Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Hercules Revisited

Back in January of 2016 I posted two pieces about a slave named Hercules who was George Washington’s cook for many years both in Mount Vernon and Philadelphia. See them here and here. There was an additional post about Hercules in 2017. Hercules “absconded” in 1797 and could not be located although Washington made attempts to recover him, as did his widow.

This portrait, supposedly of Hercules, appeared in the post. Thought to be by Gilbert Stuart it is in the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, a strange place for an artifact associated with George Washington. Who commissioned it is a mystery. Would Washington have wanted a portrait of the enslaved man who was his chef? Slaves had appeared in other paintings of Washington and his family but they were always subordinate characters. Could Hercules himself have commissioned it? He was quite the dandy and made a fair amount of money by selling leftovers from Washington meals.

A recent post by J.L. Bell brought new information about the portrait to my attention. Experts have come to the conclusion that both the subject and the artist have been misrepresented. Although the painting definitely dates to the 1700s, on careful examination the technique and details are not typical of Gilbert Stuart. As for the hat in the portrait, it was assumed to be the toque that chefs wore, but the toque in fact did not appear until the 1820s. The hat in the portrait is now thought to resemble the kind of headdress worn by men on certain islands in the West Indies, as seen in paintings by Agostino Brunias of Dominican Creoles in that era.

This article by Craig LeBan provides more information on Hercules. It turns out that Hercules as a teenager was sold to George Washington by a neighbor who owed him money. The neighbor’s name was John Posey. It was common for enslaved workers to take the last name of their owners, so Hercules’ last name was likely Posey. Since the last known location for Hercules was New York City, researchers checked death notices there and found a Hercules Posey, formerly of Virginia, who lived on Orange Street and died in 1812 at the age of 64.

It seems fair to conclude that the man whose death is recorded above is Washington’s cook. But the mystery surrounding the portrait still remains. Who is the man in the famous portrait and who painted it?

posted April 29th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Hercules,New York,Stuart, Gilbert,Washington, George

“those dreary cells wherein I was confined”

ELIZABETH MUNRO FISHER was sent to the prison in Greenwich Village in March 1801 for the crime of forgery—attempting to forge a deed giving her property near Albany which, she said, had been promised by her father, Reverend Harry Munro. Fisher described her experience in the prison:

I went in on Friday. On Monday the inspectors thought proper to place some confidence in me—they put the women prisoners under my command, which command I received with reluctance, but was pleased, nevertheless, with this mark of distinction. I should be wanting in my duty, if I passed by, without making known to the public the attention with which I was treated—they seemed to try to make me happy. After I had received my orders from Thomas Eddy and John Murray (1), I was desired by them to make a choice of a room for myself, and a person to attend me. My provisions were sent me from the head keeper’s table. I lived well, and was used well in every respect; but still, in the solemn midnight hours, when all my family [the other prisoners] were asleep, instead of taking rest, I would walk the lonely hall, and view those dreary cells wherein I was confined from the world—and for what, I knew not.

. . . . I had the privilege of walking in the yard and garden, which made my time pass with universal approbation. I heard no complaints, and parted with them [the prisoners] in friendship. After delivering up every thing I had in charge, I took my leave, and went before the inspector, who gave me ten dollars. I am not mistress of language to express my feelings on going out of the gate. I came out alone. . . .

It is striking that in the space of a weekend, Elizabeth’s treatment, even though she “behaved bad for a few days,” suddenly improved dramatically. Surely even tenuous connections in high places had something to do with that. On 3 June 1806, she was pardoned “being represented unto us as a fit object of our mercy”(2) by Governor Morgan Lewis (1754-1844), who was not only an old friend of John Jay but a relation by marriage.

In 1810, Elizabeth Munro Fisher (1759-c.1812) self-published her memoirs, in which she related, often in harrowing detail, her unhappy childhood; her abandonment by her father after she refused the marriage he had arranged for her; her subsequent unhappy marriage to a tailor, Donald Fisher; her trials during the Revolutionary War, her apparently fairly successful life in Canada; and her futile attempt to return to the property near Albany, New York she had been promised by her father. Elizabeth, writing for an audience who, she hoped, would be sympathetic to her plight, did not shrink from describing mean-spirited or nasty things she had done, but she was desperately scrambling to be independent, and for that she needed property. As a feme covert, a married woman, she had no financial independence; any property she had was under the husband’s control.

Estranged from her children in Canada, Elizabeth Munro Fisher resided in various places in New York; she is listed in the City Directory in 1806 as “Fisher, widow 9 Magazine”; 1808-1810 as “Fisher, widow Elizabeth 2 West”; and in 1812, “Fisher, Elizabeth widow 92 Mott.” Also listed that year is her daughter: “Fisher, Eliza M. school 118 Chapel.” In 1813 and 1814 only Eliza M. Fisher is listed, after which date, her mother having died, she probably moved back to Canada.

From the sparse documents(3) that remain, it is clear that Rev. Harry Munro, having fled America in 1777 for Scotland, was a manipulative and vengeful man. His promise to his daughter to give her the 2,000 acres at Hebron, New York, as Elizabeth related, was spurious, as he knew the property would then be under the husband’s control.

It is also true that members of the Jay family were involved to some degree in Elizabeth Fisher’s affairs during these years. In 1794, Peter Jay Munro delegated his cousin, Peter Augustus Jay, who was in Great Britain at the time, to travel to Scotland to get a quit claim on the 2,000 acres in Hebron, N.Y. belonging to Harry Munro. In a letter of 24 July, 1797, Harry wrote his son, “my wish and intention is, that neither your Sister, nor any of her Children, shall have any Claim on” that property. Peter Jay Munro was thus able to sell the property c. 1800 just when Elizabeth was arrested. When Harry Munro died in 1801, all of his property real & personal was left to his son; his daughter received an annuity of ₤18 sterling and the interest of ₤600 stock.(3)

On November 23, 1809, Elizabeth Munro Fisher received a visit from her second son, Alexander Fisher. He was accompanied by Peter A. Jay. The matter under discussion was Alexander’s attempt to get his father Donald Fisher’s lands by “right of inheritance.” Some months earlier, he had appointed his uncle Peter Jay Munro as his attorney. It would not be until about 1813 before some resolution between Alexander Fisher and New York State may have occured.(4)

1. Thomas Eddy (1758-1827) and John Murray (1737-1808), Quakers, were members of the commission appointed to build the state prison with a single cell system in Greenwich Village (1797). They both were involved in philanthropic and social reform projects in NYC.
2. New York State Archives Executive Pardons 1799-1931, B0042-78.
3. See the Munro Papers at the Archives of the Museum of the City of New York and the New York State Archives in Albany.
4. Albany, N.Y. State Archives, John Chambers Papers, Box 2, CP 9885 #93-198 9885-93-99; 9885-141-143; also HY 12382 John Williams Papers, Box 2, Folder 8, Legal Papers SC12382.
The illustration is the cover of Memoirs of Mrs. Elizabeth Fisher, of the city of New-York, daughter of the Rev. Harry Munro, who was a Chaplain in the British Army, during the American Revolution.—Giving a particular account of a variety of domestic misfortunes, and also of her trial, and cruel condemnation to the state’s prison for six years, at the instance of her brother, Peter Jay Munro. The original is at the Library of Congress.

posted July 10th, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fisher, Elizabeth Munro,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Law,Munro, Peter Jay,Munro, Reverend Harry,New York

“The house was new and pretty”

Brought up in the high society of the French court at Versailles; married at 17 to an aristocrat and soldier, with a promising diplomatic career ahead of him; serving the Queen as a lady-in-waiting; HENRIETTE-LUCY DILLON GOUVERNET DE LA TOUR DU PIN (1770-1853) could not have imagined that she, her husband Frédéric-Séraphin and their two children Humbert and Séraphine, would be fleeing for their lives to America in 1794. Disembarking in Boston after a 60-day journey, the emigrants traveled to Troy, New York, where they boarded with the nearby van Buren family to “learn American ways” before acquiring property of their own.

In September, my husband opened negotiations with a farmer whose land lay . . . on the road from Troy to Schenectady. It was on a hill overlooking a wide stretch of country, and we thought it a very pleasant situation. The house was new and pretty, and in good condition. Only a part of the land was in cultivation. There were 150 acres under crops, a similar area of woodland and pasture, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre filled with vegetables, and a fine orchard sewn with red clover and planted with ten-year-old cider apple trees, all in fruit. We were told that the price was twelve thousand francs, which General [Philip] Schuyler thought not excessive. The property was four miles from Albany . . . .

As soon as we had the house to ourselves, we used some of our money to set it in order. It consisted of only a ground floor, raised five feet above the ground. The builders had begun by sinking a wall six feet down, leaving only two feet above ground level. This formed the cellar and the dairy. Above this, the remainder of the house was of wood, . . . The gaps in the wooden frame were filled with sun-dried bricks so that the wall was compact and very warm. We had the inside walls covered with a layer of plaster into which some colour had been mixed, and the whole effect was very pretty. . . .

. . . [O]n the day I moved into the farm, I adopted the dress worn by the women on the neighbouring farms—the blue and black striped woolen skirt, the little bodice of dark calico and a coloured handkerchief, and I parted my hair in the style fashionable today, piling it up and holding it in place with a comb. In summer, I wore cotton stockings and shoes. I only wore a gown or stays when I was going into town. . . .

Many of our neighbours made a habit of passing through our yard on the way to Albany. As we knew them, we never objected. Besides, in talking to them, I always learned some fresh piece of news. As for them, they enjoyed talking of the old country. They also liked to admire our small improvements. What excited most admiration was an elegant small pigsty made out of wood by M. de Chambeau [a friend] and my husband. It was a masterpiece of carpentering, but the admiration was couched in such pompous terms that it always amused us: ‘Such a noble hog sty’.

Because funds were tight, Henriette-Lucy made and sold butter, stamped with the family monogram; it “was much in demand.” She had eight cows and several slaves to assist on the farm. Then, she was dealt “the most cruel blow that any mortal could endure”: her daughter Séraphine was suddenly taken ill and died within a few hours.

In April, 1796, Henriette-Lucy, Frédéric, and Humbert, and their friend Monsieur de Chambeau, having come to America with valid passports, were able to return to France after the Revolution to take possession of their properties. Henriette-Lucy had been happy in America but had “a presentiment that I was embarking on a fresh series of troubles and anxieties.”

From Memoirs of Madame de La Tour du Pin, trans. by Felice Harcourt, (NY:The McCall Publishing Company, 1969), pp. 242, 253, 266, 282. See also In the Words of Women, pp.307-313. Illustration: watercolour on ivory (c.1802) in a private collection.

posted June 14th, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Daily life,de La Tour du Pin, Henriette-Lucy Dillon Gouvernet,Farming,French Revolution,New York,Refugees

“New York all lighted up”

In New York in 1780, BARONESS FREDERIKA VON RIEDESEL gave birth to a girl. She and her husband had hoped for a boy “but the little one was so pretty we were reconciled over its not having been a boy.” They named her America. In the fall of that year General von Riedesel was finally exchanged and placed on active duty on Long Island. His wife and family settled there and the Baroness described the prospect from their house.

We had magnificent view from our house. Every evening I saw from my window New York all lighted up and the reflection in the river, since the city is built right on its bank, We heard also the beating of drums, and if all were quite still, even the challenges of the sentries. We had our own boat, in which we could reach New York in a quarter hour or so.

The next year General von Riedesel was reassigned to Canada where part of his corps had remained. The ship on which they took passage was one of the worst in the fleet and the voyage was most unpleasant. “On one occasion a ship swept us with its stern, tearing away our lavatory, and it was only good fortune that no one was using it at the time.”

They arrived in the fall, traveled to Upper Canada and took up residence in a house built for them in Sorel. Read this post about the holiday entertainment the Baroness provided for English and Hessian friends. She is credited with having introduced the traditional German Christmas tree, a decorated fir, to Canada.

The Baroness gave birth to another child in 1782. A girl, whom they named Canada, sadly did not survive. When news of the death of the Baron’s father and the signing of the peace treaty in Paris in 1783 reached the Riedesels they decided it was time to return to their home in Germany. They arrived in Portsmouth in September and went to London where they were presented to the British royal family. Shortly thereafter they departed for the Continent and upon arrival the Baroness returned to the family mansion in Wolfenbuttel. A week later her husband passed through the city at the head of his troops. She wrote:

. . . [I]t is beyond my power to describe my emotions, at beholding my beloved, upright husband, who, the whole time had lived solely for his duty, and who had constantly been so unwearied in helping and assisting, as far as possible those who had been entrusted to him—standing, with tears of joy in his eyes, in the midst of his soldiers, who in turn were surrounded by a joyous and sorrowful crowd of
sisters and friends—all pressing round him to see again their loved ones.

Baron von Riedesel continued service in the military and died in 1800. In the same year the Baroness published her journals. She died in 1808 at the age of 62. The Riedesels had nine children, of whom six survived beyond the age of one, including, finally, a boy.

As for the so-called CONVENTION ARMY, when the British became active in Virginia the prisoners were marched north, eventually to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At that time (the fall of 1781) British prisoners numbered approximately 1,200 and German officers and men 1,450, less than half of those who had surrendered at Saratoga. The British prisoners were moved to purpose-built Camp Security in York County and the Hessians to Reading. They were held there until the end of the war when those remaining were marched to the nearest ports and sent home. Their number was much depleted by desertions, especially among the Hessians, the rigors of the marches, lack of adequate food and shelter, and widespread illness.

Additional information about the Riedesels can be found HERE—the passage quoted is on page 406—and in this source: Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution, Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty, 1776-1783, A Revised Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1965). For documentation on the Convention Army and additional information read this excellent ARTICLE by Thomas Fleming. The portrait of Baroness Riedesel, c. 1795, by Johann Heinrich Schröder (1757–1812), pastel on paper, is at the National Museum in Warsaw.

posted June 5th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada,Convention Army,Hessians,New York,Pennsylvania,von Riedesel, Baroness Frederika,von Riedesel, Lieutenant General Friedrich

Exchange

While BARONESS VON RIEDESEL and her husband and children were in Virginia with the Convention Army in 1779 there was talk of an exchange. If it could be arranged a prisoner, one usually of rank, would be exchanged for an American held by the British. On the basis of this news the von Riedesels packed up and began their journey to New York where the exchange was to take place.

The Baroness journeyed with the children to York, Pennsylvania, where she was to meet her husband. She was much impressed with the “magnificent countryside” inhabited by “Moravian Brethren.” Continuing to Elizabeth Town, New Jersey, they anticipated crossing over to New York the next day, hoping to “be set free that same evening.” However their hopes were dashed by a messenger from General Washington that Congress had not given approval to the exchange and that they must return to Bethlehem to await developments. The Baroness, pregnant, was disappointed and exhausted.

At the end of November they were given permission to go to New York City on parole. The Baroness and the children were housed in the mansion of Governor Tryon and subsequently repaired to country home of British General Henry Clinton where the children were vaccinated against smallpox. The following is from a previous post.

The estate was lovely, as was also the house, but the house had been built more for a summer residence, so that, as we were there in December, I suffered a great deal from the cold. However, the inoculation was a success. When it was over, and we henceforth no longer had to fear contagion,we prepared for our return to the city and sent our cook and the rest of the servants on ahead to get everything ready for our arrival the next day. However, we had such a terrible storm that night, that we thought the house would be blown down. In fact, an entire balustrade actually was torn off and fell to the ground with a dreadful crash, and when we woke up the next morning we saw that four to five feet of snow had fallen in the night, and in some places there were snowdrifts eight feet deep, so that it would be impossible for us to leave without sleighs. I tried therefore to get together whatever food I could for our dinner. An old chicken which had been forgotten was used for soup, and this with a few potatoes given us by the gardener and some corned meat, which was the last of our supplies, formed our whole dinner for fourteen people. In the afternoon, as I was sorrowfully looking out of the window, thinking of how we could get along, I saw our cook approaching on horseback. Full of joy, I turned around to tell the others about this. When I looked out again the cook was nowhere to be seen. Horrified at his disappearance, the gentlemen ran out and found him with his horse buried so deep in the snow that he could never had gotten out alone and probably would have died. Our people in the city had become uneasy when we did not come, and knowing that we had no supplies, the cook brought us some food for supper. It was impossible for a carriage to drive to the city. The next morning Captain Willoe brought us two large sleighs. We got in and I was rather worried about the children, because their inoculation had not yet entirely healed on account of the awful cold. But the trip did not hurt them a bit. While their inoculations were healing, Caroline did not have her whooping cough, but it set in again immediately afterwards and hung on for a whole year.

*The house was the Beekman mansion “Mount Pleasant,” built in 1763 for the New York City merchant James Beekman. On a rise between 50th and 51st Streets between First and Second Avenues, it is commemorated nearby as Beekman Place. The mansion served as the British military headquarters during the Revolutionary War. American spy Nathan Hale was held, tried, convicted, and condemned there in 1776.

In the next post: concluding the von Riedesels’ stay in America.

The above passage was taken from pages 97-98 in Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution, Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty, 1776-1783, A Revised Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1965). The illustration is a wood engraving, 1876, from the Granger Collection.

posted May 31st, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clinton, General Henry,Hessians,New York,Prisoners of war,Smallpox,von Riedesel, Baroness Frederika,von Riedesel, Lieutenant General Friedrich

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