Saturday, January 18, 2014

Growing up Livingston: Part 2, Getting to know John Henry Livingston

I started this series of entries after a day of discovery in Clermont's historic photo files.  It turns out looking into the faces of the Livingstons, whose letters and intimate lives I am always reading, adds a whole new dimension to "getting to know" them.  In fact, after looking at enough photos, it's almost like watching them grow up.

So here I go with a few more Livingstons for you to get to know:

John Henry Livingston (1848-1927)

There aren't very many photographs of John Henry.  Having been born in the mid 19th century, photography was still reasonably new in his youth, and neither his dad nor he really seemed to see a need to jump on the band wagon.  Therefore, every time I find a new photo of John Henry the youth, I get fairly excited.  here is what I've managed to put together on him:

John Henry was eventually to become the patriarch or Clermont and the keeper (in his generation) of the Livingston family history, but you'd never really know that from looking at his childhood portrait with his sister Mary.  Here he looks to be all of four or five years old, putting this image around 1852 or '53, only a year or two after he lost his mother to illness.  In just a few years John Henry would start his formal education with a tutor up at Sylvan Cottage, the gatehouse by Clermont's entrance off what is now Woods Rd.

Although there were several de Peyster cousins in the class as well, he and Mary turned out to be the more studious, rising at 6 o'clock every morning before having their breakfast with their father at 8 and walking quarter mile up the road to be in school by 9.  The de Peysters apparently "always came late & never knew their lessons," but the children "always had the best of times together," according to John Henry's later recollections.

 John Henry's next appearance in photographs is from around 1865, right before entering Columbia University at 17 (above at left).  He's still got a bit of a baby face, and it makes him reasonably recognizable from his earlier picture.  Without anyone else in the photo for comparison, it is hard to tell that this young man was (or was very soon to be) 6' 5" tall and loosed on the streets of 19th century New York City.  I only wish I knew some stories from this era of his life!

But all of that childishness melts away by the time you get to the photograph used on his late-19th century poster running for US congress.  Now a widower with a teenage daughter, John Henry had been practicing law since the 1870s, and his face has developed what I'm more familiar with as its characteristic severity. He's grown a mustache, perhaps to soften his face a bit, and he kept that until the end of his life.

In 1906 he married his third wife Alice Delafield Clarkson.
  Their wedding photo (at left) is unmistakably John Henry, even though the photographer managed to capture him with his eyes awkwardly half-closed.

Alice snapped quite a lot of photos, but once they had two daughters, she tended to focus the camera on them.  It's hard to find good images that really capture John Henry's face, but there are a few.  This one, from the early 1910s still shows him with the stiff, starched collar that contributed to an air of dignity.  He is in Clermont's library, probably right around the time Alice was converting it from a billiards room to a family room.

In the years that followed though, I can find only a few images that really show John Henry very well.  His daughters were reaching their teens and stealing the spotlight perhaps.  Or perhaps he was simply feeling a bit isolated as his deafness increased.  At left you can see him in England in the early 1920s, still healthy enough to climb a rather steep-looking hill and share a family picnic, though he is well into his 70s.  The mustache has staid and so has the stiff collar.  He's still ever-so-thin, which only accentuates his height. 

In all his photographs, except for maybe his wedding photo with Alice, John Henry looks serious and even severe.  I like to think there was more to him, but there are few stories which I can draw on to broaden the picture.  His "recollections," drawn up in his later years do nothing to counteract this impression, though they do reveal a lot of affection for his father and his nanny Serena.  His life certainly wasn't without fun, but it was also filled with a lot of loss: his only sister, her husband, and both of their children all passed away young.  He lost two wives, and for a few years was estranged from his eldest daughter.  Towards the end of his life, he seemed to find the greatest peace and pride in his family: both his youngest daughters and his Livingston ancestry.  It is both he and Alice who sought to revive Clermont as the home of Chancellor Livingston, and the decision to make the house a museum seems to have come from their joint conversations.  All-in-all there is a lot more I'd like to know about John Henry the individual that his photographs can only just begin to hint at.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"A True and Perfect Inventory": Inside Clermont in 1844

In November of 1843, Edward Philip Livingston, the Chancellor's son-in-law and the master of Clermont, died at age 64.  He was survived by his second wife Mary C. Broome Livingston (b. 1810) and four children ages 31 to 21. 

Edward Philip (a grandson of Philip the Signer) had married the Chancellor's daughter Betsy, and the two had taken over Clermont in 1800.  After she died in 1829, he eventually remarried, and by the 1840 census, the household appears to be pretty big, consisting of Edward and his wife, along with three unmarried children and as many as ten servants!

But this article is only sort of about Edward P.

That is because Philip apparently died intestate--without a will--and on January 23 of 1844 two guys and his oldest surviving son  inventoried the assets of his entire estate.  Son Clermont Livingston along with William H. Wilson and Edmund Elmendorph were charged with accounting for every possible asset.  I imagine it was a big job.  It ran for 23 pages and included everything from a large box of raisins ($2.75) to two silver tureens ($600.00) to certificates of "New York State Stock at 5per cent per anum" ($2000.00).  Along the way, Wilson and Elmendorph included livestock, carriages and carts, small personal items for daily use, old curtains, fine carpets, and even the furniture in the servants room.  It is, according to the title of the document "A True and Perfect Inventory" of everything that was here three months after he died.


That is not to say that inventories of this nature aren't without their problems.  Object descriptions are brief at best and capture only one moment in time.  For instance, there's a bed in the library.  Why?  Was this where it usually stayed, or was it a temporary situation?  Judging by the $4 value--compared to others in the inventory--it was of a decent quality but not exceptional.  Who was sleeping in the library with 1610 books?  We don't know.  Similarly, there is no bed in the north east bedroom, but there are other articles that are consistent with a bedroom.  Had one of the four children already taken the bed out of that room to their own home?

You get the idea.  It's fraught with problems.  But still, chock full of delicious information.  In fact, after completing the transcription last Saturday, I can be pretty sure I'll be mining this document for a good long time.  In the meantime, I'll hit a few highlights just for fun:

One of the things skipped in my old transcript was the "store room."  Separate from the kitchen, it was full of durable foodstuffs that appear to have been stored in large quantity.  These foods were not meats or baked goods for tomorrow's dinner, but rather winter stores for facing the 2-3 cold months ahead of the Livingston family and their servants.  They were included in the inventory because they were assets.



Store Room

4          Gall[on] Preserves                                                  4
100      ? Loaf Sugar                                                         10
1          Barrel                                                                  20
12        ? Tea $6 Box of Tea $5                                         11
10              $5 5 gall[on] oil $5                                       10
1          Box candles $10                                                  
6          Brooms $1
            68 pepper 9/   1? cayenne 4 /   1? nutmeg  12/       3.13
1          ? cinnamin 2/   ½? mace 9/                                    XXX
½         ? cloves 2/  12? currants  12/                                1.75
1          Box raisins $2.75   12? almonds $3.75                  6.50
½         Old Cheese $2   14? Rice flour 9/
6          Box salt 9/
6          ? mincemeat 9/  6 do. vermicelli 9/                        2.25
2          Box catsup 6/   5 gall[on] molasses 1.00


I love the thought of this room, full of neatly-tied and sealed packages of food, all lined up on shelves and waiting for use. The smell of tea and coffee and spices.  The promise of plenty of delicious flavors for the winter.  I don't where precisely this room was, since it seems to have fallen prey to the Livingstons' various remodeling projects over the past 160 years, but I imagine it probably suffered from a bit of a mouse problem as well, like the rest of this house.  Was there a mouse trap in there too?  Were cats kept in the basements or working areas?

Some of the most expensive items are listed first. There is a considerable quantity of sugar put up: 100 loaves, valued at $10 (as much as one of the family's fancier bedsteads!) and a barrel at $20 (probably a different grade). One more sweetener also makes the list near the bottom: 5 gallons of molasses, one of the cheapest and most widely-available forms of sweeteners.  At 20 cents per gallon, it comes in cheaper than the oil or preserves, which are both $1 per gallon.  Preserves also appear in the list of things that Mrs. Livingston took from the house for herself.  Fifty-four jars of preserves, at $1 apiece!  It is possible that these were also originally stored in this room before she separated them out for her own use.

There is also a total of $16 worth of tea stored in this room, along with $10 worth of candles (not a food item, but apparently stored with the long-term supplies).  Without knowing the size of the box, it is hard judge the value and quality of these items, but they do represent a sizable expense.

At smaller expense are the spices: pepper, cayenne, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, and cloves.  These are all pretty consistent with period cookery and could be used in sweet or savory dishes.  (I don't know what unit they are measured in as it was an unfamiliar symbol, but it is represented by a question mark in my transcription)  Adding up to a total of around $5, they don't account for much of the total value in the store room.  In fact, the raisins, almonds, and currants add up to more at around $8.


I also can't help but love the presence of pasta in this store room.  Six units of vermicelli, presumably dry, at 9 bits or $1.12 (half the monetary value listed at the end of the line).  According to The Food Timeline, long pastas were not all that exotic in early nineteenth century America and was partially popularized by Thomas Jefferson some fifty years earlier.  The practice of serving pasta with tomato sauce was only just creeping into the Americas at the time so I have to wonder how it was served in the Livingston household.

"Old cheese," rice flour, "catsup" (not necessarily tomato ketchup either, by the way.  It could have mushroom or even oyster as well!), salt, and brooms round out the list in the Livingston's store room.


A few furniture items on the inventory are things that we can specifically identify with pieces we still have today.  For instance, a "Hanging Lamp" ($4) is listed as being in the hall.  Curators have suggested that this one, pictured at right, is the one that lit Clermont's center hall in Edward Philip's day.

The list of furnishings in the dining room also includes a "Pier table mosaic top" at $20.  It's a fairly rare item, and we believe it to be one that's still in the dining room today, topped with marble of several colors in a design of interlocking rings.  (you can see the table both at left and a close-up of the table's top below).  Actually there were two pier tables in the Livingstons' dining room, the other one somewhat less fine at $7, but without more description, it is hard to guess which one it was.

Information like this can help us get a picture of what Clermont looked like at different points in time.  Even if we can't know precisely which pieces of furniture were in there, we can get an idea.  Reading further down the list, the dining room seems like rather a crowded place in the early 19th century since it also included the dining table with eight chairs, one small table, one tea table, two flower tables, a sofa, and an easy chair.  What's with the sofa?  Well, I can't be sure, but I know that Edward Philip's son Clermont like to keep a sofa in the dining room where he habitually sat and read, according to his son John Henry.  I can only assume that Clermont was was continuing a tradition or habit that originated with his dad.

I'd love to know which sofa it was.  The one at left (currently located in our Drawing Room) fits the right time period, but it's not the only one in our collection to do so.  And who's to say that the right sofa didn't leave the house in a successive generation?

Interestingly enough, there is almost no furniture mentioned in the Drawing Room portion of the inventory:



1 Mirror                                                                    80
Fender & fire irons                                                    15
1 Glass Chandelier                                                    10
1 Centre table                                                             5

I can only assume that the tables and seating furniture that were most likely located here (along with any carpets or ornaments on the mantel) were among those that Mrs. Livingston took for her own use, which are listed separately.  And I have to wonder what mirror that was that was valued at $80--the most expensive piece of furniture in the whole house!  It's even more than twice the price of the two "large" mirrors listed in the dining room.  Somehow this large mirror, pictured in the Drawing Room in the 1880s, doesn't seem to fit the bill.  Could it be the beautifully-adorned Lannuier that now resides in the Study? (below at left)

I could go on like this all day, but the fact is that with more analysis, the newly-completed transcript of the inventory will have a lot to tell us in the future.  Much more than just the fun tidbits popping out here and there, the inventory can provide valuable insights into the Livingstons and Clermont.  I will continue mining this for interesting stories to tell as we go along so stay tuned!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

"A Very Rainbow of Girls:" New Year's Day in Victorian New York City


The etiquette of New-Year's calls is very simple.  The hospitalities of the day devolve entirely upon the ladies who remain at home to receive any gentleman friends that call to pay the compliments of the season.
--Harper's Bazar, January 1, 1870

Sure.  It all seems simple.  The girls stay at home to put out a reception; the men get in their carriages or go on foot to pay their respects to all their friends about town.

The tradition of the New Year's Day receptions and calls was linked with New York's Dutch history and infused with hazy images of the 17th and 18th centuries, but the liveliest descriptions I have found revolve around the third quarter of the 19th century--the height of the Victorian era.  By this time, the practice had reached a sort popular frenzy, and the traditions and expectations carried a lot of weight for the elite and aspiring elites about town. 

While people in the rest of the country were watching their clocks tick down to midnight on New Year's Eve (at left, Harper's Bazar 1870), well-to-do New Yorkers were preparing for the annual frenzy of New Year's Day.  Sure there were still some balls to attend (though "the season" had not officially opened yet) and punch to drink, but much of the focus of the season lay on the following morning. 

The receptions that day were described in the richest of textures and hues: "On New Year's Day there was a very rainbow of girls in the Bell drawing room.  Such filmy, dainty-hued dresses, such bright cheeks and eyes, such a bewildering tangle of glossy hair never before shimmered around a prosperous, beaming old father," went "At Home, January First," an 1883 story.  "Full dress is now generally adopted by ladies when observing New-Year's calls," advised an 1872 article on dress, along with extensive descriptions of silk, velvet, brocade, and lace gowns that were appropriate to all age groups, from the elderly to the the very young for the day's festivities.

 "Waiting for Calls on New Year's Day"

The well-dressed ladies, calmly receiving visitors in the drawing room concealed the energetic preparations of the morning though.  For girls and women the excitement of being dressed at your best and ready to receive guests starting as early as nine o'clock in the morning could result in quite a hullabaloo.

"It must be admitted that there had been, all over the house, a great flutter for three mortal hours previous to our appearance in the drawing room.  The coming and going of hair dressers; the running to and fro of maids...
There seemed no end to the perplexities which arose to torment us on this eventful morning."
--Harper's Bazar, January 8, 1870

And woe to the girl who did not make her reservations with the hair dresser early enough.  The same story went on to describe these unfortunate girls:

"Molly Magpie and Pinky Pearl, who live just over the way, were obliged to have their tresses arranged the evening before, as the hair-dressers were all engaged, and the poor things had to sit up all night, in statu quo, sleeping like rabbits, with one eye open, lest some curl or braid be disarranged."

Then there was the food to lay out.  A grand spread of boned turkey, pickled oysters, sandwiches, quail, salads, and a few confections were served alongside coffee, tea, punch, and wine for the visitors.  With many houses to visit, men were not expected to sit down to any sort of meal, but pick a little as they went along.  However, advice literature stated that "The lady of the house is not required, happily, to eat and drink with all her guests on New-Year's Day.  If she were, her condition at evening would be quite pitiable."


And then, as the fateful hour approached, the women gathered in the parlor to await their first callers (as seen in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 1870 at left).  As many as 150 or 200 gentlemen might might be expected to pass through your house on their way to fulfilling a list of 50 or more destinations.  A servant was posted to open the door as a parade of men poured through it, leaving their card in a silver salver where it could be reviewed the next day. The visits were so short, men were not even expected to remove their overcoats, according to the advice columns of the day.  Several Harper's articles were sure to state that although "abuses" did occur--with unknown men calling willy-nilly on any house that might have more to offer in the way of ladies, food, wine--for the most part, they stuck with households where they were known and invited. 

Nevertheless, romantic overtones were blended into these short visits. Even though mothers, aunts, and little sisters of five or six years could be found in the parlor to receive guests, it was the marriageable young ladies that stole the show.  And while some callers were extended family, family friends, or crusty old men, many were eligible bachelors with handsome faces or handsome friends.  "At last the marriageable men are coming!" exclaimed one of the "rainbow" of teenage daughters in "At Home, January First."  The girl's mother circled the room, scoping out what she considered the best candidates for her daughters.

Men who stayed longer than their requisite five or ten minutes might be considered to be making a special gesture.  One 1876 poem "New Years Calls or a Pleasant Prospect for Bessie" told the story of young Will who was first over the doorstep at nine o'clock, returned again at eleven to chat much longer during a lull, and then again at one o'clock.  Finally Young Will returned for tea later that evening, and by the next New Year's, the couple were engaged.  Another story recounted "Madge fell in love with the artist...and I gave preference to the poet."

Calls could go well into the evening, and the day was known for being an exhausting one for women--some of whom had been up since four or five o'clock in the morning with their hair dressers, and others who had slept the night before perched on chair.  As the ebb and swell of guests proceeded over the course of the day, there crept in an element of grueling marathon entertaining.  By seven and eight o'clock at night, they were wearily casting themselves into chairs, suddenly glad that New Year's Day was a once-a -year affair.   Harper's articles were a little less charitable towards the men, who had visited some 50 houses (or 150, if their boasts are to be believed) and sampled wine and punch along the way.  Tipsiness could turn to drunkeness for sporting young lads on the make (see the cartoon at left).

All of this eventually lead to the practice's decline in the 1880s.  Some articles decried the practice of turning fine young ladies into nothing but "barmaids" for the day, pouring drinks for one man after another.  Others suggested that it was risky for girls to competitively invite as many men as they could think of over to their homes without really knowing them all that well ("At Home, January First" culminates in the realization that one of their invited guests--whom nobody knew all that well to begin with--was in fact a fugitive murderer who was later shot by police officer in their garden.)  Some even declared that the city itself was the problem, having grown geographically so large that it was impossible to travel to that many homes in one day.  Somewhere around 1883 and 1884 Harper's began to declare that the most fashionable set were abandoning New Year's Day entirely, and even the middle class were just putting out an obligatory basket on their door where gentlemen could drop their cards without having to come in.  By the 1890s, the practice appears to have been largely abandoned by anyone that Bazar cared to report about.

Although I've kept my eye out, I've never managed to spot a Livingston reference to this practice, which I have to say that I find disappointing since it seems like an awful lot of fun.  Part of it could simply be the time frame.  During the middle of the 19th century, Clermont Livingston was the patriarch of our branch of the Livingston family.  He does not appear to have been much of a party animal, as he remarked once about being sick of Christmas parties, long before ever making it to the New Year's home stretch.  After the death of his wife in 1851, he eschewed the city in the winter, preferring instead to stay north in the Hudson Valley.  His daughter Mary (1845 at right with her brother John Henry) would likely have been to young to superintend the event on her own without a mother anyway until at least the mid 1860s, and anyway she had found a husband of her own by that time and gotten settled at Clermont far away from the hustle and bustle of New York City.

Her brother John Henry (b. 1848), on the other hand, may well have participated in the fun when he was old enough during the late 1860s and up until his 1871 marriage.  Sadly, I have found no references to New Year's Day calling from him either, but I can just imagine his 6' 5" figure making quite the impression as he entered the drawing rooms of ladies all over the town.

Sadly, 2014 doesn't seem to offer any better chances of seeing this tradition revived.  Although cars might seem to make travel a little easier, towns are even less "walk-able" than they were 1884--and the suburbs seem ill-equipped to deal with bands of roving men going from house to house.  Ah well, I will just have to live vicariously through the historic recollections of nineteenth century fashion magazines.


** All of the Harper's Bazar images and references in this article were sourced from the excellent Home Economics Archive: Research, Tradition, History on the Cornell website.