Category Archives: People

James Van Der Zee

Lenox native James Van Der Zee (1886-1983), was an African-American photographer whose studio portraits and other photographs document the lives of middle-class African-Americans. He gained fame for his photographs taken during the Harlem Renaissance, from 1919 through the mid-1930s.

james vander zee 5fed48afb7ccee23a343622fd1cd1dd6Van Der Zee was born on Hubbard St. in Lenox on June 29, 1886. His family lived in a house that was eventually razed to make way for the construction of the by-pass. James and his five siblings enjoyed the rural small-town life in a community that showed no prejudice. Van Der Zee learned how to play the piano and violin at an early age. He attended grammar school in Lenox where he enjoyed painting and drawing. This fostered his interest in photography and he jumped at the opportunity to win a camera by selling ladies’ sachets. By the time he turned 14 Van Der Zee had left school and was working. He took a job at The Aspinwall Hotel as a waiter and with his second camera, was photographing family, friends, and wealthy summer guests staying in Lenox.

james van der zee photoVan Der Zee had a keen eye and his photography skills quickly developed. In 1905 he left the shelter of the Berkshires and moved to New York. His career progressed in fits and starts but by 1917 he was working out of his own studio, the Guarantee Photo Studio. It was an immediate success.

Van Der Zee’s photographs taken during the Harlem Renaissance solidified his reputation as the most influential studio photographer of that time. Using his elaborate hand-painted backdrops he posed families during celebrations and bereavement, in playful and somber times. Decades later his images, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1969 photographic exhibition “Harlem on My Mind”, would reach millions of people who had never known of his life’s work.

Church on the Hill Early Members

169 Main St., Church on the Hill - 1805
169 Main St., Church on the Hill – 1805

The current beautiful Church on the Hill building was dedicated in 1806, replacing an earlier meeting house.  In 1906 a centennial celebration was held and the Hon. Francis W. Rockwell described the men who had been members of the congregation up to 1806.

Early Members Recognized in Dedication Centennial

At the time of the dedication of the new building in 1806 there had been 205 members, 89 men.  Many of them were active in early town business and records suggest 61 of the early members were living in 1806.  Nineteen or more were in Lenox in 1774 and signed the Non-Importation Agreement.  At least 15 served in the militia active in the defense of Boston and the Battle of Saratoga.  The initial members and the information available on them(from Centennial Anniversary of the Dedication of the Old Church on the Hill) in the Church Centennial history follow.  The tidbits of information paint a picture of a patriotic, peripatetic and ambitious town founders.

  1. David Allen lived near the River Lot 19, First Division.
  2. William Andrus sold 50 acres on Williams’ Grant east of Stockbridge in 1774 (west part of Lenox).
  3. Jacob Bacon, who was thought to have moved early on to Lanesborough,  was said to have been the first person to clear land in the north part of town (“on a hill west of the county road”).
  4. Joseph Baker was admitted to the church in 1784.
  5. Elisha Bangs* was in the army and was an ancestry of the Bangs family – numerous in Lenox at the time of the Centennial.
  6. Thomas Bateman* served in the army and moved to Vermont in 1798. He lived near Russell Hines near New Lenox.
  7. Thomas Benedict* was in the army.
  8. Amos Benton* left Lenox in 1793.
  9. David Bosworth, Jr. was admitted to the church in 1794.
  10. David Justus Chapin’s house burned in 1803 killing two of his children.
  11. Deacon Elisha Coan lived just over the line in Stockbridge.
  12. Jacob Coan was admitted to the church in 1773.
  13. Lemuel Collins* (lived in the west part of town) was the father of Dr. Daniel Collins and some of the Beldens.  Under the pre-US Royal government he was a lieutenant in the Berkshire militia in 1771.
  14. Oliver Collins lived in Lee and Stockbridge.
  15. Josiah Curtis (James Porter & Co.)
  16. Thomas S. Curtis was with James Porter & Co. (saw mill on the Housatonic in Lee) and lived on the George Munson farm opposite the Bartlett Farm.
  17. Zephaniah Davis came from Hebron, CT and bought land in Lenox in 1803.
  18. Zephaniah Davis, Jr. bought 80 acres in 1806 on the north of the highway leading from the meeting house to East Street.
  19. Joseph Denham lived on the highway from the meeting house to East Street on the north side.
  20. Edmond Dewey lived on what was known in 1906 as the Mahanna Farm.
  21. Jacob Ellis was admitted to the church in 1799.
  22. Daniel Fellows lived near and north of the Meeting House (COH).
  23. Nathan Foot was admitted to the church in 1772.
  24. Ichabod Ford, Jr. lived on the road leading from the county road to Lenox Furnace near Patrick Plunkett.
  25. Jonathan Foster came from Wallingford, CT and was a lieutenant in the army. He and Samuel Foster lived on the Pittsfield Rd.
  26. Allen Goodrich* came from Pittsfield, served in the war and moved to New York state.
  27. Samuel Goodrich* was a merchant in 1773-74 and was a licensed inn-holder in 1781-82 and was in the Revolutionary War as a lieutenant and captain in the militia.
  28. John Gray*, son of Capt. Edward Gray* moved to Dorset, VT where he died in 1817.
  29. James Guthrie* lived near what was, in 1906, the Delafield Farm, was in the war and became a Universalist (horrors).
  30. Isaac Hamlin came from Sharon, CT and was an ancestor of Chauncey Sears.
  31. William Handy was admitted to the church in 1793.
  32. Jonathan Hinsdale* – thought to be first settler in Lenox
  33. Gordon Hollister* lived in the northwest part of town.
  34. Deacon Gordon Hollister, Jr. lived on Stock Street and married a daughter of Enos Stone.
  35. Enoch Hoskins (Haskins) was also a soldier.
  36. Zadock Hubbard owned part of Bartlett Farm (East St.) and built the rear of the house about 1800.
  37. Deacon Nathan Isbell lived in the East St. house built in 1798 by his father as of Noah’s death in 1801.  He furnished a room in the second story called “the lecture room,” which was used for neighborhood prayer meetings.
  38. Noah Isbell, came from Salisbury CT in 1770 and was an ancestor of Deacon Isbell.  He lived on the corner of what is now East and Housatonic Streets on land owned in 1906 by F. Augustus Schmerhorn.  Noah first built a log house and in 1798 built the house where Samuel Howes lived at one time.  At the time of its construction, it was one of the largest and best houses on East. St.
  39. John Ives lived on the road from the meeting house to Rev. Samuel Munson’s (modern day Main St.? modern day Cliffwood?)
  40. Uriah Judd came from Pittsfield and was the grandfather of George U. Judd.
  41. Daniel Keeler* came from Ridgefield, CT in 1773, lived on East Street and moved to Manlius, NY in about 1790.
  42. Lot Keeler and his wife are noted as dismissed in 1795; not record of their admission.
  43. Olin Landers was admitted in 1786.
  44. Thomas Landers* was one of the first settlers coming from Kent, CT to Stockbridge.  He was a short time in the army and lived near Lenox Dale. (described in 1906 as south of the Sedgwick School House?)
  45. Josiah Lee, whose daughter married Major General John Patterson*, came from New Britain, CT and later moved to New York state.
  46. Dr. Eldad Lewis, a surgeon in the army, was in Lenox by 1776.  He published the first Lenox newspaper (“The Lenox Watch Light,”), drew the earliest map we have of Lenox (1792), gave a eulogy on Washington  in 1800 (he was a strong federalist), and wrote a hymn for the new church building dedication.  He lived on Cliffwood St.
  47. Andrew Loomis lived on the Shattuck property on the old road which ran westerly.
  48. William Lusk came from Wethersfield in 1767 to Richmond and Stockbridge.
  49. Edward Martindale lived in the northwest part of town.
  50. Deacon Charles Mattoon* came from Waterbury, CT in 1768 and served in the Revolutionary war.
  51. Joseph Merwin, in 1775, sold 25 acres in lot 18 in the 2nd division to Stephen Merwin.
  52. Peter B. Messenger was admitted to the church in 1786.
  53. Allen Metcalf lived on Bartlett Farm (East St.) and built the front part of the Bartlett House.  He had “The Coffee House” for a time
  54. Josiah Newell lived on the Bourne Farm.
  55. Abraham Northrup* died in 1798.
  56. Job Northrup lived near Scott’s Pond.
  57. David Osborn was a clockmaker and lived in the village.
  58. Rev. Jeremiah Osborn was pastor in the states of New York and Ohio from 1806 to 1839.
  59. Josiah Osborn was, in 1807, associated with the James Porter & Co. saw mill on the Housatonic River in Lee.
  60. Elisha Perkins sold land in Stockbridge in 1779.
  61. Eldad Post came to Lenox in 1803.  A prominent man, he was the father of the Hon. Thomas Post.
  62. James Richards* was in Lenox as early as 1764 (and is noted as living in the village), was buried in his farm (smallpox) in 1777. He is also described as living on the road west of Cliffwood St.
  63. John Robinson was first at Stockbridge, then in Lenox living near the Furnace.
  64. Thomas Rockwell, son-in-law of John Whitlock, bought John Whitlock’s coffee house in 1790 and sold it in 1793. He first settled on what, in 1906, was known as the Bartlett Farm on East St.
  65. Joseph Rogers had two acres on East Street next to Philip Sears and Titus Parker* above Yokun Brook.
  66. Issac Sears, born about 1765 lived on East Street and  bought the hotel property from Enos Blossom in 1799 and sold it in 1802.  His wife died in Lenox in 1799.
  67. Issac Smith lived in a northeast part of Stockbridge that came over the Lenox line.
  68. Jonathan Smith and his wife Rebecca were admitted by letter from Ashfield in 1799.  They are marked as dismissed in 1811 to join certain members of the church at Lee who were about to remove to Ohio. (Another Jonathan Smith is shown as admitted in 1803; both are recorded as dismissed in 1811.)
  69. Amos Stanley* came from West Hartford, CT about 1765, was an ancestor of John and Orrilla Stanley, was one of the first selectmen, was a deacon in the church as of 1785 and died in 1811.
  70. Thomas Steel* came to Lenox about 1767 and settled near Jacob Bacon.
  71. Enos Stone was born in Litchfield, CT and is thought to have come to Lenox as early as 1770.  He was a captain in the 12th Mass. Regiment in the Revolutionary War and was captured and imprisoned in Hubbardton, VT in January 1777. He had land in Brighton (now Rochester) NY, his son Enos Stone being one of the pioneers there.  He kept his residence in Lenox (on Stockbridge Street) until the spring of 1815 when he moved to Rochester and died there that year.  His daughter Mary married Deacon Gordon Hollister, Jr.
  72. Deacon John Stoughton, Jr.  (known as “Deacon” before coming to Lenox) came to Lenox about 1779 and moved to Troy, NY where he died. He owned a farm on Bourne Road and was magistrate in Lenox.
  73. Jonathan Taylor lived, in 1802, on the north line of Stockbridge (described in 1906 as south of Depot Road)..
  74. Abidjah Tomlin lived in Lee near the Lenox line near what is described in 1906 as below the Porter corner as well as Moses Way.
  75. Thomas Tracey* was first a member of the church at Pittsfield.  A soldier of the Revolution, he died of small pox contracted in the service and was buried at his farm in 1776.
  76. Timothy Treat lived in the northwest part of the town.
  77. Deacon James Wadsworth lived, at one time, in the village where Henry Sedgwick lived at the time of the Centennial celebration.
  78. William Walker was a Revolutionary war veteran, Judge of Probate in Berkshire County until he resigned in 1840 and his son William P. Walker assumed the post.  He was an investor in Lenox Furnace and other important commercial ventures.
  79. Moses Way (with Abner Way) sold 40 acres in the Hopkins Grant to Timothy Way* in 1786.
  80. Stephen Wells lived in the village.
  81. Deacon Stephen Wells, Jr. was a partner of Rudolphos Colton, a cabinet maker and lived in the village.
  82. Daniel West was a tanner who lived near the Congregational parsonage.
  83. Rev. Elisha Yale, D.D. was born in Lee in 1780 and joined the church October 20, 1799 He died in 1853 and was the pastor an Kingsborough, NY for more than 48 years.
  84. Thomas Yale came from Meriden, CT about 1778.

*signed the Non Importation Agreement

Tanglewood Music Festival – People Who Made it Happen

Picnics on the Lawn of the Tanglewood Shed
Picnics on the Lawn of the Tanglewood Shed

Today the Tanglewood Music Festival attracts 350,000 visitors a year.  Although it is on the border with Stockbridge, it is a major contributor to the Lenox tourist industry as well as a great delight to those of us who live here.

In 1934 – a difficult time – the whole county chipped in to launch the predecessor of the Tanglewood Music Festival — the Berkshire Symphonic Festival.  They were inspired by a handful of determined people.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953)

Frederick Coolidge, Albert Coolidge and Elizabeth Coolidge - 1901
Frederick Coolidge, Albert Coolidge and Elizabeth Coolidge – 1901

In 1918, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge put her considerable funds and determination to work to produce the first Berkshire Chamber Music Festival at South Mountain,  just over the town line in Pittsfield.  She attracted renowned composers and performers.  The Berkshire’s reputation as a beautiful place to perform and listen to music had begun.  Clearly she had local cachet as the committee trying to get the Berkshire Symphony Music Festival going named her honorary president.

Henry Hadley (1871-1937)

Henry Hadley - (1871-1937)
Henry Hadley – (1871-1937)

Hadley was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, to a musical family and trained in Europe a  for what would become a successful career as a conductor and composer.  He conducted in Seattle, San Francisco in New York.   The symphony he had been conducting in New York ran into fundraising difficulty with the stock market crash, and he moved to other conducting work abroad.  It’s not clear when he visited the Berkshires but he had, for a number of years, a dream of putting on a classical summer music festival under the stars.  In spire of a cancer diagnosis in 1932, he decided to pursue his dream in the Berkshires. Fortunately he was directed to Stockbridge’s Gertrude Robinson Smith.

Henry not only worked with Gertrude and her committee to select the site but gathered 65 musicians from the New York Philharmonic and conducted the first concert at Hanna’s farm August 23, 1934 and again in 1935.  In 1935 he included performers from other orchestras and expanded the orchestra size to 85.

He remained involved in the success of the Festival’s remarkable first three years despite health problems but succumbed to cancer in 1937.

Gertrude Robinson Smith (1881 – 1963)

Gertrude Robinson Smith with Teddy and Joan Kennedy
Gertrude Robinson Smith with Teddy and Joan Kennedy

Gertrude Robinson Smith was born to a wealthy New York family.  Her father was a corporate lawyer and director of Allied Chemical. Her mother had been largely raised in Paris and Gertrude split her childhood between New York and Paris.  When World War I broke out, the family purchased a property in the Glendale section of Stockbridge (that would be on Rt. 183 as you pass Chesterwood) and started spending summers in the Berkshires.  Gertrude would go on to build (literally wearing a tool belt build) with her friend Miriam Oliver and some local help her own house on the property in the 1920’s.

During World War I, she and her friend, writer Edith Wharton, organized medical supplies for France, even traveling to the country in a blacked-out ship and flying over the front lines. Smith was made a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for her efforts.  So the girl had some skills that set her up well to make the Berkshire Music Festival happen.

She had the magical combination of a cultured background, a CEO- like personality, money and connections….and beginning in 1934 she focused her considerable energy and skill on establishing a permanent summer music festival in the Berkshires.

She worked with Mrs. Owen Johnson (Stockbridge) and Mrs. William Fulton of Great Barrington to launch meetings across the Berkshires.  Everybody was to be involved.  They met with a representative for the festival in each of the 200 towns and planned choral training over the winter that all would be encourage to join.

Despite  difficult economic conditions, the ladies convinced local residents that this was worth the risk and should become a community enterprise.  Remarkably they pulled it off in three months for the first performance in August 1934.

After a particularly dreadful summer deluge in August 1937, she led the successful campaign to construct a permanent shelter – which would become the Koussevitsky Shed.

This video is great.  Gertrude Smith sounds just like Eleanor Roosevelt – Another Female Representative of the Greatest Generation

Serge Koussevitzky (1874 – 1951)

Eleanor Roosevelt and Serge Koussevitsky
Eleanor Roosevelt and Serge Koussevitzky

The Russian born composer and conductor would pick up the baton from Henry Hadley and expand both the program and the stature of the festival to the heights it enjoys today.

By 1936, Hadley’s health forced him to resign as conductor.  Encouraged by two successful years, the trustees sought an orchestra and conductor.

Sometimes its good to know people who know people (presumably) and the Berkshire trustees quickly worked out an agreement with the Boston Symphony trustees and George E. Judd, conductor and manager.

Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky and Lukas Foss
Leonard Bernstein, Serge Koussevitzky and Lukas Foss

At the time Serge Koussevitzky, was the “hot” new conductor of the BSO, who had been wowing audiences and critics not just with his conducting, but also with his “aristocratic, European” bearing that simply bowled over the Boston Brahmins — so much so that the BSO advertised itself as “the aristocrat of American orchestras.”  (Interestingly, Koussevitzky was actually of humble Jewish origins which would become more a point of pride as Israel rose and anti-semitism declined.)

Koussevitzky at Serenak - The Beautiful Summer Residence Given to Koussevitzky and Named After His Two Wives
Koussevitzky at Serenak – The Beautiful Summer Residence Given to Koussevitzky and Named After His Two Wives

It would, over the long term, become obvious (he was BSO conductor from 1924 to 1949), that Tanglewood was a match made in heaven for both parties.  The success of the festival made Lenox/Stockbridge a tourist destination and allowed Koussevitzky to fulfill a dream of establishing a music institute that would foster new composition and train young artists.  Leonard Bernstein was among his many proteges.

Mrs. Gorham Brooks ((Hepburn) and Miss Mary Aspinwall Tappan

Now the Tanglewood Visitors Center - the Summer Home of the Tappans
Now the Tanglewood Visitors Center – the Summer Home of the Tappans – c. 1865
tanglewood_liongate_stu_rosner_615x250
View of Stockbridge Bowl from Hawthorne St. Gate to Tanglewood

In 1936, the final piece of the Tanglewood Festival fell into place through a gift from Mrs. Rosamund Dixey  Brooks Hepburn (1887-1948) and Mary Aspinall Tappan (1851-1941).  They gave the Boston Symphony Orchestra their summer home, Tanglewood, including 200 magnificent acres overlooking the Stockbridge Bowl.

Mrs. Brooks (later Mrs. Hepburn) was the granddaughter of William Aspinallwall and Caroline Sturgis Tappan and Mary Aspinall Tappan was a daughter (Mrs. Brook Hepburn’s aunt).

Caroline Tappan at About Age 40
Caroline Tappan at About Age 40

The Tappan family spanned the 19th century history of Lenox as a resort and added a certain creative pixie dust to Tanglewood.  The grandmother/mother was Caroline Sturgis Aspinwall (1819-1888).  She was part of a Boston family that had made its fortune in the China trade.  She married William Aspinwall Tappan, son of noted abolitionist, Louis Tappan.

They first came to the Berkshires to visit their Boston friends, the Wards, and would rent High Wood before building their own home.  When they came to the Berkshires they were a locus point for intellectual conversation, drawing, and musical performances.

Drawing of Cottage Occupied by the Hawthorne's 1850-1851
Drawing of Cottage Occupied by the Hawthorne’s 1850-1851 — Now Part of the Tanglewood Grounds

Caroline Tappan was part of the literary renaissance sweeping the country in the early 19th century and was a contributor to the Dial and a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Ellery Channing, Henry James, Henry David Thoreau.  Notably, this circle also included Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom they let the little red cottage on the drive to High Wood 1850-1851.  It was Hawthorne who coined the name Tanglewood.

———-

The Tale of Tanglewood Scene of the Berkshire Music Festivals by M.A. DeWolfe Howe, The Vanguard Press, New York, 1946

Hawthorne’s Lenox, The Tanglewood Circle,  by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters, The History Press 2008

Tanglewood/Boston Symphony Orchestra website

Wikipedia

Before There Was a Tanglewood Music Festival

The First Berkshire Music Festival
The First Berkshire Music Festival

The summer of 1934 is celebrated as laying the groundwork Tanglewood (even though it was a different orchestra in a different place), but the story really begins earlier.  To get the full background we have to move to Pittsfield (after all Tanglewood is technically in Stockbridge so why not be liberal about town lines!)

Pittsfield Philanthropist Brings First Music Festival to the Berkshires in 1918

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was  born in 1864 in Chicago to a wealthy wholesale dealer.  She studied music and became very proficient.   However, it is likely, in her wealthy gilded age home, she would have been discouraged from taking her music too seriously.   In fact , she would go on to become a performer, composer, patron – and popularizer of chamber music in the United States.  The plaque honoring her at the South Mountain “Temple of Music,” dubs her “The Fairy Godmother of Chamber Music.”

Elizabeth Sprague (Coolidge) at 14
Elizabeth Sprague (Coolidge) at 14

On her European Grand Tour she was enthralled by the musical offerings and was taken by the charm of festivals such as the Salzburg Music Festival.

1913 John Singer Sargent Sketch of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge
1913 John Singer Sargent Sketch of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge

She married  Boston born physician Frederic Shurtleff Coolidge who left his Chicago practice and moved to Pittsfield for his health.  They had one child, Albert (who would accompany his mother’s piano performances on the viola).

Her husband died in 1915 and her parents shortly thereafter.    She inherited a considerable amount of money which she used to embark on a promotion of  chamber music, a mission she continued to carry out until her death at the age of 89 in Cambridge in 1953.   Although marked by tragedy, this change of circumstance must have helped Elizabeth liberate herself from the constraints of her Victorian upbringing.

South Mountain Road Site of the Berkshire Chamber Music Festival
South Mountain Road Site of the Berkshire Chamber Music Festival

In 1916, she agreed to subsidize Chicago Symphony Orchestra violinist Hugo Kortschak (1884–1957)  and his string quartet provided they would move to Pittsfield.

The Berkshire String Quartet—Coolidge’s “Berkshire Boys”—became the nucleus for her Berkshire Chamber Music Festivals. She built a summer colony for them, with a performance venue known as the Temple of Music, and established a composition award, the Berkshire Prize, for new The Berkshire Chamber Music Festival ran from 1918 to 1924 annually, and thereafter occurred at irregular intervals in 1928, 1934, and 1938. Along with standard chamber music literature, the Festival highlighted Coolidge-commissioned and prize-winning works from the associated Berkshire Chamber Music Competition. During its two decades, the Festival generated 1,284 new works, and attracted prominent composers and performers.

Laid Groundwork for Berkshire Symphonic Festival

When the much larger Berkshire Symphonic Festival got underway in the 1930’s, they must have recognized the credibility Mrs. Coolidge had established for the Berkshires.  They named her honorary president.

First Berkshire Symphonic Festival in 1934 Advertised in Lenox
First Berkshire Symphonic Festival in 1934 Advertised in Lenox

A spark for further development arrived in the form of Henry Hadley, a composer and conductor enchanted with the idea of an outdoor music performance under the clear starry skies of the Berkshires.  He was (fortunately) directed to Miss Gertrude Robinson Smith and Mrs. Owen Johnson of Stockbridge.  They, and Mrs. William Fulton of Great Barrington, managed to gain enough local support to pull off the first festival – in what must have been a very challenging time to take the risk of attracting sufficient patrons from New York and Boston.

Residents of Stockbridge, Lenox and Lee provided funds and labor for building stage benches and an acoustical shell with the help of Emergency Relief workers.

The First Berkshire Music Festival Performance at Dan Hanna's Farm
The First Berkshire Music Festival Performance at Dan Hanna’s Farm

With the use of Dan Hanna’s horse ring, they, miraculously pulled it off.  Henry Hadley had trained and directed 65 members of the New York Symphony Orchestra who performed August 23, 25 and 26, 1934.

Seating had been constructed for 2,000 and the attendance for all three concerts was estimated at 5,000.

———

The Tale of Tanglewood, Scene of the Berkshire Music Festivals, by M.A.DeWolfe Howe, The Vanguard Press, New York, 1946

 

 

The Sedgwicks of Lenox

The Sedgwicks of Lenox set a flavor for 19th century Lenox that lingers to this day, so it is worth reviewing who they were and why they had the influence they had.

Thought of as a Stockbridge Family

245px-TheodoreSedgwick
1808 Portrait of Theodore Sedgwick by Gilbert Stuart

One of the earliest Berkshire Sedgwicks and one of the most famous was Theodore Sedgwick (1746 – 1813).  Theodore was born in West Hartford, a descendant of Major General Robert Sedgwick who arrived in Massachusetts in 1636 — part of the Great Migration.

He graduated from Yale in 1766 and began practicing law in Sheffield.  His career paralleled that of Major General John Paterson and other local Revolutionary War greats in that he participated in the Stockbridge Congress (1774), participated in the expedition to Canada, fought in the Battle of White Plains and was brought back into the fray during Shays Rebellion.  As a matter of fact he was famous enough and wealthy enough by that time for his home to be the scene of a raid.

Mumbet, Elizabeth Freeman, 1744-1829
Mumbet, Elizabeth Freeman, 1744-1829

Theodore went on to a distinguished political and judicial career, but he his most remembered for his defense of Mumbet (Elizabeth Freeman).  She was being mistreated by her mistress and was hearing all this talk of freedom so she came to Theodore Sedgwick to see if she could get her freedom.  He won the case and it was determined that slavery was inconsistent with the just passed (1780) Massachusetts Constitution (which would be somewhat of a model for the national constitution).

Additional Sources of Fame for the Sedgwick Family

In addition to being a brave soldier and an outstanding jurist, Theodore Sedgwick had the wit to produce nine children — six of whom lived to adulthood.  And yes, Kyra Sedgwick is a descendant.

The Sedgwick Pie - With Descendants Encircling Theodore and Pamela
The Sedgwick Pie – With Descendants Encircling Theodore and Pamela

With a large and distinguished family you get to have your own section of the Stockbridge cemetery – and get buried as close to the founder as your distinction and bloodlines allow. The children were all the issue of his second marriage to Pamela Dwight.  Pamela was the product of a distinguished lineage also — the daughter of Brigadier General Joseph Dwight and the widow – Abigail Williams Sargent.

Theodore’s Children

The seven children that lived to adulthood were:

  • Elizabeth Mason Sedgwick (1775-1827)
  • Frances Pamela Sedgwick (1778-1827)
  • Theodore Sedgwick II (1780-1839)
  • Henry Dwight Sedgwick (1785-1831)
  • Robert Sedgwick (1787-1804) who was a lawyer in New York. He married Elizabeth Dana Ellery, grand-daughter of William Ellery, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • Catherine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1876)
  • Charles Sedgwick (1791-1856)
Charles Sedgwick and his friend Judge Henry Bishop
Charles Sedgwick and his friend Judge Rockwell-

The last two – Charles in particular – became the Lenox Sedgwicks.  Lenox had become the county seat in 1784 and Charles got a job as Clerk of the County Court in 1821.  By this time his sister, Catherine, was a famous author.  Although she described Lenox as a “bare and ugly little village,” apparently it grew on her as she spent more and more time at her brother’s home in Lenox.

The antebellum Lenox she experienced is beautifully described in Cornelia Brooke Gilder’s book, Hawthorne’s Lenox.  Lenox would have indeed been quite bare since the iron industry was up and

Catherine Sedgwick Wrote Many of Her Most Famous Historical Novels 1820-1850
Catherine Sedgwick Wrote Many of Her Most Famous Historical Novels 1820-1850r.

running and using every available tree for charcoal.  Charles’ wife, Elizabeth, started a tree planting initiative and Lenox did have some very handsome structures.

Charles’ wife, Elizabeth was apparently no slouch herself in that she ran a school out of her home that was the female counterpoint to The Academy for young men.  Her school, founded about 1828,  was very well thought of and included distinguished students such as Jenny Jerome – the mother of future Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter.   By 1841,  a separate building for the school appears on town maps.

Authoress Catherine never married but Charles and Elizabeth had five children:

  • Kate – 1820
  • Charles – 1822
  • Bessie – 1826 (who was to marry the German pianist Frederich Rackemann and become the mother of Charles Rackemann  whose diary has been transcribed by the Lenox Historical Society)
  • Willie – 1831
  • Grace – 1833

Atmosphere of the Hive 

The Hive - Lenox Home of the Sedgwicks - Now the Site of Spring Lawn
The Hive – Lenox Home of the Sedgwicks – Now the Site of Spring Lawn

In 1824 the Charles Sedgwicks purchased a home that was to become known as “The Hive”. It was located where Spring Lawn is today.

The combination of a charming couple of famous lineage, the presence of a distinguished female author and famous guests including actress Fanny Kemble, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sophia Hawthorne (the author himself was not particularly sociable) and Henry Ward Beecher, “The Hive” became a magical cultural melting pot.

Between this cultural melange,  educated individuals attracted to the courts and the two schools and the clean air and stunning scenery, “The Hive” and Sedgwicks of Lenox played a major role in putting Lenox on the early summer resort map.

———-

For more information on the life and times of these early Lenox intellectuals, see:

The Tanglewood Circle, Hawthorne’s Lenox, by Cornelia Brooke Gilder with Julia Conklin Peters, The History Press, 2008

Revolutionary War Loyalists in Lenox

What was a Loyalist in Lenox?  It may have been something different than a loyalist in New York or New Jersey where loyalists were more prevalent and the war was more immediate, but there certainly were at least a handful who did not favor Independence.

Called Tories, Loyalists Opposed Breaking with Britain

Sometimes called Tories, loyalists opposed breaking with Britain and  believed the colonists could best achieve their aims by working with Parliament and continuing to respect the laws of King and Parliament.  The “Tory” name referenced the parliamentary party opposed to the Whigs who were more pro-American colonies and eventually moved to grant independence.  It has been estimated as much as a third of the population during the Revolutionary War were loyalists and that another third were (at least attempted to be) neutral.  Within that two thirds there were a range of motivations and behaviors-as there probably were in Lenox.

Some Groups More Predisposed to be Loyalists

The majority of loyalists were Episcopalian but the majority of Episcopalians were not loyalists.  Episcopal worship was prohibited in many places since the service at the time included a prayer for the health of the King and the American clergy reported to bishops in England.

In a (humorous in retrospect) tale of over-reaction the Episcopal rector who conducted services for Lenox during the Revolutionary period was arrested in the middle of a wedding and taken to jail!  In fact, some of Lenox’s great heroes were Episcopalian and were quite active in Trinity Church after the Revolutionary War including John Paterson, Azirah Eggleston and Linus Parker.  Linus, it is said, led the party that captured Lenox loyalist, Gideon Smith (see below).

Men whose wealth and property were closely aligned with the mother country were sometimes – but not always – likely to be loyalists.  Wealth did not equate with conservative in this instance.  After all, John Hancock, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other leaders of the Revolutionary War were wealthy property owners.

Some Fought for the King Against Their American Neighbors

Recruiting Loyalists for the British Army
Recruiting Loyalists for the British Army

At one extreme, some loyalists took up arms almost as quickly as the Patriots and were prepared to fight for and with the British and their German and Indian allies making the Revolution a true civil war.  Many were formed into units made up entirely of fellow colonists.  Some of these loyalist units became almost like vendetta squads operating outside of the supervision of the British command and seeking compensation for land ceased by patriots or to avenge violence visited on their loyalist friends and relatives by the patriots.

In other cases – as is likely for poor Gideon Smith – the men branded as “Tories,” may just have been trying to stay neutral.

Parliament over-estimated the willingness of colonists to take up arms against their friends and neighbors, but the loyalists were at least a source of manpower and information.

Repercussions of Being a Loyalist

After Independence was declared in 1776 the Massachusetts and other colonies encouraged towns to refuse admission to anyone who was not supportive of the patriot cause and required oaths of allegiance–sometimes (see the story of Gideon Smith below) administered with excessive zeal.

Cartoon of the Revolutionary Area of Patriots "Encouraging" Loyalists to Take the Oath
Cartoon of the Revolutionary Area of Patriots “Encouraging” Loyalists to Take the Oath

Cartoon of the Revolutionary Area of Patriots “Encouraging” Loyalists to Take the Oath

There was plenty of arbitrary violence on both sides but this was pretty close to a total war in places like Pennsylvania and New Jersey in that the armies (particularly the British) had to forage for food and fuel.  If you were not contributing – manpower, money or food- to the Patriots, you were for all intents and purposes contributing to the English war effort.

As part of the peace settlement loyalists (see John Whitlock below) were given the opportunity for exile and 100,000 or more were transported to Canada when the British left the newly independent colonies.

Poignant Howard Pyle Drawing of Loyalists Being Exiled to Canada
Poignant Howard Pyle Drawing of Loyalists Being Exiled to Canada

Poignant Howard Pyle Drawing of Loyalists Being Exiled to Canada 

Site of Home of John Whitlock
Site of Home of John Whitlock

John Whitlock of Lenox appears to have been one of the loyalists in active civil war against his fellow colonists.  This is a little confusing since records show multiple John Whitlocks.  One (probably the son) built one of the earliest homes in Lenox (1771) on the site of the Village Inn on Church Street and owned much of what is now downtown Lenox.  He allegedly oined the British army and ended up losing most of his property and leaving for Canada at the end of the Revolution. Another John Whitlock (probably the father) was either neutral or at least willing to take an oath of loyalty to the patriot cause as a John Whitlock donated the land for the original courthouse and was a vestrymen for Trinity Church.

Another Tory tale from Lenox involves Gideon Smith who lived at what today would be 406 New Lenox Road.  The farm was part of a large parcel that had been sold by Israel Williams to David Sears and then to Gideon Smith in 1761.  Perhaps it is urban legend but the story is that vigilantes hanged Gideon to choking – several times – until he agreed to the patriot loyalty oath.  To avoid further roughing up from the over zealous local patriots, he supposedly hid in Tory Cave on the side of October Mountain.  Apparently this is a popular local tale since the 1976 Bicentennial included a float depicted Gideon’s family bringing him food at Tory Cave.

It is easy in hind sight to look at the loyalists as the opposite of “loyal Americans” and to have been foolish to have given up life in the new United States.  However, loyalists viewed themselves as the real patriots (remaining loyal to the established government–as did the Union soldiers in the Civil War).  And the Revolutionary War remained a close thing that could have gone either way up to the end.  The segment of the population (perhaps the majority) probably were trying to figure out where the wind was blowing for all eight years of the Revolutionary War.

See

Tories, Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War, Thomas B. Allen, Harper Collins e-books

“The History of Tory Cave Farm,”  Lenox High School Research Paper from the Lenox Historical Society, by Danielle Dragonetti, May, 2000

The Goodness That Doth Crown Our Days, A History of Trinity Parish,  by John Allen Gable, Lenox, Massachusetts, 1993

Ancestry – John Whitlock

Revolutionary War for Enlisted Men from Lenox

joseph plumb martin
Book Cover of Joseph Plumb Martin’s Tale of Being an Ordinary Soldier

We know of no eye-witness accounts of Revolutionary War service by Lenox enlisted men.  However, Joseph Plumb Martin from Becket gives a fascinating and colorful picture of what life would have been like for all the brave and long suffering ordinary soldiers of the Revolution.  Joseph Plumb Martin wrote of his experiences in “Ordinary Courage.”

 

 

 

Why and How Joseph Enlisted

Joseph, working on his grandfather’s farm, explains how he came to enlist:

“I remember the stir in the country occasioned by the Stamp Act, but I was so young that I did not understand the meaning of it; I likewise remember the disturbances that followed the repeal of the Stamp Act until the destruction of the tea at Boston and elsewhere.  I was then 13 or 14 years old and began to understand something of the works going on.  I used to inquire a deal about the French War, as it was called, which had not been long ended; my grandsire would talk with me about it while working in the field…” (Ch. 1)

In the same chapter he describes the sense of local tension and alarm:

“I was ploughing in the field about half a mile from home (which would have been Connecticut – where his grandfather lived), about the 21st day of April (1775) when all of a sudden the bells fell to dinning and three guns were repeatedly fired in succession down in the village….The regulars are coming in good earnest, thought I.”

At first, Joseph has no interest in enlisting but then:

“This year there were troops raised both for Boston and New York.  Some from the back towns were billeted at my gransire’s; their company and conversation began to warm my courage to such a degree that I resolved at all events to ‘to a sogering'”

However, his grandfather did not give him permission to enlist (he would have been only 15) and:

“Many of my young associates were with them; my heart and soul went with them, but my mortal part must stay behind.  By and by they will come swaggering back, thought I, and tell me of all their exploits….”

In July 1776 Joseph got his wish when his town was required to provide enlistees for the defense of New York.  Upon being told that the British had been reinforced by 15,000 men he reports, “I never spent a thought about numbers; the Americans were invincible in my opinion….”

Joseph’s Account of the Kip’s Bay ‘Affair’ and the Retreat from New York

Joseph has a laconic story telling style that would become classic yankee.  He speaks of battle as things getting “warm,”  and constantly makes sarcastic comments about food (and was probably hungry almost all the time.) Although many of his stories of duty in Westchester and New Jersey tell of indifferent patriots or tories, here he paints a picture of interactions between both friends and foes while on the march:

“I found myself in company with one who was a neighbor of mine when at home and one other man belonging to our regiment; where the rest of them were I knew not.  We went into a house by the highway in which were two women and some small children, all crying most bitterly.  We asked the women if they had any spirits in the house; they placed a case bottle of rum upon the table and bid us help ourselves.  We each of us drank a glass and bidding them good-bye betook ourselves to the highway again.  We had not gond far before we saw a party of men apparently hurrying on in the same direction with ourselves.  We endeavored hard to overtake them, but on approaching them we found they were not of our way of thinking; they were Hessians.” (Chap. 2)

And in this retreat he tells (as he will in all the future campaigns) of the inadequacy of rest and food:

“I still kept the sick man’s musket; I was unwilling to leave it, for it was his own property, and I knew he valued it highly, and I had a great esteem for him.  I had enough to do to take care of my own concerns: it was exceeding hot weather, and I was faint, having slept but very little the preceding night, nor had I eaten a mouthful of victuals for more than 24 hours.”

And he gives a personal account of the hopes of the enslaved to be freed by serving with King George:

“The man of the house where I was quartered had a smart-looking Negro man, a great politician.  I chanced one day to go into the barn where he was threshing.  He quickly began to upbraid me with my opposition to the British.  The king of England was a very powerful prince, he said–a very power prince; and it was a pity that the colonists had fallen out with him; but as we had, we must abide by the consequences.  I had no inclination to waste the shafts of my rhetoric upon a Negro slave.  I concluded he had heard his betters say so.  As the old cock crows, so crows the young one; and I though, as the white cock crows, so cross the black oe.  He ran away from his master before I left there and went to Long Island to assist King George; but it seems the King of Terrors was more potent than King George, for his master had certain intelligence that poor Cuff was laid flat on his back.”

(This may refer to death by small pox which was rampant — particularly among the former slaves who enlisted with the British troops.)

Why Joseph Re-Enlisted for the Duration of the War

By 1777 the rage militare of 1775 had all but disappeared.  It was now apparent the war would be a prolonged affair and that the ‘sogering’ Joseph had looked forward to was more hunger and exhaustion than glory.

Nonetheless, like soldiers throughout history, Joseph re-enlisted because his friends did — and perhaps we can speculate–because he was young and wasn’t sure what else to do.

The Suffering of the Continental Army

(From Chapter 3)

“One of my mates, and my most familiar associate who had been out ever since the war commenced, and who had been with me the last campaign, had enlisted for the term of the war in the capacity of sergeant.  He had enlisting orders, and was every time he saw me, which was often, harassing me with temptations to engage in the service again.  At length he so far overcame my resolution as to get me into the scrape again, although it was at this time against my inclination, for I had not fully determined with myself, that if I did engage again, into what corps I should enter.  But I would here just inform the reader, that that little insignificant monosyllable–No–was the hardest word in the language for me to pronounce, especially when solicited to do a thing which was in the least degree indifferent to me;  I could say Yes, with half the trouble.”

And he gives us an account of the army’s war on smallpox:

“….with about 400 others of the Connecticut forces, to a set of old barracks a mile or two distant in the Highland to be inoculated with the smallpox.  We arrived at and cleaned out the barracks, and after two or three days received the infection….I had the smallpox favorably as did the rest, generally.”

And he describes the growing hardship of his squad:

“Their whole time is spent in marches (especially night marches) watching, starving, and in cold weather freezing and sickness. If they get any chance to rest, it must be in the woods or fields, under the side of a fence, in an orchard or in any other place but a comfortable one, lying down on the cold and often wet ground, and perhaps, before the eyes can be closed with a moment’s sleep, alarmed and compelled to stand under arms an hour or two, or to receive an attack from the enemy; and when permitted again to endeavor to rest, called upon immediately to remove some four or five miles to seek some other place, to go through the same maneuvering as before; for it was dangerous to remain any length of time in one place for fear of being informed of by some tory inhabitant (for there were plenty of this sort of savage beast during the Revolutionary War.)…..”

He recounts more on the lack of provisions:

“In the cold month of November without provisions, without clothing, not a scrap of either shoes or stockings to my feet or legs, and in this condition to endure a siege in such a place as that was appalling in the highest degree.”

Joseph’s suffering goes on throughout the war – and often in situations where surrounded by plenty.  He rightly resents the lack of sacrifice of the civilians who claimed to be patriots.

It is interesting to note that there was no such thing as an “American” yet.  Joseph refers to the Pennsylvanians as foreigners.

Peace and Prosperity – Not

When the war ended in 1783 Joseph was still only 22 years old.  He had had little education and is grandfather’s farm was gone.  After a brief stint teaching school among the Dutch settlers in the Hudson Highlands, he made for Maine in response to rumors that land was available on easy terms.  Like most of the common soldiers of the Revolutionary War, he mustered out with little except whatever tattered clothes he had on his back.

Settling near the mouth of the Penobscot River, he married, had children and lived another 66 years.  He was apparently well thought of by his fellow townsmen — elected to the board of selectmen seven times.  However, he never prospered and, like many veterans of the war, received scant reward for his service.  In 1797 he finally received title to 100 acres of land in the Ohio territory, but he was already in Maine and owed for the land he had settle on there.  His bounty land was assigned to a land agent for whatever cash could be raised.

See:

Ordinary Courage, The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, Fourth Edition, Edited by James Kirby Martin, Published by Wiley-Blackwell, 2013 (e edition)

Daily Life in Colonial Lenox

Housing in Colonial Lenox

Given the primitive transportation  available, housing for the earliest settlers would have been limited to raw materials readily at hand: logs, stone, and clay.  Initial houses would have been  rudimentary, perhaps with only one room initially with a fire place that would have to double for light, heat and cooking. There may have been a loft for sleeping and generally a dirt floor. Windows, if any, would have been wooden – closing with pegs or rope,  or, at best, covered by oil cloth or hides.

House Meeting Settlement Guidelines Re-creation in Williamstown, MA
House Meeting Settlement Guidelines Re-creation in Williamstown, MA
As the children and grandchildren of early settlers of Westfield, Sheffield and western Connecticut, the Lenox settlers would have known what they had to do to make corn meal, hunt for game, find wild berries and herbs, and slaughter and smoke their meat.  Their parents or grandparents would have created similar shelters for the first phase of their housing.  They probably would have had a treasured metal pot and metal crane for cooking, melting ice, etc.
Mission House Stockbridge - Finer Than the Average Colonial Home
Mission House Stockbridge – Far Finer Than the Average Colonial Home

Settlers would upgrade housing, crops and livestock . Settlers would have upgraded to frame houses with stone foundations as soon as quickly as money or more readily available resources permitted.  However, the original log house would stand into the 19th century.  We can only speculate, but in the increasingly secular and commercial Colonial era, ambitious families were probably as anxious to display their wealth in their homes as they are today.

Wealthier settlers could have accelerated the timing of upgrading (or skipped over the rudimentary shelter phase completely)  with the ability to pay for transportation of materials and servants to accelerate the labor of clearing, hauling in goods from the outside and building.  The skills to build what we think of as a colonial house would have been readily available and some of Lenox’s proprietors lived in nearby towns where they might have stayed until their new Lenox frame houses were available.  Upgrading also would have involved creating shelter for animals and, in many cases, a workshop for the artisan work performed on many farms.

collections bidwell house
From the Bidwell House Collection – Items that Might Have Been Brought in From Urban Centers in Colonial Days

Panelling, cabinets and tables could have been built locally.  Pewter, tin and iron housewares (pots, hooks, pitchers, mugs) could have been manufactured by nearby artisans.

2010 December Statement WFA
The Bidwell House Dining Room – Not the Furnishings of the Average Farmer!

Poorer families would have used more wood and clay for utensils and housewares.  However, the glassware, windows, china, chairs, bedclothes and tableware we associate with historic Colonial houses would have to have been imported from urban areas and transported in.

More Food Options Had Started to become Available
More Food Options Had Started to become Available

Textiles and Clothing

The average housewife would have learned how to make linen (from flax) and wool thread and might have bartered to get it woven in a nearby homestead with access to a loom.

Wealthier households could buy textiles including imported materials such as cotton and silk as well as manufactured items such as metal buttons and buckles.  Nearby hatters and tanners could have supplied the average household with jerkins, hats and belts. Dress would have become more elaborate than in the 17th century(although still quite simple by modern standards) and more differentiated by class.  The larger landowners, the lawyers and the minister might have sported clothing with manufactured buttons and belt clasps and have worn wigs.

Layers were the order of the day with a ubiquitous undershirt with various levels of outer garments, hats, scarves, collars or ruffles depending on the temperature, the sex and the class.  Children would have been dressed as miniature adults.

Colonial Era Economy 

As soon as they were able,  households would generally have at least one cow, sheep, a pig and some geese or chickens.  If farmers didn’t have a team of oxen they would trade services to use a neighbor’s team.  Some farmers would have a cart or a horse – but horses were still somewhat of a luxury.

Households without servants to help with the planting, clearing and household work would have sought help from immediate family, gather extended kin or barter for help from neighbors. Either through exchange or cash from market days, any surplus of cheese from cows, eggs from hens, or smoked meat might have been exchanged for help in plowing and harvesting or for tools, tin mugs, woven homespun wool and linen, shoes, cured hides, nails or andirons – etc. – items that other farmers might be making at home for exchange.

Most homes would acquire the ability to make tallow candles and spins yarn.  Money as we know it would still have been in short supply and to the degree it could be obtained would have been used to buy land, pay taxes, or purchase goods manufactured or harvested elsewhere including glass, fabric, guns, books, paper, salt, tobacco or tea.

The Farmer's Wife Would Have a Garden for Her Home and for Market If Possible
The Farmer’s Wife Would Have a Garden for Her Home and for Market If Possible  

Food choices would have expanded from early days but still would have been primarily what could be grown and preserved locally.  Nearby mills would have been used to grind corn into meal (later wheat).  Apple trees would have been widely planted and, in addition, to eating and baking, apples would have been widely used for cider and vinegar.

Honey and maple syrup would have been the primary sweeteners – sugar being an imported luxury. Rum and other distilled spirits my not have been made locally at first but were widely available in the region.  Tobacco, tea, coffee and cocoa would have been popular but an imported luxury. A key to lifting the family above subsistence level would have been developing goods to barter or sell — a surplus difficult to come by in the hardscrabble growing conditions of the Berkshires.  
A more popular way to have access to manufactured or imported items would be to have a side trade – often practiced in the farmhouse or in a side shed that could be sold for cash.   Examples might have included: tin work, shoe making, leather smith, or blacksmithing.  Many homes would have acquired a spinning wheel but not all would have looms to weave yarn into cloth.  Work on these side trades probably would have been concentrated during times when the farmer didn’t have to be out planting or harvesting.  
There would have been a handful of what we would, today, call “professionals” – the minister, a lawyer (who would probably have been kept very busy with property changing hands constantly!) and a doctor.  The doctor may have been more like an apothecary.  It’s highly likely there also would have been a woman accepted as the best at helping in delivery of babies – the midwife.
Social Life
 In addition to Church, there would have been social occasions (probably accompanied by locally distilled malt ale or hard cider) for wedding feasts (not weddings if the Puritan tradition still held), roof raising, market days or militia drill. We have evidence of considerable interaction with other Berkshire communities in the protests culminating in the Revolution–meetings in Pittsfield, Sheffield and correspondence with counterparts in the Connecticut River Valley and Boston. Also, Lenox residents would have had many kinship ties in other Berkshire, Connecticut River and Housatonic River Valley towns.   Certainly, with a growing population and improved transportation,  Lenox would have been rapidly leaving its isolated frontier status behind by 1775.
Daily Life in Colonial New England, Claudia Durst Johnson, Greenwood Press, Daily Life History SeriesDaily Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, George Francis Dow, Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1977Early Life in Sheffield Berkshire County, Massachusetts, A Portrait of Its Ordinary People from Settlement to 1860, James R. Miller, Sheffield Historical Society 2002The History of Pittsfield 1734-1800, J.E.A. Smith, Lee and Shepherd, 1869History of Lenox, George Tucker ManuscriptEast Street Book, Lenox Historical Society – 1987

Transportation and Settlement for Early Lenox Settlers

Life for Early Lenox Settlers

We have not yet found first person accounts of what greeted the early settlers (say 1750’s) but we can make some educated guesses based on accounts from similar settlements.  The Berkshires, particularly in the Lenox area, had been used  more for hunting than cultivation by the Indians, so there would not, as there had been in the eastern part of the state, have been any prior clearing. Most land would have been heavily wooded with original growth forest and probably thick with underbrush.  Without clearing, food was limited to hunting and gathering.

Clearing Trees

americanagriculturist1864Initial clearing was generally done by girdling the trees, felling them and letting the stumps die off.  While the land was still full of stumps, it would have been difficult to grow wheat or other European crops.  Probably, therefore, initial agriculture would have been to grow native plants such as corn, beans and pumpkins and raise livestock that could live by foraging – such as pigs and goats.  This would have been so much work that the settler probably would have cleared a couple of acres one year, then a few more the next. Obviously meadowland or previously cleared land was at a premium.  Reportedly, by 1800, the land was bare of trees!

Timber was potentially a cash crop.  It could be sold for planing into planks, for ship masts, for pitch or for fuel.  However, it’s not clear that there was, in the earliest days, a way to get raw logs to market.  Felled trees may have just been used to build rudimentary log shelters and for fuel.  One source* reports it took an acre of timber to heat a family for a year!

Travel and Transportation of Goods

Would Have Come to Pontoosuck on Narrow Trails Through the Woods
Early Would Have Come to Berkshire County on Narrow Trails Through the Woods

Accounts of initial settlement of Sheffield and Pittsfield report individuals coming to clear their lots on paths that could barely accommodate one person or horse single file.  In that condition any goods (from farm tools, to nails, to blankets and clothing) would have to have been carried in on the back of  a horse or a man.  Enough improvement in roads to accommodate an ox cart would have allowed settlers to bring in goods made nearby such as nails, planed planks, tools and ground corn.  Goods manufactured outside of the rural Berkshires – such as bricks, cloth, guns, glass, books and paper – would have to have been moved from a port city; perhaps up the Hudson and then over and up from the road through Great Barrington?

It is not yet clear what roads might have been available.  Early plot plans for Mt. Epraim/Yokuntown show some county roads (presumably these could have accommodated carts or other means of hauling goods), but we have not yet found a date for when these roads would have been cleared.  The county roads (whenever they were put in) appear to have connected Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and Poontusuck (Pittsfield) – much as Route 7 does today.

Early Farming and Industry

The settlers might or might not have had oxen or other work animals.  Horses were generally a luxury for the wealthy and many farmers would have had to borrow (in return for some other bartered favor or crops) the use of farm animals to haul goods and break the soil.   Cattle and sheep would become important sources for both sustenance and sale.  But in the early days, foraging animals such as goats or pigs would have been most common.  They probably would have been driven in from of the walking or riding settlers and allowed to wander freely (with notched ears or other markers of ownership).

Setting up mills for planing logs, forging iron,  and grinding corn and other grains would have been a priority.  Maps from the 1790’s show several mills in Lenox.  Until mills became available, settlers would have had to transport raw materials to Stockbridge or other towns settled earlier to have them worked.

House Meeting Settlement Guidelines Re-creation in Williamstown, MA
House Meeting Settlement Guidelines Re-creation in Williamstown, MA

Initial houses would have been windowless and rudimentary, perhaps with only one room initially with a fire place that would have to double for light, heat and cooking. There may have been a loft for sleeping and generally a dirt floor.

Settlers would have upgraded to frame houses with stone foundations as soon as they could, but often the original log house would stand into the 19th century.

As the children and grandchildren of early settlers of Westfield, Sheffield and western Connecticut, the Lenox settlers would have known what they had to do to make corn meal, hunt for game, find wild berries and herbs, and slaughter and smoke their meat.  Their parents or grandparents would have created similar shelters for the first phase of their housing.  They probably would have had a treasured metal pot and metal crane for cooking, melting ice, etc.

Settlers would upgrade housing, crops and livestock as quickly as money or more readily available resources permitted.

See

Daily Life in Colonial New England, Claudia Durst Johnson, Greenwood Press, Daily Life History Series

Daily Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, George Francis Dow, Arno Press, A New York Times Company, New York, 1977

Early Life in Sheffield Berkshire County, Massachusetts, A Portrait of Its Ordinary People from Settlement to 1860, James R. Miller, Sheffield Historical Society 2002

The History of Pittsfield 1734-1800, J.E.A. Smith, Lee and Shepherd, 1869

Margaret Emerson, Holmwood, and Ventfort Hall

On May 9, 2015, Cornelia (Nini) Gilder, co author of Houses of the Berkshires*, gave a great talk at Ventfort Hall about Margaret Emerson McKim Vanderbilt Baker Amory (1884-1960).

Local Connections

untitled-1
Nini Gilder Channeling Her Mother’s WWII Red Cross Service

In a clear case of six degrees of separation, Nini shared a photo of Margaret as a Red Cross Director at Hickam Field in Hawaii.  Nini had the photo because Margaret (now going by “Mrs. Emerson”) had been Nini’s mother’s boss during WWII.  In the spirit of that remarkable coincidence, Nini sported her mother’s natty Red Cross uniform for part of her talk (with a photo of Margaret in the background).

Margaret’s management experience came from supervising her 20+ servants, multiple households…. and lots of money.

MargaretEmersonVanderbilt
Margaret Emerson as a Young Beauty

To Begin…Rich and Beautiful

We can only hope that someday Margaret’s colorful, old money life gets made into the movie it deserves.  Before marrying money, it helps to start beautiful and with a fortune of your own.  Margaret was heir to the Bromo-Seltzer (started in Baltimore by her father) fortune and married a wealthy Baltimore physician,  Dr. McKim.  She went to Reno to obtain a divorce, on the grounds of cruelty and failure to provide**, in 1910.  She wed fabulously wealthy AlfredVanderbiltAlfred Vanderbilt in London in 1911.  One source reported that Dr. McKim was on the verge of bringing an alienation of affections suit against Vanderbilt (whose first wife had divorced him claiming adultery) but was paid $200,000 by Margaret’s father to drop the suit**. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

4_Park_Avenue_Vanderbilt_Hotel
Vanderbilt Hotel, Built 1913, 4 Park Avenue

A grandson of family patriarch, Commodore Vanderbilt, Alfred was a sportsman and coaching enthusiast but also made a few decent real estate deals such as the Vanderbilt Hotel. (It helps if your family’s holdings include a home on what would become Park Avenue and Grand Central.)

 

 

 

VisitorstoSagamoreIn 1901 Alfred had purchased a magnificent Adirondack Lodge at Sagamore Lake.  It would remain in Margaret’s family until 1954 and be the site for entertainment of notables such as Gary Cooper, Jerome Kern and General George Marshall.***

Alfred had two children, Alfred II (1912-1999) and and George III (1914-1961) with Margaret before sailing on the doomed Lusitania, in 1915,  for an the Annual Meeting of the Horse Breeder’s Association and to bring supplies to the Red Cross.   A gentleman to the end, Alfred allegedly perished after giving his life jacket to a woman who could not find hers.

The Widow Comes to Lenox

The widow would have been familiar with Lenox as a visitor to her husband’s cousin (Emily Vanderbilt Sloane – Elm Court) as well as other society cottagers.   Mrs. Sloane’s daughter (Lila Vanderbilt Sloane Field) was a good friend would become a neighbor having built High Lawn in 1909.   Shadowbrook,_Lenox,_MA So it is not surprising that Margaret chose, a month after her husband’s death to come to Lenox where she rented a modest summer place – Shadow Brook.  In 1916 she had to find new quarters as the property had been sold to Andrew Carnegie who could no longer, because of the war, go back and forth to his castle in Scotland.

From 1916 to 1917 she rented Ventfort Hall.  Nini had several pictures of the children enjoying the grounds including a birthday party photo that included Nini’s mother.

Erskine Park and Holmwood

Erskine Park_NEW
Erskine Park Which Was Razed to Make Room for Holmwood

Erskine Park had been built for George and Marguerite Westinghouse in 1890 and was, by 1911, surrounded by 600 landscaped acres.  Margaret bought the property on the condition that the elaborately decorated house be razed.

Holmwood (Later Foxhollow and More Recently Enlighten Next)
Holmwood (Later Foxhollow and More Recently Enlighten Next)

She went right to work to build a brand new Delano and Aldrich designed Colonial Revival home with a large music room and portico.  She particularly liked the fact that the grounds included space for croquet, tennis, and a gymnasium for the boys.  Nice pad for a few weeks a year (since the family also lived in Palm Beach, New York,  and the Great Sagamore).  Holmwood, named for a spot in England that was the site of a memorial to Alfred Vanderbilt, was sold to the Foxhollow School for Girls in 1939.

More Husbands and More Adventures

MargaretmarriesBaker
Margaret Wed Raymond Baker at Holmwood in June 1918

Margaret barely made it into Holmwood in time to marry husband #3, Raymond T. Baker (1875-1935).  In another “you can’t make this stuff up,”  she had met Baker in Reno when she was getting a divorce from husband #1.  One of the social columns** reported, before she married Alfred, that “Mrs. McKim created quite a stir in San Francisco on one occasion when she departed for the orient, waving kisses to Ray Baker, the novelist and clubman, when the steamer left the dock.”  They had a daughter, Gloria (1920-1975).

Ever the Sportswoman, Margaret (Left) at Saratoga
Ever the Sportswoman, Margaret (Left) at Saratoga

They divorced in October 1928.  Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, Margaret married husband #4, Charles Minot Amory (he was from Boston – they had met in Palm Beach) in November 1928.  They divorced several years later.

 

 

 

*Houses of the Berkshires, 1870-1930, by Richard Jackson Jr. and Cornelia Brooke Gilder, Acanthus Press, New York, 2006

**San Francisco Call, Volume 112, Number 115, September 23, 1912, “New Vanderbilt Heir is Born, Stork Crowns Reno Divorce.”

***greatsagamorecamp.org

Also Wikipedia on Alfred Vanderbilt