New York City – A Hundred Years Ago

The following glimpse of life as it was in New York about a hundred years ago was written by Mrs. Catherine C. Havens, who lived to the good old age of 96. The article is from her own journal and comes to us in her own handwriting and are her own personal recollections. It is the privilege and good fortune of the Manual to come into possession of such rare and interesting manuscripts and we take pleasure in presenting them to our readers.

I was born in 1801 at 84 Beekman Street. At that time Liberty, Dey, John Streets and so on down to the Battery were all occupied by private families. In Wall Street lived Mrs. Greenleaf, a widow and three daughters, George Griswold, the Buchanans (father and son), the Whites and Stephen Storm.

I was seven or eight when my mother’s father ( James Cebra) died. He lived in Fletcher Street next to the corner of Water Street. It was a three-story house with one room on each floor. Entering the house there was a small square hall with a closet. My grandfather Cebra was a city weigher and had his office in the Custom House. The Custom House then stood south of the Bowling Green, facing it. It was a large brick building with heavy wooden Corinthian columns painted white supporting the roof, and balconies on each floor. My grandfather had some kind of trouble in his leg late in life and could not always walk to his office. When unable to walk a Mr. Morris came to his house from the Custom House and read the figures to him and my grandfather took them down in his books. An unmarried daughter, Peggy, kept house for him. I used to go regularly to see him on my Saturday half-holidays and stay until Monday morning, going to church with my Aunt Peggy on Sunday morning to old Trinity. My grandfather’s pew was on the south side aisle next the wall about half-way up. The church was apt to be cold and my aunt carried a large martin muff in which she put my feet during service. Bishop Hobart preached there then. He wore spectacles with black rims.

Our house in Beekman Street was on the north side, between Cliff and Pearl Streets—a three-story brick house. We moved to Maiden Lane about 1806. At that time there was a market at the head of Maiden Lane called the Oswego market. The city decided to widen Maiden Lane from Broadway to Nassau Street and so all the houses on the south side of the block were taken down. My father then bought a lot on ‘the north side, 28 feet wide, directly opposite our former house, from Peter Sharpe for $2,500, on which he built a three-story brick house in 1810, with a threefoot alley-way. It was built by Abraham Stagg and was a very handsome house for these days. We moved into it May 1, 1811. My sister Fanny was married there June 5th, 1811, by Dr. Spring of the Brick church, to Alex. Garden Fraser of Beaufort, S. C. She wore a colored silk dress, and her cousin, Eliza Cebra Waters, was bridesmaid, and Josiah Goggeshall was groomsman.

When I was about 8 or 9 years of age we attended Dr. Milledoller’s church in Rutgers Street. We had a square pew at the foot of the middle aisle. I cannot remember exactly when we left the Rutgers Street church and went to the old brick church, but it was while Drs. McKnight, Miller and Rogers were the associate ministers. They all wore gowns and Dr. Rogers wore a white wig. It must have been about 1809 that Dr. Rogers died. I went to his funeral. He was buried in the brick church grounds.

Dr. Miller was then called to the church built for him in Wall Street and Dr. McKnight died soon after. In 1810 Dr. Spring was called to the brick church. I heard him preach his first sermon August 10th, 1810, from the text : “I am determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Very soon after Dr. Spring came my father united with the church. My mother also. My father was soon elected an elder and continued in that office until his death, November 26th, 1817. He was a very earnest Christian and a warm friend of Dr. Spring’s. The latter said, on closing my father’s eyes, that he was the most intelligent’ layman he had ever known. About 1798 or 1799 my father failed in business. The firm name was “Webb & Lamb, Shipping Merchants,” corner Pearl Street and Burling Slip. One of their vessels, loaded with nutmegs, from Sarinam, was lost, and Mr. Lamb lost in it. This disaster caused their failure. In those days the laws were very rigid. My father had to go on what was called “the limits,” until he could pay his debts. In 1799 my brother, Augustus Van Horn, was born, and a nurse, Mrs. Page, taking care of my mother, seeing my father was a very ingenious man, advised him to go into the suspender business, and showed him a pair which she had made herself. This was something entirely new, and, there being no business of this kind in the city, my father made several improvements in the article, until he brought out something very handsome. I remember how he shut himself in his room, not admitting any of his family, until he had completed his invention. During T. Jefferson’s administration, he went to Washington and took out a patent under name of “Webb’s patent suspenders.” His store was in front of his house, and his living room in the rear. His factory was in the basement. This was in our own house, No. 19 Maiden Lane. He imported the sewing silk and webbing from Liverpool, from firm of Rabone Bros., and employed 60 women, some in knitting the sewing silk, for which he paid $14 per lb., and others in working on the different parts. This work was prepared for them by Ira Perego, an apprentice, and they came every Saturday, to bring their work, to receive their wages, and to get their work for the following week. He had agents in all the large cities of the U. S. In Boston it was Wm. Little; in Philadelphia, Andrew Quinn ; in Albany, Paul Hockstrasser and agents in two or three places in New York City. He soon paid his creditors, and might have left a large fortune if he had not been so constantly called upon for charity. He was very benevolent, gave freely to the poor, and assisted many of his poorer relations.

Among others of my brother’s family who used to come frequently to our house was his cousin, Susan Rivington. She was educated in London. Her father was a tory and a printer. Rivington Street was named for him. She lived on the northeast corner of Wall and Pearl Streets, opposite the Tontine Coffee House (north-west corner). The Phoenix Coffee House was on the southeast corner. Mr. Evans Bardin kept them both.

First he kept the Phoenix, and afterwards the Tontine. I used to go there to visit his granddaughter, Mary Ann Richardson. The Washington Hotel was on the south-east corner of Reade Street and Broadway. The City Hotel was one block above Trinity, and Mechanics’ Hall (a hotel), corner Broadway and Park Place. These are all the hotels I can remember. There were a great many boarding houses, well kept and well patronized. Mrs. Saidler kept one down Broadway, East Side, near the Battery. It was afterwards kept by Mrs. Reese. Mrs. Woods, 21 Broadway, on the West Side, also kept one. Down in Pearl Street Mrs. Mix and Tripp kept one in partnership; also a Mrs. Diggins in Pearl Street and smaller ones about the city. Corner Pearl and John Streets Mrs. Cotton also kept a large boarding house and my brother-in-law, James H. Leverich, boarded with a Mrs. Jones in John Street. The old doctors in New York were Dr. Wright Post, corner Broadway and Gar-den Street ; Dr. Hodick, in Vesey Street; Dr. Haversley, in Dey Street, and Dr. Handy, in Dey Street; Dr. Van Solingen, in Cortlandt Street; Dr. Seaman, in Beekman Street ; Dr. Mott, Dr. Turner and old Dr. Thomas Cock (Dr. Van Solingen’s daughter Jane married Dr. Gunning S. Bedford, Sr.) and old Dr. Moore. (Dr. Van Solingen and Dr. Post were my father’s physicians when he died.) In Pearl Street, from Maiden Lane to Beek-man Street, the young people used to call it “The Johnnies” because so many Johns lived there. There lived John Taylor (grandfather of I. T. Johnston), John Adams, John Clendening, John Ellis, John Hone. These were their places of business, and they lived over them. In those days there were no bookkeepers ; every gentle-men kept his own books; consequently there were no defalcations. I never heard of but one, and that was old Samuel Swartout, who was in the Custom House. After that when such occasional cases were heard of, it was said “So-and-So has been Swartouting.”

Facing No. 21 Maiden Lane was a short street, called Little Green Street, which ran down one block to Liberty Street. On the west side was a large brick building used as a school for girls, kept by a Mr. Griscom; on the northwest corner of Liberty Street was a Quaker Meeting House and graveyard.

In William Street, opposite Cedar Street, an English lady, Mrs. Thomas, kept a school which I attended. In William Street, just a few doors south of this school, was a fashionable shoe store kept by a Mr. R. Bunn. The fashionable French shoe store was kept by Mr. Pardessus on the east side of ‘William Street, between John and Fair (Fulton) Streets.

At the Post Office, southeast corner of William and Garden Streets, lived Thomas Bailey, Postmaster. He married Mrs. McWhorter of Newark, N. J., and had two daughters, Ann Eliza who married Arthur Bronson, and Catherine, who married William W. Woolsey. They went to school with me at Mrs. Thomas’ ; since then Cedar Street has been cut through and the schoolhouse destroyed.

Policemen were called constables ; they carried little square sticks about as big as a broomstick, going up to a point. The point was painted blue with a little blue ribbon at the top. The rest of the stick was painted white.

Somewhere about 1812 three steamers went up the Hudson River to Albany. They started from the foot of Cortlandt Street and were called The Paragon, The Car of Neptune and The Richmond. They were allnight boats and were not larger than an ordinary ferry boat.

The first event I can remember is the death of my little sister Eliza, a month old, at Sterling, Long Island (now Greenport), at my grandfather’s, Orange Webb. She had on a little white slip and red shoes—and I wept because she had to lie out at night in the rain. I was then five years old.

My grandfather died in the month of May on Sun-day, suddenly, in an apoplectic fit. I was off with my sister at the foot of Hubert Street on the North River, seeing an’ immersion, when my parents sent for us to come to Fletcher Street to my grandfather’s. I remember, as if it were yesterday seeing him laid out on a cot in the second story under the front windows. He was buried in Mr. Henry Remsen’s vault in the New Dutch church in Nassau Street.

Catherine Lawrence—the daughter of my mother’s half-sister, Catherine Beekman—was a beautiful girl and was engaged to her own cousin, Nat. Lawrence. He went on business to China and on his return found her married to Dr. Hicks. By him she had two children—Mary, who married Benson Van Zandt, son of Winant Van Zandt, and Caroline Louise, who married John C. Clarkson of New York. Her cousin must have loved her very devotedly, for after Dr. Hicks died he married her and by him she had six daughters and two sons. They were : Caroline, who married Nelson Abeel; Catherine, who married Major Gallagher of Baltimore; Elizabeth, who married Charles Clarkson of Flatbush, L. I.; Charlotte and Cornelia, who died unmarried, and Julia, who married Phineas H. Buckley ; Charles and Clarkson, the sons, were unmarried.