Category Archives: History

Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Inter-Library Loan allows the borrowing of materials from other Westchester County libraries, thereby increasing the resources made available.

(2014-07-06 001)Author: Jean Zimmerman

Title: Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty

Publication Information: Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, c2006 (1st ed.)

ISBN: 0-15-101065-X (i.e. 978-0-15-101065-3)

Library of Congress Classification: F122.1.P48

Dewey Decimal Classification: 974.7

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Philipse, Margaret Hardenbroeck.
Philipse, Margaret Hardenbroeck–Family
Phillips family
Women merchants–New Netherland–Biography
New Netherland–Biography
New Netherland–Commerce–History
New Netherland–Social conditions
New York (State)–History–Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775–Biography

The world of New Netherland, the colony founded by the Dutch that would later become New York City, comes alive through the life of Margaret Hardenbroeck, an immigrant from the Netherlands who comes to the New World (at age 22) as an agent of her cousin, but who stays and becomes a merchant and a magnate in her own right.

The term “she-merchant” had a legal recognition in Dutch law. Margaret, like all women, could represent herself in a Dutch court of law, write her own will and bequeath her worldly goods to anyone she wished. The Dutch Reformed Church was quite progressive: it advocated for the education of men and women. Women were expected to be as literate as men. The Netherlands was a mercantile republic, meaning that the merchants ran the country. Women were allowed to represent themselves in any business adventures that they undertook.

The New Netherland colony is a perfect example of a “turning back of the clock,” which all minorities fear. It’s the taking away of privileges and rights earned over time by those in the least powerful positions. When the English conquered New Netherland in 1664, they agreed not to take any of the rights away from the Dutch that they had previously held under the former government. Almost immediately, this began to erode. Zimmerman discusses the various attempts by the British to limit the powers of the Dutch merchants, but what is even more alarming is how the she-merchants, as with all women, lost their rights as citizens. Under British law, a woman could only be represented in court by her father or her husband; Margaret found it increasingly difficult to undertake any business activity by herself. The old Dutch custom of women keeping their own names even after marriage was also abandoned. Women were no longer treated as partners in a marriage, but as their husbands’ chattel.

This loss extended to education as well. As Britain tightened the grip on the colony, the Dutch found it increasingly difficult to hire teachers to educate their children in the Dutch language, customs and law. Women were expected to be good wives and mothers; they had no reason to be educated. Thus, as the British eliminated the Dutch customs, women became uneducated, just as the British expected wives and mothers to be. They were taught how to darn socks and embroider and the other necessary skills a good wife and mother would expect to know, but to women like Margaret this was death.

Margaret married twice. First, she married Pieter Rudolphus de Vries. Margaret, at 22, married Pieter, 57, probably because she was already pregnant with their child. Maria was born, but she would never get to know her father, since Pieter died at 58 of an unknown ailment. Margaret then married Frederick Philipse, a carpenter who arrived 6 years before Margaret in New Amsterdam. Like Margaret, Frederick was on his way to creating a business empire. After swearing that Eva–the name Maria was adopted under–would be raised as his own child, Frederick was permitted to marry Margaret in the Dutch Reformed Church.

They had Philip, Adolph, Annetje, and Rombout as well as Eva. The Philipses expanded their trading empire as well as the lands that they owned. From Spuyten Duyvil Creek in the Bronx up to the Croton River in Westchester County, the Philipses carved out what would become known as Philipse Manor–or Philipsburg Manor. This huge track of land bordered the Hudson and Bronx Rivers. The Philipses had tenant farmers working on this land. They had manor houses in Yonkers, where the “lower mills” was located, and one in Sleepy Hollow, known as the “upper mills.” Both manor houses still survive as historic landmarks.

The Old Dutch Church, made famous in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was planned by Margaret but never built. Her successor Catherine, who married Frederick after her death, built the church. The bell, cast in Holland with the date 1685 and made for Margaret, still hangs in the belfry. Catherine and Frederick are buried in the church.

The book ends with the successors of Margaret, Catherine and Frederick leaving the new United States in 1783. The Philipses had supported the Crown during the Revolutionary War and paid for it. All their lands, the vast manor, was confiscated. Other Tories, such as the Van Cortlandts, were forgiven by the new nation, but none of these families had the best lands on the Hudson and in Westchester. The former Philipse Manor was divided up into parcels and sold off.

For anyone who enjoys learning about local colonial and Revolutionary history. An enjoyable, informative book. It had been selected by the Historical Society‘s book club.






Tony Thorne, Countess Dracula: the Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess

(2014-05-28 001)Title: Countess Dracula: the Life and Times of Elisabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess

Author: Tony Thorne

Publication Information: London: Bloomsbury, 1998, c1997

ISBN: 0-747536414 (978-0747-53641-3)

Library of Congress Classification: DB999.S283

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Báthory, Erzsébet, 1560-1614
Judicial error–Hungary
Hungary–History–Turkish occupation, 1526-1699
Sávár (Hungary)–History
Transylvania (Romania)–History

There are times that I will write a review for a book that I read years ago. This is one of them. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I had to order this book from England. It cost me $62.70 for a paperback through Alibris. To the best of my knowledge, this book was never released in the United States. Here’s an example of why scholars and researchers need to go beyond what is published in their native countries and languages when exploring their interests. And what is so great about this book?

Tony Thorne proves that Elisabeth Balthory was railroaded.

She was not a “blood countess,” bathing in the blood of virgins. She was a victim of circumstance, a pawn in a much bigger political struggle. Her reputation was deliberately demeaned and destroyed in a successful attempt to seize the Balthory estates.

With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the conquest of Greece and the rest of the Balkans was opened. The Kingdom of Hungary blocked the further Turkish advance into Europe–until the Battle of Mohács in 1526.

Suffice to say that the Turks made war on the Hungarians, and at Mohács they not only killed the Hungarian king but decimated the nobility. The kingdom simply collapsed, which was quickly overrun by the Turks. This is when Vienna was first put under siege by the Turks. A “rump” Hungary, shaped like the letter C, was all that remained of the kingdom, which was under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria. Now the Austro-German Hapsburgs claimed the throne of Hungary, which did not please the native Hungarian nobility.

In the time of Elisabeth György Thurzó was appointed as Palatine of Hungary to govern in the name of the Holy Roman Emperor. Many of the Hungarian nobility looked to the Hungarian prince of Transylvania as the possible unifier of the Hungarians and the next king of Hungary. Who was this prince? Stephen Bathory–Elisabeth’s nephew.

The Bathory estates were vast. Elisabeth had administered them while her husband went off to war several times; there is evidence that Elisabeth was an able administrator, since there were no problems when her husband returned to take control. With his death, Elisabeth became the sole possessor, a woman alone with a vast fortune and a nephew that could possibly become a problem to the Habsburg emperor, to whom Thurzó owed his position.

We can add misogyny to the mix. Thurzó seized Elisabeth’s castle, found “improprieties” in the place, drew up charges, tortured her staff for confessions, and had them quickly executed, imprisoning Elisabeth in her castle for her “crimes.” She was walled up in her bedroom. It was then the stories of the “blood countess” began to circulate. The Balthory estates were now held by Thurzó.

The idea of Stephen Balthory restoring the Hungarian kingdom was just a dream. He was insane and eventually killed, at which point Elisabeth was simply no longer important. Her son was a minor; her two daughters were married, and their inheritances were released to them. Thurzó admitted no wrong; who cared about Elisabeth? So she was allowed to languish, forgotten by all except for the terrible stories told about her that just grew after her death.

Thorne researched the Hungarian court records and found quite a bit of irregularities in her case. No one else outside of Thurzó’s group was able to question the witnesses because they had all been executed immediately. A Hungarian lawyer, a descent of Thurzó, looked into the case and said that the evidence presented would not stand up in a modern court of law; had Thurzó followed the law he would not have had a case.

So the next time you are watching History Channel schlock around Halloween about the “Blood Countess,” remember what was done to poor Elisabeth. Let’s right an historic wrong.

David Sider, The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum

(2014-03-09 001)Title: The Library of the Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum

Author: David Sider

Publication Information: Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, c2005

ISBN: 978-0-89236-799-3 (0-89236-799-7)

Library of Congress Classification: DG70.H5

Dewey Decimal Classification: 091

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Villa of the Papyri (Herculaneum)
Herculaneum (Extinct city)—Antiquities
Piso Caesoninus, Lucius Calpurnius—Library
Private libraries—Italy—Herculaneum (Extinct city)
Manuscripts, Greek (Papyri)—Italy—Herculaneum (Extinct city)

This book is somewhat mistitled. It isn’t about the Villa of the Papyri itself, but the scrolls found inside the building, many of them in the library. The history of how these scrolls were opened and read is what much of the book is about.

When the villa was first found, the workers first thought that the lumps of black were coal until someone noticed writing on one of them. It was only after many of these “useless” pieces were discarded did the reality that they had found a library of charred scrolls sink  in. After this, the attempts to open the scrolls are told in horrifying detail. Many scrolls were destroyed by the crazy ways that were tested Finally, the first lengthy method was deemed the best; all unwrapping machines are based on this 18th century prototype.

Sider goes into gory detail about how each scroll has to have two wedges cut out of each side in order to unroll the scrolls into long pieces. Several outer layers were completely charred by the volcanic eruption as were the layers of scroll at the center; these sections are discarded. What are left are documents that have had their beginnings and endings lost to time. Sider reminds us that the only reason we still have these scrolls is because of the eruption. Otherwise, these scrolls would have been completely  lost. This is the only ancient library that has survived into the present day.

And what exactly are these scrolls of? Roman libraries were usually divided into two areas: Latin and Greek. This is the Greek section that was made up of the writings of Philodemus, a Epicurean philosopher whose works were mostly lost before the scrolls were found. There’s a strong possibility that the villa was owned by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. As Sider points out, there are two lower floors of the villa that have not been excavated. It is quite possible that the Latin part of the library is still buried. Sider wonders if there’s a scroll with letters from Julius Caesar himself somewhere in the hard rock. Only excavation and careful unwrapping of the scrolls will tell.

This is a well-written, interesting book for anyone who is interested in ancient libraries and learning. The documentation of what was done to many scrolls before a good way was discovered to unwrap them is unsettling; logic and patience had given way to sensationalism and impatience, the quick ways to unwrap the scrolls destroyed many.

A great book.

Dee L. Clayman, Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt

(2014-01-17 002)

Title: Berenice II and the Golden Age of Ptolemaic Egypt

Author: Dee L. Clayman

Series: Women in Antiquity

Publication Information: Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, c2014

ISBN: 978-0-19-537089-8

Library of Congress Classification: DT92

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Berenice, Queen, consort of Ptolemy III, King of Egypt, approximately 270 B.C.-221 B.C.
Egypt—History—332-30 B.C.
Berenice, Queen, consort of Ptolemy III, King of Egypt, approximately 270 B.C.-221 B.C.—In literature

First, I want to say that I know Dee Clayman. I am the library liaison to the Classics Program at the Graduate and University Center, City University of New York, and Clayman is the executive officer of the program.

That said, this is an interesting piece of detective work. It’s easy when writing biographies of modern people; there’s a plethora of information out there in print and on the Internet, documents, newspaper articles, photographs, you name it and you can probably find it. However, the further back into history the person existed, the harder and harder it is to do a biography.

Bernice II, the wife of Ptolemy III Euergetes I (“benefactor”), was the princess of Cyrene, which ruled the Cyrenaica, an area that is now in Libya but at that time was, up until the time of the Alexander the Great, for the most part independent. A delegation from the city met Alexander in the Siwan oasis and surrendered the city to him. Since Ptolemy I Soter (“savior’”) saw himself as Alexander’s successor in Egypt, Cyrenaica was naturally viewed as being under Ptolemaic control even though in actuality the area regained its independence.

Bernice is portrayed as a very strong woman, operating within and without the traditional, limited roles assigned by women in the Greek world. Her father, King Magas, had planned on her marrying her cousin Ptolemy, thereby bringing Cyrenaica back under Egyptian control. Upon his death, however, Bernice’s mother, Apama, had other ideas. She repudiated the arranged marriage and instead had Bernice marry Demetrius the Fair, a prince from Macedonia. Demetrius was arrogant and scandalized the Cyrenean court by having an affair with his mother-in-law. (This was probably considered incest by the Greeks.) Taking advantage of the situation, Berenice rallied support behind her, and had Demetrius killed in his mother’s bed chamber; she spared her mother’s life. After this, Berenice sailed to Alexandria and married Ptolemy just as her father had planned.

And what do we know about Berenice? All that is known comes from the literature of the time. Callimachus, appointed head of the Alexandrian library, was one who would write poetry in praise of Berenice. This type of hagiography is typical for the time, but not all hagiographers were successful in their works. Apollonius Rhodius, the author of Argonautica which was about Ptolemaic times veiled in mythology, was driven from Alexandria and ended up in exile on the island of Rhodes. Callimachus, also from Cyrene, had a common background with Berenice that he exploited until he became close to her—as close as a servant could come to a queen.

Berenice, like her husband, was a highly cultured individual. Heads of sculpture identified as Berenice have been found in Alexandria and all over the Near East including the Athenian agora, thus serving as an example of the influence of Ptolemy III over the region. It was at this time that Ptolemaic Greek culture flourished; the Alexandrian library was well-funded, and Ptolemy and Berenice built temples all over Egypt. The Serapeum in Egypt was enlarged, with a library being added which was known as the “daughter” of the original Alexandrian library. The Ptolemaion, a gymnasium that also contained a library, was probably built by Ptolemy III and given as a gift to the people of Athens. There is even some evidence that Bernice may have played a role in foreign affairs.

How the Ptolemies portrayed themselves to their subjects and the world deserves mention. It was ancient Egyptian custom for the kings of Egypt to marry their sisters and daughters. These incestuous unions were common. Ptolemy I portrayed himself and his wife as brother and sister even though they were not. Ptolemy II actually married his full sister and had Ptolemy III and other children with her. Ptolemy III and Bernice’s marriage was cast in terms of a brother-sister union. Outside of Egypt, however, unions of this type (Ptolemy I and III’s marriages; Ptolemy II’s certainly) would considered incestuous; the Greeks would not have accepted them. Therefore, all three Ptolemies and their wives were referred to in traditional terms of king and queen. Only in Egypt was the brother-sister unions promoted and seen as a continuation of the dynasties that came before.

Clayman compares Berenice to Cleopatra VII—the Cleopatra known from her love affairs with Caesar and Antony. Both were daring, intelligent women. Unlike Berenice, Cleopatra ruled in her own right; like Berenice, Cleopatra’s end was tragic. Berenice was murdered by her son, Ptolemy IV who killed not only her but his younger brother Magas and his uncle to make sure there was no one to challenge his rule. And from here, Ptolemaic Egypt declined as Ptolemy IV, debauched and irresponsible, started the state on its way to ruin. Ironically, Cleopatra was not only the last of the Ptolemies but also a very intelligent, cultured and capable individual that, in better times, could have continued the expansion and influence of Ptolemy III and Bernice II. Unfortunately, she inherited an Egypt that already hampered by Roman interests, its greatness long gone.

This book actually supplements my research focus on ancient libraries. It was interesting to get a flavor of who was ruling Egypt at the time when the Alexandrian library and Museion (the scholarly building of which the library was a part) were at their height.

Thomas A. Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers: the American Quest for a Relatable Past

(2014-03-09 023)Title: Sex Lives and the Founding Fathers: the American Quest for a Relatable Past [NETGALLERY DOWNLOAD]

Author: Thomas A. Foster

Series: Sexuality Studies

Publication Information: Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2014

ISBN: 1439911029 (978-1439911020)

Library of Congress Classification: E302.5

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Founding Fathers of the United States—Sexual behavior—United States—History
Presidents—Sexual behavior—United States—History
United States—History, 1783-1815—Biography

This is an interesting book.

Anything that has sex in the title usually sells, and Foster goes through the sex lives of the Founding Fathers: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris, the least remembered. Foster traces how the sex lives (what we know about them, which in most cases is not much) have changed in biographies over time from right after the Revolutionary War to now. It is a fascinating look at how society has perceived the Founders, and the importance of their sex lives is to the public.

Most of the Founders left very little about their personal lives, with the exception of Franklin and Morris. With George’s death, Martha Washington burned most of their correspondence so little of it remains. Adams was fearful of putting anything private in letters because a popular past-time was the reading of letters to friends and relatives. Private parts of letters were marked but Adams took no chances. What is known about Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the slave who is now believed was his lover, is circumstantial. Such stories circulated about Jefferson while he lived, but such stories were put out by political opponents to smear their rivals. There is no doubt that Hemings’ descendants are related to the third president, but was he or another Jefferson  her lover?

Hamilton’s affair with another woman was made public by his enemies because he was being blackmailed by the woman and her husband; he enemies wanted to cast Hamilton as an embezzler of public funds to pay off the blackmailers. This proved to be untrue and Hamilton, who was illegitimate, went public with what happened to him. Washington stood by him.

Franklin wrote is autobiography, which allowed him to shape his legacy, the only Founder to do so. His oldest son was born out of wedlock, and Franklin and his wife raised the boy. Franklin has always been seen as a ladies man, and he was sexually active before he married. He also had plenty of opportunities when he was in France. Franklin made the rounds of the salons that were run by women, but these groups were more than just social get-togethers. Politics, dealing and spying were rolled into the gatherings presided over by the French aristocratic women. Did Franklin cheat on his wife, or was it all just show? He is not considered a good husband; even after receiving a letter from his wife imploring him to return home to see her before she died, he did not come back until after her death.

Was Adams a good husband? Like the relationship between George and Martha Washington, the marriage of John and Abigail Adams has been portrayed as loving and warm. Adams was not at home much, traveling around the colonies and eventually going to France with Franklin to represent the United States at the French court during the Revolution. Again, there is not much evidence to base a judgment. Hamilton is seen by many as the “gay” Founder because of an intense relationship he had with another soldier in the Revolutionary Army. There are letters where their affection for one another is evident, but Foster points out that letters of the time were written in a certain style. Was Hamilton close friends with this young man, who died in the Revolution, or were they lovers? Again, the evidence is circumstantial.

Morris’ legacy was mixed right after he died; he was a known libertine, at least before he got married (in his 50s); he liked sex, and he liked women. Unlike the rest, including Franklin, Morris kept extensive diaries that not only discussed what he was doing but with whom he was having affairs. It was not unusual for Morris to record his activities in the salon, doing some political dealing, then slipping off to have a tryst with his favorite aristocrat, whose cuckold husband was clueless and, at least in one case, was in the next room. What is most shocking is that many of Morris’ entries have been vandalized; lines and pieces of entries have been scratched out, making much of it unreadable. An earlier biography by a relative cited some of these now-destroyed entries, so who vandalized the diaries?

A very interesting book.

Look What’s in the Warner Library!

Warner Library serves Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. There’s a big browsing section of what new books the library bought.

(2014-02-09 001)Title: The Historic Shops & Restaurants of New York

Author: Ellen Williams & Steve Radlauer

Publication Information: New York: The Little Bookroom, 2002

ISBN: 978-781892-145-1-54 (1-892145-15-4)

Library of Congress Classification: TX907.3.N72

Dewey Decimal Classification: 917.471

Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Restaurants—New York (State)—New York—Guidebooks
Stores, Retail—New York (State)—New York—Guidebooks

I came across this book when I was weeding the out-of-date books in the travel section in the library. I was intrigued so much that I took it out. The Historic Shops & Restaurants of New York is for those into New York City history, specifically the history of shops and restaurants in Gotham.

The book’s focus is on establishments that are a century or so old. The term “store” has a wide meaning: apothecaries, pharmacies, leather goods, clothiers, sporting goods, home fittings, jewelers, watchmakers, butchers, fishmongers, grocerias (grocery stores), hardware—you name it, it’s probably listed.

There are some interesting entries. Did you know that Bloomingdale’s donated most of the men’s department to recruiting during the 1898 Spanish-American War? The store also granted extended leaves of absence at full pay for those employees who enlisted. During World War I, the store turned a full floor over to the Red Cross and posted signs in the grocery department (!) reminding shoppers of the rationing schedule: no wheat on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Tuesdays were meatless.

Macy’s, in the meantime, had introduced the world to the first store Santa Claus in 1870. The Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924, with the giant balloons joining three years later. Originally the balloons would be released at the finish line; people would then bring them back for a reward. And Macy’s red star logo? It came from founder and ex-seaman Roland Hussey Macy, upon whose hand was a red star tattoo.

A hospital for dolls exists on Lexington Avenue. The Doll Hospital was founded in 1900 originally to restore the tangled hair on dolls but quickly expanded into making all repairs dolls may need. After Teddy bears, introduced in 1902, became popular, the Doll Hospital also serviced them. After World War II, the Doll Hospital began selling dolls imported from Europe. And as customers are reminded, the hospital hasn’t lost a patient yet.

I’m interested in the restaurants and cafés. The Landmark Tavern was built at 11th Avenue in 1868, before landfill extended Manhattan over to 12th Avenue. The tavern initially served immigrants, sailors and longshoremen. Mare Chiaro is better known as the Sinatra Bar, since Frank Sinatra had patronized it since 1941. In 1860, McSorley’s Old Ale House served Abraham Lincoln, who was then an ex-Illinois congressman running for president. Lincoln was speaking at Cooper Union, founded the year before by philanthropist Peter Cooper. One of Cooper’s closest friends was John McSorley.

There’s a lot here. The book is of interest to anyone who wants to poke around the more than a century old stores and restaurants of New York City.