For discussion

Julia often writes about troubling issues with her complexion. A short time later, The Arts of Beauty: or, Secrets of a lady’s toilet, was written by Lola Montez. There is a wonderful section on How to Obtain a Beautiful Complexion.

Chapter VIII

A while ago, (February), some people asked about when Valentine's Day was first observed. I have been visiting the Library of Congress website and discovered the above 184_? card.

The image is not necessarily a discussion item, but I wasn’t sure where else to put it. It is a wonderful 1840’s look at Broadway in New York City, the same time Julia would have been promenading with her friends and family. The stage coaches you see in the foreground are a good example of the type of transportation Julia was taking to visit the shops on Broadway as well as her frequent jaunts to 19th Street.

On February 28, 1840, Philip Hone titled the entry in his diary, The “Fancy Ball”. The Ball was a masked party hosted by Henry Brevoort, jr. who lived in a mansion near the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Ave. The following excerpt was found in the 1937 edition of The Diary of Philip Hone:

The Fancy Ball. The great affair which has occupied the minds of the people of all stations, ranks, and employments, from the fashionable belle who prepared for conquest to the humble artiste who made honestly a few welcome dollars in providing the weapons; from the liberal-minded gentlemen who could discover no crime in an innocent and refined amusement of this kind to the newspaper reformer striving to sow the seeds of discontentment in an unruly population-this long anticipated affair came off last evening, and I believe the expectations of all were realized. The mansions of our entertainers, Mr. and Mrs. Brevoort, is better calculated for such a display than any other in the city, and everything which host and hostess could do in preparing and arranging, in receiving their guests and making them feel a full warrant and assurance of welcome, was done to the topmost round of elegant hospitality…
Soon after our party arrived the five rooms on the first floor (including the library) were completely filled. I should think there were about 500 ladies and gentlemen. Many a beautiful “point device,” which had cost the fair or gallant wearer infinite pains in the selection and adaption, was doomed to pass unnoticed in the crowd; and many who went there hoping to be the star of the evening, found themselves eclipsed by some superior luminary, or at best forming a unit in the milky way. Some surprise was expressed at seeing in the crowd a man in the habit of a knight in armor-a Mr. Attree, reporter and one of the editors of an infamous penny paper called the Herald. Bennet, the principal editor, called upon Mr. Brevoort to obtain permission for this person to be present to report in his paper an account of the ball. He consented, as I believe I should have done in the same circumstances, as by doing so a sort of obligation was imposed upon him to refrain from abusing the house, the people of the house, and their guests, which would have been done in case of a denial…

I found several really interesting articles on the sinking of the Lexington.  The following excerpt is from ” WRECKS AND RESCUES ON L.I” by Van Field.

Daybreak found the Lexington tied up in New York on January 13, 1840.  The morning air was very cold, about zero degrees.  Ice was beginning to form on the surface of the water.  One hundred and fifty bales of cotton were loaded under the promenade deck of the steamship.  Some of these bales were placed within a few feet of the smokestack casing.  A fire had occured in the casing only a few days earlier, but no one took the problem seriously even after repairs were made.  It was a mistake that would later prove disastrous.

For the evenings Long Island Sound crossing, Captain George Child was in charge of the ship and crew of thirty-four.  The regular master, Captain Jacob Vanderbuilt (Cornelius’s brother),  was home sick with a cold.  A number of sea captains were boarding on their way home to see loved ones. Passengers began arriving in the early afternoon and paid $1.00 for the trip to Stonington.  The fare was 50 cents if passengers stayed on the decks, but the temperatures were too cold for anyone.  For those passengers traveling beyond the Connecticut destination, a train would continue their journey to Boston.  Adolphus Harnden boarded with $20,000 in silver coins and $50,000 in bank notes for the Merchants Bank.  The ship took on about 115 passengers and departed her dock for the last time around three o’clock in the afternoon.  The twenty-three foot diameter paddlewheels propelled the vessel down the East River and around Throgs Neck into Long Island Sound.  A brisk north wind was blowing, producing a heavy sea.  Additional coal was thrown on the fire and the Lexington began to pick up speed as she began her journey into the open sea.  White caps could be seen on the water as Manhattan drifted into the setting sun.

By six o’clock the passengers were settled in and enjoying dinner.  They had a choice of baked flounder in a wine sauce or mutton with boiled tomatoes. Conversations covered the lastest news, politics, and banking rates. Some ventured out onto the decks for a short time, only to return quickly to the warm interior.  One table was engrossed in a game of cards.  No one knew of the horror that was about to happen. 
 At seven thirty, a fire was reported by the first mate.  Looking out the wheel house, flames could be seen shooting from the aft section of the promenade deck, near the smokestack casing.  Captain Child steered the vessel south toward the north shore of Long Island in an effort to beach her, but soon the steering became unresponsive.  The Lexington then turned to a heading of east, on its own, as if trying to out run the flames. The lines between the rudder and the wheelhouse were burned through.  With her steam engine running at full power, the Lexington was now out of control.  The fire quickly engulfed the entire aft section of the ship.  Crew members in the engine room were forced out by the flames before the engines could be shutdown.  Launching the lifeboats while the Lexington plowed through the water was impossible.  The fire fighting equipment was not deployed properly and any chance of stopping the fire was lost.  The silver coins were dumped onto the deck so the wooden box could be used in a bucket brigade.  Flames were now as high as the smokestack.  They could be seen from the shoreline of Connecticut and Long Island.  Many boats in the shoreline marinas were blocked by low tide, ice, and rough seas in an attempt to reach the burning steamboat.  Captain Child ordered the launching of the lifeboats.

The scene on the decks were of terror and panic.  As the crew were preparing a boat for launching, passengers stormed the lifeboat, filling it well beyond capacity.  In the wake of a trashing paddlewheel, the boat and everyone in it was quickly swept away and lost.  The Lexington was slowing down, giving some the chance to throw cotton bales over the side as rafts.  By midnight the steamship was burned from bow to stern.  Its deck had collapsed into the hull.  At three o’clock the next morning, the Lexington slowly sank into Long Island Sound.

Many people who remained in the water succumbed to the freezing cold water.  In the end, only four people would survive.  All but one of the survivors was frostbitten.  The Second Mate, David Crowley was able to dig into the center of a cotton bale to stay warm.  He floated for forty-eight hours until he was washed ashore.  He was to keep the bale in his Providence, Rhode Island home for many years until he sold it for the Civil War effort.

On September 20, 1842, the Lexington was lifted by heavy chains to the surface, only to break up and sink again into 130 feet of water.  A thirty pound melted mass of silver was recovered from inside the hull. 
 Today the wreck lies broken up across the bottom in anywhere from 80 feet deep to 140 feet of water.

(If you would like to purchase the whole book it can be found at Runaway Bay Book Store in Sayville, the Souwester Books Shop in Bellport, Preston’s in Greenport, Book Revue in Huntington, at Fire Island and Montauk Lighthouses.)

Wikipedia has a list the crew members that survivied:
Chester Hilliard, 24, the only passenger to survive, had helped crew members throw bales of cotton to people in the water. He climbed onto the last bale at 8:00 p.m., along with ship’s fireman Benjamin Cox. About eight hours later, Cox, weak from hypothermia, fell off the bale and drowned. At 11:00 a.m., Hilliard was rescued by the sloop Merchant.

Stephen Manchester, the ship’s pilot, was among the last to leave the Lexington. He and about 30 others huddled at the bow of the ship until about midnight, when the flames closed in on them. Shortly after he stepped onto a makeshift raft with several passengers, the raft sank. He then climbed onto a bale of cotton with a passenger named Peter McKenna. Three hours later, McKenna died of exposure. Manchester was rescued by the sloop Merchant at noon.

Charles Smith, one of the ship’s firemen, descended the stern of the ship and clung to the ship’s rudder along with four other people. The five dove into the sea just before the ship sank and climbed onto a floating piece of the paddlewheel. The other four men died of exposure during the night, and Smith was rescued by the sloop Merchant at 2:00 the following afternoon.

David Crowley, the second mate, drifted for 43 hours on a bale of cotton, coming ashore 50 miles east, at Baiting Hollow, Long Island. Weak, dehydrated and suffering from exposure, he staggered a mile to the house of Matthias and Mary Hutchinson, and collapsed after knocking on the door. A doctor was immediately summoned, and once well enough, Crowley was taken to Riverhead, where he recovered.


February 13, 2012
I received a query last week concerning the monetary systems used in NYC in 1840. When Julia was shopping she used pounds, shillings and pence as well as dollars and cents. I asked the experts: Professor Sally Schultz and Professor Joan Hollister, both accounting professors at SUNY, New Paltz. Here is their response:

The dollar became the principal unit of currency in the new American nation with passage of the 1792 “Mint Act.”  Nevertheless, pounds, shillings, and pence continued to be used as units of account for many small businesses in the mid-Hudson Valley into the mid-nineteenth century.  Dollars did appear in the descriptions accompanying many entries, and translation was performed using a standard exchange rate of $2.50 per pound. 

Pounds and shillings served as the monetary units of account in the [Elting family account] book spanning 1824-1835, and the 1821-1845 ledger used Federal dollars and cents.  However, both types of currency were used throughout these ledgers in the descriptions of transactions.  The notes issued by the New York colony, which were denominated in shillings and pence, apparently were still in circulation several decades after the introduction of Federal dollars. 

4 thoughts on “For discussion”

  1. All interesting reading Susan, thank you! 🙂 Lou (

  2. BJ Weir said:

    I recently discovered your blog and have enjoyed reading it. I also have ancestors who lived (Greenwich and Spring Streets) near where Julia’s family lived, during the early 1800s thru mid-1840s before they moved to Brooklyn. I’m curious if some of them might be mentioned in Julia’s Diaries. They were Huguenots who came to New York with the early Dutch and intermarried with them. Some also lived in the Tarrytown area. DeRevere \ Revere are their surnames. Thanks, BJ

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