New-York Historical Society

John Jacob Astor: New York’s landlord

This post was written by Sherry Cortes, Summer Intern in the Department of  Manuscripts

Portrait of John Jacob Astor by Gilbert Stuart, published by William Waldorf Astor, 1899.  PR 52 Portrait File

Portrait of John Jacob Astor by Gilbert Stuart, published by William Waldorf Astor, 1899. PR 52 Portrait File

Born in Walldorf, Germany in 1763, John Jacob Astor was the son of a butcher who traveled to America seeking to improve his condition in life.  It was not long before he made his way to New York City, a still fledgling town at the tip of a small, mostly undeveloped island.   It was here that he would carve out a fortune using a sharp business acumen and pure foresight,  eventually becoming a household name synonymous with New York and wealth.

Starting low on the totem pole, Astor labored as a fur worker before his employer recognized his abilities and sent him into upstate New York to trade with the Native Americans for their furs.  From there he quickly rose in the ranks and soon owned his own shop.  Once this business began to flourish, Astor sought investment opportunities to grow his wealth.  At the urging of his brother, Henry Astor, he began buying property in New York in 1799.  However, real-estate investment remained a side-note to his fur trade, which was to become the American Fur Company in 1808, and one of the largest companies in the country until its dissolution in 1837.  Documents for the American Fur Company can be found in the manuscript collection at the New-York Historical Society.

While Astor increased his monetary value, he also improved his social connections, creating relationships that would be integral to his future real estate dealings.  He became a Mason, where he connected with Governor George Clinton, bought a share of the Tontine Coffeehouse, and made important friendships with Stephen Van Rensselaer and Aaron Burr.  Thanks to these acquaintances, Astor was able to slide with relative ease into the upper echelons of society, although there were always plenty of remarks made about the German immigrant who wiped his mouth on his dining neighbor’s sleeve during a meal.

Map for Deed of land sold by John Jacob Astor to Gilbert Coutant in 1828, MS 25, Astor Family Papers

Map of lots of land from deed sold by John Jacob Astor to Gilbert Coutant at the corner of Bowery, Art Street, and Lafayette Place in 1828. (MS 25, Astor Family Papers.)

It wasn’t until the 1830s when Astor turned his focus from fur to solely real estate.  The entrepreneur was quick to learn tricks of the real-estate game, including ‘lending’ money to landowners.  One notable deal made was when he lent money to his friend, Aaron Burr, who needed quick cash after his duel with Alexander Hamilton.  In return, Burr turned over the lease of his tract of land, now Greenwich Village, which can be found in the Astor Family Papers at the New-York Historical Society.

It was a particular talent of Astor’s to see a plot of land and its potential for profit, no matter how worthless it might have seemed at the time.  He would buy chunks of property for rock-bottom prices, signing his tenants to long term leases of usually twenty one years.  Should the tenant wish to build a house on the property, he could do so at his own expense.  Once the lease ran out, Astor would either buy the house based on a valuation, which usually turned out much lower than what it should have, or he would renew the lease with a much higher rate of rent than before.  He was strict with his tenants, allowing no leniency for those in arrears, thus earning him a reputation as shrewd and hard-hearted.

Map of lots of land from Deed purchased by John Jacob Astor from the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1806. MS 25, Astor Family Papers.

Map of lots of land from deed purchased by John Jacob Astor from the Protestant Episcopal Church between Greenwich and Washington Streets in 1806. (MS 25, Astor Family Papers.)


But it was this cold and calculating personality that helped John Jacob Astor become the wealthiest man in the world.  By the time of his death in 1848, he owned a vast portion of New York City, although his real-estate ventures were not limited to the Island of Manhattan.  Astor also owned properties from New Jersey to the city of Astoria in Oregon.  Not bad for a poor immigrant from a small village in Germany.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

This post was written by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian

Who among us doesn’t enjoy a cold, creamy treat on a hot summer day? In honor of July being National Ice Cream month, I thought we’d take a little trip down creamery lane to celebrate ice cream in all its delicious glory.

Rivington's New York Gazatteer, November 25, 1773, N-YHS Newspaper Collection.

Rivington’s New York Gazatteer, November 25, 1773, N-YHS Newspaper Collection.

It is estimated that by the 2nd century BC, Alexander the Great was enjoying ice flavored with honey and nectar. Ice cream was widespread among major Arab cities in the 10th century, where they combined milk or cream with yogurt, rosewater, dried fruits and nuts. When Marco Polo returned to Italy, he brought a recipe that resembled today’s sorbet. In Paris, Procopio Cuto created a crowd-pleasing gelato for his café patrons in the late 17th century.

Recipes for ice cream began to appear in England and America during the early 18th century. Among the earliest were the detailed instructions provided in Mrs. Mary Eale’s Receipts, published in London, in 1718. The Oxford English Dictionary included a definition for ice cream in 1744.

On November 25, 1773, Rivington’s New York Gazetteer featured  the first advertisement for ice cream in the United States. It announced Philip Lenzi’s arrival from London and included a list of fine treats he had available for purchase, including ice cream.

Even Presidents loved ice cream. Accounts show that George Washington bought an ice cream machine for Mount Vernon in 1790 and Dolley Madison served strawberry ice cream at her husband’s Inaugural Ball in 1813.

Advertisement for White Mountain hand-cranked ice cream machine, circa 1900, PR 031, Bella Landauer Collection

Advertisement for White Mountain hand-cranked ice cream machine, circa 1900, PR 031, Bella Landauer Collection

The Quakers also helped introduce ice cream to American colonists when they brought their recipes with them to the U.S.. York County, PA, is known as the birthplace of commercial ice cream production. C. Jacob Fussel, a Quaker from Maryland, built an ice house and ice cream factory with his partner in 1852, creating the first commercially produced and distributed ice cream in the United States.

George Washington may have been the father of our county, but Augustus Jackson is often referred to as “The Father of Ice Cream”. An African American from Philadelphia, PA, he worked as a chef in the White House before returning to his hometown in the 1830s to establish a successful ice cream business and invent a popular technique for manufacturing ice cream.

In 1843, Nancy M. Johnson invented the first hand-cranked ice cream freezer. Over the years, many improvements were made to the original design and electric ice cream makers have gained popularity since the 1960s. White Mountain has been a leader in the industry since 1853. This small advertising card for White Mountain features a replica of their hand-cranked ice cream machine from the early 20th century. The front features their logo and the reverse shows the internal mechanisms of the machine. When opened, the card reveals a pop-up style image with a woman handing the reader a bowl of ice cream.


Entry from shipboard journal of Marcus L. Woodard, April 5, 1861, MS 2869, BV Woodward, Marcus L.

Perhaps a variation on the famous line “One (ice cream), if by land, and two (ice creams), if by sea” would be applicable to the crew upon the Clipper ship, Sunrise, in 1861. In the following entry of his journal, shipmate Marcus L. Woodard writes: “Capt. Raulett tried his skill at making Ice-cream and I never eat better than that which he turned out. He had a regular freezer and plenty of ‘Bordens condensed milk’, plenty of ice and we had for once just as much Ice-cream as we wanted to eat”.

Thanks to German engineer, Carl von Linde, and his development of industrial refrigeration in the 1870s, mass production of ice cream became a possibility and the industry was well on its way to pleasing a broader audience. Prior to the commercialization of ice cream, it was often only available to the wealthy or reserved for special occasions.


Ice Cream and Strawberry Festival, 1863, SY 1863 no. 88

Ice cream even became the inspiration for celebrations and charity fund raisers, such as this Ice Cream and Strawberry Festival, held in New York, in 1863.

Although it may sound like an insult today, the term “soda jerk” became popular in the late 19th/early 20th century, as soda fountain shops sprung up across the country. The soda jerk put flavored syrup into a specially designed glass and added carbonated soda and ice cream. Sundaes were another ice cream parlor favorite. It is possible that the ice cream sundae was invented to circumvent blue laws in some areas that prohibited serving soda on Sundays.


Your Vogue Ice Cream Fun-to-do Book, circa 1930s, PR 031 Bella Landauer Collection.

Italian immigrant, Italo Marchiony, submitted a patent for ice cream cones, originally called “cornucopias”, in 1903. However, legend has it that the modern cone was invented at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, in 1904, by a vendor who’d run out of bowls and began serving ice cream in rolled-up waffles.

Amazingly, this children’s activity book, published in the 1930s by Consolidated Dairy Products Co, Inc., survived without a drop of ice cream on it.

The U.S. Navy commissioned an Ice Cream Barge for military members serving in the Pacific during WWII. An estimated 1,500 gallons of patriotic goodness were pumped out every hour!

As diverse as the people that make up this country, so too are your options for choosing flavors and textures of ice cream. Non-dairy varieties even exist for vegans or those who are lactose intolerant. Statistics show that ice cream is enjoyed by 90% of the nation’s population. So grab your favorite cold concoction and watch out for that brain freeze!


“They deliberately set fire to it … simply because it was the home of unoffending colored orphan children”: The New York Draft Riots and the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum

This post was written by Matthew Murphy, Head of Cataloging and Metadata.

The rioters burning and sacking the Colored Orphan Asylum. Harper's Weekly, August 1, 1863.

The rioters burning and sacking the Colored Orphan Asylum. Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the New York Draft Riots, one of bloodiest and most violent insurrections in American history. A perfect storm of social unrest, ethnic hatred, and class conflict led to the brutal and horrifying riots, which were popularized (and somewhat sensationalized) by Martin Scorsese’s film, “Gangs of New York” (2002). Lasting from July 13 to July 16, 1863, the draft riots were thought to have caused $1.5 million dollars in damage ($27,577,504.97 in 2013 dollars) and were thought to have resulted in the deaths of nearly a hundred New Yorkers, many of which were free African Americans, who were intentionally targeted by the mob. Of all the morally reprehensible events that took place during the draft riots, one particularly stands out: the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum.

The draft riots began on the morning of Monday, July 13, when hundreds of angry rioters stormed the office of the Ninth District Provost Marshal, which was located at Third Avenue and 47th Street.

Ruins of the Provost Marshal Office. Harper's Weekly, Aug. 1, 1863.

Ruins of the Provost Marshal Office. Harper’s Weekly, Aug. 1, 1863.

Provost Marshals were army officers that dealt with issues related to enlistment and desertion, and upon the passage of the draft laws, were tasked with drawing names for the draft.  Shortly after the pulling of names from the draft wheel began, The angry mob arrived and smashed the windows with cobblestones pulled from the street, and afterwards set the building aflame. Violence continued throughout the day; the Metropolitan Police were unable to quell the mob due to a lack of manpower, as most of the city’s militias were absent, having recently participated in the battle of Gettysburg ten days earlier.

The horrors of the first day culminated in the burning of the Colored Orphan Asylum, which was located on Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Street. The Asylum, which was managed by the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans, was a large 4 story building surrounded by grounds and gardens, and at any given time housed between 600 and 800 children.

Colored Orphan Asylum exterior, circa 1860-1861 (PR 065, Stereograph File)

Colored Orphan Asylum exterior, circa 1860-1861 (PR 065, Stereograph File)

The records of The Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans, which are held by the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library of the New-York Historical Society, provide a window into the horrific events of that day.

It is not known what (if any) records were destroyed by the fire, but we are fortunate enough to have much of this organization’s records intact. Although there are no entries for July 13, 1863, the Minutes of the Board Meeting from July 25, 1863, several days after the riots ended, describes what occurred (below): “On the 13th July at 4 PM, an infuriated mob … surrounded the premises of the Asylum and 500 of them entered the house … they deliberately set fire to it … simply because it was the home of unoffending colored orphan children.”

Minutes of the Board of the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans, July 25, 1863 (MS 24, Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans Records)

Minutes of the Board of the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans, July 25, 1863 (MS 24, Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans Records)

In the Admission Records, which were used to track the admission, current status and discharge information of each child, there is a hastily scrawled entry, most likely made after the riots (below): “William H. Judson … admitted July 6, 1863. Left with us just after [i.e. before] the riot.”  One can only imagine the terror experienced by this child, having just entered a place of safety and care, only to be forced to flee.

Admission record for William H. Judson. July, 1863 (MS 24, Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphan Records)

Admission record for William H. Judson. July, 1863 (MS 24, Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphan Records)

The twenty-seventh annual report of the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans, which covered 1863 and was published in 1864, describes the events of the day in more detail, mentioning how a ruthless mob of several hundred men, women and children broke down the front door with an axe, and proceeded to ransack the building and set it on fire. The mob stole whatever they could, even baby clothes that were gifted to the Asylum. Thankfully, while the mob was focused on gaining entrance, the superintendent of the Asylum, William E. Davis, and the head matron, Jane McClellan, quietly snuck the children out the back.

The inner front cover of the Bible that was saved from the Colored Orphan Asylum (MS24, Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphan Records)

The inner front cover of the Bible that was saved from the Colored Orphan Asylum (MS24, Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphan Records)

The report states that before leaving the building: “One little girl, as she walked through the dining room, took up a large family bible … and looking up at the superintendent with a sweet smile … ‘See’, said she, ‘Mr. Davis, I’ve got the Bible.’ This dear child carried this treasured volume to the station house, and thence to Blackwell’s Island.”  This very Bible, (at left) though incomplete, is held by the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, as part of the records of the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans.

While the staff and children were making their escape, a crew of firefighters, led by Chief Engineer Decker of Hook and Ladder Company No. 2, valiantly fought the flames and the mob at the same time. The twenty-seventh annual report of the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans recounts the event: “On entering the building, Decker said to his men, ‘Will you stick by me?’ This they promised to do, and were immediately engaged in extinguishing some ten or fifteen fires … this was of little avail, for the mob had decreed its destruction … and Decker was told if he repeated this act, he should be killed. His men replied, ‘In that attempt you will have to pass over our dead bodies.’Though the firefighters fought the flames again and again, the building eventually succumbed to the mob.

Louis B. Rader, who had recently moved into a new home on 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, witnessed the burning of the Asylum, and he recounts this in a letter to his friend Don Alonzo, dated July 15, 1863: “Monday afternoon the mob burnt a hotel on my corner and the orphan asylum on the corner below … I left everything in my house … and moved backed [sic] to my father-in-law’s house in 30th Street near 8th Avenue for safety for my family …”

The children were taken to the Twentieth Precinct building which was located on 35th Street near 7th Avenue, where they remained safe until the riots subsided on July 16, 1863. Afterwards, they were moved to Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island), along with many other African-American refugees whose homes had been burned by the mob, livelihoods had been ruined, and family members had been murdered in cold blood. The Association had to start from scratch—all had been lost in the fire, at an estimated value of $80,000 ($1,470,800.23 in 2013 dollars). All 233 children survived the riots, and after a short time at Governor’s Island, were moved to a residence in Carmansville, a village that existed within the present day boundaries of the Hudson River, West 158th Street, Broadway and West 142nd Street.

The Asylum was rebuilt in 1867 at 143rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and in 1907 was relocated again to the Riverdale section of the Bronx. In 1944, the Association’s name was changed to the Riverdale Children’s Association; it went through several moves and name changes until 1988, when the Westside Center for Family Services, as it was then known, merged with Harlem-Dowling Children’s Services.

Portions of the Association for the Benefit of Colored Orphans records have been digitized and are available via the New-York Historical Society’s Manuscript Collections Relating to Slavery web site. 

Attending Ford’s Theater with the Lincolns: the tragic lives of Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone


Henry Rathbone, with Clara Harris, attempting to stop John Wilkes Booth. (PR 052, Currier and Ives Print)

Most Americans are familiar with the events of the Lincoln assassination. On the evening of April 14th, 1865 Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln went to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. During the play the actor John Wilkes Booth snuck into the Presidential Box and shot President Lincoln. However the details of the other couple in the Presidential Box that night, Clara Harris and her fiancée Henry Rathbone, have largely been forgotten. Unfortunately their tragic future was also determined by the horrors of that night.

Clara Harris was the daughter of Senator Ira Harris of New York. After Harris’s mother died, her father married Pauline Rathbone. Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris were step-brother and sister but still fell in love and eventually became engaged to be married. Henry joined the US Army after the outbreak of the Civil War and saw many bloody battles.  He had hoped to come home from the war, marry his fiancée, and move on with his life. Clara Harris had become friends with the First Lady through the Washington social scene. Others had been invited to Ford’s theater that night, including Julia and Ulysses S. Grant, but all had turned down the invitation.

Lincoln was reportedly enjoying the play until Act III when John Wilkes Booth came into the Presidential Box and suddenly shot the President in the back of the head. Startled, Henry stood up and wrestled with Booth, who stabbed him severely in the arm hurting him from shoulder to elbow. As Booth began his escape, Henry screamed “Stop that man!” while Clara yelled, “The President is shot!” Seriously injured, Lincoln was moved to a house across the street from the theater and died the next morning with many in attendance, including Clara.

Lincoln's Death

Mourners at the death of President Lincoln. Clara Harris is depicted in a lavendar dress at the far right. (PR 052, Currier & Ives Print)

The library at the New-York Historical Society has a letter that Clara Harris wrote to her friend Mary describing that frightful night. She describes Mrs. Lincoln seeing blood on Clara’s dress and screaming, “oh! my husbands blood.” Only later would they learn that it was mostly Henry’s blood on Clara’s dress from his severe stab wound.

Harris letter

Letter dated April 25, 1865 from Clara Harris to her friend Mary describing the night of the assassination. She describes how Mrs. Lincoln saw Clara and exclaimed, “oh! my husband’s blood, – my dear husband’s blood- which it was not, though I did not know it at the time. The President’s wound did not bleed externally..” (AHMC Harris, Clara)

After the terrible night at Ford’s Theater, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone married and had three children. However, Henry was never able to get over what happened at Ford’s Theater. He felt guilty for surviving the assassination and believed, as many had gossiped, that he should have done more to prevent the tragedy from happening. He felt he could never escape attention for being there that night and began to suffer from hallucinations and eventually declined into mental illness. On Christmas Eve in 1883 while living in Germany, he attacked his own family and himself.  Almost imitating the assassination of years before, he shot Clara and stabbed himself several times with a knife.  Clara died from the attack, and Henry was declared insane.  He was committed to an asylum for the criminally insane in Germany and his children were sent to live with their uncle in the United States. Henry died in 1911 and was buried with Clara in a cemetery in Germany.

For many years, Clara kept her bloody dress from the night at Ford’s Theater in a closet in their family summer home in Albany. According to family lore, she had the closet walled up with bricks after believing that she saw Lincoln’s ghost.  In 1910 their eldest son, Henry Riggs Rathbone, had the dress burned stating that it had been nothing but a curse on his family.

The story of the couple’s life is mostly remembered through historic fiction.  Clara Harris’s stained dress was the subject Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews’s 1930 book The White Satin Dress The story of the ill fated couple is also told in Thomas Mallon’s 1995 book Henry and Clara.


General Grant Dines in Vicksburg

Written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections.

One hundred-fifty years ago, in the late spring of 1863, the news was troubling for Federal forces as they awaited an invasion of the northern states by Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  The hope was that Major General Ulysses S. Grant, operating with some independence in the West, could accomplish his goal of gaining full control of the Mississippi River.  Standing in the way was the Confederate outpost at Vicksburg.  Grant’s determined pursuit of this goal included attempting to build a canal to bypass the stronghold, a frontal assault on the city, the laying of mines under Confederate barricades, and bombardment from gunboats.  He finally settled into a relentless siege of the city.

Cave Life in Vicksburg During the Siege, 1863.  Etching by Adalbert Johann Volck, PR.010.1.30

Cave Life in Vicksburg During the Siege, 1863. Etching by Adalbert Johann Volck, PR.010.1.30

As the siege of Vicksburg began in the third week of May 1863, General Grant’s troops dug themselves into over 60,000 feet of trenches around the works protecting the city.  Stationed in nearby dugouts and forced to conserve ammunition, the Confederate defenders could only trade nightly gibes and barter for coffee and newspapers with their besiegers.  Civilians shoveled themselves into more commodious hillside caves, an arrangement the Union soldiers dubbed “Prairie Dog Village.”  The non-combatants usually managed to escape the exploding shells but suffered most from the food and water shortages.

Confederate survivors of the siege of Vicksburg contended that most civilians were as generous as they could be but that, as the wealthy had been able to flee, the danger of starvation fell to the indigent and to abandoned Confederate army horses.  Survivors would also recall the multiple terrors of incendiary shells, Federal sharpshooters firing on anyone who approached the river for water, and newly-designed Parrott missiles so rapid that they arrived even before the report of the gun could be heard.

Also fired was a bit of psychological warfare in the form of a printed circular beginning, “Cave in boys and save your lives, which are considered of no value by your officers.”

To Our Friends in Vicksburg!  SY 1863 no. 1.  The allusion to General Henry E. McCulloch refers to a failed attempt to relieve the Confederates at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend.

To Our Friends in Vicksburg! SY 1863 no. 1. The allusion to General Henry E. McCulloch refers to a failed attempt to relieve the Confederates at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend.

A Union officer claimed that 300 leaflets were fired in bombshells into Confederate lines with the hope that a few would arrive intact and help break the resolve of the besieged.  It may be more likely that the small papers were floated in balloons.  In any case, the Confederates apparently saw none of them, but this one—likely never fired or floated—survives in the New-York Historical Society collections.

In a city where the besieged citizens and soldiers lacked for food and water, the shortage of paper would have been of relatively small concern, but the editor of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen also had to be resourceful.

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 2,4, 1863, verso.  Newspaper collection

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, reverse sides of July 2 and 4th issues, 1863. Newspaper collection

Like newspaper publishers elsewhere in the Confederacy, he issued his newspaper on the blank side of bolts of wallpaper.  The paper’s tone is one of defiance as it reports on the success of Robert E. Lee marching toward Gettysburg (“To-day Maryland is ours, tomorrow Pennsylvania will be, and the next day Ohio”).

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 2, 1863.  Newspaper collection

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 2, 1863. Newspaper collection

Editor J. M. Swords ridicules the “Yankee Generalissimo” Grant’s ambition to dine in Vicksburg on the Fourth of July by reminding the general that he would have to “catch the rabbit” first.  He assures the citizens that “there is plenty within our lines” and that “Confederate beef,” i.e., mule meat, is “sweet, savory and tender.”  This rare surviving newspaper, dated July 2, 1863, was found set in type in the printing office when, on July 4, the city capitulated and Federal forces entered after 47 days of siege.  Not losing an opportunity to put out the news, the Union troops reissued the paper with this addendum in the lower right corner:

Note.  Two days bring about great changes.  The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg.  Gen. Grant has “caught the rabbit;” he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him.  The “Citizen” lives to see it.  For the last time it appears on “Wall-paper.”  No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricasseed kitten—urge Southern warriors to such diet never more.  This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them.  It will be valuable here-after as a curiosity.


[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 4, 1863, excerpt.  Newspaper collection

[Vicksburg] Daily Citizen, July 4, 1863, excerpt. Newspaper collection

 As for the citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi, tradition states that they did not celebrate the Fourth of July for decades.


Before the Declaration of Independence…

Portrait of John Dickinson published by R. Wilkinson, May 1783. PR 52 Portrait File

Portrait of John Dickinson published by R. Wilkinson, May 1783. PR 52 Portrait File

The line between historical obscurity and fame is often a fine one. It’s not surprising then that on July 4th no one thinks about the most important document produced by Congress before the Declaration of Independence: the Declaration of the Causes and of the Necessity of Taking Up Arms. As its title implies, it was a justification for armed resistance to England’s abusive treatment of the colonies, with a chronicle of outstanding grievances.

Like many such historic texts written “by committee” its authorship has been the subject of some curiosity. Roger L. Kemp offers the now accepted explanation in Documents of American Democracy: A Collection of Essential Works. On June 26, 1775, after Congress had scrapped the first draft by John Rutledge of South Carolina, it appointed to the committee Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania. Ultimately, Dickinson wrote the final version, incorporating content from a previous draft by Jefferson. Though that draft is held by the Library of Congress, an original draft, in Dickinson’s hand, resides at the New-York Historical Society.

The first page of Dickinson's draft of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, 1775. AHMC - Dickinson, John

The first page of Dickinson’s draft,1775. AHMC – Dickinson, John

Perhaps influenced to some extent by his Quaker roots, Dickinson favored a measured course of action and so Congress presumably intended for him to mollify Jefferson’s more combative rhetoric.  In fact, Dickinson’s demeanor had previously led John Adams to reflect in his diary that “Mr. Dickinson is very modest, delicate and timid.”  He would also later oppose the Declaration of Independence, believing it was premature for such a drastic measure. Still, the Declaration of Causes suggests Dickinson’s approach did not preclude defiance. After all, the title itself is indicative of its purpose: a defense of “taking up arms” by the colonies. Even excepting Jefferson’s rebellious influences, the document was far from conciliatory. Among the more quotable of Dickinson’s prose is “Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable.”

Detail of Dickinson's draft of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for taking up Arms. AHMC - Dickinson, John

Detail of Dickinson’s draft of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for taking up Arms. AHMC – Dickinson, John

With the events at Lexington and Concord already three months old, Congress adopted the resolution in Philadelphia on July 6th 1775. It’s no secret that  the Crown’s lack of movement would precipitate the Declaration of Independence the following year. The rather obvious, but critical, difference was that the Declaration of Causes merely threatened King George III with colonial independence while the Declaration of Independence severed ties unequivocally. As for Dickinson’s role in it, contrary to some sources he did not actually vote against the Declaration of IndependenceHe simply remained absent while Congress voted on it. What’s more, he subsequently played an active political and military role in the colonial cause.

That brings up an interesting side note. For some time after John Trumbull painted his famous work Declaration of Independence, Stephen Hopkins was identified as the man in the hat standing off to the side of the proceedings; however, art historian Irma Jaffe confirmed in the 1970s that this identification was incorrect and the figure was instead John Dickinson.

W. Greatbach's print of John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, with Dickinson highlighted. PR 68 Subject File

W. Greatbach after John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence with Dickinson highlighted. PR 68 Subject File

In any event, over two hundred years later, our nation infuses the Declaration of Independence with monumental significance while the Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms remains something of a footnote to most Americans — and unjustly so. Although it’s understandably of secondary importance, it still offers a unique record of the escalating discontent in the colonies, and represents the  penultimate step to declaring independence from England. Taken in that light, it’s hardly an insignificant piece of American history.

“Jane’s jaunts:” the travel sketchbooks of Jane Bannerman

Jane Campbell Bannerman — now a sprightly 103 years of age — embarked on her first trip abroad in 1929, long before there were iphones or digital cameras.  Instead, she carried sketchbooks and watercolors to record the scenes and people she encountered.  Colorful, personal, quirky, and utterly unique, Bannerman’s 74 sketchbooks capture the quintessential spirit of the places she visited, and also reflect her own appealing personality.

The Great Wall, China.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 1).

The Great Wall, China. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 1).

At the time of her inaugural trip, Jane Campbell was a graphic design student at Parsons School of Design (then known as the New York School of Fine and Applied Art).  She spent the academic year of 1929 abroad, studying at Parsons’ recently opened (in 1921) Paris Atelier.  The experience sparked a lifelong love of travel: “I hadn’t seen any of the world up until that time,” Jane says, “Paris started my life.”


Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (France and Israel, Box 7, Folder 1).

It also marked the start of an enduring habit of sketching the people and places she visited.  “Jane’s jaunts,” however, did not begin in earnest until the 1950′s. Until then, Jane, who married Charles Bannerman in 1938, was occupied with raising her daughter and pursuing a career in interior design. (A collection of Bannerman Family Papers, relating mainly to Jane’s grandfather-in-law Francis Bannerman VI, and to his namesake Bannerman Island, is held in the library’s manuscript department).


Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Egypt, Box 5, Folder 1).

In 1955, Jane resumed her travels with a vengeance, embarking on a dizzying succession of trips:  Sweden, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Japan, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka (“the most fun”), India — even a brief layover in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) during the height of the Viet Nam war! In 2003, at the age of 93, she visited the Azores, producing two sketchbooks and a series of paintings depicting those Portuguese islands.

Horta, Azores.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 4).

Horta, Azores. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 10, Folder 4).

Although Jane’s travel sketches include all the usual tourist fare — famous attractions, beautiful scenery, “local color,” native characters, fellow travelers, hotel rooms, and tasty (or not) meals – her characteristic whimsy takes them out of the ordinary, and makes them unmistakably her own.


Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Hong Kong, Box 3, Folder 2).

Even when at home in New York City, Bannerman often traveled with a sketchbook, capturing the essence of city life in the period 1955 to 2010, from jury selection to homeless beggars to the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Times Square circa 1960, with famous Camel cigarettes advertisement that blew smoke rings.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 1, Folder 3).

Times Square circa 1960, with famous Camel cigarettes advertisement that blew smoke rings. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Box 1, Folder 3).

Bannerman’s sketchbooks were recently added to the library’s permanent collections, and are available for viewing during regular library hours by advance appointment (to schedule an appointment, email  An exhibition of selected sketchbooks will also be held in the library from July 29th to August 26th, 2013.

Dancers.  Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Japan, China and South Korea, Box 7, Folder 3)

Dancers. Jane Bannerman Travel Sketchbooks Collection, PR 298 (Japan, China and South Korea, Box 7, Folder 3)



Combating Crime through Community Organizing: The Story of the Westside Crime Prevention Program

This post was written by N-YHS intern Erin Shaw. The Westside Crime Prevention Program Records are now available to researchers at the New-York Historical Society’s library.

Although crime has always been an issue for New York City residents, an unprecedented rash starting in the 1970s began to terrorize the Upper West Side of Manhattan — a troubling sign of the crime epidemic’s severity in New York City during that time. Residents were often subject to robberies and muggings, and the drug epidemic reached unparalleled levels. Crack vials littered the streets, and drug dealers sold their products openly in public: “It’s anarchy down there,” one middle-aged resident noted as he witnessed a crack sale beneath his window in 1988. “Some days there are so many cars lined up to buy that it looks like a McDonald’s drive-in.”

Executive Director Marjorie Cohen with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004. She was honored for her work in the community at the Manhattan Civic Leaders Breakfast.

Executive Director Marjorie Cohen with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004. She was honored for her work in the community at the Manhattan Civic Leaders Breakfast.

In response to the fear generated by the crime in the area, neighborhood residents organized and fought back. The Westside Crime Prevention Program (WCPP) was founded in 1981 by a group of Upper West Siders in response to this rash of street muggings, burglaries, and drug crime. Marjorie Cohen, a freelance writer and Upper West Side resident, began organizing and leading the program as Executive Director in 1988. The WCPP was a community-based, not-for-profit organization made up of volunteers who were dedicated to making life on the West Side (from 59th street to 110th street, from the Hudson River to Central Park) safe and secure. To do this, the program developed both a Neighborhood Watch Program and a Crime Victims Witness Assistance Project that were so successful that they have since been used as models throughout the city. The WCPP also lobbied for increased police street patrols on the Upper West Side, which resulted in the establishment of the Community Patrol Officer Program (CPOP) and the Narcotics Enforcement Unit (SNEU) in the 20th and 24th Precincts.

The WCPP would use slides such as this one to visually train residents on how to identify drug paraphernalia.

The WCPP would use slides such as this one to visually train residents on how to identify drug paraphernalia.

While the Westside Crime Prevention Program led and collaborated on many community projects in their thirty year existence, their Crime Prevention and Drug Watch Training program and Safe Haven are two that stand out. The WCPP led training events to teach residents how to identify drug dealings and paraphernalia, and also how to best report these incidences anonymously to the police. Many residents feared retribution by criminals if they were to get involved with the police, so the WCPP helped to facilitate a safe and anonymous system of reporting. By directly involving constituencies in crime prevention efforts, the WCPP helped to empower the community against crime and ultimately increased police protection in the neighborhood.

A pamphlet promoting the Safe Haven program.

A pamphlet promoting the Safe Haven program.

Safe Haven was established in 1971 and is a continuing program that helps to foster awareness of street safety among students, parents, and teachers. Merchants and businesses involved in Safe Haven offer a secure environment and telephone use for children who may become lost or feel unsafe. A participating location places a bright yellow “Safe Haven” decal in the storefront window, and the children are instructed to seek out these establishments if they feel that they are in imminent danger. The Westside Crime Prevention Program helped to promote and expand this program in their neighborhood.

Feeling that the core mission of the organization had been fulfilled, Marjorie Cohen and the members of the Westside Crime Prevention Program decided to disband in 2010. However, the substantial effect the program had on the safety of the Upper West Side is undeniable.


The Shantytown: Nineteenth-Century Manhattan’s “Straggling Suburbs”

This posting was written by Catherine McNeur, a Bernard & Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society. 

In the spring of 1855 Charles Loring Brace, who had recently started running the Children’s Aid Society, ventured into a neighborhood on the edge of the city called Dutch Hill. Located near East 41st Street and the East River, Dutch Hill (also known as Goat Hill) was in the area that is now the U.N. and Tudor City. Brace was there to look for children to send west or enroll in his industrial schools. Taken by the conditions he experienced in Dutch Hill and hoping to solicit donations, Brace decided to write an account of what he found for the New York Times of this foreign-feeling suburb.

The shantytown that Brace described towered high on a rocky outcropping, with the “little board or mud shanties scattered around like the wigwams of an Indian village, with most perplexing paths winding among them.” Brace lingered on characteristics that made the village seem foreign and much less civilized than the rest of the city. He called the architecture “primitive” and noted how goats, pigs, hens, and dogs walked in and out of the buildings, climbing over everything. While most of the male Irish and German inhabitants worked in nearby quarries, their wives and children picked through the city’s garbage for rags and bones that they might sell to various industries.

Dutch Hill in 1863, “View from School House in 42nd Street Between 2nd & 3rd Avs. Looking North” (PR 020 Geographic File)

Shantytowns, by nature, are difficult to find in the archives. Brace’s writings aside, downtown residents rarely visited these communities that were primarily north of 34th Street. Authors of guidebooks aimed at tourists deliberately avoided mentioning these less-than-sparkling locations. Writers from Charles Dickens to George “Gaslight” Foster investigated mid-nineteenth century Manhattan’s poverty and crime by visiting to Five Points, not Dutch Hill or the other shantytowns. As a Schwartz Fellow at the New-York Historical Society this year, I’ve been trying to unearth more information about these ignored and semi-ephemeral communities in the library’s collections.

In addition to the papers of the Children’s Aid Society that contain Brace’s and other employees’ writings, the New-York Historical Society has a range of materials that help to reveal details about the city’s mid-nineteenth century shantytowns. One of the least expected places where I found evidence of shantytowns was William Perris’ 1859 insurance maps of New York. Insurance maps typically focus on the more developed section of the city downtown where the threat of fire is greatest but Perris’ maps extend further north, revealing blocks with tiny scattered wooden homes that defy the rectilinear order of the grid.

Though perhaps not a complete representation of the east side shantytowns, the small yellow squares note the placement of the wooden shanties in 1859, William Perris, Maps of the City of New-York, vol. 5, Plate 76 (1859)

Another great source includes the handwritten notebooks of the Citizen’s Association of New York’s Council of Hygiene and Public Health, which reveal the locations and conditions of the city’s shantytowns in the middle of the 1860s. With varying levels of detail, Manhattan doctors went block by block listing the characteristics of New York’s property and homes with hopes of inspiring widespread environmental and housing reforms. While their eyes were mainly trained to see issues with tenement houses, their maps and descriptions sometimes fixed on shanties as well.

“Goat Hill” from Citizens’ Association’s Record of Sanitary Inquiry, 1864-1865, Ward 19, (BV Citizens’ Association page 67)

The Citizens’ Association notebooks reveal many of the scattered uptown shantytowns in 1864 Manhattan. Dr. H. Mortimer Brush toured part of the 19th Ward that included several shantytowns including “Goat Hill,” another name for Dutch Hill. Brush’s enthusiasm for the project was evident early on in his notebook where he includes wonderfully detailed maps of each block. Unlike Brace’s description, Brush’s wasn’t completely negative. He noted that the community was relatively healthy, well ventilated, and inhabitants were able to get fresh water from a hydrant on 44th Street. Some of what he mentioned shows the changes the community had undergone since Brace’s visit almost a decade earlier. The inhabitants of the shanties were now almost exclusively Irish (the Germans moved on). Even the animal inhabitants had changed: while goats and chickens still ruled the roost, the inhabitants no longer kept pigs. In 1859 New York City made it illegal to keep pigs below 86th Street and apparently the Dutch Hill residents abided by the law.

As the Dutch Hill community became increasingly Irish, it took on several other nicknames including “Corcoran’s Roost” and became notorious for gang activity. James “Paddy” Corcoran, who became a leader of the Irish-American community, lived on Dutch Hill from about 1850 to 1880 and was perhaps its most famous resident even after developers replaced the shanties with tenement buildings in the late nineteenth century and later Tudor City in the early twentieth century.

While searching for shantytowns in the historical record can often seem like looking for a needle in a haystack, the search is worthwhile.  Shantytowns provide a wealth of information about the way the city expanded during a period of massive urbanization, how immigrant communities scraped by, and how the government, landowners, and benevolent organizations tried to intervene. These were Manhattan’s forgotten “straggling suburbs” of the nineteenth century.

“Don’t Give Up the Ship”

Written by Mariam Touba, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections

James Lawrence Esq.,    showing his victory as commander of the sloop of war Hornet.  PR-052 Portrait File Box 81

James Lawrence Esq., showing his victory as commander of the sloop of war Hornet. PR-052 Portrait File Box 81

Such a challenge seems unheard of in modern warfare, but, nearly a year into the War of 1812, Captain Philip Bowes Vere Broke of the British frigate Shannon wrote to Captain James Lawrence of the United States frigate Chesapeake promising that their ships could duel outside of Boston without interference from any vessel.  The ships could even sail out under a flag of truce;  “choose your terms, but let us meet.”  To goad his subject, Broke went on to write that, after all, these single-ship actions are all that “your little navy” can accomplish.  The statement stung on both ends because the small U.S. Navy had indeed won a series of stunning one-on-one actions against the Royal Navy.  The 31-year-old Lawrence, commanding another vessel, the Hornet, had been one of those victors, feted as “Captain Jim” in New York and Philadelphia.

In Captain Broke of the Shannon, Lawrence would find his match, as the ships were evenly gunned and manned.  The Shannon, having plied the waters on routine patrol, was not much to look at, but her experienced crew was superbly trained in gunnery and its sighting equipment was state-of-the-art, having been supplied at Broke’s own expense.   Lawrence, a New Jersey native, had originally requested to remain near his pregnant wife, Julia,  at his post at the New York Navy Yard but was eager now for the glory:  He set out at noon on June 1 even before receiving Broke’s written message, and here in his rushed hand ends his last letter, written to his brother-in-law,   “An English frigate is close in with the lighthouse, & we are now clearing ship for action.  Should I be so unfortunate as to be taken off, I leave my wife and children to your care…” with the added post script, “10 A M the frigate is plain in sight from our deck and we are now getting underway.”

James Lawrence to James L. Montaudevert,  June 1 [1813].  NHSC—BV Cooper’s Navy
James Lawrence to James L. Montaudevert, June 1 [1813]. NHSC—BV Cooper’s Navy

There was gallantry even in the way the ships approached each other, with the captains at first refusing to maneuver in the most advantageous manner.  With the first gun, Lawrence had a white banner with the slogan “Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights” run up the foremast.  Once the broadsides began, however, the action was as bloody and desperate as battle can be:  In the less than fifteen minutes of fighting, 228 men were killed or wounded in the bloodiest frigate action of the War of 1812.  The Shannon’s gunnery did make the difference, inflicting enough initial damage on the Chesapeake’s officers, gun crews, rigging, and maneuverability as to leave her vulnerable to the Shannon’s men, who, as the ships collided, boarded right onto the quarterdeck.

…H.M.S. Shannon, Commencing the Battle with the American Frigate Chesapeake, on the 1st. June 1813.  Designed by Captain R. H. King, painted by J. C. Schetky, engraved by L. Haghe.  (London, n.d.)  PR-047 Irving S. Olds Collection of Naval Prints, #208

…H.M.S. Shannon, Commencing the Battle with the American Frigate Chesapeake, on the 1st. June 1813. Designed by Captain R. H. King, painted by J. C. Schetky, engraved by L. Haghe. (London, n.d.) PR-047 Irving S. Olds Collection of Naval Prints, #208 

Captain Lawrence, standing conspicuously in full-dress uniform on deck, had seen the midshipmen serving alongside him killed instantly.  He was already nursing a pistol ball in the leg when he received his fatal wound from the enemy’s swivel gun in their maintop.  It was here that he gave, repeatedly, his famous command, “Don’t give up the ship.  Fight her till she sinks” and “Tell them to fire faster, don’t give up the ship.”  Once helped below, lying on the surgeon’s table and informed of the British sailors boarding above, he then called out, “Then blow her up!  Blow the ship up!”

Defeated and captured, Lawrence died in agony three days later and was buried with full honors by his captors in Halifax.  His body was transferred first to Salem, Massachusetts before coming that September to its final prominent resting place in Trinity Churchyard in his adopted city.  He became even more of a hero in defeat as his command became a rallying cry throughout the war and the enduring motto for the United States Navy.   Philip Broke, who had led the Shannon’s boarders onto the Chesapeake’s quarterdeck, suffered a severe head wound but recovered enough to live out his life as a baronet and British hero.

As is common in the chaos of warfare, painful ironies accompany Lawrence’s famous order:  For one thing, it was not the Americans who formally “gave up the ship,” but rather the Shannon’s borders who had gained control of the main deck and raised the blue British colors over the Stars and Stripes.  Arriving among them was the Shannon’s First Lieutenant George Watt who then wanted to raise an even showier white British ensign on the mizzen halyards.  As he went about doing this, he and his men were killed by a Shannon gun whose crew most likely thought the momentary lowering of the blue flag was the work of straggling American survivors.

Death of Captain Lawrence.  “Don’t Give Up the Ship” Painted by Alonzo Chappel. Engraved by H. B. Hall.  New York, Martin, Johnson, & Co. Publishers.  1856.  PR-052 Portrait File Box 81.

Death of Captain Lawrence. “Don’t Give Up the Ship” Painted by Alonzo Chappel. Engraved by H. B. Hall. New York, Martin, Johnson, & Co. Publishers. 1856. PR-052 Portrait File Box 81.

A further paradox is obscured by engravings such as this one, evoking Lawrence’s heroism by depicting him grievously wounded and held up by his men on the quarterdeck.  At this point he had reportedly asked his Third Lieutenant, the recently-promoted William S. Cox, to “bear a hand” and help him below to the ship’s surgeon.  Cox assisted his commander down the hatchway ladder where he left him to the surgeon and raced back to his post with his guns.  However, the following year it was young Cox who was brought before a court martial and convicted of unofficer-like conduct, in part because he “accompanied his disabled commander, James Lawrence, Esq., from the quarter-deck while the enemy was boarding.”   Cox, cashiered from the Navy, chose to enlist for the duration of the war as a private in the Army.  Convinced that Lieutenant Cox was being scapegoated for the Chesapeake’s defeat, his family and others would eventually convince Congress and the President to restore Cox’s Navy commission posthumously.   This took quite a while, but persistence paid off as this order was signed by Harry S. Truman in 1952.


Captain Lawrence’s original Trinity Churchyard tombstone can be seen in the New-York Historical Society’s Luce Center.   It reveals that Lawrence’s son was born but five weeks after his father’s death; he died in infancy and was buried with his father.  A wealth of additional material about Lawrence, the Chesapeake, and the Shannon has come to the Society from his great-great nephew as The Eugene H. Pool Collection of Captain James Lawrence.


This is a blog created by staff members in the library to draw attention to the richness and diversity of our collections.


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