The Women Of The House

( 1 )

Overview

The remarkable Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse arrived in New Amsterdam from Holland in 1659, a brash and ambitious twenty-two-year-old bent on making her way in the New World. She promptly built an empire of trading ships, furs, and real estate that included all of Westchester County. The Dutch called such women "she-merchants," and Margaret became the wealthiest in the colony, while raising five children and keeping a spotless linen closet.

Zimmerman deftly traces the ...

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Overview

The remarkable Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse arrived in New Amsterdam from Holland in 1659, a brash and ambitious twenty-two-year-old bent on making her way in the New World. She promptly built an empire of trading ships, furs, and real estate that included all of Westchester County. The Dutch called such women "she-merchants," and Margaret became the wealthiest in the colony, while raising five children and keeping a spotless linen closet.

Zimmerman deftly traces the astonishing rise of Margaret and the Philipse women who followed her, who would transform Margaret’s storehouse on the banks of the Hudson into a veritable mansion, Philipse Manor Hall. The last Philipse to live there, Mary Philipse Morris—the It-girl of mid-1700s New York—was even courted by George Washington. But privilege couldn’t shelter the family from the Revolution, which raged on Mary’s doorstep.

Mining extensive primary sources, Zimmerman brings us into the parlors, bedrooms, countinghouses, and parties of early colonial America and vividly restores a forgotten group of women to life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE WOMEN OF THE HOUSE

"Ms. Zimmerman is a vivid writer . . . The way the world of colonial America looked, smelled, and sounded is beautifully evoked and based on extensive and shrewd historical research . . . Zimmerman’s sumptuous descriptions of social history and environment never flag."—THE NEW YORK SUN

Publishers Weekly
In 1659, 22-year-old Margaret Hardenbroeck arrived in New Amsterdam as a highly independent, unattached "she-merchant" who collected debts from a Dutch cousin's customers and sought out buyers for European merchandise. When she died three decades later, Margaret was an enormously rich, twice-married mother of five with a real estate empire stretching from Westchester and New Jersey to Barbados and a fleet of trading ships trafficking in slaves, furs, tobacco, textiles and molasses. Zimmerman's (Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth) prodigious research unearths a mother lode of data on colonial American women, from the differences in Dutch and English inheritance laws to the fact that wealthy female colonists eschewed underpants and menstruated into exquisite handcrafted gowns. This rich history loses some momentum when the spotlight shifts from the feisty Margaret and her bustling Manhattan milieu to minibiographies of those women who followed in her wake on her Westchester estate. Her husband's pious second wife, Catherine, built a church; granddaughter-in-law Joanna was a socialite political wife whose privileged realm was rocked by an alleged slave revolt; and Joanna's daughter Mary rejected George Washington for a Tory soldier. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A tale of the American dream with a feminine twist, this is the chronicle of the dynasty built by Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse, a tireless Dutch "she-merchant" who immigrated to the colony of New Amsterdam in 1659. By the time she died in 1691, she was the wealthiest woman in what was then the English colony of New York, having built an epic fortune that included breathtakingly vast land holdings. In 1783, Margaret's great-granddaughter, Mary Philipse Morris, found herself and her family exiled to England. Though she was far from destitute, Mary's enormous share of her grandmother's lands had been confiscated by the new government, the price paid for her Tory loyalties and those of her husband, a Briton for whom she had rejected many suitors, including a young George Washington. Zimmerman (Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth) is careful to note that it was the enlightened Dutch attitude toward the rights of women that helped Margaret to build her dynasty. Ironically, that dynasty would become so English that the rights Margaret enjoyed were slowly stripped away from her female descendants, who eventually were legally barred from following in Margaret's footsteps. Seemingly written more for the casual reader than a serious academic audience (there is an occasional fanciful tone and little evidence of original primary-source research), this book should be purchased by public and undergraduate libraries where there is reader interest.-Tessa L.H. Minchew, Georgia Perimeter Coll., Clarkston, GA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The history of Hudson Valley's Philipse Manor Hall, told through the lives of four women who lived in it during the 17th and 18th centuries. Zimmerman (Made from Scratch, 2003, etc.) begins with Margaret Hardenbroeck, a wealthy Dutch entrepreneur who, with her second husband, Frederick Philipse, bought 57,000 acres of land during the 1670s and built the mansion on it in 1682. The author describes it with well-chosen adjectives, from the "ponderous" front door and "generous" hearth to the "stylish" painted tiles by the fireplace. After Hardenbroeck died in 1691, Philipse married Catherine von Cortlandt, an "upright, sensible woman" who had the added advantage of being very rich. She survived him and continued to live in the house, though ownership passed to her step-grandson. His wife, Joanna Brockholst, expanded the kitchen and added a parlor; with a dozen children, the couple needed more space. One of those children, Mary, is the author's final heroine. Her goal was to build her own home, an ambition fulfilled when she married Roger Morris and presided over the Manhattan manor now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Throughout, Zimmerman gestures toward larger themes in social history. She notes that married women's property rights were eroded when the English took over New Amsterdam, and she touches on the dangers that Loyalists in New York faced during the Revolutionary War. But she never quite figures out what she intends her narrative to be. Sometimes it seems like the chronicle of a house, sometimes the story of four well-heeled women, sometimes a history of early New York. She heads in all these directions, but arrives at none of them. (Her discussion of the New York slaverevolt of 1712 is especially skimpy.)An hor d'oeuvre of a book: By the end, your appetite is whetted, but you're nowhere near satisfied.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156032247
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/6/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 449,136
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Zimmerman

Jean Zimmerman is the author of four previous books, including The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune and a Dynasty . She earned an MFA in writing from the Columbia University School of the Arts and has published her poetry widely in literary magazines. She lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

1
Her New World
 
At the bow of the yacht, her fingers gripping the rail, a young woman stood face into a wind that had buffeted the ship for days with a cocktail of fresh-mown hay, pine sap, and even the sweetness of wildflowers. Behind her, the pilot leaned all his weight on the tiller to thread the vessel through the Narrows, the Hoofden, where even the most seasoned skippers had been known to founder their ships on knife-sharp shoals. The little ship skimmed across the bright open lake called the Upper Bay, and then made its way through one final channel. Finally, a harbor town materialized all at once out of the haze, still a musket shot away but close enough to make out the fort, towering above everything, and the sparse forest of masts in the roadstead before it, colored pennants drooping in the still summer air. As the ship pushed closer, the dense heat of the land descended upon the deck like a wet sponge.

 The woman at the rail spotted a windmill’s sails turning counterclockwise above a church spire. Over the cry of gulls she heard the bellow of sea lions that sprawled across the black rocks at the island’s arrow-shaped foot. The rooflines of the port rose into view, then behind them a scattering of farms tucked into rolling hills, their fields interspersed with stretches of forest. A white signal flag flew above the fort to show that a ship had safely reached the harbor. As the guns began to crack out their welcoming salutes, children could be seen running barefoot toward the shore.

 
 The captain shouted to make the ship fast. A half-dozen small boats, a sturdy raft, and a canoe pushed away from the town’s long Winebridge Pier, built just this year. Carrying port inspectors and merchants, the boats headed toward the ship to ferry passengers and goods ashore. A frill of seawater washed the pebble beach north of the dock. Farther north still lay raw pastures, sand hills, and salt marshes, acres of them, all along the island’s coast. An immense flock of bluebills splashed down nearby. Some River Indians stood beside their canoes, waist-deep in the water, unloading nets of oysters they would hawk door-to-door to housewives, who would pickle the meat in jars for export to the planters of the West Indies.

 The year was 1659. The woman at the ship rail was Margaret Hardenbroeck, she was all of twenty-two years old, and this was her New World. The seaport before her was tiny compared with the European ports of Amsterdam or London, but it was a promising entrepôt, an infant marketplace that just might grow to be a moneymaking giant. Holland had the audacity to christen this settlement, which thirty-five years ago was nothing but a bare-dirt trading post, after its urbane commercial capital, Amsterdam. Now, finally, the frontier community of New Amsterdam was beginning to look as if it might amount to something.

 
 New Amsterdam was not only a market center. It also was the consummate company town.
The company was the Dutch West India Company, an entity controlled by a collection of prosperous burghers who persuaded the Dutch government to grant them a monopoly on trade with West Africa and the Americas and the right to colonize territories. One such territory included the pristine slice of land that ran south from present-day Albany through the island of Manhattan. New Netherland encompassed lands on either bank of the Hudson, as well as choice sections of what later would become New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. Dutch colonists were scattered through Manhattan, Long Island, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, as well as up the Hudson River, where the town of Beverwyck (later known as Albany) was a nucleus for the growing communities of Schenectady, Catskill, and Wiltwyck.

 
 Whether colonists arrived as employees of the Company, sold it the products of their land, or shopped for tools at its store, they all depend upon it for survival. In exchange, though, the Company had always taken care to provision its colonists—unlike, say, the English, whose ill-equipped settlers first landed in Virginia in 1607 and, faced with famine, choked down snakes, leather boots, and sometimes each other. To the Dutch, food mattered. In 1625, immediately after the first vessels reached Manhattan, three ships followed with more than one hundred head of hogs, sheep, cows, and horses destined for Company farms. En route, each animal had a private, sand-cushioned stall and an individual handler who “attends to it and knows what he is to get if he delivers it alive.” There would be no “starving times” for New Netherland.

 
 Close by the waterfront, on Winkelstraet, or Shop Street, the Company built a full block of brick warehouses, five under one roof, which it supplemented with a cavernous packinghouse that commanded a perfect view of all harbor traffic. Other nearby warehouses belonged to the town’s most successful private merchants. These buildings functioned in the same way as those that crowded the ancient seaports of Holland. With their stately red-roofed facades, they would easily have fit in on the Heerengracht, the grandest canal in Amsterdam. Their imposing heft appeared somewhat discordant in a town that had just finished cutting stones for its first paved street. But that did not matter. The colony’s commercial drive would not be thwarted by a lack of refined conditions.

Copyright © 2006 by Jean Zimmerman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents

Contents
 Prologue: 1685 ix
Part One
1659–1691: Margaret
 1 Her New World 3
 2 A Map of Manhattan 14
 3 Wild Diamonds 35
 4 A Wedding, a Child, and a Funeral on the Ditch 50
 5 Education of a She-Merchant 73
 6 A Marriage of Love and Trade 85
 7 The Superior Authority Over Both Ship and Cargo 100
 8 The House Margaret Built 127
 9 A Surfeit of Sugar 147
Part Two
1692–1783: Catherine, Joanna, Mary
10 The Church of Catherine 169
11 Not Doubting of Her Care 201
12 Fashion Babies 222
13 A Hard Winter and Hell 245
14 A Castle on the Heights 277
15 Fire in the Sky 307
 Afterword 339
 Acknowledgments 347
 Notes 349
 Sources 367
 Index 381
 

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