Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Stuarts Return

Our Snowbirds Return to Manhattan in June of 1830

On June 1, 1830. James Stuart and his wife returned to New Jersey after spending nearly five months touring the South. They’d come up from Philadelphia by steamboat, in the company of Connecticut senators Samuel Augustus Foot and Peleg Sprague. Also aboard was former newspaper publisher Mordecai Noah, who we first encountered five years ago as he proceeded across the state in the Erie Canal boat The Ark, along with an appropriate complement of animals. He’d become publisher of the New York Enquirer the following year. If politics was discussed on this trip Stuart would have heard a very lively conversation, as both congressmen were members of the Anti-Jackson Party and Noah had been an early supporter of the President. Stuart makes no mention of any talking, just notes, “There was as usual an excellent dinner in the steam-boat, and I observed, what would appear very strange in Britain, not a drop of wine was used by any of those gentlemen.” They seem to have stayed mellow without it.

Once back in the New York area again Mr. and Mrs. Stuart settled in once more at the Van Boskerck’s boarding house at Hoboken. By now they’d become quite at home here and in Manhattan, Stuart knowing just where to find life’s necessities. “. . . at any wine-merchants, Madeira and Sherry may be procured of good quality. Port and claret are not so easily to be had, but port is to be got good and cheap from Mr Tobias, in Broad Street, and claret good and cheap from Mr Duface, No. 50, Gold Street.”

As June turned to July Hoboken became uncomfortable, with temperatures reaching into the low nineties every day. The weekly deaths listed in the newspapers began doubling. Probably most of us, at some time or other during our childhoods were told that drinking very cold water when we were overheated, could make us very ill - perhaps even kill us. It’s a belief that goes way back. As long ago as 1803 another European visitor, Captain Frederick Marryat, reported, “It is very dangerous to drink iced water, and many have died from yielding to the temptation.” He related that the best remedy in such a case was to pour brandy down the person’s throat. Now, 27 years later, James Stuart concurs, stating, “I was surprised to observe the very considerable number of deaths at this period from the use of cold water, and found, on inquiry, that those deaths were owing to taking cold water without any mixture of spirits.”. Needless to say, the theory is not embraced by the forces of temperance. Two years in the future it will all seem sadly academic.

But right now in July 1830 the Stuarts began looking for cooler lodgings in the area. After making a few inquiries he learns of a Mr. and Mrs. Anderson who own a large farmhouse in northwestern Queens (today’s Astoria neighborhood) at Hell Gate, the channel where the East River meets Long Island Sound. Until the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers tames the waters in 1876 a number of vessels will be sunk by the treacherous currents and rapids. All that tumbling water, however, does put a lot of spray in the air, mixing it with flowing breezes off the Sound, reducing the air temperature. It sounds like a tempting spot to our travelers. A possible problem is the fact that the Andersons are not running a boarding house. According to Stuart this may be academic. “ ... it is not reckoned at all impertinent here to apply at once to know whether the family will take boarders.” Turns out he was right. The Stuarts prepared to move.

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