Thursday, March 15, 2018

Commodore Gerry: Gilded Age Melons and Good Breeding

Elbridge Thomas Gerry (1837-1927) dubbed the "Commodore" among his New York Yacht Club society friends was a prominent Gilded Age trial lawyer. He was known for his philanthropy--founder of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, bankrolled the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and served as chairman for the New York City commission for the insane. 

BUT, did you know his Newport palace, the "Seaverage" produced some mighty nice melons, which were the envy of all his fashionable neighbors? So sought after he extended his green thumb to his estate on Lake Delaware, New York.

In fact, the Commodore's home grown melon industry created a cult of melon grangers. Ogden Livingston Mills (1884–1937) became one of the most successful with his melons crop which he grew at his Staatsburg estate along the Hudson. 

The melon craze produced the Jenny Lind melon, named for the famous singer, known as “The Swedish Nightingale.” The seed grower, Peter Henderson called it “the gem of the muskmelons, flavor unsurpassed by any” in his 1902 seed catalogue.

As Gerry melons became the rage, the society pages reported that the hot house melons were spread among the poor for good cheer and charity during the Christmas season. The theory was it was pleasanter to get what you do not have, rather than what you need. When the luxury fruit arrived at their door, the housewives thought it was a new brand of pumpkin, so they made pies. 

New York debutantes sold Commodore's melons at all their fundraisers. One charity bizarre sold enough melons to equip the farm for the Anglican Sisters of St. Mary's in New York. 

Gerry merged with Hamilton McKown Twombly (1849-1910) son of Alexander Hamilton Twombly (1804–1870) and Caroline McKown (1821–1881). He
financial advisor to William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–1885) and married his daughter Florence Adele Vanderbilt  (1854–1952). Her mother was and Maria Louisa Kissam (1821–1896) d. of Reverend Samuel Kissam and Margaret Hamilton Adams.

Elbridge T Gerry Family line*
Son of Thomas Russell Gerry (1794–1848) and Hannah Green Goelet (1804-1845) d. of Peter P Goelet (1764-1828) and Almy Buchanan (1768-1848) Grandson of Elbridge Gerry* (1744-1814) and Ann Thompson (1763-1849) d. of James Thompson (1727–1812) and Catharine Walton (1729–1807). * Signer of the Deceleration of Independence from Marblehead, Massachusetts. 
Great Grandson of Thomas Gerry (1702-1774) and Elizabeth Greenleaf (1716-1771) d. of Enoch Greenleaf (1686-1774) and Rebecca Russell (1892-1711) d. of Samuel Russell (1645-1711) and Elizabeth Elbridge (1653-1721)

Elbridge married Louisa Matilda Livingston (1836-1920) daughter of Robert James Livingston (1811-1891) and Louisa Matilda Storm (1807-1883).

From American Florist, Volume 16 June 1 1901: House of Winter Melons. Grown by Mr Arthur Griffin, gardener to Mr Gerry. The accompanying photograph of a musk melon house at the Newport establishment of Elbridge T. Gerry was taken on January 29 1901. There are three of these houses, one fifty-foot, one thirty-foot and one twenty-five-foot house, each twelve feet wide, and since November 2 Mr. Griffin has cut five hundred ripe melons. The varieties grown are Mr. Griffin's own hybrids which were last year registered with the S. A. F. and the flavor is unexcelled by anything grown either outdoors or indoors at any season of the year. 

Above Photo from Lost Newport Paul F. Miller 

Elbridge T. Gerry papers, 1856-1912 at Columbia University

History of the Great American Fortunes, Volume One By Gustavus Myers

The Walton Family of N.Y. 1630-1940 by Annette Townsend

The Diaries of George Washington, Volume 6

Ann Thompson Gerry

To read a full account on Gerry check out Elbridge Thomas Gerry: An Exceptional Life in Gilded Gotham by Shelley L. Dowling. Loaded with family photos and stories.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Mary Todd Stanwood Newburyport Massachusetts 1786-1806

Mary "Polly" Stanwood (1768-1806), daughter of Newburyport Massachusetts merchant, Jeremiah Todd (1745-1812) and Mary Atkins (1744-1803). She married Abel Stanwood (1758-1810) of Gloucester, MA in 1788. Painted by William Jennys

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

1839 photo of Newburyport displayed in D.C. Museum of Old Newbury loans daguerreotype by Dr. Perkins for exhibit

MUSEUM OF OLD NEWBURY COLLECTION A daguerreotype, circa 1839, by Henry Coit Perkins, showing a view of Newburyport looking northward from Harris Street Church. Newburyport News April 3 2017

Dr. Henry Coit Perkins had a good eye, kept great notes, and probably had no fear of heights.
Those traits came together one day in October 1839, when Perkins hauled his daguerreotype camera and tripod up the steps to the top of a church on Harris Street and made a photograph of Newburyport and the Merrimack River beyond. 
That photograph – one of five Perkins is known to have taken of the city, with notations, that are in the Museum of Old Newbury's collection – is one of 175 photos in a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The full-plate (an image about 6 by 8 inches) daguerreotype is on loan from the local museum and featured in "East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photography" through July 16.
Susan Edwards, executive director of the Museum of Old Newbury, has studied Perkins' photographs and said the quality is very good, considering how difficult the early process was.
"You can actually hone in and pick out neighborhoods and buildings," she said. "We can get a really good idea of what Newburyport looked like in 1839" from the daguerreotypes. "It's amazing how built up it was. Of course, that was probably the height of its prosperity."
Edwards traveled to Washington recently for a preview of the exhibit.
"It was very exciting to go down and see (the daguerreotype) right in the beginning in the first room of the exhibit," she said.
Daguerrotypes were the first photographs made that were "fixed" to the plate so the image didn't disappear when exposed to light. Edwards said Perkins (1804-1873) was a doctor and inventor who experimented with the daguerreotype process in its earliest days.
"We know so much about him. He was a practicing medical doctor, designed his own microscope and telescope, he ground lenses – there are references that he actually made his own camera," she said. "He was a renaissance man."
Besides his scientific skill working with lenses and the chemicals necessary for making and fixing the photographic image, Perkins was a meticulous note taker, which is why "we can date them as closely as we can," Edwards said of the photographs. 
Many early daguerreotypes are dark or "muddy," but, Edwards said, "his have such incredible clarity and detail to them.
"He had such great annotations on them. We have all the documents in this sort of crabby hand – how long he left the fixative in, what kind, apertures that he tried, and inside and outside with light on the back of the daguerreotype itself, what the exposure times were. So we could match up his notes to the actual daguerreotype."
Edwards said two or three of the Perkins daguerreotypes were displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in the early 1990s in an exhibit called "Secrets of the Dark Chamber," in reference to the camera.
It was that exhibit and references to the bird's-eye photographs over the years that helped the National Gallery zero in on the Perkins image. Edwards said Diane Waggoner, curator of 19th century photographs for the National Gallery exhibit, came to Newburyport a few months ago to inspect the images, choosing one to be among the 175 daguerreotypes, stereographs, albumen prints and cyanotypes in the exhibit. 
In a statement, Waggoner said, “Perkins was among the first to adapt the bird’s-eye perspective to the daguerreotype. Correlating to the kind of compositions found in topographical prints, his photographic town view was likely the first to be made in the United States.” 

These images show rare true-to-life glimpses of a prosperous coastal community at a time when artists' renditions were the only means of visual documentation, the press release said. The daguerreotype on loan for the exhibit shows a northward view of Newburyport with the river and Amesbury beyond. 
The National Gallery describes this as the first exhibition to focus exclusively on photographs made in the eastern half of the United States during the 19th century, "celebrating natural wonders such as Niagara Falls and the White Mountains, as well as capturing a cultural landscape fundamentally altered by industrialization, the Civil War, and tourism, these photographs helped to shape America’s national identity."
     After the exhibit in Washington, the photographs will be exhibited at the New Orleans Museum of Art from Oct. 5 through Jan. 7.
     A notice regarding Perkins’ daguerreotypes or solar painting appeared in the Nov. 8, 1839, edition of a Newburyport paper called The Watch Tower. The Newburyport Herald also recorded an account of a lecture by Perkins on his daguerreotypes at the Newburyport Lyceum on Feb. 14, 1840.
For more information on the museum’s photographic collections and archives, visit or call 978-462-2681.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Genealogy Finds and Ancestor Discovery: Best Source is in the Court Files

This 1996 article from The Boston Globe was a neat find and I wonder how many old family histories and genealogies are missing some information on certain ancestors. Join the New Group on Facebook Scandalous Ancestors

     These court documents have always been in print, but were court records transcribed from the original watered down?
I found this article years ago when I was researching the Wardwell family of Andover for an article I published in Genealogy Magazine Seventeenth-Century Quaker Sought Redress by Undressing
     The original documents from the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 are on online at the Univ of Virginia and the site provides locations of sources. However, as many may have already discovered the old court files have some great information–and the most colorful.
I am sure there are many people researching their ancestors who find the real meat and bones just from a document citing day-to-day life. Every human emotion is found in these treasures–jealousy, greed, lust, rage, and a potpourri of others. The raw energy can be present even in a dispute over land boundaries.
     After reading this article check out the case I cite from the old court records published by Essex Institute in 1916 and transcribed by George Francis Dow. A great detailed event on ADULTERY–there were over 30 witnesses in the case. So, even if your ancestor did not commit the crime they may have been a witness, a juror, or a court official.
     Also, I listed more articles at the end to check out Why? Because you will find some the same people from the cases in this 1996 article as well as the case I cited. Some of the witnesses that testified with a stern judgement of moral superiority end up in their own naughty mess!
     One question I could not find the answer for was who has these documents found in 1996 from now and has anyone transcribed them since. Please post any information.
     As John Demos mentions in this article these are everyday ordinary people caught up in life situations. I have written articles on New England families and some of my best sources come from the court documents. Here is an example of one:
     A case in the Ipswich, Massachusetts court went on for over a year—1672-73, Result: Sarah Roe of Ipswich was forced to wear a sign on Sabbath day: “For My Baudish Carriage.” Roe had an affair with Joseph Leigh while her husband was away at sea, and both were charged with “unlawful familiarity.” Leigh suffered a day of severe lashing, plus a 5-pound fine. 
     Roe, in addition to her debasing debut at the meeting-house, spent a month behind bars. Copy of the papers in the complaint against John Leigh and Sarah Roe, taken from the Ipswich court records and files of Mar. 25, 1673, by Robert Lord. After over thirty testimonies the court dealt with the immoral acts with severity. Apparently Sarah was warned to stop playing around on her husband, but she could not resist Joseph. So, the point here is much knowledge can be found in these records!
Taken from Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, Volume 5 George Francis Dow published by the Essex Institute, 1916

Here are a portion of the court records which span over a few sessions: Sarah Row, for unlawful familiarity with John Leigh, and abusing her husband, was sentenced to the house of correction for one month, and to suffer the discipline thereof according to law, which the keeper is required to execute, and on the next lecture day to stand all the time of the meeting from the last bell ringing in the meeting house at Ipswich, on a high place where the master of the house of correction shall appoint, in open view of the congregation with a fair white paper written in fair capital letters FOR MY BAUDISH CARRIAGE, open also to the view of the congregation. She should also give bond of 301. not to abide in the company of John Leigh.

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