LAST BLOG OF THE YEAR: The Mystery of Emma Waite
By Susan Ingalls Lewis
The leather-bound Emma Waite Diary
My final blog of the year is based on my own research into the 1870 diary of Emma Waite, housed in the Manuscripts and Special Collections unit of the New York State Library. In 2005, I was the fortunate recipient of an Anna K. and Mary E. Cunningham Research Residency in New York State History and Culture at the Library, searching for any material related to nineteenth-century businesswomen in New York State. I did find a few trade cards (which were eventually reproduced on the cover of my book Unexceptional Women: Female Proprietors in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Albany, New York, 1830-1885 , SUNY Press, 2009) – but otherwise, nothing. As I continued my fruitless search, Librarian Paul Mercer encouraged me to look at the Emma Waite diary. Since this was the record of a worker rather than a businesswoman, I resisted his advice. One day, because my own efforts continued to prove futile, I decided that I might as well examine the diary. From the first moment I opened it, I have been convinced that Waite’s story deserves a wide audience.
A page from the diary
The “Emma Waite Diary” is an intriguing document, written by an African-American domestic servant and hotel cook who worked in Saratoga and New York City. Recorded on the pages of a small, leather-bound, printed daybook that Waite received as a gift early in 1870, it chronicles a single year in the life of this otherwise unknown individual. Waite’s opening entry: “Quite mild and pleasant for the first I did not spend a very pleasant new years day, was home sick all day,” foreshadows the challenges faced by a single black woman trying to make her way in New York State. Illness, injuries, bitter cold, exhausting work, headaches, unemployment, deadening heat, and racial discrimination plague Waite’s months in Saratoga.
THE EYE OF THEODOSIA BURR: Aaron Burr, his daughter Theodosia, and Kingston painter John Vanderlyn
By Susan Ingalls Lewis
The Eye of Theodosia Burr
One of the most interesting objects on display at the Senate House State Historic Site Museum in Kingston, New York, is a miniature painting of a single female eye: The Eye of Theodosia Burr. This delicate image symbolizes the intersecting stories of three New Yorkers: the painter John Vanderlyn (1775-1852), his patron, Aaron Burr, Jr. (1756-1836), and his subject, Burr’s beloved daughter Theodosia (1783-1813). All three stories represent different degrees of unfulfilled promise and unhappy endings.
The most familiar name of these three is that of Aaron Burr. Like Benedict Arnold, about whom I wrote in a previous blog, Burr is considered one of the great villains of New York history—most famous for killing his political rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Burr was a clever, cultured, and well-educated man who grew up in New Jersey (his father was the second president of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, and his maternal grandfather was the famous minister Jonathan Edwards). Orphaned as a toddler and raised by relatives, Burr was admitted to college at the age of 13, and studied theology and law after his graduation. He joined the Continental Army in the early days of the Revolution, traveling with Benedict Arnold through the Maine wilderness for the attack on Quebec (see blog from October 17th, Benedict Arnold’s Boot, Part 1).
Washington Irving’s Iconic New York Stories: Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
By Susan Ingalls Lewis
John Quidor: Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (Smithsonian)
Despite the fact that he spent many of his productive years abroad, Washington Irving (1783-1859) was a quintessential New Yorker. The man who coined the nicknames Gotham for New York City, and Knickerbocker for New Yorker also enshrined the Hudson River village of Sleepy Hollow (formerly North Tarrytown) and the Catskill Mountains in the collective American memory. His fictional characters Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane are recognizable to most of us today through various adaptations of their stories (some having very little relationship to the originals, as with the current Fox series Sleepy Hollow, a surprise hit just renewed for a second season). What witches are to Massachusetts, the Headless Horseman is to New York State; The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is New York’s ultimate Halloween story. In fact, after the village of North Tarrytown lost its General Motors assembly plant in 1996, it actually changed its name to Sleepy Hollow to increase tourism, and the new TV series has furthered that goal.
Irving’s most famous stories are not just part of New York State history because he was from New York – born in New York City, died in his cottage Sunnyside (now a National Historic Landmark) in Tarrytown—but because they also reflect the history of the period in which he lived and wrote. Rip Van Winkle highlights the difference between New York as a pre-Revolutionary provincial backwater and a growing state; after his twenty-year sleep, Rip awakes to find that the “very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility . . .” Though Irving is exaggerating colonial New York’s lethargy for literary effect, the period following the Revolution—the Early Republican period—was precisely the time when New York began to surpass other states in population, commerce, and industrial development. The changes Rip notices are the very changes that had happened in Irving’s own lifetime (he was in his mid-thirties when these stories were written). Similarly, Irving’s nostalgia for the “old” New York is evident in this paragraph from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:
. . . it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great State of New-York, that population, manners, and customs, remain fixed; while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.
BENEDICT ARNOLD’S BOOT: The rise and fall of a New York hero (continued, part 2)
By Susan Ingalls Lewis
Last week, we took Arnold through the fall of 1776, and the Battle at Valcour Island. In the winter of 1776/77, despite support from George Washington and General Horatio Gates, Arnold was passed over for promotion to major general and threatened to resign. Enemies—he seems to have made many—had turned Congress against him. However, on his way to Philadelphia to discuss the matter that April, Arnold learned that the British were about to attack Ridgefield, Connecticut, and he joined the defense, led the militia, and was wounded again in the left leg—the very leg represented in the boot monument on the field at Saratoga.
An artist’s view of Arnold in the thick of the battle at Saratoga
In 1777, Arnold’s military career reached its zenith. He was finally promoted after his action and wounding in Connecticut, although he continued to resent that his seniority was less than others who had been promoted in the interim between when he felt the promotion was deserved and when it actually took place. In addition, he had to defend himself against charges of corruption brought by an enemy officer. Although Arnold threatened to retire, Washington insisted that he was needed for the defense against the British invasion of New York from the north and west. Coming down from Canada, General Burgoyne’s army recaptured Ticonderoga in July, and Barry St. Leger’s smaller band of British soldiers, Hessians, Canadians, loyalists, and Native Americans (including New York’s Mohawk leader Joseph Brant) had set out from Niagara in the west. If these forces could meet with an expected expedition up the Hudson from New York City, it was hoped by the British, and feared by the Americans, that New England would be cut off from the rest of the states.