1814: Ann Ten Eyck to Catharine Ten Eyck

Harmanus Ten Eyck

This incredible letter was written in 1814 by Ann Ten Eyck (1783-1851) from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while visiting her cousin Elizabeth “Betsey” (Harrison) Broadhead (1779-1867). She wrote the letter to her sister Catherine Ten Eyck (1798-1865) in Albany, New York. They were the daughters of Harmanus Ten Eyck (1749-1828) and Margarita Bleecker (1755-1834) who were married in Albany in 1776. Harmanus Ten Eyck was a merchant and real estate trader who, after a time in the first ward, set up his home on Pearl Street. In 1776, he was called a skipper when he witnessed the will of an Albany neighbor. He was particularly active in buying and selling city lots. In 1790, his household was served by two slaves — who he later freed. By 1813, he had settled at what became 362 North Market Street and lived there for the rest of his life. In 1776 and again in 1788, he served as a firemaster. In 1781, he was identified as a chimney viewer. However, except for the occasional payment of his account by the city, he does not appear to have been as publicly active as other merchants of his standing. Especially during the 1790s and early 1800s, he bought and sold lots all around Albany. In August 1797, a great fire destroyed his stables in Middle Lane. He also traded in land beyond the city limits.

Three other siblings are mentioned in the letter: Catalina (1778-1855), Jacob (1781-1872) and Margaret (1781-1853).

In this very large folio letter, Ann writes a very descriptive visit to a socialites home in Philadelphia by the name of Thompson. It may have been the home of Philadelphia dry goods merchant George Thomson who built the Federal style villa he called Rockland in 1810.

Addressed to Miss Catharine Ten Eyck, Market Street, Albany, State of New York

Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]
March 24th 1814

My dear Catharine,

I have been long indebted to you, but I trust you do not impute my silence to an improper motive, as you well know that my correspondents are numerous in our family, and that each must have their share, and although your letter has remained long unanswered, it gave me great pleasure, as it evinced that you had improved your time since I left you, and was written in an easy familiar style and the handwriting was clear and pretty good. But I hope you are still improving and that the grand party you have had was a reward for good conduct. If so, I shall rejoice. From sister M[argaret]’s description, it must have been splendid. But what did our good Mother say to the proceedings? I cannot think who set it on fact, as I always had the credit of such things, but give my love to her and kiss her for me, and tell her I am glad to find there are others that like those things as well as myself.

On Monday evening we were engaged at Mr. Thompson’s, but it stormed violently and we sent an apology. But Mrs. Thompson sent word they would send the carriage and she could take no apology. This chagrined us a little as we did not expect to find them agreeable, and the storm was so violent that we did not expect anybody to meet. At seven we went and were ushered into an elegant room, furnished with taste. It had an elegant Wilton carpet, mahogany chairs, and a sofa at each side of the fireplace. The mantle piece was of black marble on which were four superb glass lamps and above it a brilliant mantle glass. Directly opposite was a very splendid looking glass with a broad gilt frame without any ornament, and at each side on the wall was a gilt and bronze lamp with a gilt pedestal. And under it a marble table with wreaths of gilt intertwined …..were two glass candlesticks, entirely plain, and in the pier hung a gerandele. The curtains were of the richest India Chintz, lined with blue and put up with taste.

In entering the room the first person I was introduced to was Mrs. Biddle, ♣ then to Miss Pepper (who is worth a plum) and some others. As soon as I was seated, Mrs. Biddle came up to me and drew a chair and then asked if I was from Albany as from my name she judged I was. We then entered upon a most delightful conversation. She asked about all that she had ever known and I found her a truly charming woman. She said she never thought of Albany but with pleasure and she anticipated great pleasure in visiting it in June. And when tea was brought in and waffles, she exclaimed this is like Albany and she invited herself to call on us, and Betsy and myself answered her with truth that it would give us pleasure as we were equally pleased with her.

There were a number of Ladies who said they had encountered the storm for the sake of meeting us though many had sent apologies. Mrs. Sperry ¹ was in black velvet and her daughter was handsomely dressed. Mr. Thompson wore a cap that Betsy valued at a hundred dollars but I think about sixty. It was of the finest Brussels joining lace and the border was of double point. After tea was over Miss Thompson—a girl of about fourteen years—opened the folding doors and asked some of the young ladies to walk in the next room, and soon after we were surprised by the most delightful strains of music I have ever heard and we soon followed, when we saw a superb organ in one corner, and a celebrated organist to play. The first piece was Denmark, then the Portuguese Hymn, and several other fine pieces of music. Many of the ladies sang finely and accompanied the organ. Altogether this was a most delightful surprise. Mrs. Biddle told us it cost 1600 dollars. Miss Caroline plays but they thought that Mr. [Raynor] Taylor ♥ would entertain us more. This room was furnished exactly correspond with the other and when the doors were open had a fine effect.

Among other fine things we had was the largest Plum Cake I ever saw. This was quite a treat for you seldom see it here and even this was not as we make it. It was served on a large china dish like what in old times were hung against the wall in A, and on the whole we agreed that we had not passed a pleasanter evening since we came here, and this is another evidence that we may be deceived by appearances, and then much for our visit. I had forgot to mention that Mrs. Thompson is a very handsome, genteel woman and everyone that came in was first led up to Mrs. Brodhead and then to Miss Ten Eyck plainly shewing they were invited to meet us.

Mrs. Sarah Ralston

The ladies of the city have established a Bible Society. Last Wednesday was their first meeting when about a dozen ladies took subscription books and yesterday they met again when they had four hundred and eighty-eight subscribers [and] about eight life subscribers. It is two dollars annually and thirty for a life subscription. There are 24 managers out which Mrs. [Sarah] Ralston was chosen President. There are four vice Presidents, a treasurer, two secretaries, and are to meet again at Mrs. Ralston’s next Tuesday. The whole business has been transacted there. Cousin Betsy is a manager and each of them will collect as many subscribers as they can. This will give the ladies some consequence, and considerable business and conversation. It is called the Philadelphia Female Auxiliary Bible Society and it is the only female society of the kind.

This afternoon Mrs. Brown called us and told us some news. She had a letter from Mary who said that she and [our sister] Catalina had been to Mrs. Van Schaick and a good deal of news. She also mentioned that report says that Dr. [Theodric Romeyn] Beck is to be married to H[arriet] Caldwell. I do not admire his choice and she is the last person I thought he would have fancied but there is no accounting for tastes in those things.

And now I think I must lay down my pen as I am quite tired of writing so good night. May angels watch over you all this night is my earnest prayer.

Dear Catharine, I have just received sister Margaret’s letter of the 22nd which disappointed me as I was in hopes that my letter by Mrs. Miller would have reached you before you wrote. If [    ] has written, I beg they will conclude what is best for me to do. Mr. B[roadhead] goes to Brunswick this day three weeks [hence] and if you would rather have me come, I will go with him. If not, I will wait until Mrs. Van Shaick shall come on, as cousin Betsy has written repeatedly for her and wishes her to bring sister Peggy with her. But she does not say a word of either though I do not know if Mrs. Van could have received the letters yet. Tell [brother] Jacob I should like to know exactly what time Nicholas will come as I do not know what arrangements to make at present. But I did not mean to insinuate that the Philadelphians were tired of showing me attentions. It was merely that I might be enabled to tell them when I was going home. I think Mrs. Van [Schaick] will come on and I should like to know immediately as I beg that [sister] Catalina will call and ask her. I expect Nicholas will be here before the General Assembly and we do a little expect Miss Wychoff. At all events, Mr. Broadhead will take me at any time I wish to go. Betsy says I will never have such an opportunity of seeing this part of the world but I shall be governed entirely by the wishes of our parents.

The 1814 Half Dollar minted in Philadelphia

Last Saturday was a busy day with me. At ten Mr. & Mrs. Brodhead and myself went to see the Mint—the money for the whole United States is coined there. The machinery is immensely large and complicated. The half eagles looked beautiful and so did the half dollars for they do not coin dollars and indeed, you rarely have a dollar her. They are all half and quarter dollars.

Afterwards we made half a dozen calls and on Miss Chester, Miss Sergeant, and there and then to the Miss Sergeants and myself walked nearly to the permanent bridge over Schuylkill. This you will think  was an exertion for me as the visits we made were nearly a mile from here and Schulkill is a mile. Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Biddle called while I was out, and after dinner Mrs. Biddle came and Mrs. & Miss Carswell. Mr. & Mrs. Kane called for me to ride with them. The afternoon was delightful and I went with pleasure. We first rode up to Kensington to see the frigate † that is building there. It looked as large as a double house and far exceeded my ideas of its size. We did not go on board then but I intend to go again before I leave the city which is three miles in extent. I was much gratified as I had never before travelled over the same ground. And then [they] brought us to the Old Navy Yard where there is a large seventy-four ship ‡ building. It did not look as large as the frigate though it is ten feet longer and is thought will be equal to a British 90-gun ship. There were several gun boats in the Delaware and a gun mounted on them. We passed the Swedish Church—an ancient building. It was one of the first that was built in the city and reminds us of one that I have read of in novels. It has a graveyard attached to it and a parsonage. I believe the people that worship there are Moravian. After riding about 2 hours, we returned and I passed the evening with Mrs. Kane. ² They are a pleasant family and I think Miss Alida is a very charming girl.

On Friday I went to Christ Church to see the funeral of Mrs. [Mary Key Heath] White—the daughter-in-law of the Bishop. ³ This is the oldest Episcopal Church here. It is an antique building—not very large. It has a fine organ but so have all the Episcopal churches. After waiting an hour, the procession came. They clergy preceded the corpse. They had black made bands on their hats about 2 yards long tied in a careless manner and a large black scarf of the same silk. Mr. Kemper read the service and began as they entered the yard, I am the resurrection and the life and &c. Then came the corpse on a bier carried by porters and the pall bearers and the vestry men of the three churches which are connected. All wore crape bands on their hats about 2 yards long, and then an immense number of ladies and gentlemen arm in arm. The corpse was brought into church and a few lessons read and then a solemn psalm was played on the organ and then the corpse was taken out and placed in the vault when the service was finished. This lady was much beloved and has left five small children.

Philadelphia in 1800 (showing Christ Church spire)

On Sunday afternoon I went to the Roman Chapel. It is called St. Augustine’s. It is a large building but not as handsome as I expected. The alter is beautiful and an image of our Savior which is called very fine but it was covered—this being passion week—and they are always humble during passion week. There was no sermon. [Rev.] Mr. [Michael] Hurley said mass. The service was all in Latin so you may think I was much edified. The Priest’s dress was beautiful. It was changed three times ad he was attended by six boys about ten years of age. I expect to go again on Good Friday when I will tell you more about it.

Our friends that have carriages talk of giving us many pleasant rides as the weather and roads are both good. They think I will miss much if I go home before I have seen the country dressed in the garb of Spring. The lilacs are already budding out.

I wish I knew exactly what kind of shawl cousin D___ would like as I do not know what to do about it. And tell our dear Mother that the Moravian cotton is scarce. I will however endeavor to get it. I wish brother Jacob sweep in this bank and tell him I shall expect to hear as soon as it is decided. I suppose you have seen cousin Harrison’s letter. Poor creature. How she must have suffered. But I hope all things will work together for their good. I shall expect and answer to this in the course of next week when you shall hear from me again. Last evening we all drank tea with Father [Joseph] Eastburn. We had quite a party. There were ten of us. Miss Bostick, a charming girl, was there to meet us, but none of this when I see you.

Give my love to Mrs. Hutton and tell her it would give me great pleasure to have Helen to go home with me and I shall write home as soon as I determine in order that she may be apprised of it. Give my love to Miss Mary Linn. Tell her I called last week on Miss Read and saw Miss Curry who enquired particularly about her. Miss Reed is better and is as charming as ever. I have not yet met Mr. Curry. And now with love to all friends in which cousin Betsy joins me, I remain your sister, — Ann Ten Eyck

P. S. I should like to know if Mrs. DeWitt has certainly accepted the call. I intended to have written this letter in my best manner but time would not permit. You must not follow my example in anything but the length of my letters. That will always be acceptable to your friend, — Ann Ten Eyck.

¹ This was probably Margaret Catherine (Muhlenberg) Sperry (1778-1874), the wife of Jacob Sperry (1771-1830) of Philadelphia. The daughter who accompanied her was probably 17 year-old Catherine Augusta Sperry (1797-1879). Jacob Sperry was an alderman in Philadelphia.

² “Alida” was probably Alida Van Rensselaer Kane (1799-1881) of Albany who married John Constable (1788-1862) in 1833 in Philadelphia.

³ Thomas Harrison White, the third and last of Bishop William White’s children, and the only son who lived to maturity, was born in Philadelphia, November 12th, 1779. For some years he was in business in Philadelphia as a wholesale wine merchant. He was an enthusiastic admirer of General Washington, whom he remembered as a visitor in his father’s house. He married Mary Key Heath, who died March 23d, 1814, the daughter of General Richard Heath, of Baltimore, Md., and died in October, 1859, having had five children, viz., Mary Harrison, Rebecca, William, George Harrison, and Richard Heath.

† Probably the USS Guerriere which launched from the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 20 June 1814.

‡ A “seventy-four” was a two-decked sailing ship of the line which nominally carried 74 guns. The ship under construction may have been the USS Franklin launched in 1815.

♥ Raynor Taylor (ca. 1747-1825) was a choirboy in the Chapel Royal in London. In 1765, Taylor became the director of Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Taylor came to the United States in 1792, settling briefly in Baltimore and Annapolis, before establishing himself in Philadelphia in 1793. In addition to holding the post of organist at St. Peter’s Church, Taylor’s activities in Philadelphia included singing, conducting, and composing for theatre and concert stage. He was one of the founders of the Musical Fund Society in 1820.

♣ Possibly Mary Searle (Barclay) Biddle (1785-1872), the recently married wife of Col. Clement Cornell Biddle of the First Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (War of 1812). Mary was the daughter of Philadelphia mayor John Barclay.

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