Thursday, September 29, 2011

23rd St.

When this photo was taken the block that it shows, 23rd street west of 5th Avenue, was a retail center for women's clothing, jewelry, toys, books, and furniture. Some buildings, like McCreery's, at right, were huge dry goods stores. Others, like Best & Co next door, were more modest in size but still given over entirely to one business. Most housed storefronts at street level and, above, a mixture of offices, small manufacturing operations, wholesale merchants, and upper-floor retail stores. Some of the shops are still pretty well known. Best & Co. is one such. Others are Bonwit Teller, F.A.O. Schwarz, and the publishing house, G. P. Putnam's Sons. A dwindling number of the old brownstones were still private residences. No. 49, for example, was the home of W.C. Schermerhorn, whose family owned much Manhattan property, including some of this block. More typically, No. 14, where Edith Wharton had been born, was now the James McCutcheon & Co. dry goods store, selling imported handkerchiefs, table linens, towels and embroideries. There was one variety theater on the block and many nearby.[1] And there were many galleries and artists' show rooms (one of which showed a portrait of my great-grandfather in 1900).[2] The other major industry in the vicinity was hostelry. There was one famous hotel on the block and quite a few others, both large and small, in the vicinity.[3]

{caption: 23rd [Twenty-third] Street, east from 6th Ave. [Sixth Avenue], New York, N.Y., Detroit Publishing Co., circa 1908; source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division}

The photo is interesting partly because it lacks the crystal clarity of other photos by the Detroit Publishing Co. Compare, for example, the image of the same general location taken a few years before (which I showed in a recent post) or the images of nearby Madison Park which I showed a bit more than a year ago. The haze which obscures the photo's background gives the appearance of great depth and provokes a small sense of mystery.

The photographer was standing on the platform of the 23rd Street station of the Sixth Avenue elevated railway. The large building to the right, McCreery's, is on the corner of 23rd and 6th. The block ends just before the tallest building visible in the smoky distance — the famous Flatiron Building. In between, we should be able to see 17 buildings, but there appear to be only six or seven.

This detail from a 1910 fire insurance map names most of the structures on the south side of the block.

{Detail from: Manhattan, Atlas 114, V. 4, Plate No. 1; Map bounded by 6th Ave., W. 25th St., 5th Ave., W. 22nd St., (Sanborn Map Company, 1910); source: NYPL Digital Gallery. Click here for two see the atlas sheet from which this detail was taken.}

To our left, the view is even less certain. We can make out the last few letters of the sign at the Eden Musee, then the "Toys" sign at F.A.O. Schwarz. There seem to be just two buildings between that one and the hotel on the end of the block (whose sign you can just make out at top: "Fifth Avenue Hotel", of which only the "UE" and "L" are visible). However the insurance map shows five buildings between F.A.O. Schwarz and the hotel.

The foreshortening on this, the north side, is more pronounced beyond the hotel. At that point we should see a wide intersection (where 23rd, Broadway, and 5th Ave. come together) and the southern end of Madison Square Park. We do see some trees, but the separation between the Fifth Avenue Hotel and the next building to the east, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, seems much to small. Similarly, the Flatiron Building seems squeezed between the Union Trust building on the west and the Hotel Bartholdi to its east.

At the farthest point in our sightline we can see the 23rd St. station of the Third Avenue elevated railway. Intervening buildings include the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the College of the City of New York.

Here are some details from the photo.

There are many more people afoot than there are being carried about in a vehicle. At this date, at the dawn of the motor age, there are hardly any private motor cars. People took the elevated railways, the street cars, and the horse-cabs. You can see by the clock of Le Bolt & Co., jewelers, that it's just a bit past noon. The clock is directly across from the signpost for the Eden Musee and both are placed high enough to be seen by people exiting the 23rd St. station of the Sixth Avenue El. To the left, on the north side of the street, merchants have put up awnings against the bright morning sun. The iron-gated steps lead to the Schermerhorn residence. Click to view this detail full-size.

The broad sidewalk on the south side of the street is crowded with window shoppers and pedestrians. It must be summer since many women are wearing light-colored clothing.

In this view you can see a sign for the Lilliputian Bazaar in the Best & Co. building. The bazaar specialized in clothing for children. You can also see that Bonwit Teller specializes in Women's Outer Garments.

The Flatiron Bldg. seems much closer to Stern Brothers than it is.

The photographer who took the picture worked for the Detroit Publishing Co. which specialized in postcards, both color and black and white. Here's a postcard which they made from the same negative as the one shown above.[4] In it, you can't see the Flatiron Building at all.

{source: wikipedia}

From the postures of the people in the street it's easy to tell that the postcard was made from the negative. It looks at first glance that the postcard is simply a cropped version of the negative, but although that's true on three of its sides, the left side of the postcard shows a bit more than the black & white image. This is yet another mystery. The postcard may have the extra bit stitched in (Detroit Publishing occasionally combined two negatives to make a card). Or, perhaps the scanner from which the b&w image was made somehow cut off the left edge.

This next postcard was made about the same time and from nearly the same spot on the platform of the El station, but at a different time of day, by a different publishing organization, and with use of a different process of colorization.[5]

{Caption: Postcard: 23rd Street in Manhattan, New York City, published in 1907 or before; source: this card is available on a number of web sites, my source for this copy was flickr}

The scrawled note says "A windy day, and I have a bad case of blues. Deb." The other side is addressed to Dr. E.L. Johnson, Iron River, Douglas Co., Missouri. As you can see, the card identifies itself as "Twenty Third St. Shopping District, New York". The publisher is identified on the back: "Souvenir Post Card Co. New York and Berlin"[6]

Within the next five years the block would be transformed and by 1920 most of the retail stores had moved uptown as warehouses and lofts were erected in their place.

Here, via Google Street View, is what it looks like today.

View Larger Map
And here, by contrast, is what it looked like during a snowstorm in 1905.

{Caption: Bloc[k]aded cars on 23rd St., New York. [Blockaded cars on Twenty-third Street, New York.] (1905); source: NYPL Digital Gallery}


Some sources:

Demolished buildings, What we lost

FAO Schwarz in wikipedia

Knoedler & Company

GOUPIL'S GALLERY, New York Times, November 29, 1876

"Reform Club" in Club men of New York, their occupations, and business and home addresses: sketches of each of the organizations: college alumni associations (Republic Press, 1893)

The Ehrich Brothers Store, New York Times, February 12, 1995

KOSTER & BIAL'S TO BE SOLD, New York Times, August 18, 1893

A NEW MUSIC HALL, The Trocadero on West Twenty-Third Street Opened Last Night with an Excellent Variety Programme, New York Times, March 10, 1896

JACKSON-MACK CO. FAILS FOR $1,000,000, New York Times, October 12, 1912

MRS. SALLODE AFTER SCHNEIDER.; Determined to Purity Her Neighborhood in West Twenty-fourth Street, New York Times, August 8, 1894

IN THE REAL ESTATE FIELD, New York Times, July 15, 1910 ("the cloak and suit firm of Bonwit, Teller Co., now located at 58 West Twenty-third Street")


W. C. SCHERMERHORN BURIED, New York Times, January 5, 1903.

New York's Theatres, Old and New, New York Times, June 15, 1902

A history of the New York stage from the first performance in 1732 to 1901 by Thomas Allston Brown (Dodd, Mead and company, 1903)

Manhattan Street Directory (Manhattan Guide Company, 1901)

Passing of the Fifth Avenue Hotel About to Remove One of New York's Noted Landmarks, New York Times, July 7, 1907


Souvenir Post Card Co. 1905-1914: "268 Canal Street, New York, NY. A major publisher of a variety of postcard types. They used three different printers over the course of their business, which changed the look of their cards. Some of the early cards were printed with the name E. Frey (owner?) on them. The company was purchased by Valentine and Sons. and they produced cards in America under the name Valentine-Souvenir Co."

IN THE REAL ESTATE FIELD; Twenty-third Street Concern to Move to Fifth Avenue, New York Times, June 30, 1906

From Wharton to Starbucks -- No. 14 West 23rd Street

IRT Third Avenue Line in wikipedia



[1] At the center of the block on the north side, the Eden Musee possessed a music hall as well as wax works and dining room. Nearby theaters and halls included Proctor's Twenty-third Street Theatre and the Trocadero or Bon Ton (one block to the west), the Grand Opera House (farther west, at 8th Avenue), the Madison Square Theatre (on 24th just west of Broadway), the Lyceum (on 4th Ave. between 23rd and 24th), the Fifth Avenue Theatre (Broadway and 28th), and Miner's (8th Ave near 25th). The old Madison Square Garden took up a whole block (26th-27th, Madison-4th Ave.). The block had formerly possessed the famous Booth's Theatre at the corner of 23rd and 6th Ave.

[2] I now have this portrait. Here are some of the galleries near the block: The Artist Artisan Institute was a block to the west. The most famous nearby gallery was Goupil's, part of Knoedler & Co. (5th Ave. and 22nd.) Other nearby galleries included the National Academy of Design (23rd at 4th Ave.), L. Crist Delmonico (5th Ave. near 22nd), Klackner Art Gallery (7 W. 28th), and William Schaus (5th Ave. near 25th).

[3] Fifth Avenue Hotel, Hoffman House, Albemarle Hotel, Brunswick Hotel, Bartholdi Hotel, Richfield Hotel,

[4] The colorizing process they used, called photochrom, used black and white negatives in a lithographic printing operation.

[5] There's a black and white version of this card on wikipedia with the following information: "Unmailed postcard. Store Web page states year published is estimated to be 1910 (title of Web page: "NY~NEW YORK CITY~23rd Street at Night~c1910 BEAUTY" Picture side of postcard (only side shown on store Web page) states "1940 ILLUSTRATED POST CARD CO., NEW YORK." The number "1940" is a typical inventory or catalog number of a type seen on many postcards in the early Twentieth century." Of the Illustrated Post Card Co., the web site of the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City says: "Illustrated Post Card 1905-1914 520 West 84th Street, New York, NY. This major publisher produced a wide variety of tinted halftone postcards in series that were printed by Emil Pinkau in Leipzig, Saxony. Each city or location of their color card sets were assigned the same number prefix. They also published an unnumbered series of chromolithographic fine art cards that were printed in Dresden. Many of their early cards do not have their name on them, only their distinct eagle logo.

[6] Here's the database entry for this publisher in the web site of the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City: "Souvenir Post Card Co. 1905-1914. 268 Canal Street, New York, NYA major publisher of a variety of postcard types. They used three different printers over the course of their business, which changed the look of their cards. Some of the early cards were printed with the name E. Frey (owner?) on them. The company was purchased by Valentine and Sons. and they produced cards in America under the name Valentine-Souvenir Co."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

17th Light Dragoons in Newtown, Queens

This post concerns a British regiment called the 17th Light Dragoons. The 17th Light Dragoons were a predecessor of the 17th Lancers, about which I wrote the other day. The post is also about Newtown, Queens, during the American Revolution. In the middle of the nineteenth century a small village called Woodside would emerge within Newtown and this village was the place where my great-grandfather build his family a home.

I've written previously about Newtown. The place was inhabited first by American Indians, then colonial Dutch, and, from the 1660s onward, by British subjects.[1] The Newtown freeholders tended their fertile lands with care and eventually became relatively prosperous farmers, providing for themselves and selling their surplus to the burgeoning metropolis across the East River. However, when, toward the end of the eighteenth century, colonial aspirations came into serious conflict with Parliamentary prerogatives, the men and women of Newtown found this prosperity to be in jeopardy. Along with other Americans across the Eastern Seaboard, they divided into two camps over the proper way to handle their grievances. One side, the tories, argued for conciliation and supplication. They saw continued pursuit of legal redress as the best response. For the most part, these families were among the more prosperous inhabitants. The other side believed that the moderate course recommended by tories had been tried over and over without success. These men, the whigs, argued for resistance and, if circumstances warranted, decisive action. In the middle years of the 1770s, the positions of the two opposing groups grew increasingly polarized.

When the whigs at last came to believe that British oppression had become unbearable, they formed governing councils in preparation for armed conflict. As these committees formed, the freeholders of Newtown, who were mostly whigs, were set in opposition to neighboring communities, all of which had loyalist majorities.

In December 1774 a committee appointed by Newtown's citizens declared themselves willing to fight to redress their grievances. They said actions of the British Parliament were "intended absolutely to deprive his Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the inhabitants of the American colonies, of their most inestimable rights and privileges, by subjugating them to the British Parliament, and driving them to the dire necessity of submitting to have their property taken from them without their consent." And they resolved to oppose these "tyrannical and oppressive acts."[2]

Within months hostilities broke out. In the whole of New York the whigs outnumbered tories by a considerable margin and thus whigs of the New York militia, with help from the men of Newtown, were able to disarm the better-known men among the Queens tories.[3] The tide began to turn against the whigs when, in the summer of 1776, British troops from Boston began to assemble in preparation for the Battle of Long Island.

The 17th Light Dragoons figured in the early stages of this battle as they had at Bunker Hill. By one account, the colonial army might have been forced to submit rather than retreating, but an instance of General Howe's habitual passivity came to the Americans' rescue: "On the action on Long Island the 17th were to find themselves in an excellent position to trap the American army who were pinned with their backs to the river. Unfortunately, General Howe did not take advantage of the situation, and 12,000 Americans rowed to safety to Manhattan Island." -- American War of Independence

During the summer of 1776, after the British began to offload from their ships at Staten Island, members of the Newtown militia then were assigned to deprive their enemy of needed provisions by driving livestock as far away as they could.[3] The 17th Light Dragoons first shows up in Newtown history when a detachment that had been sent to disrupt the whig effort encountered members of Newtown's own light-horse militia. Here's one account of the conflict:

Newtown — Jona. Coe and Hezekiah Field, two lighthorse, with regimentals on, returned to White Pot, August 28 [1776]. They had been driving off stock. Early next morning, when starting to cross the Sound, they were seized by British light-horse from Jamaica. Lieut. Coe had thrown his epaulett in the bushes. They were carried to Flatbush jail, where Coe died of dysentery, having suffered much for want of food and necessary attendance. His body was refused his friends for burial.

Richard Bragaw, Robert Moore, George Brinckerhoff, Abm. Devine, and Ludlum Haire, had been with Woodhull, driving off stock. After they left him, they were surprised at Hinchman's tavern, Jamaica. A British light-horse rode up, when Moore came out and received a sabre cut, which nearly severed his two fingers. The other four were taken to the prison ship, where they were urged to enlist; but, by bribing a friend to government, were released. --Documents and letters intended to illustrate the revolutionary incidents of Queens county
Other whigs were not so fortunate. General Woodhull, named above, was the officer in charge of keeping provisions out of British hands. While directing this effort he was captured by members of the 17th Light Dragoons and mistreated. Some accounts say that the mistreatment came from the dragoons; others say it was a British infantry officer, accompanying the dragoons, who attacked the defenseless man with his sword and that a dragoon officer intervened to stop the outrage.[4]

Several men of Newtown were taken prisoner at this time. The History of Newtown goes on to say that, "Newtown was now open to the enemy, and many of the Whig families, alarmed at their defenseless condition, fled in the utmost confusion. Early the next morning the British light dragoons [i.e., the 17th] entered the town. The tories, in the excess of their triumph, informed against their Whig neighbors. The leading Whigs were imprisoned or sent into exile, and their property was seized by the enemy."[5]

Riker gives an incident of this time:
The light horse scoured the town, and while it was yet early, guided by one George Rapelye, a loyalist, came along the Poor Bowery, and halted at Jacobus Lent's (late Isaac Rapelye's,) to get some bread. Brandishing their naked swords, they declared that they were in pursuit of that d—d rebel, Doctor Riker. The doctor had spent the night in visiting different sections of the town, tearing down Howe's proclamations, that none might be misled, and induced, at this critical juncture, to remain and accept British protection, instead of hasting to the support of the American arms. The females at Mr. Lent's were terrified at the ferocious appearance of the light horse, and observing the haste and greediness with which they broke and ate the dry bread, Balche, a colored bondwoman, innocently inquired of her mistress whether they would not eat them. They dashed on towards Hellgate, but the doctor had escaped in a boat to Barn Island, and thus eluded these demons in human form.
Once they had occupied Queens, the British troops bivouacked in fields while officers and noncoms were quartered in private homes. Officers and noncoms of the 17th were assigned to Newtown. An article by Gus Dallas in the Richmond Hill Record says "Ten to 20 noncoms were assigned to a house. They were ordered to take over just one room in the house, and they shrewdly chose the kitchen, setting up hammocks in tiers. British officers were arrogant, and Queens folk had to tip their hats outdoors or stand like inferiors when speaking to them inside their own homes. Slave owners grumbled that their slaves tended to become snippy and disobedient after they saw how the officers pushed the master around."[6]

The next action seen by the 17th was in the Battle of White Plains[7] and then followed the retreat of Washington's troops, remaining in the South until 1778. In the winter of that year the British feared that the American forces were preparing to attack New York. Here's a report of this, the final appearance of the 17th Light Dragoons in Newtown.
Newtown in the winter of 1778 presented an unusually animated appearance. General Washington was expected to make an attack upon New York, and for the better preservation and safety of the shipping Sir Henry Clinton ordered all vessels not in the service of the government to be removed to Newtown Creek.

A large number of British troops were also barracked here. There were the seventeenth regiment of light dragoons, the Maryland loyalists, the royal Highlanders, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Sterling, who had seen long and arduous service in America during the French and Indian war; the royal artillery, with their cannon and horses; and the thirty-third regiment, Lord Cornwallis. During this period the farmers were subjected to many severe burdens. They were required to furnish from year to year, for the use of the army, the greater portion of their hay, straw, rye, corn, oats and provisions, under pain of being imprisoned and having their crops confiscated. The commissary weighed or measured the produce, and then rendered payment according to the prices fixed by the king’s commissioners. If the seller demanded more it was at the risk of losing the whole. The private soldiers were billeted in the houses of the Whig families. The family was generally allowed one fireplace. Robberies were frequent, and Newtown became a prey to depredation, alarm and cruelty. The civil courts were suspended, and martial law prevailed through seven long years. It was a happy day for Newtown when news arrived that Great Britain had virtually acknowledged our independence, and when her patriotic sons were permitted to return from a tedious exile. -- History of Queens [One notes that it was a happy day for whigs, not, of course, for tories, many of whom would — temporarily or permanently — exile themselves to Canada.]
These images all appear in A History of the 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge's Own) by John William Fortescue (Macmillan and co., 1895)

An officer of the 17th Light Dragoons in the late eighteenth century.

Members of the regiment in 1764.

Two private soldiers from the early nineteenth century.

Two private soldiers and an officer, a few decades later.


Some sources:

HISTORY OF QUEENS COUNTY, with illustrations, Portraits & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co.; 1882

The annals of Newtown, in Queens county, New-York containing its history from its first settlement, together with many interesting facts concerning the adjacent towns; also, a particular account of numerous Long island families now spread over this and various other states of the union, by James Riker (D. Fanshaw, 1852)

Documents and letters intended to illustrate the revolutionary incidents of Queens county with connecting narratives, explanatory notes, and additions by Henry Onderdonk (Leavitt, Trow and company, 1846)

Battle of Long Island, Hard Times followed Battle of Long Island, by Gus Dallas for the Richmond Hill Record

Battle of Long Island Hard Times followed Battle of Long Island by Gus Dallas, Printed by The Richmond Hill Record

17th Light Dragoons, a blog

17th Light Dragoons on the British Empire web site

The Battle of Long Island 1776 on the British Battles web site

17th Lancers in wikipedia

The Birth of the American Cavalry

Revolutionary incidents of Suffolk and Kings Counties with an account of the Battle of Long Island and the British prisons and prison-ships at New York by Henry Onderdonk (Leavitt & Co., 1849)

The Streets Of New York in Something About Everything Military

American War of Independence, 17th Light Dragoons, The British Empire

17th Light Dragoons

17th Light Dragoons in A Miniature History of the American Revolution

A History of the 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge's Own) by John William Fortescue (Macmillan and co., 1895)



[1] James Riker's History of Newtown gives a detailed account of the town's early history. In part, he writes: "Newtown, or, as it was called by the Indians at the time of the discovery of this section of country by Henry Hudson in 1609, "Mespat," was a part of the New Netherlands, the trade from which was exclusively granted by the States-General of Holland in 1621 to the organization known as the West India Company. Valuable cargoes of beaver and other skins were annually shipped from here. The population up to 1638 numbered but a few individuals, in the employ of the company; but in that year the monopoly was abolished, and then trade with the New Netherlands opened to all. The encouragement thus given to emigration was further extended in 1640 by the grant of a new charter, providing for the administration of civil government, and establishing the rights and privileges of the inhabitants on a footing parallel with those in Holland. This had a benign effect, and gave an impulse to emigration, ‘not from Europe’ only but from New England also, many of whose inhabitants, fleeing from religious persecution, took up their abode here... The fertility of the Newtown lands early attracted the attention of colonists... [and] in 1652 a goodly company of Englishmen arrived from New England. [After several name changes, the place became "New Towne" in 1665.] -- The annals of Newtown, in Queens county, New-York

[2] Here's the text:
Having seriously considered the consequences that must evidently flow from the several acts of the British Parliament to raise revenue in America, and likewise that of having power to bind the people of these Colonies by statute in all cases whatsoever; and that of extending the limits of the Admiralty Court, whereby the judges are empowered to receive their salaries and fees from effects to be condemned by themselves, and his Majesty's American subjects deprived of the right of trial by jury; that of empowering the Commissioners of Customs to break open and enter houses, without authority of any civil magistrate; stopping the Port of Boston; changing the form of government in Massachusetts Bay; and the Quebec Bill: all which, as appears to us, are absolutely intended to deprive his Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects of the American Colonies of their most inestimable rights and privileges, by subjugating them to the British Parliament, and driving them to the dire necessity of having their property taken from them without their consent: Resolved,
1. That we consider it our greatest happiness and glory to be governed by the illustrious House of Hanover, and that we acknowledge and bear true allegiance to King George the Third as our rightful sovereign, and under his protection have a right to enjoy the privileges of the Constitution of Great Britain.

2. That man ought to have the disposition of his property, either by himself or his representatives.

3. That it is our indispensable duty to transmit unimpaired to posterity all our most valuable rights and privileges as we have received them from our ancestors—particularly that of disposing of our own property.

4. That as some mode of opposition to the Acts of Parliament imposing taxes in America, has been thought necessary by the inhabitants of the different Colonies on this Continent, to secure their.invaded rights and properties: which mode has been left to the determination of the Delegates sent by each Colony, and met in Congress, at Philadelphia, in September last: they having, among other articles of their association, recommended that a committee be chosen in every county, city, and town, whose business it should be to observe the conduct of all persons touching said association; and, as we are willing to establish harmony and union, we will, so far as our influence extends, endeavor that the measures of Congress be strictly adhered to in this town.

5. As we highly approve of the wise, prudent, and constitutional mode of opposition adopted by our worthy Delegates in the General Congress, to the several late tyrannical and oppressive acts of the British Parliament, we therefore render our most sincere and hearty thanks to those gentlemen for their patriotic spirit in so cheerfully undertaking the difficult and arduous task, for their faithfulness in council, and great wisdom in drawing conclusions, which, through the influence of Divine Providence, we trust will be the means of securing to us of liberty and privileges as freeborn Englishmen, and again re store harmony and confidence throughout the British Empire, which is the hearty wish of all the friends to liberty and foes to oppression.
Signed by order of the Committee,

Documents and letters intended to illustrate the revolutionary incidents of Queens county with connecting narratives, explanatory notes, and additions by Henry Onderdonk (Leavitt, Trow and company, 1846)
[3] The whigs wanted both to collect the livestock in a safe area and also, by setting guards on roadways, to prevent tories from communicating with the enemy.

[4] Henry Onderdonk gives several versions of the account and says "as the accounts both written and traditional are conflicting, we ... leave the reader to form his own opinion.". See Revolutionary incidents of Suffolk and Kings Counties with an account of the Battle of Long Island and the British prisons and prison-ships at New York by Henry Onderdonk (Leavitt & Co., 1849)


[6] The annals of Newtown, in Queens county, New-York containing its history from its first settlement, together with many interesting facts concerning the adjacent towns; also, a particular account of numerous Long island families now spread over this and various other states of the union, by James Riker (D. Fanshaw, 1852)

[7] In the Battle of White Plains the 17th were once again successful:
The hill was now held by green militia and Connecticut and New York troops still shaken by the beating they had recently taken on Long Island. Behind these units, however, were tough, battle-wise Maryland and Delaware regiments. While the main body of the British army was assembling on the plain below the Americans, gunners of the Royal Artillery opened up on Chatterton’s Hill, and the troops there replied to the heavy fire as best they could with two small fieldpieces. When the cannonading eventually lifted, long lines of Hessian and British troops splashed across the Bronx River and moved up the hill with fixed bayonets. They met unexpectedly strong resistance from the militia, and the battle seesawed back and forth, the Americans giving as good as they got.

But while the king’s troops were wavering, trumpets sounded a charge, and the 17th Dragoons galloped into view, terrible with plumed brass helmets and cavalry sabres. It was more than most of the Americans could stand, and their line dissolved. They fled the field, covered by the steadfast Delaware regiment, which brought up the rear and held off the British attack until their fellow soldiers had reached safety.
-- The Streets Of New York

Thursday, September 22, 2011

17th Lancers

The other day I showed a 1903 photo of the newsstand at 23rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. In it you can see a reproduction of a painting from the Second Boer War. It's called "All that was left of them" and it shows a squadron of British cavalry under attack and apparently determined to fight to the finish. The squadron was part of the 17th Lancers regiment and the fight occurred at Modderfontein farm during the Battle of Elands River. This battle took place almost exactly 110 years ago on September 17, 1901.

It may seem odd that the only picture on display in the newsstand would be this one. The event wasn't hot news in 1903 and what's depicted isn't heroic in the usual sense: the lancers' suffering defeat in an ambush by rag-tag Boer farmer-soldiers. By 1903 it was surely known that the battle was at least partly the result of a mistake: some of the Boer commandos had put on captured British uniforms and the lancers couldn't at first tell whether they were being approached (and then surrounded) by friend or foe.[1]

It's possible that the guy who ran the newsstand had some connection to the fight, but just as likely that he showed the picture because it attracted business to his stand. Pictures of battle scenes — even, as here, scenes of imminent defeat — were popular and the painter of this one was one of the best, Richard Caton Woodville. There's inherently a lot of drama in a fight to the last man and Woodville has done a good job of showing both the desperate plight of the lancers and their determination to stand firm.

Here's a copy of the picture as full-color chromolithograph.

{Caption: Woodville, Richard Caton, 1856-1927: All that was left of them. A stirring incident of the late South African War; source: Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand}

A card that accompanies one copy of the print helps explain some of its popularity. The card reads:
All That Was Left Of Them.

At Modderfontein on September the 17th, 1901, the C Squadron of the 17th Lancers were surprised and surrounded. The odds were one hundred and fifty of our Lancers to four hundred of the enemy - the position untenable; - but answering their young officer's shout of 'Death or Glory Boys' they upheld that famous motto of their regiment by fighting till they fell by explosive bullets at twenty, ten, and even five yards.

Such deeds may not win battles, but such courage makes our nation.
The call 'Death or Glory' was the motto of the 17th Lancers and their cap badge showed a death's head with the motto "Or Glory".[1]

Here's what the cap badge looks like.[2] You can see it bottom left in the picture above.

{source: wikipedia}

This detail from the newsstand post shows the print.

{source: Library of Congress Prints and Photos Division}

The 17th has always been a "light" cavalry, meaning that it employed hunter-size horses rather than the large war-horses needed for heavy cavalry.[3] Originally they were dragoons, soldiers who rode to battle but dismounted to engage the enemy, but in the early 1820s they were converted to soldiers who fought on horseback — lancers.

The 17th fought in the battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution[5] and following the Battle of Long Island were encamped in and around Newtown — the locale where my great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller, would build his home.[6]


Some sources:

MODDERFONTEIN 17 September 1901 by R W Smith, Military History Journal, Vol 13, No 1, June 2004

The annals of Newtown, in Queens county, New-York

HISTORY OF QUEENS COUNTY, with illustrations, Portraits & Sketches of Prominent Families and Individuals. New York: W.W. Munsell & Co.; 1882

The 17th Lancers

The Birth of the American Cavalry

A History of the 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge's Own) John William Fortescue
Publisher: Macmillan and co.
Year: 1895

17th Lancers "Death or Glory"

17th Light Dragoons on the British Empire web site

The Battle of Long Island 1776 on the British Battles web site

17th Lancers in wikipedia

Battle of Elands River in wikipedia

Battle of Long Island

Battle of Long Island Hard Times followed Battle of Long Island by Gus Dallas, Printed by The Richmond Hill Record

17th Light Dragoons



[1] The 17th Dragoons page on the "British Empire" web site summarizes the fight: "A small group of Boers were forced to find new mounts, food and ammunition or face certain capture. They came across a small outpost of the 17th Lancers who were resting in the grounds of a farm house. The British mistook the Khaki clad Boers for British until they started a withering fire on the unprepared Lancers. The Boers were then joined by another troop of Commandoes who had heard the commotion from afar. These joined in from the rear of the Lancers and helped to inflict serious casualties on the troop of Lancers. In total, 36 Lancers were killed and many more were wounded. The worst aspect of this loss is that they themselves provided the Boers with further mounts and ammunition to continue fighting against the British for an even longer period of time." -- 17th Lancers

[2] The wikipedia article on the 17th Lancers explains: "In 1759, Colonel John Hale of the 47th Foot was ordered back to Britain with General James Wolfe's final dispatches and news of his victory in the Battle of Quebec. After his return, he was rewarded with land in Canada and granted permission to raise a regiment of light dragoons. He formed the regiment in Hertfordshire on 7 November 1759 as the 18th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons, which also went by the name of Hale's Light Horse. The admiration of his men for General Wolfe was evident in the cap badge Colonel Hale chose for the regiment: the Death's Head with the motto 'Or Glory'. In 1761 it was renumbered as the 17th."

[3] Until 1823, the 17th Lancers were the 17th Dragoons. The 17th Dragoons page on the "British Empire" web site explains the emblem: "The evocative Death's Head emblem has been used time and again by desperadoes and tribes from time immemorial. Its first use as a regimental emblem seems to have been by a German unit of Hussars known as the 'Totenkopf' Hussars. As many British units and soldiers had served in Germany at around this time as part of the Seven Years War (1756 - 1763). It is probable that they saw this emblem and revelled in its associations of piracy and plunder - perfect values to a Light Cavalry unit. Indeed, down to the present time the regiment is still commonly referred to as 'The Tots'." -- 17th Light Dragoons

[4] The 17th Dragoons page on the "British Empire" web site explains the difference between light and heavy cavalry in terms of horses: "The Light Dragoons main distinction from their heavier cousins was in the type of horse employed. Rather than use the big and burly heavy cart cobs the Light Dragoons preferred the use of smaller, leaner hunter horses (under 15.1 hands). Originally, the Light Dragoons were not equipped with swords of any sort rather their main armament was a carbine that could have a bayonet fitted, pistols and an axe. They were trained to be able to fire from the saddle. Speed and agility (of rider and horse) were prized over strength and sturdiness. These attributes would prove to be valuable ones in the small scale actions common to colonial campaigns for a long time to come." -- 17th Light Dragoons

[5] Regarding Bunker Hill, one source says "On the action on Long Island the 17th were to find themselves in an excellent position to trap the American army who were pinned with their backs to the river. Unfortunately, General Howe did not take advantage of the situation, and 12,000 Americans rowed to safety to Manhattan Island."

[6] The brigade was encamped where the IND subway yards sit today, near Queens Borough Hall, and officers and noncoms were billeted at homes in Newtown.

[7] Here's an account to the quartering of men in the area around Newtown. "The officers and noncommissioned officers occupied the homes of Queens citizens. Ten to 20 noncoms were assigned to a house. They were ordered to take over just one room in the house, and they shrewdly chose the kitchen, setting up hammocks in tiers. British officers were arrogant, and Queens folk had to tip their hats outdoors or stand like inferiors when speaking to them inside their own homes. Slave owners grumbled that their slaves tended to become snippy and disobedient after they saw how the officers pushed the master around." -- Battle of Long Island

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New York Newsstand, 1903

Here's another Manhattan street scene.[1] It shows stairways leading to an "El" station. The year is 1903, the day is cloudy, and the weather is chilly.

Although stairways dominate the scene, the subject is the newsstand. It seems the photographer has asked passersby to clear the area in front of the stand so that he could get a clear shot of it.

{Caption: "a characteristic sidewalk newstand" (sic), Detroit Publishing Co. 1903; from collections of the Prints and Photos Div. of the Library of Congress}

The presence of the hackney cab and the dress of pedestrians indicates that we're in a relatively upscale location and, indeed, a little sleuthing shows this to be 6th Avenue El at 23rd Street.[2] The El station is the nearest high-speed transit service to destinations that were popular with middle-class and even upper class New Yorkers: The theater district was a block to the west and extended a bit northward as well. Posh blocks of 5th Avenue at its intersection with Broadway lay a block to the east. There, as well, one found a lovely park called Madison Square. The Flatiron Building had just been completed where 5th, Broadway, and 23rd came together.

The Masonic Hall (1875), home of New York Masons, is at the photographer's left elbow. Next to it: the Horner Furniture store (Robert J. Horner's, 1876-1912). Across the street: McCreery's dry goods store on the site where the Edwin Booth Theater formerly stood.

If the people we see descending continue along the sidewalk, they will soon pass the Eden Musee, about half a block away on the north side of 23rd. Some may be headed there; others to the many merchants on this block, including the great Stern Brothers dry goods store just across the street from the Musee. Best & Co. stood next to Stern's (1895-1907) and Bonwit & Teller's next to it (1898-1911).

Here are some details from the photo.

1. The poster at the foot of the stairs is an ad for Hunter Baltimore Rye whiskey ("The First Over The Bars").

2. Knox's Gelatin was heavily advertised in New York at the time.[3] The ads frequently featured white and African-American cooks, as here. I've given a print ad that's closely related to this display in a footnote.[4]

3. Malta Vita was a grain product marketed as a restorative. It was a combination of whole wheat and malt extract. A print ad of this period says it could be used for "renovating your system and cleansing the blood of all impurities."[5]

4. New York's elevated railway system was blessed with some decorative wrought iron.

5. The artistic freedom of the iron work contrasts unfavorably with the highly utilitarian gum machine.

6. Click the image to see the enlarged version. You'll notice the wide variety of magazines on sale. You can find some of these covers on the web. I've given a few in the footnote.[6]


8. This is a reproduction of a painting called "All That Was Left of Them." It shows the last-ditch battle of a British cavalry unit, the 17th Lancers, against Boer guerrillas in September 1901.

This detail from a fire insurance map of 1899 shows the location of the photographer. Click image to view full size.

{Insurance maps of the City of New York (Borough of Manhattan). Surveyed and published by Sanborn-Perris Map Co., Limited, 115 Broadway, 1899, Volume 4;source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

Here's the full sheet from which I took the detail.

This print of a drawing called Snow on the 'El' by Martin Lewis shows the same stairway and newsstand three decades later. A reader of the Shorpy blog owns the print and another reader found an entry for it in a catalog raisonné of the artist.[7]


Some sources:

23rd Street (Manhattan) in wikipedia

New York Songlines: 23rd Street

Stern's in wikipedia

The Castro Building

A patent: Lanahan & Son, William, Baltimore, Md. "The First Over the Bars, Hunter Baltimore Rye."(For Whisky) - Annual report of the Commissioner of Patents, United States. Patent Office (U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1903)

History of Knox Gelatin

Read All About It: 1903 (Shorpy)



[1] I've done quite a few others. You'll find them under the Detroit Publishing Co. link in the "Labels" list in the right-hand panel of this page.

[2] The sleuthing was done back in December 2009 by a reader of the Shorpy blog who uses the name jsmakbkr. I've previously written about this area. See Eden Musee, further east on 23rd, see the posts on the Flatiron Building and Madison Square.

[3] Charles Knox, who began manufacturing the gelatin in 1900, was a firm believer in the power of advertising. His ads were highly inventive as well as ubiquitous as this example shows: "During the William Jennings Bryan - William McKinley presidential campaign of 1900, Charles Knox got permission from the Commissioner of Highways to hang fifteen political banners over the streets of New York with the words "Hopes to Win" under each candidate, and across the top: "Knox's Gelatine Always Wins." City officials were irate, but Knox had the permit to hang the banners and declined to remove them. The story, of course, made every newspaper in the state and led to Charles Knox becoming known as "the Napoleon of Advertising." -- History of Knox Gelatin

[4] The current manufacturer has made a history page for Knox Gelatin.

{source: eBay}

[5] Here's the source of the Malta Vita quote:

And here is the page of the Woman's Home Companion from which it comes (March 1903).

source: Harvard University Library

This ad comes from Cosmopolitan, November 1902.

{source: eBay}

[6] These images of magazine covers come from

{Collier's, December 12, 1902, Special Fiction Number}

{Theatre, December 1902, the cover shows Julia Marlowe, in "Queen Fiammetta" (which closed in Boston, never making it to Broadway) }

{Scientific American, December 13, 1902, Special issue on Transportation on Land and Sea}

{Scientific American, December 13, 1902}

These images were uploaded by people who left comments when the "newstand" image appeared on the Shorpy blog.

{Life, Christmas 1902}

{Figaro Illustré, December 1902}

[7] Here are links to the comments left by the two Shorpy readers: The owner of the print: Anonymous Tipster and the person who found the entry in the book, "The Prints of Martin Lewis, A Catalogue Raisonne": LilyPondLane.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


As the 19th century melded into the 20th, demeaning images of African Americans were ubiquitous and casual racial slights had become socially acceptable. The inferiority of the race was taken for granted by many people whose skin was not deeply pigmented. In particular, racial jokes and 'humorous' racial images permeated the media.

This was not a new phenomenon. The happy-go-lucky image of "Jim Crow" began to appear in the 1830s. By mid-century, white Americans could see nothing wrong in their affection for depictions of Jim Crow in black-face minstrel shows.[1] It's depressingly appropriate that Jim Crow became a by-word for oppressive legislation and "whites only" policies in the Reconstruction South.[2] The association of African Americans with watermelons parallels the history of Jim Crow.[3] It began in the early 19th century (or before) and grew to become a commonplace in the early 20th. Examples abound. Here's one from an unexpected source: the poet Carl Sandburg writing in 1918:
Does a famous poet eat watermelon?
Excuse me, ask me something easy.
I have seen farmhands with their faces in fried catfish on a Monday morning.
And the Japanese, two-legged like us,
The Japanese bring slices of watermelon into pictures.
The black seeds make oval polka dots on the pink meat.
Why do I always think of niggers and buck-and-wing dancing whenever I see watermelon?[4]
Given all this, it's hardly surprising that in turn-of-the-century New York a publisher of a popular line of picture post cards would decide to trade on the watermelon stereotype. But it might surprise that the image records the facts of poverty as much as it exploits a journalistic cliché. Here's the photo:

{"Bliss" by the Detroit Publishing Co. (1901) from collections in the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress}

The photographer staged the photo to show two common racial themes: love of watermelon and low-life theft. However, his main protagonist, the thief, is clearly enjoying the set-up. His pose and facial expression don't conform to the racist norm: no exaggerated features, no wooly hair, no eye-whites, and nothing "aw-shucks" in his body language. He's a real boy -- an urban youth, not a "boy" in the language racism, but an ordinary kid. The victim of theft is shown in stereotypical pose, but in the context of the scene, the pose seems to be a parody of the stereotype. It's as if the photographer is making fun of the trite and endlessly demeaning watermelon joke.

Here are some closer views.

The boy's ragged clothes and bare feet aren't racial markers; they're typical of New York street urchins regardless of race. The box he's sitting on probably wasn't selected as representative of anything in particular, but it's interesting nonetheless that it formerly contained cast-iron horse "feeders" from the Belmont Stable Supply Co. The Belmont family was then one of New York's wealthiest and horsiest.[5]

The "thief" is clearly enjoying himself and he appears to like the role that the photographer has asked him to play.

The disfiguration on his right leg is a tear in the photo, not a wound. Note the string on his left ankle; it re-appears in another photo shown below.

This prop may be where they put the duck at night. It has enough visual interest to stand on its own as a photo.

The duck isn't a subject of the photo and consequently isn't in focus, but its presence is symbolic. The scene is urban-gritty, with rubble underfoot and nothing growing. The duck suggests hardships endured — life lived at the bottom of the social pyramid, but not hopelessly so.

Here are the other photos in the set.[6]

{"Seben come 'leben" Detroit Publishing Co. (1901) LC collections}

This photo was taken at the same location. The two boys are joined by two others. There's now a rooster in the scene. The dice have come up boxcars.

{"A Quiet game" Detroit Publishing Co. (1901) LC collections}
This photo isn't so obviously related to the other two. We're on the street side of the buildings rather than the yard side. The boys are dressed for work not play. One of them shines shoes for a living. A man observes from the doorway. Notice the remains of watermelon at the bottom step.

{"Shines" Detroit Publishing Co. (1901) LC collections}
At the same location, we now see the shoe-shine boy in work mode. Notice that he does not shine his own shoes (maybe because they're too worn for shining; maybe because polish costs money).


This "Yellow Kid" comic strip (from Pulitzer's New York Journal, Sunday, December 20, 1896) gives an idea of how racial slurs could by casually used by newspaper cartoon characters. Note the text:
Den he broke that nigger's wind, den he closed his peeps
Den de coon laid down an' took two or tree big sleeps.

Den dat goat et all de wool right off dat nigger's nut.
Den he chucked him troo de ropes wit one small dinky butt.

{"Yellow Kid's Great Fight" source:}

Some sources:
Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University

Chicken & Watermelon Themes

Niggers love watermellons. Check these out !

The Pickaninny Character!!

The Picaninny Caricature

The piccaninny stereotype

Jim Crow laws

What Was Jim Crow?

Talking Race Over a Slice of Watermelon by Keith Woods

Question of the Month: Blacks and Watermelons

Potato Blossom Songs and Jigs by Carl Sandburg, Cornhuskers (1918)

The watermelon stereotype, a blog post by Abagond



[1] This is the title page from sheet music published in 1847.

{"Jim Crow Jubilee" Lithographer: John H. Bufford, Composer: Augustus Clapp, Title of Composition: History ob de World (Boston, Geo. P. Reed, 1847); source: wikipedia}

[2] "Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-Black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-Black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that Whites were the Chosen people, Blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation. Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that Blacks were innately intellectually and culturally inferior to Whites. Pro-segregation politicians gave eloquent speeches on the great danger of integration: the mongrelization of the White race. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely referred to Blacks as niggers, coons, and darkies; and worse, their articles reinforced anti-Black stereotypes. Even children's games portrayed Blacks as inferior beings (see "From Hostility to Reverence: 100 Years of African-American Imagery in Games"). All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of Blacks." -- What Was Jim Crow?

[3] "Since the earliest days of plantation slavery, the caricature of the dark-skinned black child, his too-red lips stretched to grotesque extremes as they opened to chomp down on watermelon, was a staple of racism's diet. Over time, the watermelon became a symbol of the broader denigration of black people. It became part of the image perpetuated by a white culture bent upon bolstering the myth of superiority by depicting the inferior race as lazy, simple-minded pickaninnies interested only in such mindless pleasures as a slice of sweet watermelon. Like all racial and ethnic stereotypes, this one's destructive properties have, through the decades, stretched far beyond mere insult. It has helped poison self-esteem, pushing some people to avoid doing anything that seemed too 'black,' lest they be lumped into the company of Uncle Remus, Aunt Jemima, or some other relative of racism." -- Talking Race Over a Slice of Watermelon by Keith Woods

This self-explaining watermelon Montage comes from Stereotypes of African Americans: Essays & Images

[4] From Potato Blossom Songs and Jigs by Carl Sandburg, Cornhuskers (1918)

[5] I've written about Bemont before. See road coaches, living high, and another coach on 5th.

[6] When a couple of these photos appeared on the Shorpy blog, they elicited some interesting comments. See Bliss: 1901 and Roll Play: 1901.