“A curious font of porphyry”

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 3.29.59 AMWorking on material culture, my research has taken me to some interesting, if unexpected places. Last summer, it involved waiting outside Saint John’s Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, founded in 1732 as the Anglican Queen’s Chapel. I quickly ran inside to snap some pictures of a baptismal font between back-to-back Sunday services. The Saint John’s font is an impressive fixture, carved from marble in a Continental European baroque style. As a ritual object used in the sacrament of baptism, the font is hardly unusual, but its story is. Continue reading

The Marriage of Angelica and John

Two hundred and forty-one years ago on Saturday—23 June, 1777—Angelica Schuyler ran off to be married. Today’s post is excerpted from the draft first chapter of my biography of Angelica. I will be presenting Chapter 4 at SHEAR’s second book workshop in Cleveland next month, and talking about Angelica at a panel on women and ideas in the Age of Revolutions. The research for what follows owes a lot to Stefan Bielinski’s Colonial Albany project, a brilliant resource for the people and spaces of Angelica’s childhood.

Hogarth Marriage a la ModeOf course, John Carter was an utterly unsuitable match for a daughter of Catherine and Philip Schuyler. Like the other old families of Albany, the Schuylers were deeply intertwined with local and provincial oligarchies. Marriage was the most important means by which these bonds were maintained. Thus had Catherine’s brother Jeremiah married Judith Bayard, granddaughter of a mayor of New York City. Philip’s sister Geertruy was first married to her cousin Pieter Schuyler. Only as a widow might a woman in Albany’s elite consider marrying a man of lesser status. Geertruy’s second husband was a physician, John Cochran. Catharina Livingston, who first married Stephen Van Rensselaer II, spent ten years a widow before she married the church minister, Eilardus Westerlo. These patterns were not the result of strict enforcement. They were naturally occurring. Children of great families grew up with one another. They shared common points of reference, expectations, and desires. When the time was right, they married. That was how it went for Philip and Catherine—that was what they expected for Angelica. Except now she was twenty-one, and her country was at war. John Carter was unsuitable, but he was there.

At length, the snow began to melt. The wide Hudson ran higher and faster. The new year would bring renewed campaigning—soon enough, the British army would cross Lake Champlain, and then the defence of the Hudson Valley would begin in earnest. This was what preoccupied Angelica’s father. His mind was as much at Crown Point and Ticonderoga as it was in Albany that winter. But if he did not keep watch over Angelica and the young man from Congress, surely her two sisters did. Elizabeth and Peggy must have known, they were so close they formed a little unit of their own. Perhaps they were enlisted in the project, helping to distract their mother from the courtship going on under her own roof—as if three boys and an infant child weren’t enough distraction along with a troubled, distant husband. Whatever jealousy there was among the sisters was soothed and diminished by Angelica’s seniority. She was the trailblazer. They would have vicarious excitement, and without the risk. For there was something risky in what she was doing. She was waging a rebellion. That spring, as the green buds emerged, she and John Carter made their plans.

On June 12th 1777, general Schuyler rode north to inspect the forts and garrisons on Lake Champlain. Reports had come that John Burgoyne, the British general in command of the invasion, had assembled a fleet and begun embarking men. Schuyler was at Ticonderoga by the 18th. But he did not bring with him the man from Congress who was there to audit his accounts. John Carter stayed in Albany, making preparations of his own. Some time after Philip went north, his wife Catherine followed, on the way to meet him at the Saratoga house—just as she and Angelica had done almost exactly a year before, when the rumours at Albany had so alarmed them both. This time, though, Angelica did not accompany her. With both parents gone, she left Peggy in charge of the remaining household. Then she took John Carter to Van Rensselaer Manor. That was Angelica’s stroke of genius, for at that house was everyone she needed. There was the twelve-year-old Patroon, Stephen; his mother, Catharina; and her recent husband, Domine Westerlo, minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. All the ingredients to put on a respectable Albany wedding.[1]

Angelica and John were married on Monday, 23rd June. At twenty-one, she was already older than her mother had been on her own wedding-day. But she could not enjoy the same festivities her mother had done twenty-two years earlier. Even Catharina and her husband’s blessing could not make up for a marriage kept a secret from her parents. Even Brom Ten Broeck, Stephen’s legal guardian and Philip Schuyler’s oldest friend, could not make things right. He and his wife watched Angelica grow up—but much as they loved her, they could not condone her decision to marry without her father’s consent. The newlyweds had to leave, before Angelica’s parents returned. So on Thursday, they gathered themselves up again, said their goodbyes, and crossed the Hudson river, leaving Albany. They didn’t go far. On the east bank was Green Bush, the home of Angelica’s grandfather, Johannes Van Rensselaer, and his second wife, Gertrude. There, as John put it, “we were received by the amiable & venerable Proprietors with the greatest Friendship and Cordiality.” Johannes and Gertrude promised to use “all their influence” with Angelica’s parents.[2] Everyone knew there would be a reckoning when they returned.

To head off Philip and Catherine’s anger, warming them to the fait accompli, the newlyweds sent a letter to meet them on the road from Saratoga. It was not a success. For two days, Angelica’s parents refused to respond. When finally her grandfather relaxed his own pride, and sent them an invitation to dine at Green Bush on Sunday, a chance meeting of the two couples in Albany led the plan to unravel. Neither Angelica nor Catherine would allow herself to be the first to yield. Those three days were a struggle of will and affection. In the moment she acknowledged Angelica’s marriage, Catherine would have to recognise her daughter’s independence—a daughter who had been her closest confidante in every week and month that Philip was away; a daughter who had run off when her back was turned to marry a man she barely knew. On Monday, the Schuylers relented and arrived at Green Bush. Catherine “was in a most violent Passion,” but Johannes said something that cut his daughter deeply—he told her she did not take after her mother, Engeltie. Perhaps that put her grievance in perspective. She would not lose Angelica completely.

The next day, the Schuylers received Mr and Mrs Carter back into their home. If anyone expected a warm reconciliation, though, this was not it. The storm had passed, but left an atmosphere of tension in its wake. It would take time for Angelica’s mother to forgive her, not only for the subterfuge but for depriving her of taking any part in her own eldest daughter’s wedding. But there was no reversing what had happened. It was best to put aside the hurt. Philip “restored his daughter to his full confidence,” and told John that “he was now my father.” The general added, pointedly, that “he would take the Freedom of giving me his advice when he thought I stood in need of it with the Candour of a Parent.” Clearly, his son-in-law had a propensity for recklessness that would need curbing. It was Angelica, though, who had let down her parents’ expectations, she who suffered from their retaliation. “My charming Angelica is much distressed at their behaviour,” wrote John. The coming weeks were going to be difficult.  “If they continue their coldness,” he concluded “we shall soon quit their house.”

If times had not been as they were, all this would have played out quite differently. John Carter would not have been in Albany, and Philip Schuyler would not have been away from home so much. He could have dedicated more attention to finding a suitor for his daughter. And for her part, would Angelica have been so ready to reject her parents’ rule over her life—to make her own decisions and to see them through against all obstacles? She lived in bold times, and dangerous ones: times of civil war, when brothers fought with brothers, and fathers fought their children. In the summer that Angelica married John Carter, prospects for the United States seemed poor. The city of New York had fallen to the British. John Burgoyne’s army was sailing down Lake Champlain. There had been a tenant uprising at Livingston Manor, a sign of the rebel gentry’s weakness. Hope and fear were intermixed. That is the nature of a revolution, in a family as much as in a country. These are strange times, bold and dangerous. Angelica Carter is only half afraid.

_________________________________

Image: Detail from William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode, II, The Tête à Tête (1743-1745).

[1] Mary Gay Humphries, Catherine Schuyler (Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1897), p.191, refers to the wedding taking place at the Patroon’s house. I think I’m the first to make a connection to the presence there of Domine Westerlo.

[2] John Carter to Walter Livingston, 3 July 1777, New York Historical Society. Subsequent quotations are also from this letter.

@tomcutterham

“Trans-American Crossings” Conference Recap

Over the weekend, an international group of scholars met on the campus of Brown University to participate in a conference focused on various forms of enslaved migrations throughout the Americas from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Sponsored by the Omohundro Institute and the John Carter Brown Library, the meeting represented the fifth in a series of conferences about the transatlantic slave trade that have been organized by the OI.

For anyone who couldn’t make it to Providence[1], the panels were live-tweeted and can be found #TransAmCrossings. While the tweets of my colleagues give a great sense of the flow of the conversations over the weekend, what follows here are some of my reflections on the broader questions and themes that drove intellectual exchanges during and after the panels. Continue reading

Why We Doubt Capable Children: Constructing Childhood in the Revolutionary Era

Mann_Page_Elizabeth_Page_John_Wollaston“My friends and I might still be 11, and we might still be in elementary school, but we know . . . that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.”[1] Speaking at the March for Our Lives event, 11-year old Naomi Wadler eloquently reminded us that childhood is ephemeral. Since they are future voters, she warned Capitol Hill to take the words, emotions, and pleas of children seriously. In many ways, she was also speaking to Florida State Representative Elizabeth Porter who recently exclaimed, “The adults make the law because we have the age, we has [sic] the wisdom, and we have the experience.”[2] For many like Rep. Porter, there has been something disturbing in this moment of youth activism. It cuts to the core of social stability based on the patriarchal family order—that children are subordinate, passive members of society. We inherited this idea from the eighteenth-century revolutionary era, a point in time when age became a main determinant in who could be considered a citizen and an adult. Continue reading

Inspiration Roundtable: The Origins of My Origins Story

This is the fourth post in our weeklong roundtable, “Inspiration in Research.” Previous contributors to the roundtable include Whitney Robles, Rachel Herrmann, and Lindsay O’Neill with Ken Owen’s final post of the roundtable coming tomorrow. 

I am very happy to be able to participate in this fascinating roundtable on the inspiration behind research projects and to share my what I suspect are fairly common experiences among our readership. My dissertation, completed back in May, is now a manuscript entitled, Past and Prologue: The Politics of Memory in the American Revolution, that is under contract to Yale University Press. Past and Prologue explores the role of “history culture” and changing historical memories of the colonial and British pasts in the coming of the American Revolution and early efforts to forge a shared national identity in the revolutionary era. It traces that role in shaping the transition from British subject to American citizen through three developments: the deconstruction of colonists’ relationship to the British past before independence; the creation of a newly shared colonial past for the first time during the imperial crisis and the revision of that colonial past after the war; and, the cultural construction of a “deep national past” or American antiquity in the decades following the war. Rather than having “liberated Americans from the past,” I argue, the Revolution actually made the past matter more than ever before. Continue reading

Inspiration Roundtable: Haunting Sources

Today, Lindsay O’Neill, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern California, joins our weeklong discussion about sources and inspiration. Her first book, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2015. Today she shares the sources that inspired (or haunted) her book-in-progress, titled “Barbarous Country: The Delogaon Princes and the British Empire, 1715-1725.”

photo_1023589 O'Neill

I do not remember precisely when the princes began to haunt me. It might have been when I called up the ominous sounding “Book of Strangers” at the Huntington Library. This turned out to simply be a list of dinner guests at the Duke of Chandos’ estate of Cannons, but what I found inside was rather extraordinary. Listed at the Duke’s table on 24 September 1721 were “Two African Princes.” Intriguing, I thought. However, this must not have been the first time I came across a reference to them, for I remember knowing who these men were. I had, or would, read about them in letters from the Duke of Chandos who hosted the dinner. I would encounter them again in the letters of Sir John Perceval. And then again in the letters of Sir Hans Sloane. I told you these two men were haunting me. Now, there was no reason for them to. At the time, I was not interested in African princes. I was interested in letters since I was working on what would become my first book: The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World. But it turned out that the loosely linked letter writers whose correspondence I was working my way through were interested in African princes and soon so was I. Continue reading

Inspiration Roundtable: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Respect the Historiography

This is the second post in a roundtable about research inspirations. You can read the first essay, a guest post by Whitney Barlow Robles, here.

My dissertation on food and war, which became my first book project on war and hunger, originated at a crossroads between panic and personal interests. I was a sophomore, taking a class on the American Revolution, and the professor was walking us through the process of writing a final paper by requiring a paragraph-long research proposal, followed later in the semester by an annotated bibliography. We were at the point in the semester where research proposals were nearly due, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. I remember discussing my growing sense of panic at swim practice with a friend, and vacillating between this sense of anxiety, and pleasant anticipation of dinnertime. I swam for the team friendships, and the fact that even bad dining hall food tasted good after a hard workout. As I speculated about our dinner choices, my friend interrupted me, observed that I was obsessed with food, and suggested that I write about it for my history paper. Continue reading