April 15, 2016

Julia Tredwell’s Letter from Richfield Springs, NY

Julia 2002.0160Julia Eliza Tredwell, Seabury and Eliza’s sixth child, was born on May 16, 1833. She was two years old when her father purchased the house on East Fourth Street that would be Julia’s home until her death in 1909, at the age of 76. A large number of books in the Tredwell Books Collection bear her name, including several on French language and grammar, natural history, poetry, and mathematics.

Julia is pictured at right, ca. 1862.

In an undated letter in the museum’s archive, Julia wrote to her mother from Richfield Springs, in upstate New York, where she apparently went to recover from an illness. Richfield Springs became popular in the 1830s after Dr. Horace Manley purchased the site of the Great White Sulphur Springs, built a bath house, and brought 25 patients to take the water cure. It became increasingly popular as a summer resort.

“I have felt very much better the past week. They all say I have gained. I feel it, but by weight I only have gained two pounds. I took a bath and I felt stronger as soon as I came out … It is so lonesome to be separated that I feel as if I ought not to stay as long as I have, but I hope in so doing that I will quite gain my strength.”

March 30, 2016

“The Habits of Good Society” — Etiquette & Entertaining at Home

Julia 2002.0160On Saturday, April 23rd 2016, from 12 to 4 p.m., the Merchant’s House brings you “The Habits of Good Society” – Etiquette and Entertaining at Home, part of our ongoing Tredwells at Home, Living History series.

It’s 1858 and 25-year-old Tredwell daughter Julia (pictured left) is receiving visitors in the front parlor. New York women in the 19th century maintained friendships and other social connections through the elaborate ritual of formal visiting — or “calling” — and in order to participate, everyone was expected to know the rules. When do you make a personal call, and when can you leave a calling card? How soon should you pay a “party call” after attending a ball or formal dinner? How do you know when a family is ready to receive visitors after mourning a death? What is a “sociable”? Come pay Julia a call and find out how she and other young women in 19th century New York navigate the ins and outs of fashionable society.

This event is included with the price or regular admission and is open to all ages. Julia will be in the parlor to meet visitors from 12 to 4 p.m. 19th century attire is encouraged.

March 24, 2016

NEW Tour! “In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant.”

The Merchant’s House Museum now offers a brand new signature tour, “In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant.”

The only one of its kind in New York City, this unparalleled “back-stairs” tour tells the heroic story of the Irish women who worked in domestic service in 19th Century New York, overcoming homesickness, culture shock, and prejudice to cultivate a new home and a new identity on foreign soil – ultimately altering the face of New York City forever.

The Irish domestic servant in 19th century New York City

Hal Hirshorn Servant ParlorIt is widely known that Irish women made up a large proportion of the servant class in 19th century New York. And the sheer amount of physical work they performed is taken as a given… though can we really imagine what wringing out hundreds of pounds of heavy, sopping wet laundry feels like? Yet even if we give them credit for their labor, we often fail to give them credit for their resiliency and the adroitness with which they adapted to a vastly different and complex new environment. 

Beyond the endless physical toil their positions demanded, these female domestic workers were also busy adapting to a new culture, decoding the vagaries of their employers, and parsing the subtle social intricacies of work in a big house. These girls, some only in their teens, soon learned to navigate this bewildering new world, becoming indispensable to running the household. Demand was so high that a more experienced servant had a surprising amount of power in negotiating her pay and other benefits; servants saved astonishing amounts of their salaries to send back home to Ireland.

Photo by Hal Hirshorn.

Into their home, into their world

“In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy” takes guests up the narrow stars to the 4th floor servants’ quarters, where the Tredwell family’s four Irish servants – Bridget Murphy, Mary James, Mary Smith, and Ann Clark – lived and did some of their work. The entire hour-long tour takes place the original setting where these women lived and worked, bringing you into their home, their lives, and their world – in what is “arguably the oldest intact site of Irish habitation in New York City.” (Time Out New York)

“In the Footsteps of Bridget Murphy: The Life of an Irish Servant” is available on select dates or as a private group tour; please visit our Group Programs Page for more information.

January 7, 2015

This Day in Tredwell Family History: Elizabeth Tredwell Dies

Elizabeth TredwellElizabeth Seabury Tredwell, the eldest child of Eliza and Seabury Tredwell, was born on July 23, 1821, and died on January 7, 1880, at the age of 59. According to her death record, she died of “exhaustion and suffocation from chronic bronchitis.”

She married Effingham H. Nichols, a Yale alumnus (Class of 1841) and successful attorney, on April 19, 1845, at St. Bartholomew’s Church, then located around the corner from 4th Street at Great Jones Street and Lafayette Place. St. Bart’s was built in 1835 to accommodate the influx of new residents to the fashionable Bond Street neighborhood.

Following their marriage, the newlyweds lived with her parents in the 4th Street house, as was the custom. Their only child, Elizabeth Howard Nichols, known as Lillie, was born in 1854. (It was Lillie Nichols who inherited the house after her aunt Gertrude Tredwell died in 1933.)

In 1859, the family moved to Brooklyn, then to Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, across from William B. Astor, Jr. and John Jacob Astor, III.

According to Elizabeth’s obituary, published in The New York Times on January 11, 1880, “Relatives and friends of the family are respectfully invited to attend the funeral from her late residence, No. 339 5th av. on Monday, Jan. 12, at 10 o’clock A.M. Internment at Woodlaw Cemetery, by special train from the Grand Central Depot immediately after the service.”

November 26, 2014

Hurrah for the Pumpkin Pie!

"Thanksgiving Day - The Dinner," by Winslow Homer, Harper's Weekly, November 27, 1858

“Thanksgiving Day – The Dinner,” by Winslow Homer, Harper’s Weekly, November 27, 1858

In 1844, writer and reformer Lydia Maria Child wrote the classic Thanksgiving poem, A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day. The poem, later put to music and also revised as a Christmas song, celebrated her childhood memories of visiting her grandparents’ house in Massachusetts.

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood-
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose,
as over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood
and straight through the barnyard gate.
We seem to go extremely slow-
it is so hard to wait!

Over the river, and through the wood-
when Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for every one.”

Over the river, and through the wood-
now Grandmothers cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

At the time, Child was best known as the author of America’s first cookbook, The Frugal Housewife, which went through 35 printings between 1829 and 1850.  Think Joy of Cooking, 19th century-style.

Here’s her recipe for Pumpkin Pie:

“For common family pumpkin pies, three eggs do very well to a quart of milk. Stew your pumpkin, and strain it through a sieve, or colander. Take out the seeds, and pare the pumpkin, or squash, before you stew it; but do not scrape the inside; the part nearest the seed is the sweetest part of the squash. Stir in the stewed pumpkin, till it is as thick as you can stir it round rapidly and easily. If you want to make your pie richer, make it thinner, and add another egg. One egg to a quart of milk makes very decent pies. Sweeten it to your taste, with molasses or sugar; some pumpkins require more sweetening than others. Two tea-spoonfuls of salt; two great spoonfuls of sifted cinnamon; one great spoonful of ginger. Ginger will answer very well alone for spice, if you use enough of it. The outside of a lemon grated in is nice. The more eggs, the better the pie; some put an egg to a gill of milk. They should bake from forty to fifty minutes, and even ten minutes longer, if very deep.”

 

 

September 5, 2014

Back to School with the Tredwells

Classroom at Mrs. Okill's Academy, drawn by a boarding student in 1850, when the Tredwell sisters were students.

Classroom at Mrs. Okill’s Academy, drawn by a boarding student in 1850, when the Tredwell sisters were students.

The five older Tredwell girls were students at Mrs. Okill’s Academy, one of the most elite private female academies of the time.  Located at 8-10 Clinton Street (now 8th Street), Mrs. Okill’s offered a “fashionable education” to young ladies. The school was housed in two connecting buildings each with a floor plan similar to that of the Merchant’s House. Here boarding students from as far away as Ohio and Louisiana joined day students like the Tredwells in the study of academic subjects, including the French language, as well musical training, considered an essential accomplishment of refined young ladies.

Our current special exhibition, Lessons Learned: The Tredwell Daughters’ Schoolbooks, is on display through Monday, September 29, and features rarely exhibited schoolbooks from the Museum’s collection, some bearing the comments and signature of Mrs. Okill herself.

July 2, 2014

“Where Did the Tredwells Shop for Food?”

Following a recent tour, a visitor asked us where the Tredwells shopped for their food and how they kept it from spoiling, especially during the summer months.

The Tredwells no doubt purchased some of their food at Tompkins Market, a public market located at Third Avenue and Sixth Street, just around the corner. Until the 1860s, it was customary in some families for the man of the house to do the marketing, and so it may have been Seabury Tredwell himself who assumed this responsibility. At the market, one could buy butcher’s meat, poultry and game, produce, fresh fish, and according to a contemporary source, prepared food “cooked ready for parties, breakfasts, dinners or suppers, cold or warm.” (In case anyone thinks ‘take-out’ is new.)

Tompkins Market, 1860

Tompkins Market, 1860

tompkins market today

The same site today,
now part of The Cooper Union

To store food, ice boxes were available in New York City from about the time the Tredwells moved into the house in 1835. Ice boxes were zinc or tin-lined wooden boxes with a compartment that housed a block of ice. Ice was cut from the Hudson River, stored in ice houses along the river, and delivered to the city by wagon. However, it was scarce — and expensive. By the 1850s, ice cutting had become very efficient, and ice was widely available. The Tredwells surely had an ice box, which was kept in the extension outside the kitchen, or in the cellar, as recommended in domestic manuals.

The Tredwell Family

In the Beginning  . . .

Seabury Tredwell’s great-great-great grandfather, Edward Tredwell, came to Massachusetts from the county of Kent, England, around 1637. By 1649, he had settled in the village of Hempstead, Long Island, 30 miles east of New York City. On his mother’s side, Seabury was directly descended from Mayflower passengers John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, whose romance was immortalized in 1858 in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s narrative poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish.”

Read on…