after a swim at the Club, Luis died suddenly. He was 62 years old. His death was attributed to longstanding heart disease. He was buried at Kendal Green Cemetery in London. He left his estate to his surviving sister, Lucy Walton Mooney. The obituaries in professional journals that appeared at his death indicate that he was a highly esteemed physician, with a kindly manner and a deep compassion for his patients.


Lovers Apart?

We do not know the extent to which Gertrude and Luis maintained any relationship through the years. They must have corresponded with one another, for Gertrude referred to him in a letter to her nephew John T. Richards, dated November 18, 1924:

You know Dr. Walton had “Angina Pectoris” but he lived for years with it – Strained himself climbing the Alps.”

Gertrude also kept in touch with at least one member of Luis’s family. The law firm hired by Gertrude and Julia to manage the estate of Sarah and Phebe Tredwell upon their deaths in 1906 and 1907 was Blandy, Mooney, and Shipman. The Mooney is Edmund Luis Mooney, a nephew of Luis Walton, who was with him in London at the time of his death. Coincidence? What do you think?

Gertrude Tredwell (1840-1933), MHM 2002.0200

Luis Walton (1840-1903), MHM 2002.0210

Luis Walton (1840-1903),
MHM 2002.0210

19th Century Valentine, MHM 2002.4606.43

19th Century Valentine, MHM 2002.4606.43

Assuming that Seabury’s disapproval of Luis is what precipitated the young man’s disappearance from Gertrude’s life, what kept the couple apart after Seabury’s death in 1865? Why did Gertrude never marry? Tradition has it that she vowed that if she couldn’t wed Luis, she would never marry. Perhaps her mother and older siblings were as much against the marriage as her father had been. Gertrude may have been reluctant to go against his wishes and the predominant Protestant culture of affluence and gentility in which she was raised. Or maybe the answer is simply that she never fell in love with any man after Luis. Whatever their reasons, there is one certainty: neither Gertrude, nor Luis, ever married.

While researching Luis Walton, his 1861 graduate photograph was located in the Class Photograph Albums Collection at Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Museum staff recognized him from a previously unidentified photo in the collection (pictured above). We don’t know how the carte-de-visite of Luis came to be in the Tredwell home, but it remained there for the rest of Gertrude’s life. Valentine’s Day is the perfect occasion to celebrate the star-crossed love story of Gertrude and Luis!


  • ancestry.com England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. Accessed 7/29/14.
  • ancestry.com England Census, 1841. Accessed 7/31/14.
  • ancestry.com New York, State Census, 1855. Accessed 7/29/14.
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  • ancestry.com U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989: 1902, 1903. Accessed 7/27/14.
  • ancestry.com Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929, JAMA Citation: 1903:41:736. Accessed 7/27/14.
  • ancestry.com U.S. School Catalogues, 1765-1935: 1857-1861. Accessed 7/21/14.
  • “Apothecaries Hall.” Lancet. Volume 1, p. 167. Accessed 7/21/14.
  • “Bankrupts.” archive.thetablet.uk, pg. 8, 17 August, 1844. Accessed 7/21/14.
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons. Catalogue of the Alumni, Officers, and Fellows 1807-1880, p. 122. Archives & Special Collections, A.C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University Medical Center.
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons. Student Registers 1863-64 – 1878-79. Archives & Special Collections, A.C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University Medical Center.
  • College of Physicians and Surgeons. Graduates of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Annual Catalog, 1870, p. 16. Archives & Special Collections, A.C. Long Health Sciences Library, Columbia University Medical Center.
  • Columbia University. Class Photograph Albums Collection 1856-1902, UA#0131, Bib. ID 10278078, Box 79, 1861. Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Butler Library, Columbia University.
  • Medical Directory of the City of New York. New York: Medical Society of the City of New York, 1887-1900.
  • Medical Register of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, 1872, p.158, 159.
  • New England Journal of Medicine. Volume 149, September 17th, 1903, p. 332.
  • newspaperarchive.com. London Standard, Friday, September 11th, 1903, p.7.
  • newspaperarchive.com. London Monitor and New Era. Friday, September 18th, 1903, p. 11.
  • Records of the Northern Dispensary, 1827-1955. Series 1, Box 3. New York University Archives, Bobst Library, New York University.
  • St. George’s Society. A History of St. George’s Society of New York from 1770 to 1913. New York, [St. George’s Society], 1913.
  • Trudeau, Edward Livingston. An Autobiography. New York: Doubleday, Doran, and Company, 1915.


February 1, 2017

The New Woman

by Esther Crain

Our thanks to guest blogger Esther Crain.
Esther Crain, a native New Yorker, is the author of 2016’s The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910 (Hachette) and the New-York Historical Society’s New York City in 3D in the Gilded Age (Black Dog & Leventhal) published in 2014. She is the founder and editor behind Ephemeral New York, a website that chronicles the city’s past, which was been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, New York Daily News, and New York Post.

Introducing the New Woman

Men and Women Cycling on Riverside Drive, 1898 (NYPL)

Men and Women Cycling on Riverside Drive, 1898 (NYPL)

They began appearing in the 1890s: young women, their hair pinned back or piled in loose waves under elaborate hats, striding confidently down Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Dispensing with the petticoats and heavy corsets that weighed their mothers down a generation earlier, these middle- and upper-class women dressed in crisp, high-collared shirtwaists and long tailored skirts—garments which scandalously rose several inches off the ground when they pedaled a bicycle on Riverside Drive or strolled along gusty 23rd Street.

This army of “new women,” as they were called, embraced the progressive thinking of the later Gilded Age. Not content to be confined to the sphere of the home, they took part in the social world of theaters and restaurants. Some attended new women’s colleges like Hunter and Barnard. Many pursued something of a career: in settlement houses, as typists, or in the arts. Perhaps they lived independently. “Bachelor girl” apartments were the latest fad reported by the press, which was endlessly fascinated by the New Woman’s comings and goings.

New Woman’s Cycling and Tennis Outfits, 1861 (NYPL)

New Woman’s Cycling and Tennis Outfits, 1861 (NYPL)


A City Captivated

“There had been much said in the newspapers concerning the New Woman and what kind of creature she was,” stated the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in March 1895. “The pictorial papers had ridiculed her, showing her standing at bars drinking on street corners smoking cigars. This ridicule, however, would not prevent the coming of the New Woman. She would occupy any and every place, which an intelligent human being could fill: the bar, the pulpit, the legislative hall, and will be found in every trade and profession.”

Older generations were shocked by her self-reliance and sense of purpose in the wider city. Her male counterparts took her autonomy in stride and enjoyed her propensity to play tennis and ride a bike. Cultural critics worried about her morals. Pioneering women’s rights activists largely cheered her on. “The finest achievement of the new woman has been personal liberty,” wrote writer and champion of women’s freedom Winnifred Harper Cooley in 1904.

What Did Gertrude Tredwell Think?

Gertrude Tredwell

Gertrude Tredwell, 1840-1933

The New Woman must have been an alien creature to Gertrude Tredwell. Born in 1840, Gertrude was a product of a much smaller New York that barely extended past Union Square. At the time of her birth, the city’s population hovered at approximately 300,000; by 1860, about half a million more people inhabited New York, including immigrants largely from Ireland and Germany whose lives were vastly different than that of the Tredwell family.

In the pre-Civil War city, men of means like Gertrude’s merchant father, Seabury Tredwell, occupied the outside worlds of business and politics and could freely enjoy restaurants, saloons, and sports. Women like herself, her mother, and her sisters were supposed to be “the angel of the home,” raising children, managing her household, and influencing the moral development of her family.

Like the typical New Woman, Gertrude was born into comfortable financial circumstances. But the comparison ends there. The New Woman was determined to develop independence and live freely, her movement and safety enhanced by electric streetlights and the new whirring cable cars. Gertrude, on the other hand, didn’t leave the Tredwell home. She came into the world at 29 East Fourth Street, grew up in an enclave of wealth and refinement, and died in the same house, amid a much shabbier neighborhood, 93 years later.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, 1866-1871 (MCNY)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony, 1866-1871 (MCNY)

The Fight for Equal Rights

Within the span of Gertrude Tredwell’s life, the equal rights era that led to the New Woman was ushered in. After the Civil War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony relaunched their fight for women’s rights, including the right to the vote. Working from an office on Newspaper Row, Stanton and Anthony published their weekly paper, Revolution. (“Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less” was the motto.) They spoke out at lecture halls like Cooper Union at Cooper Square and Steinway Hall, on East 14th Street, both not far from the Tredwell home.
As the Gilded Age continued, individual women made strides. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the nation’s first female doctor, opened a medical school for women. Despite the fact that she was legally barred from voting, Victoria Woodhull announced her quest to be the first woman president and ran on the new Equal Rights party ticket. Josephine Shaw Lowell founded the city’s Charity Organization Society. Nelly Bly and Alice Austen pioneered a type of journalism that called for social changes. Lillian Wald and Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch founded settlement houses and sparked a wider movement to boost opportunities for women and children.

The Working Girl Makes Her Entrance

Shop Girls, 1880 (NYPL)

Shop Girls, 1880 (NYPL)

Rising at the same time as the Equal Rights movement and this new professional class of women was another Gilded Age female archetype: the working girl. With men off on the battlefields during the Civil War, women took their place. These young, often immigrant women toiled in factories, clerked in offices, cooked and cleaned in private homes, and acted as shop girls in the dry goods emporiums of Ladies Mile. After the end of the war, they continued to work. In 1869, one-fourth of all women in New York did paid labor, according to the New York Herald.

Upper class women tended to be indifferent to them. (“While yet your breakfast is progressing, and your toilet is unmade, comes forth through Chatham Street and the Bowery, a long procession of them by twos and threes to their daily labor,” wrote Fannie Fern in an 1868 essay aimed at the middle class.) Even so, the mass of working women changed the look of the city, joining men in streetcars on the way to work in the morning and back to their family home or boardinghouse when the day was done. They were the subject of plays and popular songs. No labor laws mandated that women and men in the same job get equal paychecks, so they were paid less. Harassment on the job was a problem, as was unscrupulous male bosses who wouldn’t pay up. To help, the Working Women’s Protective Union formed in 1863. Located on Bleecker Street, it was a few blocks—but worlds away—from the Tredwell home.

The Suffragist Hits the Streets

Suffrage Parade, 1912 (WDL.org)

Suffrage Parade, 1912 (WDL.org)


As women’s presence and power increased in New York, many coalesced behind one main goal: the right to vote. In the 1900s and 1910s, suffrage supporters rallied in Union Square and held many parades on Fifth Avenue that were catnip to the media, always obsessed with the New Woman and her sisters in arms. In 1912, about 10,000 parade marchers demanded the vote. In 1915, the number of marchers swelled to 40,000. In 1917, New York voters gave women the right to cast their ballots—three years before the 19th amendment was ratified.

Did Gertrude register to vote along with more than 414,760 women from New York State following the 1917 decision? No. But it’s hardly surprising. She would have been 77 years old by then, a member of the 19th century wealthy merchant class now living in the progressive 20th century, when the city’s population was closing in on 5 million. Her last surviving sister died in 1909, leaving Gertrude impoverished and alone.

Surely she was aware of the enormous changes in the status of women in her lifetime. She must have read newspaper accounts of Stanton and Anthony; certainly she came across the New Woman, striding along Broadway or socializing with friends. Gertrude likely watched shop girls head to factories and store counters from her window on East Fourth Street, now a rougher-edged neighborhood that was less residential and bent toward light manufacturing. What did she think of them and the new world women inhabited? If only the Merchant’s House walls could talk.

Tredwell family research contributed by William Herrlich.

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