In Touch with the Dutch, or, Fashioning Colonial New York’s Merchant Elite

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Man’s Gown. English. ca. 1700-1720. Gold silk damask (likely Chinese; ca. 1690-1720); lining: red brocaded silk (likely Persian; ca. 1700-1720); collar and cuffs: red silk damask (English; ca. 1700-1720); wool padding. Cora Ginsburg LLC.

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Cynthia Kok, a doctoral student in art history at Yale University. She is interested in trade and craftsmanship under European colonial governance and imitative material practices inspired by encounters with foreign cultures.

“I like my money right where I can see it…hanging in my closet.” –Carrie Bradshaw

Centuries before New York became known as a fashion capital— and Carrie Bradshaw emerged as a style icon— the city’s colonial-era merchants anticipated the words of Sex and the City’s lead character by investing newly earned wealth in clothing made from luxurious fabrics. And, like today’s Rich Kids of Instagram, they documented their exclusive material success through portraiture. Painted at the turn of the eighteenth century, that of Isaac de Peyster (1662-1728), the son of an affluent Dutch-American mercantile family, presented both his physical features and a luxurious silk robe patterned with rocks and spindly vegetation. The artist captured the soft, luminous sheen of the gold silk and hinted at the robe’s lining with a flash of red along an upturned sleeve. Continue reading

Q&A: Francis Spufford, author of Golden Hill

Today, we conclude our week-long round table on Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York with an interview with Spufford himself. If you missed our earlier posts on the novel, you can find them here. Continue reading

Golden Hill as Historical Historical Fiction

goldenhillFrancis Spufford’s historical novel Golden Hill introduces us to mid-eighteenth century New York City through the eyes of a London visitor named Richard Smith. For Smith, it’s a strange place. In the book’s first scene, as Tom discussed yesterday, he exchanges some of his own currency for local money. But he is baffled to receive an irregular stack of paper from around the continent divided into various denominations.

I immediately empathized. Only a few days before I began the novel, I had been trying to untangle what I had initially thought would be a fairly straightforward problem for an article manuscript involving colonial wage rates and commodity prices. But I had quickly found myself waist-deep in conversion charts, glossaries, and historical data about the foreign, colonial, and metropolitan currencies that circulated in eighteenth-century Anglo-America. Old tenor, new tenor, pounds, shillings, pence, halfjoes, Spanish dollars—it was a world of currency only slightly less confusing than blockchain. Continue reading

Roundtable: New York’s Original Fashion Industry

Roundtable: New York’s Original Fashion Industry

This Colonial Couture post is by guest contributor William Howard Carter, assistant professor of history at The College of New Jersey. He is currently revising his book manuscript, “The Hideous and the Beautiful: The Power of Bodily Decorations in Iroquoia, 1550-1850.” 

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians (Benjamin West, 1771-72)

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians (Benjamin West, 1771-72)

When was the fashion industry established in New York? With its eye towards the future and its accolades bestowed on the visionaries that best imagine the trends to come, it is hard for us to think of the fashion industry as anything but modern. Fashion tantalizes us with glimpses of the future that are not yet real but could, through the power of fashion, soon be made so. Yet those visions of possible futures are rooted in history. In Manhattan, that history stretches back over 400 years, before the supposed purchase of the island of Manhattan by Dutch colonists. Continue reading

“In the Service of the Crown ever since I came into this Province”: The Life and Times of Cadwallader Colden

John M. Dixon,  The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).

80140100162200LOn December 8, 1747, Gov. George Clinton (1686–1761) told a British statesman that the Assembly of New York “treated the person of the Governor with such contempt of his authority & such disrespect to the noble family where he had his birth that must be of most pernicious example.” He thought he might have to “give it [i.e., his position] up to a Faction.” The extant copy of this letter, held within Clinton’s papers at the William L. Clements Library in Michigan, was written by his most trusted advisor and ally—Cadwallader Colden, the subject of John M. Dixon’s first book, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York, published in 2016 by Cornell University Press.[1]

Continue reading

Non-Americans Researching Early America in North America

UNBThis week, several Juntoists have offered useful guides for archival work in Spain, France, and England. Today, we are offering something slightly different—a guide to researching in North America! After all, not all early Americanists are American, and planning transatlantic trips can be daunting. Continue reading

James Rivington: Printer, Loyalist, Spy?

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A fabulous but somewhat ominous engraving of Rivington hanging in effigy from a tree in New Brunswick, N.J.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the printer of the New-York Journal, John Holt. I focused on his newspaper’s mastheads, arguing that those mastheads were an effective medium through which he could shape political ideas and, subsequently, mobilize support. What I did not fully explain, however, was that he was not the only printer in New York City to change his masthead—James Rivington did it, too.[1] Continue reading

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