The International Garden Club Goes International: The Barra School Children’s Garden Competition, 1936–1952


Isle of Barra, view from the summit of Heaval. © Copyright Chris McLean and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

The Isle of Barra, a remote windswept island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, is a world away from Bartow-Pell and New York City, but there is a fine story to be told about these two places and their forgotten connection.

In 1936, Bartow-Pell was the headquarters of the International Garden Club, which had been formed in 1914. The club’s agreement with the New York City Parks Department required that the IGC restore and maintain the house and garden. In return, the organization’s well-heeled members were allowed to use the Pelham Bay Park mansion as a center for their horticultural, social, and public activities. The group’s founders also agreed to provide instruction to “teachers for Public School Gardens” and “to assist other Horticultural Societies and Garden Clubs.”


Robert Lister Macneil, 1915. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-96148

On September 6, 1936, the New York Times announced the marriage of IGC member Marie Stevens Hicks (1887–1952) to her second husband, Robert Lister Macneil (1889–1970), the Macneil of Barra, an American architect who was the forty-fifth chief of his clan. The bride, who had a distinguished pedigree, was the wealthy widow of a U.S. congressman. Thanks to the generosity of the new Mrs. Macneil, in 1937 the newlyweds bought the romantic ruins of Kisimul Castle on the Isle of Barra, the ancestral home of the groom’s clan.


Kisimul Castle, Isle of Barra

While her husband was busy with plans to restore the castle, Marie Macneil took a keen interest in the local people and their needs. On her first visit to the island in 1936, she had discovered that there was a severe shortage of fresh vegetables, and she decided to do something about it by creating the Barra School Children’s Garden Competition for the seven schools in the community. In 1938, Marie Macneil secured assistance from the International Garden Club, which she felt should support projects that were in line with its mission to educate people about gardening and to support horticulture on an international level. In addition to her time, passion, and energy, Mrs. Macneil also donated her own money.


Mary Ludlow Fowler Tuckerman (Mrs. Eliot), International Garden Club President, 1937–41 and 1946

Marie Macneil later described the project in a lecture at the Pasadena Garden Club:

Upon my first visit in 1936 to those remote Outer Isles, I had found the usual British diet—boiled mutton, boiled potatoes, and sometimes boiled onions. No green vegetables, and masses of that ghastly store bread, hampers of which were arriving by the tri-weekly boat from the mainland. I decided to set up a garden competition among the school children there and spent in the beginning one pound on the seeds for the seven schools . . . and gave a pound to each school as prizes. The Scottish press got hold of this and . . . a clipping was sent to the President, Mrs. Eliot Tuckerman, of the International Garden Club of New York, who asked permission to aid the plan by having the Club send a medal the following year to the first prize winner of each of the schools and a cup to be competed for by the seven schools, the one winning this three times to retain the trophy.

Students ages 12 and above were invited to plant 14-square-foot vegetable gardens on the “best ground which can be spared on the croft [farm or field] as regards soil and position . . . well drained, sunny, and protected from the full force of the wind. It should also be protected by fences or wire-netting from cattle, dogs and hens, and there should be no danger of the sea coming in at an exceptionally high tide.” Composting was strongly encouraged, and fertilizers were made from chicken, cow, horse, and sheep manure along with seaweed. No commercial products were allowed. With funds from Mrs. Macneil and the IGC, seeds were purchased from local suppliers or sent from New York by boat.

This year the number of gardens was doubled, between forty and fifty having been started. Of these, only one or two had been neglected; a few had been destroyed by cattle raids, and one by the sea . . . The vegetables included potatoes, turnips, carrots, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, beetroot, leeks, lettuce, and parsley. . . . Some of the mothers, however, admitted that beetroot was not popular in the household and others that they did not know what to do with the Brussels sprouts. F. Marian McNeill, “The Cottage Garden: A Hebridean Experiment,” The Scotsman, September 26, 1938

According to the guidelines, “Marks will be awarded for neatness, sensible planning and absence of weeds as well as for quality of crops.” The students in each school placing first, second, and third won cash prizes from Mrs. Macneil, and those in first place also got a bronze medal from the IGC. In addition, the rules stated: “The Department of Education will buy for the school canteens, at a fair price, any surplus from the children’s gardens not needed by the children and their families.”


Letter from Marie Macneil of Barra to IGC President Florence Van Rensselaer, on Barra School Children’s Garden Competition letterhead, June 3, 1948. The IGC’s role is mentioned at the bottom.


Lady Evelyn Barbara Balfour, 1943. Photograph by Elliott & Fry. © Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London. Lady Eve was on the school gardens’ advisory council and was the Honorary Life President of the Soil Association.

A local committee oversaw the program and was led by a director on a small salary contributed by Mrs. Macneil. The heads of the schools were Regional Directors, and local authorities and horticultural experts served on an advisory council, including Lady Eve Balfour (1898–1990), a British innovator in organic farming and influential author of The Living Soil, and F. Marian McNeill (1885–1973), the Scottish folklorist and author of The Scots Kitchen.

During World War II, it was “impossible to keep up this individual activity,” Mrs. Macneil later recalled. But other projects also needed her attention. She wrote: “I turned my mind to the reclaiming of as much acreage as possible, not only on Barra . . . but also on the two islands immediately north. . . . While launched upon this endeavor to reclaim and produce (for which I borrowed the money from the bank) we grew literally tons of carrots.”  She explained: “Carrots . . . are of inestimable value not only for the stored vitamins for people living in a sunless community but help . . . in mitigating blackout sickness and became essential I understand for aviators flying by night.” In 1940, she also organized and chaired the Scottish Clans Evacuation Plan “to aid child evacuation from the bombed areas of Britain,” according the New York Times. On February 7, 1942, the Times was able to report that “already more than 100 children are housed in the Inverness-shire castles of Moy Hall and Corrimony House, and Balmacaan, nearby, has just been made available.” Her friend, supporter, and IGC President Mrs. Eliot (Mary) Tuckerman was chairman of the evacuation plan’s New York City committee.

“During the war years there were upheavals in my own life which caused me to believe I would never wish to return to the dear island,” Mrs. Macneil reminisced. (She and her husband divorced in 1942.) “Then when the world food situation became so acute, I wrote to our local banker on the island to ask him to ascertain whether any of our island children would like to have me resume the garden competition.” In 1947, the contest was back in business and continued with the support of the IGC until 1952, the year of Marie Stevens Macneil’s death.


Concrete barn on Barra. © Copyright M. J. Richardson and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

In 1951, Mrs. Macneil reported that since the beginning of the competition in 1936, “and in spite of the intervening war years . . . 400 or 500 school gardens have been made.” The island’s physician, Dr. Norman MacKinven, praised the program: “I feel I must write to say what a splendid plan the vegetable cultivation by the children is. There is, I am sure, not a corner of Scotland where it is so much needed. The diet of scones and Glasgow bread . . . plays havoc with children’s teeth and adults’ digestive systems here to an appalling extent.” In 1951, Craigston School took possession of the IGC’s grand prize silver cup “for keeps” because it had won the competition three times.

Today, Bartow-Pell is proud to continue the tradition of organic gardening for children that was championed by Marie Stevens Macneil on the island of Barra so many years ago. Since 2012, BPMM’s Children’s Garden has grown and flourished under the expert care of horticulturalist and educator Lauren Gill, who uses the garden as a hands-on outdoor classroom to teach New York City schoolchildren and others about plants, sustainability, and healthy food in the 21st century.

Margaret Highland, Historian

Materials relating to the Barra school gardens were unearthed when Bartow-Pell’s archives were catalogued in 2013, thanks to a grant from the New York Preservation Archive Project’s Archival Assistance Fund.


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Let’s Talk Silhouettes: An Edouart Conversation Piece


Augustin Amant Constant Fidèle Edouart (French, 1789–1861). Conversation Piece (Family Group), ca. 1839. Cut silhouette with pencil and watercolor on paper. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Bartow-Pell Landmark Fund and Pride in Pelham Fund in memory of Marcia van Tassel, 1988.01

One hundred thousand. That is the astonishing number of recorded silhouette likenesses produced by the French-born artist Augustin Amant Constant Fidèle Edouart (1789–1861), according to British scholar Sue McKechnie. One of those portraits, a so-called “conversation piece,” is in Bartow-Pell’s collection.


Augustin Edouart. Likeness of Monsieur Edouart from the title page of his book A Treatise on Silhouette Likenesses, 1835. Edouart’s portrait is surmounted by a quote in French from the noted Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801), who espoused the theory that physical characteristics correspond to individual character traits. According to Lavater, a silhouette likeness allowed a person’s countenance to be read like an open book.

Edouart, the sixteenth child in his family, served in the Napoleonic Wars. But in 1814, after losing much of his property, he left France to live in England. Monsieur Edouart began his artistic career by making hairwork pictures of human or animal hair. But while visiting friends one evening in 1825, the family showed him likenesses created by a “patent machine.” In a fit of contempt, Edouart grabbed a pair of sewing scissors and quickly cut his first silhouette, a fine profile portrait of his host, which he blackened with soot from the candle snuffer.

Edouart was a virtuoso freehand cutter who was dismissive of mechanical devices—such as the physiognotrace—that were sometimes used to trace and reduce a profile. He used his exceptional artistic ability, shrewd market sense, and disdain for inferior methods and poor craftsmanship to strengthen and market his brand, and his efforts paid off in commissions and in the press. For example, on December 7, 1844, a writer for the New-York Daily Tribune admired Edouart’s work:

No one, who has any eye for art, can for a moment confound Mons. Edouart’s cuttings with common shadow likenesses or profiles. There is all the difference between the two that there is between the scraping of a fiddle for a village dance and the violin played by a master’s hand. His likenesses are not only invariably accurate, but they are full of life, spirit, and expression. Some of them seem actually to laugh, and talk, and think.

Monsieur Edouart published A Treatise on Silhouette Likenesses in 1835. In this rather idiosyncratic volume, the author discusses his technique and work, gives advice, and tells personal anecdotes. Edouart probably envisioned the treatise as a platform to publicize the superiority of his portraits over those of his many competitors and as a way to boast about his aristocratic clients. The title page announces that he is “Silhouettist to the French Royal Family and Patronised by His Royal Highness the Late Duke of Gloucester and the Principal Nobility of England, Scotland, and Ireland.” In addition, Edouart used the treatise as an opportunity to vent; the long-suffering artiste goes on for almost thirty pages in a chapter entitled “Grievances and Miseries of Artists,” and another chapter discusses “Vexations and Slights.”

Edouart also popularized the French word “silhouette” in English-speaking countries. The eponymous term derived from an eighteenth-century cost-cutting French finance minister who also cut paper portraits for amusement. The use of a French word for the inexpensive medium of “black shade” likenesses was probably part of Edouart’s marketing strategy because it associated his work with France’s glamorous reputation for luxury goods. (In addition, the artist continued to style his name—Monsieur Edouart—in a fashionably French way after he emigrated.) “Why does such prejudice exist against black shades, which I call Silhouette Likenesses?” Edouart implored in his Treatise.

NPG 1638; Sir Walter Scott, 1st Bt by Augustin Edouart

Augustin Edouart. Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet, 1830–31. National Portrait Gallery [London], NPG 1638

Edouart’s sitters ranged from luminaries such as Sir Walter Scott and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to a variety of everyday people. He even cut likenesses of horses and dogs. Portraits were usually full length and plain black. Some were set against lithographed or painted backgrounds. Conversation pieces (such as the example at Bartow-Pell) were groups of figures that often depicted entire families engaged in various activities. Edouart always signed his work and cut duplicates, which he inscribed and saved in folios.

In 1839, after twenty-five years in Britain and Ireland as an itinerant émigré artist, Edouart sailed for America. He spent ten years traveling around the United States and cutting portraits of thousands of Americans, including several presidents. The silhouettist set sail for France in 1849 with the duplicates of his life’s work, many of which were lost when his ship was wrecked near Guernsey. Fortunately, Edouart survived, but he apparently never again cut a silhouette professionally. He died near Calais in 1861.

The conversation piece at Bartow-Pell was purchased by the museum in 1988. Unfortunately, Edouart’s original signature (which might have included the date) had been lost earlier in conservation. However, by comparing the composition of our silhouette to other works, we can assign a date of around 1839. (Click here to view an Edouart family group from that year.) Similar figures can also be found in another conversation piece dated 1839 that is in the Ulster Museum in Belfast (McKechnie, British Silhouette Artists and Their Work, fig. 384), a city where Edouart worked en route to the United States.

Clothing and hairstyles also provide dating clues. The woman wears her hair in a knot placed farther down on the head than in mid-1830s styles. Her sleeves have frills above the elbows and are tight on the forearm (with the narrow edge just visible above her wrist); this style was introduced in the late 1830s. And hemlines, which had previously been worn at the ankle, fell to the instep after 1836.


The Last & Newest London & Paris Fashions 1840 Morning & Dinner Dresses (detail). The World of Fashion and Continental Feuilletons. These sleeves are ruffled at the top and tight at the bottom, like those worn by the woman in Bartow-Pell’s conversation piece.


Piano, American, ca. 1825. BPMM, 1998.02

Edouart says in his treatise: “I have back grounds adapted to the Silhouette Likenesses [that] . . . impart greater interest than if they were standing on nothing (I mean pasted upon white paper only) . . . I have Artists (and I may say not inferior ones) employed to draw those back grounds.” The watercolor background of our family group depicts a sparsely furnished parlor. The lady sits in a scroll-back klismos chair—a common element in some of Edouart’s interior scenes—and near an upright piano. An inkwell and pieces of paper rest atop a cloth-covered table, adding an everyday element to the tableau. Backdrops in conversation pieces like those by Edouart can be useful tools for recreating historic interiors. The upstairs sitting room at Bartow-Pell, for example, reflects settings in some of Edouart’s silhouettes.


The upstairs sitting room at Bartow-Pell includes some of the same furnishings found in an exquisite family group silhouette of the Trimble family of New York cut by Edouart in 1842 that is in the collection at Winterthur. The Bartows moved into their new mansion that same year. (Click here to view the silhouette.) Note the collection of sea shells on the bottom shelf of the pier tables.

By the time of Edouart’s death in 1861, the heyday of the silhouette was over, and shades and profiles were outdated. Inexpensive portraits were coming out of the shadows, so to speak, and photographs had rapidly replaced them as a quick, easy, and affordable way to obtain realistic likenesses. But there is tantalizing evidence that Edouart started to dabble in the new and exciting medium of daguerreotypes. The famous silhouette artist placed an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune on February 14, 1845, in which he assures the public that he “continues to take single Likenesses or Family Groups.” The interesting thing is that he ends with this offer: “Likewise, DAGUERREOTYPE LIKENESSES taken from nature, Portraits, and Miniatures; copies of the Silhouette Family Group.” Scholars have noted that Edouart cut very few silhouettes beginning in 1845, when, according to Sue McKechnie, only eight works were recorded. Was Edouart changing with the times? This is an intriguing subject that is waiting to be explored.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Holidays Past: A Bartow Christmas in the Civil War Era


Carolers in period costume enliven Bartow-Pell’s holiday festivities at our annual Candlelight Tours.

The year is 1860, and it’s Christmastime at the Bartow estate. The family’s home is in the country, but New York City, with all of its holiday temptations, is nearby. The start of the Civil War is just a few months away.


Eastman Johnson (1824–1906). Christmas-Time, The Blodgett Family, 1864. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Whitney Blodgett, 1983, 1983.486.

Most of the Bartow children—now adults and teenagers—were still living at the mansion with their parents. The eldest, George, was thirty-two, and the youngest, Theodoret, was fourteen. Robert Erskine and Reginald Heber were students at Columbia College. Two Bartow daughters were also at home—Henrietta, seventeen, and Clarina, twenty-two, who would become a bride within the year. Their thirty-year-old sister, Catharine, and her husband, the Reverend Henry E. Duncan, lived in Fishkill with their four young children. Duncan’s duties as rector at St. Anna’s Church in Fishkill Landing (now Beacon) would have kept their family in Dutchess County for the holidays. Uncle William Augustus Bartow (Robert Bartow’s brother) and his family lived nearby in East Fishkill.


Holiday trees at BPMM celebrate the past, present, and future.

Like many Americans in the 1860s, the Bartow family probably had a Christmas tree, a custom that had been introduced from England and Germany and had recently become wildly popular here. In 1850, the delights of the Christmas tree were widely publicized in the United States through an engraving published by Godey’s Lady’s Book that was adapted from a British version printed in the Illustrated London News in 1848. The earlier engraving depicted Queen Victoria and her German-born consort, Prince Albert, gathered around a decorated tree with their children.

The Bartows were Episcopalians (and were connected at various times to most of the local Episcopal churches). This worked out well in terms of celebrating Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century because some denominations, such as those with Calvinist doctrines, traditionally frowned upon what they considered an undue emphasis on Christ’s birth and disapproved of the holiday’s pageantry and its connection to the Roman Catholic Church. The New York Times reported on December 26, 1862: “All the Catholic and Episcopal Churches, and some of [the] other denominations, were beautifully decorated with evergreen wreaths and borders, and in the windows of many houses were hung the wreath and cross.” The article further explained: “Christmas is specially observed as a festival by members of the Protestant Episcopal communion. . . . All their churches are beautifully decorated . . . twined with holly, fir, laurel and hemlock, and the chancels are perfect groves of wintry verdure.” People also adorned their houses with fresh greenery and wreaths.


Santa Claus. Harper’s Weekly, December 22, 1860. In this engraving, parents buy gifts and toys from holiday shops while their children dream of Santa Claus. Popular presents included dolls, sleds, skates, rocking horses, miniature tea sets, and Noah’s Arks.

Gifts were part of the fun. Although Black Friday and Cyber Monday were years away, alluring shop windows and enticing holiday advertisements encouraged people in the 1860s to get into the spirit of the season. And since the Bartows lived so near New York City, a shopper’s paradise, they likely bought some of their gifts at city stores. The Times reported on December 24, 1864:

In fact the whole business portion of our city seems to be transformed into one grand curiosity shop for the display of holiday gifts; and old Santa Claus variously disguised in pantaloons and petticoats, broadcloth and silks, representing manhood and youth, matron and miss, can be seen hurrying about our streets, peering into the shop-windows . . . Wherever one turns . . .  he beholds a glittering array of useful and ornamental goods, toys and nicknacks [sic].

Books were also popular presents, including some with gilt-decorated bindings and illustrations that were sometimes presented in holiday gift editions.


The Sleigh Race. Hand-colored lithograph published by N. Currier, New York, ca. 1848. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The Bartows would also have enjoyed seasonal outdoor activities such as sleigh rides. In fact, William Augustus Bartow wrote in his journal about sleighing at his farm in Fishkill. And people loved to ice skate both in the country and in urban places like Central Park. On Christmas Eve in 1864, a Times reporter rhapsodized: “Nature has donned her proper Christmas robes of white and ‘The sledges with the bells, Silver bells!’ [Edgar Allan Poe] furnish the merry music so appropriate to the season; the considerate kindness of Jack Frost has covered our lakes and ponds with a firm glassy flooring, very inviting to the lovers of good skating.”



The Civil War affected every American. This included the Bartows, even though their sons did not fight. Locally, the Union Army had a military hospital on David’s Island and a training facility and prisoner-of-war camp on Hart Island. The women of Christ Church in Pelham volunteered at the hospital, and the New York Herald reported that the Soldiers’ Relief Association gave two hundred dollars for a Christmas festival and funds for a Christmas tree on David’s Island in 1864.

Christmas during wartime, with its idealized domestic circle around the family hearth, helped people to cope with uncertainty, loss, tragedy, and a divided nation. And a fantasy world of Christmas trees, Santa Claus, beautiful gifts, holiday food, cozy firesides, and winter wonderlands gave people an escape from a country torn apart by war. It is not surprising that newspaper accounts sometimes seem incongruous and range from merry to sentimental to grim.


Thomas Nast (1840–1902). Christmas, 1863. Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, December 26, 1863. A Union soldier returns home on holiday furlough surrounded by his family and Yuletide images of Santa Claus, stockings, and Christmas dinner.

The New York Times presented varying perspectives on Christmas as the war progressed. On December 26, 1860, despite rumblings of war, a Times writer joked about the national conflict in his description of a jolly holiday:

As far as concerned “secession,” it was a subject of gratulation with them that they were enabled to secede from business for a day. Evidently, New-York is not yet ruined, nor if yesterday be a criterion, expects to be. For ourselves, we never saw indications of a jollier Christmas.

Exactly one year later, the newspaper changed its tune:

For reasons but too evident to the sense of every citizen, the high festival of the Christian Church . . . was not celebrated yesterday with that boisterous and exuberant hilarity which has for a generation past distinguished its recurrence in this City. . . . Too many were far away, exposed to privation, wounds and death; too many had already paid the debt of patriotism in the sacrifice of their lives, and still too many more were groaning on beds of sickness or mutilation.

And in 1864, although the country was still at war, on Christmas Eve the Times reported:

A walk through Broadway or the Bowery at this time would not convey to a stranger the idea that we were a people impoverished by an exhausted war, overburdened with taxes and oppressed with woe. Gaily decorated shops, filled with articles of convenience and luxury, crowded with eager customers, attest the prosperity of the people. Never before has there been such a display on the part of the storekeepers, never so much lavishness on the part of purchasers.

By Christmas 1865, the war was over, and a Times writer reflected on the past several years:

The angelic song sung to us by choirs, of “Peace on earth and good will to men,” seemed a mockery, heard, as it were, amid the groans of the wounded and the curses of the contending armies. Then by every fireside was a spectre on the Christmas morning. The son, or brother, or husband, was far away in the wintry camp, or fighting foot by foot on the bloody battle-field, or lying lonely in the hospital, or waiting hopelessly in the prison-pen.

But the author also had a message of hope, saying that this year “has come again a Christmas Day of PEACE and UNION and LIBERTY,” a sentiment that the Bartows would certainly have echoed.


Thomas Nast. The Union Christmas Dinner. Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, December 31, 1864. In this poignant image of reconciliation, President Lincoln invites the South to join the Union at the symbolic banquet table.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Chicken Pie and Blindman’s Buff: What You Might Not Know about an Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving


W. S. L. Jewett. Thanksgiving—A Thanksgiving Dinner Among Their Descendents (detail). Harper’s Weekly, November 30, 1867

Pies, pies, and more pies. It must be Thanksgiving in the nineteenth century.

Pumpkin pies, cranberry pies, huckleberry pies, cherry pies, green-currant pies, peach, pear, and plum pies, custard pies, apple pies, Marlborough-pudding pies [apple custard pie]—pies with top crusts, and pies without—pies adorned with all sorts of fanciful flutings and architectural strips laid across and around, and otherwise varied, attested the boundless fertility of the feminine mind. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oldtown Folks, 1869

In addition to pies for dessert, chicken pies were a favorite Thanksgiving staple. They were served during the main course, which featured roasted turkey in the starring role. Like today, “the consumption of gobblers” was “prodigious” (New York Herald, 1868).


Wild turkey at Bartow-Pell

The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion, being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odour of its savoury stuffing, and finely covered with the frost of the basting. . . . A goose and pair of ducklings occupied side stations on the table, the middle being graced, as it always is on such occasions, by that rich burgomaster of the provisions, called a chicken pie. This pie, which is wholly formed of the choicest parts of fowls, enriched and seasoned with a profusion of butter and pepper and covered with an excellent puff paste is, like the celebrated pumpkin pie, an indispensable part of a good and true Yankee Thanksgiving. Sarah Josepha Hale, Northwood, 1827

Sarah Josepha Hale (1788­–1879) later became the high-profile editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book. At a time when Thanksgiving Day was determined by individual states, she used her position to encourage the federal government to fix a standard date. Finally, in 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring the “last Thursday of November” as the official observation of Thanksgiving.


Winslow Homer (1836–1910). Thanksgiving Day—The Church Porch. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, December 23, 1865

Ready for a good sermon? For many people in the nineteenth century, Thanksgiving Day started with a morning church service. In 1861, a reporter for the New York Herald wrote: “All the churches will hold forenoon service, and the pastors, it is expected, will treat their congregations with sermons a little above the common order.” Organists and choirs provided special music, and alms were collected for the poor. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in Oldtown Folks:

Great as the preparations were for the dinner, everything was so contrived that not a soul in the house should be kept from the morning service of Thanksgiving in the church, and from listening to the Thanksgiving sermon, in which the minister was expected to express his views freely concerning the politics of the country . . . But it is to be confessed that, when the good man got carried away by the enthusiasm of his subject . . . , anxious glances [were] exchanged between good wives . . . [who had] a tender reference to the turkeys and chickens and chicken pies which might possibly be overdoing in the ovens at home.


The dining table at Bartow-Pell, set for the fruit course with the tablecloth removed

Time to eat! In well-to-do households like that of the Bartows, the table was covered with a snowy white damask tablecloth and set with glittering crystal, gleaming silver, and decanters placed in the corners of the table and filled with imported wines. (Alternately, currant wine and cider were popular and affordable beverages that are frequently mentioned in period sources.) Sometimes two damask tablecloths were used—the top cloth was removed after the main course to reveal a clean one for the pastries and confectionaries. At Thanksgiving, pies were always on the dessert menu, but did you know that plum pudding was a traditional American dish? At the end of the meal, a fruit course was served on the bare mahogany table (but this practice was outdated by the late nineteenth century).

Now, how about a game of blindman’s buff? Or maybe a polka in the parlor?

The dinner being cleared away, we youngsters, already excited to a tumult of laughter, tumbled in to the best room, under the supervision of Uncle Bill, to relieve ourselves with a game of ‘blind-man’s-buff.’ Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oldtown Folks, 1869

There was the annual game of blind-man’s buff, where the oldest were happy to become children again. . . And when the youngest of the party had reluctantly retired, and the evening circle was enlarged by the addition of a few invited friends, the merry dance succeeded . . . and many a laughing girl took her partner. T. Gray Jr., “New England Thanksgiving,” The Boston Book, 1836


Thomas Nast (1840–1902). Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner. Harper’s Weekly, November 20, 1869. This political cartoon applauds multiculturalism and ethnic diversity in America and supports the 15th Amendment and universal suffrage in the post-Civil War era.

Thanksgiving was a multigenerational holiday and a time for families to come together, just as it is today. In 1870, for example, the New York Herald described the day:

The festival was extensively celebrated yesterday in this city, and, indeed, throughout the country. Families were reunited after many months of separation . . . while stories of the doings of the past year fell from the lips of loved wanderers and brightened or darkened the faces of those who listened. 

The temperance movement used family holidays such as Thanksgiving as a way to remind people about the evils of drink and promote their campaign against alchohol consumption, warning that intemperance threatened families, morality, and happiness. On December 1, 1850, the Journal of the American Temperance Union encouraged families to sign a temperance pledge at Thanksgiving:

There are family gatherings . . . where intemperance has done its bitter work . . . We tremble for the man who . . . will put out the light and joy of a single family . . . In these family gatherings let the pledge be signed, and signed by all. . . . Let no child hereafter say, through our neglect my father is a drunkard, and no stain be fixed on our national escutcheon.


New York City—Thanksgiving Dinner at the Colored Orphan Asylum, 1874. Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library

Let’s not forget the poor and other marginalized populations. Charity was a big deal at Thanksgiving. As Harriet Beecher Stowe put it, “Thanksgiving time was the time for errands of mercy and beneficence through the country.” And in his Thanksgiving Day sermon in 1868, her brother, the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, exhorted his Brooklyn congregation to “go hence . . . and with a gentle heart and liberal hand dispense your charities to the poor and needy.” On the same day, according to the New York Herald, seven hundred pounds of poultry were served at the Blackwell’s Island Asylum, and recent immigrants on Ward’s Island enjoyed a good dinner and “various kinds of entertainments.”


Pumpkins from our Children’s Garden

Let’s get ready for the big day (and bake some pies)!

Come, uncles and cousins; come, nieces and aunts;

Come, nephews and brothers, no won’ts and no can’ts;

Put business, and shopping, and school-books away;

The year has rolled round, it is Thanksgiving-day.


Come home from the college, ye ringlet-haired youth,

Come home from your factories, Ann, Kate, and Ruth;

From the anvil, the counter, the farm come away;

Home, home with you, all, it is Thanksgiving-day.

Henry Ware Jr., “A Thanksgiving Song,” 1850

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Here Lyes the Body: The Pell Family Burial Ground

img_4839Who isn’t intrigued by the idea of a cemetery around Halloween? For many people, an eerie frisson or two isn’t such a bad thing during this season. So now is a good time to visit the Pell family burial ground at Bartow-Pell, even though we have had no reported ghost sightings.

A short path lined with horse chestnuts leads to this romantic little woodland cemetery, nestled under towering shade trees. The seventeenth-century Pell manor house, which tradition says was destroyed during the American Revolution, once stood nearby. Six tombstones dating from 1748 to 1790—including one for Joseph Pell, the Fourth Lord of the Manor of Pelham—surround a memorial tablet added in the nineteenth century. The other stones are for Pell’s widow, Phoebe; their young married daughter Susannah; a toddler son of Phoebe and her third husband, James Bennet(t); Saloma Pell, who was also a toddler; and “Isec” (Isaac) Pell, a teenager. The old cemetery has been an object of historical interest since at least 1848, when Robert Bolton Jr. described it in A History of the County of Westchester. Its location on ancestral land made the burial ground a venerated site for the Pell family; they added the large memorial stone in 1862 and a fence with inscribed granite posts in 1891.


This photograph in the museum’s collection shows the cemetery after 1891 when the fence was added. The open water views contrast with today’s wooded landscape.


Joseph Pell’s age when he died has sometimes been transcribed as 31. However, by analyzing the numerals in the date of 1752, it is clear that the stone carver made sevens with down-slanted tops and the numeral one as a straight line.

Joseph Pell was thirty-seven when he died in 1752. Probate records indicate that his death took place shortly after that of his father, Thomas Pell II, the Third Lord of the Manor. According to Joseph’s will—written on August 31, 1752, when he was “very sick and weak”—he and his wife “Phebe” had six children (three sons and three daughters), and their education was important to him. His will stipulates: “The income of my estate is to be used for maintaining and bringing up my children to good learning.” His wife and his “loving friend” John Bartow (1715–1802) were among the executors. This particular John Bartow was known within the family as “old Uncle John.” He was an unmarried son of the Reverend John Bartow, who had emigrated from England to New York in 1702.

Bartow and Pell genealogy is complex. The tapestry of intermarriages and other relationships can make one’s head spin. But the bottom line is that in 1836, when Robert Bartow purchased the property that had once belonged to his grandfather John Bartow (and to his great-great-uncle Joseph Pell), he took possession of an estate with deep connections to both his Bartow and Pell ancestors.


Phoebe (or “Phebe”) Pell was Joseph Pell’s widow. She died in 1790 “in the 70th year of her age.” At his death in 1752, Joseph left his wife “£400, and a good bed and furniture, and 6 chairs, a looking-glass, a trunk and a table, and the use of all lands until my sons, Joseph and Thomas, are of age.” Records indicate that she married two more times. In 1758, Phoebe Pell wed Boswell Dawson, and in 1762, she married James Bennett. Their son John Bennett died at the age of twenty-one months on August 6, 1765, and is buried in the Pell plot, as is his mother.


John Bennett was twenty-one-months old when he died in 1765, but in recent years, his age has sometimes been transcribed as “2 months.” However, the numeral “1” is still faintly visible, and “21 months” is given in older inscriptions.

The grave of Joseph and Phoebe’s daughter Susannah is also in the cemetery. She married Benjamin Drake in 1759 and was the first of his four wives. Susannah was only twenty-two when she died on March 4, 1763, probably from complications following the birth of her second son, Benjamin, on February 21.


The exact relationship of Saloma Pell and Isaac Pell to the other people in the cemetery is unknown. Saloma died in 1760, a few months before her second birthday. Writing in 1878, Evelyn Bartow described the burial ground and erroneously lists “Salome” as a child of Joseph Pell, but Joseph died seven years before Saloma was born. “Isec” (or Isaac) Pell’s tombstone is the earliest in the plot. The inscription has been variously transcribed, sometimes leading to the interpretation that he died on December 14, 1748. However, a closer reading indicates that Isaac died at the age of fourteen on an unknown date in 1748. Further research will perhaps reveal more about Saloma and Isaac.

People of means, like the Pells, could afford to hire a stonemason to make a tombstone for their loved one. Early Colonial stones often featured memento mori, such as a death’s head, as grim reminders of an uncertain eternity and the Last Judgment. But the Age of Enlightenment and the Great Awakening produced a more benevolent philosophy towards the afterlife. Accordingly, in the mid-eighteenth century, cherub motifs began to appear on headstones as serene and hopeful reminders of heaven.


Saloma Pell’s elegant stone is attributed to the prolific carver John Zuricher. The toddler died in 1760.

The Pell cemetery includes stones in several styles. The earliest ones belong to Isaac Pell (1748) and Joseph Pell (1752) and appear to be by the same hand. The crude letterforms are similar, the spelling is poor, and they are made from the same type of fieldstone. Each has a simple pinwheel or star motif at the top. The most elaborate and beautiful marker belongs to Saloma Pell. It has been attributed to the master stonemason John Zuricher, who was active in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere from the 1740s to the 1770s. Stylistic elements found in Zuricher’s work appear on Saloma’s headstone and include a winged cherub’s head with a square face and low-slung puffy cheeks surmounted by a crown.

As is commonly known, life expectancy in the eighteenth century was a dire prospect. The shadow of death was omnipresent. Disease could carry away several family members in one fell swoop, and many people lost precious young children to scarlet fever and other illnesses. Childbirth was perilous, and postpartum infections could turn deadly, as may have been the case with Susannah Pell Drake. Primitive medical practices sometimes did more harm than good.



Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741–1827). Mrs. Peale Lamenting the Death of Her Child (Rachel Weeping), 1772, enlarged 1776, retouched 1818. Oil on canvas. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of The Barra Foundation, Inc., 1977. The Peales’ daughter died of smallpox in 1772. This scene depicts the heartbreak that many parents experienced after the loss of a child and the hope of reuniting in heaven.



Mourning dress, 1786. Journal des Luxus und der Moden

When someone died, a family member or friend stayed with the body and kept “watch.” Corpses were dressed in shrouds, and an open coffin allowed people to pay their respects until the funeral took place. (To learn more about shrouds, listen to Colonial Williamsburg’s podcast.) Black mourning clothes were donned by the well-to-do, a custom that had been introduced to Colonial America from Europe. And, like a macabre party favor, funeral goers received mourning gloves and memorial gold rings as a tribute to the dead. According to research published by the New England Historical Society, Andrew Eliot, a minister at Boston’s North Church, amassed 2,940 pairs of funeral gloves over thirty-two years beginning in 1742. (To reduce this stockpile, the enterprising pastor sold many of them.) In addition, friends and family of the deceased enjoyed a large repast and alcoholic beverages as part of the funeral rituals.

Thanks to a 2012 Partners in Preservation grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express, Bartow-Pell was able to restore the Pell family burial ground along with the mansion’s terraced garden. The cemetery and its beautiful setting are lovely in all seasons—autumn, winter, spring, and summer. But, for now, happy Halloween!

Margaret Highland, Historian

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Bluestockings and Blue Bloods: The Pelham Priory School for Young Ladies

The girls came from all over. They were daughters of the nation’s elite, of people such as Robert E. Lee and Lincoln’s former Secretary of War Edward Stanton. They were Lorillards, Lefferts, and maybe even Bartows. In the nineteenth century, these “young females of good family connections” were students at the legendary Pelham Priory, a school for young ladies about a mile north of the Bartow mansion. Extant records are limited, but we can still trace various students and make some intriguing discoveries.


William Rickarby Miller (1818–1893). Pelham Priory, Main Portal, 1856. Watercolor on paper. Collection of Catherine Boericke. Washington Irving reportedly provided yellow bricks from the old church at Sleepy Hollow to form the date “1838” above the door.

The Reverend Robert Bolton (1788–1857) was from a prominent family in Savannah, Georgia. In 1807 he went to England, the land of his forebears, to work in the Liverpool office of the Boltons’ cotton-exporting business. In 1810, he married Anne Jay (1793–1859), the daughter of the Reverend William Jay of Bath, and the Anglo-American couple had fourteen children. In 1836, the Boltons left England and moved to Westchester County, New York, where in 1838 they designed and built the Pelham Priory (now known as the Bolton Priory). Extensive gardens and grounds surrounded the massive Gothic Revival building, which overlooked Long Island Sound.


William Rickarby Miller (1818–1893). Gazebo on the Grounds of Pelham Priory, 1856. Watercolor on paper. Collection of Catherine Boericke. This scene depicts young ladies in the Priory gardens.

The Boltons started the Priory school sometime in the late 1830s, when a family friend from Savannah brought his daughter to Pelham to be educated with the Bolton children. By 1840, the new school—which followed the doctrine of the Episcopal Church—was firmly established under the supervision of the Reverend and Mrs. Bolton. Girls studied literature, mathematics, Latin, French, music, art, deportment, religion, and other subjects. Describing his parents’ approach to education, William Jay Bolton wrote that “young ladies could be highly educated without the opera, without novels, without dancing.” Emily Earle Lindsley, a Priory pupil whose father was one of the teachers, sets the scene for us:

The Armory, a large room in the center of the house, was where my father and one or two others held their classes. They sat at the head of a long, black oak table, made by the brothers Bolton, from wood which grew on the property. . . . A log fire burned in the large stone fire place . . . Stained glass windows made by one of the sons of Mr. Bolton filled the east end of the room. Mounted suits of armor, the walls decorated with a variety of swords, daggers, spears, and other warlike implements, carved high backed chairs from the time of Charles the First, and many other objects of artistic and historical interest made a most unusual setting for recitations.


Margaret Deland

In 1850 Robert and Anne Bolton returned to live permanently in England, leaving their eldest daughter, Nanette (1815–1884), in charge of the school with the help of her younger sister Adele (1830–1911). Nanette Bolton’s approach to admitting new students is wryly described by noted author and former pupil Margaret Deland (1857–1945) in her memoir Golden Yesterdays:

The Priory, which, back in the 1830’s, opened its stately evangelical doors to “young females of good family connections,” would be today an anachronism. That the doors did not open to everybody was not due to snobbishness—it was a serious sense of responsibility. Also, personally, Miss Bolton preferred girls from below Mason and Dixon’s line. Philadelphians were received, and a few “young females” from the Southwest—which is how we Pittsburghers got in—this was long before the mushroom fortunes of Pittsburgh began to cast sooty shadows on us. New York was so worldly a place that Miss Bolton only received its girls if their parents were, as she expressed it, “earnest persons,” as well as of good family connections. It was rumored that she said “No” to Boston. Boston was not worldly, perhaps, but it was sadly unorthodox. There were—Miss Bolton was sorry to say so—but there were many Unitarians in Boston—and in quite good families, too!

The school closed in the early 1880s after Nanette’s health declined. In 1883, a former student, Adele Sampson Stevens (later the Duchess de Dino), bought the Priory and gave it to her daughter Daisy as a wedding present on the day she married Frederick Allen in 1892.


The album includes an arrangement of trompe l’oeil calling cards.


Wreaths of Friendship, 1860s. Friendship album owned by Priory student Fanny J. Everest of Hamden, Connecticut. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mary Means Huber, 1981


Monarè is one of four tales by Mrs. Richard S. Greenough (Sarah Dana Loring) in Arabesques (1872).

Some Priory girls have compelling stories. Sarah Dana Loring (1827–1885), for example, was a novelist and poet. In 1846, she married Richard S. Greenough, an American sculptor from Boston who worked in Europe for much of his career. Sarah attended the Boltons’ school in the early 1840s, and her melodramatic novelette Monarè recalls the Priory’s air of Gothic medievalism. This supernatural tale—from Arabesques (1872)—is replete with castles, suits of armor, a captive maiden, and a heroic sword-bearing knight (and a werewolf!). As a fifteen-year-old student, Sarah appeared in the March 1842 edition of the Bolton family’s handwritten newspaper, the Pelham Chronicle (Town of Pelham archives). This delightful glimpse at the lighter side of the school environment, as “reported exclusively for the Chronicle,” describes a (mock) trial in which Miss Sarah Dana Loring and other plaintiffs teasingly accuse the Boltons’ fifteen-year-old daughter Abby of the crime of “scandalous speeches and a seditious libel.” “The prisoner looked very cheerful [and] had very rosy cheeks.”  Miss Sarah Dana Loring was called to testify and “looked very wildly around [and] turned up her nose at Miss Bolton the prisoner.” After calling Abby a rogue and “an actual torment,” she “stated that for a length of time past the prisoner has endeavored in every way possible to harass her feelings, calling her by the name of blue stocking, accusing her of talking about everything and everybody. . . . Here somebody in the gallery said that any how she had a touch of a blue stocking about her, which caused a roar of laughter, during which Miss Loring looked alternately white and red and seemed disposed to sit down.”

In Brief Memorials of an Only Daughter by the Reverend Henry P. Tappan (1844), we learn that “Mary C_____” was sent “to Mrs. B., who takes a few young ladies to educate with her own daughters.”  She arrived in July 1840 “after a rather tiresome sail of three hours” and almost immediately wrote to her mother complaining of homesickness. But she soon felt much better after a high-spirited excursion:

Mr. B. said we should sail out to one of the little islands with which the shore abounds, and carrying our provisions with us, we should there dine and take tea . . .  At ten o’clock in the morning we all sallied forth, thirty-one in number . . . [We had] the prettiest situation on the island . . . with Mr. B.’s tower with the flag flying, only now and then discernible . . . The dinner consisted of a lobster, an immense beefsteak-pie, a ham, a tongue, and a great basket full of clams, which we cooked by means of a fire made on the rocks. . . . After dinner we all went out sailing in the row boats . . . The other boat commenced by singing “God save the King,” and our boat answered by singing “Yankee Doodle.”

Mary lasted only a few months at the Priory. She was frail, probably consumptive, and pined for home. She died in Nice, France, in February 1842.


Rosina Emmet Sherwood, ca. 1870. William Kurtz, photographer. Emmet family papers, 1792–1989, bulk 1851–1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

In the 1870s, Henry James’s cousin Henrietta Temple (1853–1934) studied at the Priory. Her lively sister Minny (1845–1870), who died of consumption in nearby New Rochelle at the age of twenty-four, inspired the characters of Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady and the ill-fated Milly Theale in The Wings of the Dove. Their relative, the artist Rosina Emmet Sherwood (1854–1948)—mother of the playwright Robert Sherwood—was also a Priory pupil.


Alexandre Cabanel (French, 1823–1889). Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1876. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887, 87.15.82.

Did the Bartow girls ever enroll as students at the Priory? The families were neighbors who shared a deep connection to the Episcopal Church, and we know that the Bartows were sometimes Robert Bolton’s parishioners. Furthermore, the Bartow children’s second cousins and contemporaries—Catherine Lorillard and Catharine Lorillard Wolfe—were Priory scholars in the 1840s and ‘50s. Perhaps one day we will find evidence that Catharine, Clarina, and Henrietta Bartow also attended this unique school.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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The Girl in the Portrait: Emma Beach and Mark Twain

The rain came down on wind-blown seas in New York Harbor on June 8, 1867, when about sixty-five passengers boarded the side-wheel steamship Quaker City for a highly publicized five-month “pleasure excursion” and pilgrimage to Europe and the Holy Land. The luxury voyage was led by Captain Charles C. Duncan, a friend of the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), the superstar Congregationalist preacher and charismatic pastor of Brooklyn’s legendary Plymouth Church (whose sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe). Beecher was supposed to go on the trip but had to drop out, as did Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. However, among the ship’s well-heeled passengers were Moses Sperry Beach (1822–1892), a member of Plymouth Church and publisher of The Sun, a New York newspaper that once had the highest circulation in America, and his seventeen-year-old daughter Emma Beach (1849–1924).


James Hamilton Shegogue (American, 1806–1872). Charles Yale Beach and His Sister Emma Beach, 1854. Oil on canvas. Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Luther Cleveland, 1966.03


Emma Beach, ca. 1870. Abbott Handerson Thayer and Thayer Family papers, 1851–1999 (bulk 1881–1950). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Emma and her brother Charles Yale Beach are shown as children in a portrait by James Hamilton Shegogue (1806–1872) that hangs in the dining room at Bartow-Pell. The portrait is above a sideboard that was made by the children’s grandfather Moses Yale Beach (1800–1868), who was a cabinetmaker as a young man. In 1819, he married Nancy Day, the sister of the founder of the New York Sun, and later became its publisher. Subsequently, his son Moses Sperry Beach took over the paper. Although the Beach family has no known connection to the Bartows, the portrait and sideboard fit our period of interpretation.


Mark Twain. Carte de visite, Abdullah Frères, Constantinople, 1867. This photograph was taken in Constantinople but inscribed and dated “Saml Clemens, Jaffa, Sept. 30, 1867.” Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-28851

In June 1867, Samuel Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain (1835–1910), was thirty-one, and his career as a journalist, humorist, and lecturer was taking off. He too joined the Quaker City tour but as a correspondent for the Alta California, a San Francisco newspaper. A couple of years later, in 1869, Twain published The Innocents Abroad, a best-selling travel book about the cruise based on accounts he wrote for American newspapers. This lively and sometimes satirical narrative chronicles the group’s travels but also pokes fun at Americans abroad, including some of his shipmates. Twain’s irreverent wit, jaunty prose, and occasional slang make for good reading.

Newspaper publisher Moses Beach threw a party for his fellow travelers the night before their departure. Each had paid the enormous sum of $1,250 for the trip, and their applications had been scrutinized by a committee. Twain wrote: “For months the great pleasure excursion to Europe and the Holy Land was chatted about in the newspapers everywhere in America and discussed at countless firesides.”  Anticipation and expectations were high. And after the deprivations of the Civil War, people were eager to travel. The ambitious itinerary included Gibraltar, Rome, Athens, Constantinople, Beirut, Jerusalem, Cairo, and other exotic places. The 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris and a visit with Czar Alexander II and his family were highlights of the journey.


Moses Sperry Beach. Illustration from The Innocents Abroad, 1869

According to a passenger list published in the New York Times, Emma Beach and her father were to be joined by Emma’s older brother Charles (“C. Y. Beach”), her companion in Bartow-Pell’s portrait. But Charles’s plans evidently changed, because he was not listed on the return voyage or in other accounts of the trip. Their mother, Chloe Beach, stayed in Brooklyn with the younger children.


Henry Ward Beecher, 1855–65. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-cwpbh-03065

Author and scholar Debby Applegate discusses the close relationship between Henry Ward Beecher and the Beach family in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher. Moses Sperry Beach and his family joined Beecher’s Plymouth Church when they moved to Brooklyn Heights in 1854, the year that Shegogue painted the portrait of the Beach children. Moses Beach was a generous supporter of the church, and it wasn’t long before the Beach family developed a warm friendship with the Beechers. In fact, Applegate’s research reveals that Beecher probably had an adulterous relationship with Mrs. Beach and may have fathered her youngest child, who was born in 1867, about four months before the Quaker City set sail. Although Beecher was married, he had a reputation as a philanderer, and in 1875, he was accused of adultery with Elizabeth Tilton, another friend’s wife, but he was acquitted after a scandalous trial.

For Moses Beach, the Quaker City cruise must have served as a welcome distraction from his domestic woes. During the journey, Beach was not only a tourist but a working journalist, reporting about the extraordinary trip and writing thirty-seven articles for his newspaper, The Sun. He was one of several reporters on board, including Mark Twain.


The Start, The Innocents Abroad, 1869

Meanwhile, Emma Beach enjoyed a shipboard flirtation with Twain, and the two were regular evening chess partners who later remained friends. Mark Twain “used to play chess with me and I now think that he purposely let me win—I was only seventeen,” Emma later wrote in a letter to Twain’s biographer Albert B. Paine. The travelers also corresponded after returning home. A letter to Emma from Twain in Washington, D.C., dated January 31, 1868, begins with the salutation “Shipmate, Ahoy!” In this letter he told “Miss Emma” that despite the absence of an invitation from Mrs. Beach: “I shall come without any invitation. I shall come & stay a month! . . . I know I shall be doing wrong—but then I do wrong every day, anyhow.” He also asked for her help in identifying some Old Master paintings that she had seen on the Quaker City trip:

And please tell me the names of the Murillo pictures that delighted you most . . . Remember, I am in a great straight, now, & it is hard to have to write about pictures when I don’t know anything about them. Hang the whole gang of old masters, I say! The idea that I have to go driveling about those dilapidated, antediluvian humbugs at this late day, is exasperating.

On a visit to New York earlier in the month, Mark Twain had stayed with his Quaker City roommate and reunited with some of their traveling companions, including Charlie Langdon, whose sister Olivia became Twain’s wife in 1870. “It was the unholiest gang that ever cavorted through Palestine, but those are the best boys in the world,” Twain wrote to his mother and sister on January 8, 1868. During his New York stay, the author was invited to dine at Henry Ward Beecher’s house in Brooklyn along with his “old Quaker City favorite, Emma Beach.” Twain’s letter continues: “We had a very gay time, if it was Sunday. . . . Henry Ward is a brick.” (For more letters, see the Mark Twain Project Online.)

Emma Beach’s adventures on the Quaker City and her friendship with Mark Twain are only part of her compelling life story. She became an artist known mostly for floral paintings and nature studies. And in 1891, she married American artist and naturalist Abbott Thayer (1849–1921) shortly after the death of his first wife, Kate Bloede, who had died in a sanatorium earlier that year after a long bout with depression. Emma, a close friend of the couple, had helped the family during Kate’s illness. Emma and Abbott Thayer lived in Dublin, New Hampshire. She assisted her husband and helped illustrate Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, a controversial study of camouflage by Thayer and his son Gerald. Emma died in 1924 at the age of seventy-four. She spent her final days with her sisters Ella and Violet at their home in Peekskill, New York.

Margaret Highland, Historian

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