In honor of Black history month, we thought we would take a look at some items from the library collections spanning the first four centuries of African-American history in New York; and where better to start than the beginning (just about)!

Conveyance of Judith Stuyvesant to Frans Bastiaensz, 24 September 1674. (BY NYC Deeds, MS 1972, p.23)

Shown here is a 1674 conveyance, in Dutch, made by Judith Stuyvesant transferring property (roughly in present-day Gramercy Park) to a Frans Bastiaensz.  It’s interesting enough that this woman is the widow of former governor Peter Stuyvesant, but perhaps equally so is the background of the man to whom she is transferring the property.  Bastiaensz was a free black and the offspring of one of the first free blacks in New Amsterdam, Sebastiaen de Britto, from Santo Domingo.

The elder was described as “captain of the Negroes”, presumably for having overseen the slaves’ work assignments.  His efforts were rewarded with his freedom and his own 6-acre plot of land in 1647.  Lest this seem a completely magnanimous gesture, the settling of free blacks such as de Britto north of the city was also a calculated plan by then-Governor William Kieft to insulate the city from potential Indian raids.

Closeup of conveyance showing “Frans Bastiaensz, free negro”

Interestingly, Bastiaenesz’s name reflects the Dutch convention of patronymics, wherein a father’s name provided the root for his son’s.  Since Frans’ father’s name was Sebastiaen, his patronymic was Bastiaenesz, and his full name Frans Bastiaenesz.

Dreaming of warmer climes?  All this snow has us wondering . . . where did 19th century New Yorkers travel to escape the winter blahs?

For those that could afford it, the Ward Line of steamships offered runs to Nassau, Cuba and Mexico, as advertised in this circa 1890′s brochure:


Within 36 hours of leaving port, the Ward Line promised, “cold weather is left behind and the blue waters of the Gulf Stream lap with loving ripples the sable flanks of the speeding craft.”


By the 1890′s, winter tourism had apparently become a booming industry.  As William Drysdale observed in the New York Times on December 13, 1891, “[w]hen the mercury runs down to 20 degrees or so, it is safe to expect a batch of Winter resort advertisements in the morning’s mail.  These artistic little sheets come in like the first snowstorm of the season, every one, nearly, with its artistic pictures, its time tables, and its list of attractions, till the prospective traveler is driven to distraction when he tries to choose among them, unless he has made up his mind where he is going and sticks to it with the firmness of a Spartan.”

Drysdale acknowledged that only a very small percentage of the population had the privilege of facing this decision — his “moderate estimate” was 200,000 persons.   But, he noted, “the Winter-resort question” also “makes employment the year around for a great many hundred people in this city alone — people who spend their lives in convincing the public of the great attractions of their places, often without ever seeing those places themselves.”

That is especially true in this lighthearted note (discovered by our volunteer Carol while re-housing the collection) from Ashcan School painter and printmaker John Sloan, to art collector, critic and patron John Sloan.  It seems his words of apology just could not do justice to his predicament.  So, to illustrate the situation, Sloan adds his “thousand words”. (For a transcription, see below.)


John Sloan to A.E. Gallatin, November 30, 1915 (A.E. Gallatin Papers)

___________________________________________________________

88 Washington Place

N.Y.C  Nov 30/15

My Dear Gallatin: —

The “Modern Principles” reached me a week ago “Art + Progress” as well – I have read both and admire your condensed appreciation clear and unaffected  I should have written thanking you for these sooner but I have been so interfered with by house painters and floor varnishers and plumbers that I have scarcely been in my right mind

Tomorrow it will all be over they tell me!  I’d be glad to have you come in – any time you’ve a mind to – phone

[illegible]

John Sloan

Posted in Library, Manuscripts | 1 Comment

Enter our photo contest!

The Historical Society is holding a prize contest through January 31, 2011 for contemporary photographs of Times Square to help us document the ever-changing neighborhood. Everyone from the serious to the amateur photographer is invited to contribute; the first-prize winner receives $500 and all contestants get the chance to have their photos become part of the Historical Society’s permanent collection. Please visit http://contest.nyhistory.org/ for more information.

For inspiration, here is a 1904 photograph of the eponymous Times Tower under construction, which was taken by  amatuer photographer Robert L. Bracklow.


The area now known as Times Square was once called Long Acre Square, site of William H. Vanderbilt’s American Horse Exchange and an important commercial center. Between 1830 and 1860, the Astor family built a neighborhood there that remained exclusive until the 1890s when “silk hat” brothels began to alter its character.

The Italianate style Times Tower on 44rd Street was constructed in 1903-1904 for Adolph S. Ochs, the visionary publisher of The New York Times. Anticipating the continued growth of the city northward, Ochs had his tower face north, rather than the city downtown. On April 9, 1904, Mayor George McClellan renamed the area where Broadway crosses Seventh Avenue “Times Square.” Ochs and the Times held the first New Year’s Eve celebration here on December 31, 1904, with a party on the building’s roof, complete with fireworks which hundreds of thousands of spectators watched from the streets below.

This photograph from the New-York Historical Society’s Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection depicts the Times Tower mid-construction, already gleaming among the area’s pre-existing low-lying buildings. Bracklow photographed New York City and surrounding areas around the turn of the century, focusing on architectural views, as well as areas that were being torn down and rebuilt to transform the city environment.

Creative: Tronvig Group