As Trinity News looks back on 2010, the Archivist’s Mailbag recalls a tumultuous year, long-gone by. In March of 1863, with the Civil War raging, Congress authorized America’s first military draft. New York City was jammed with draft-age immigrant laborers, many of them Irish, none of them able to afford the $300 commutation fee to avoid service.
Violent riots erupted on Monday, July 13, the date of the second drawing of names in the draft, and continued for three days. The violence was mostly directed at African-Americans, draft officers, police, and unlucky civilians.
Most of the city’s militia regiments were in Pennsylvania, aiding the Union Army in the wake of the Battle of Gettysburg. The regiments that remained couldn’t contain the rioters. For three days New Yorkers waited anxiously for more troops to arrive.
Trinity’s leaders supported the draft and were deeply involved with the Union cause. The Rev. Morgan Dix, Trinity’s rector, was the son of Union Major General John Adams Dix, who would be sent to New York City to quash the riots. George Templeton Strong was a prominent lawyer and a Trinity vestryman.
Both Dix and Strong kept detailed diaries throughout their lives. Dix, a 33-year-old bachelor in 1863, and Strong, a 43-year-old family man, left vivid accounts of the riots and their effect on the city and Trinity Church.
George Templeton Strong
Above 20th Street all the shops were closed, and many people standing and staring or strolling up town…[the] nucleus of riot was concealed by an outside layer of ordinary peaceable lookers on. Was told they had beat off a squad of police and another of “regulars” (probably the 12th militia)—at last it opened and out streamed a troop of perhaps 500; certainly less than 1000, of the lowest Irish day laborers…They were unarmed. A few carried pieces of fence-paling and the like.
They turned off 45th St. and gradually collected in front of two threestory dwelling houses on Lexington Ave…Nobody could tell why these houses were singled out. Some said a drafting officer lived in one of them…the mob was in no hurry: they had no use to be: there was no one there to molest them or make them afraid. The beastly ruffians were masters of the situation and of the City.
After a while sporadic paving stones began to fly at the windows— ladies and children emerged from the rear and had a rather hard scramble over a high board fence and then scrambled off across the open, heaven knows whither. Then men and small boys appeared at rear windows and began smashing the sashes and the blinds and shoved out light articles, such as books and crockery, and dropping chairs and mirrors into the backyard…at last a light smoke began to float out of the windows…I could endure the disgraceful sickening sight no longer and what could I do?
…We telegraphed, two or three of us, from Gen. Wool’s rooms…begging that troops be sent in and stringent measure taken. The great misfortune is that nearly all our military regiments have been dispatched to Pennsylvania...God knows what tonight or tomorrow may bring forth. We may be thankful that it is now (quarter past twelve) raining briskly… I’m thankful moreover that Ellie and the children are out of town.
At 4 ½ o.clock P.M. heard in a shop on Broadway the intelligence of fierce and bloody rioting up in the 19th Ward in resistance to the Draft. This is outrageous…All the regiments are away at war; and these cowardly scamps take advantage of the moment.
There was an alarm of fire, it seemed to me, every 10 minutes. They telegraphed for troops, and a lot of marines and regulars came up from the islands in the bay. Please God there may be force enough collected to make an example of this sedition and its aiders and abettors!
This was a miserable day…At night there was an attack made on the houses of the blacks behind me in York St.; many were gutted; the troops came about 10 m. past midnight. I watched the scene from my back window.
I talked to the [Trinity School] children about the Love of God and the barbarous brutality of men…
In the evening about 6 ½ o.clock a messenger came to inform me that the mob intended to return to York St. tonight, resume operations there, and attack St. John’s Chapel. I went at once to the Headquarter of the Police in Mulberry St, and had an interview with the principle officer in charge, who told me that they were aware of the design and made all arrangements…A very anxious evening and night. I lay down in my clothes and was all ready for anything that might occur.
Learned in the paper that Father is ordered to New York to relieve Gen. Wool and will be here at once…
I had 2 funerals today, one at Trinity Church at 1 ¼ o.clock, a soldier killed at Gettysburgh [sic]
How astonishingly changed everything seems in a week! …
My thoughts tonight are sad, but profoundly grateful; I feel more than ever our absolute need of God’s help.
“In view of the conditions which confront us in this city,” the Rev. William T. Manning, rector of Trinity Parish, wrote in 1910, “There is great significance in the record of such a work as that which is carried on, day in and day out, by Trinity Parish.”
The conditions of the city, particularly Manhattan’s lower wards, were dire in 1910. The city’s population had more than tripled in the previous 20 years, from 1,515,301 in 1890 to 4,766,883 by 1910. Trinity Church found itself surrounded by overcrowded tenements and desperately poor immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, China, and Syria.
The demographic changes in Lower Manhattan had begun years before. Trinity’s outreach work in the neighborhood started in the mid-1850s. By 1910 Trinity Parish (at the time, Trinity Church and nine chapels) supported an array of schools, services, and organizations, including a Mission House run by Episcopal nuns. “Trinity Parish is dealing daily with all sorts and conditions of men,” Manning wrote, “And is doing a work which is as truly missionary as any in foreign lands, or on our own frontiers.”
The Mission House and the parish’s other undertakings were always under the official leadership of the all-male clergy. Many of the programs, however, were developed by women in Trinity’s congregation. This was especially true of programs aimed at improving the lives of working women and girls. Read on for profiles of two such ministries: the Kitchen Garden and the St. Paul’s Business Women’s Luncheon Club.
The Kitchen Garden
Around 1880, Miss Emily Huntington of New England developed a program known as the Kitchen Garden. The aim was to teach “little mothers”-- very young children who were left in charge of households while both parents worked-- basic housekeeping and cooking skills. Students sang catchy tunes about fire safety and cleanliness and drilled with tiny brooms and miniature table settings. Kitchen Gardens aimed to teach and also to provide music and fun to the girls of the tenements.
“The immediate aim was to rescue the poor little girls from the deep misery of their joyless state,” a 1901 New York Times article explained, “It seemed a shame that these mere children should pass a life in which there was nothing but labor and squalor.” The Kitchen Garden also “strengthens their hands to fight poverty, their natural enemy, and inspires them with an instinct to fight dirt and squalor.”
Trinity’s Kitchen Garden was based on Huntington’s program, and ran from 1883 until 1922. It was financed by one Trinity parishioner, Miss Elizabeth d’Hautville Kean.
Each May, students of Trinity’s Kitchen Garden would give an “annual entertainment” during which they demonstrated what they had learned. The Trinity Mission Record, a parish newsletter, reported:
“It was an extremely pretty scene. The little girls, in their pink dresses and white caps and aprons, marched two by two into the Mission Room to the music of the piano, and came to a halt on each side of the long tables. Before each child was a miniature table placed on the larger tables, all properly set with toy dishes, knives and forks, table-cloths and napkins. After the opening song the children sat down and chanted the uses of each article. After this they cleared the tables and washed the dishes with “invisible soap and imperceptible water.”
The class went on to “enact a mimic family wash”, make up large doll beds, and perform a “very pretty broom drill.”
Kitchen Garden graduates could take classes at the Cooking School, where they learned to prepare economical family meals, and studied marketing (grocery shopping) and physiology. Girls could also learn sewing in the “industrial school” held on Saturday mornings, and attend the day school at St. Paul’s Chapel.
While the Kitchen Garden was primarily a secular program, the Mission Record notes that every effort was made to place participants in one of the guilds--age-based clubs that promoted morals, manners, and religion--or the Sunday school.
The St. Paul’s Business Women’s Luncheon Club
In January 1907, the Rev. W. Montague Geer, longtime vicar of St. Paul’s Chapel, stuck his foot in his mouth. He was concerned that the downtown stenographers (almost all young women) who congregated in the churchyard were in danger of being seduced by their employers during the lunch hour.
In an interview with the New York Times meant to publicize his plans for a stenographer’s club that would offer “protection” at lunch time, Geer described the situation as he saw it:
“…Many of these young girls are like kittens—playful and naturally affectionate. A business man who occasionally employs a stenographer from another office recently said to me: ‘You don’t know what temptations we business men are subjected to.’
“The rush of business life is dangerous…”
Geer spent the next week trying to downplay his comments. “I wish to clear the air a little,” he told the Times, “I have been quoted as saying that the proposed club was to be a reformatory, and that such an institution was needed for the stenographers and typewriters downtown. I made no such statement.”
But Geer had, in the words of one young woman, “brought down upon his head the wrath of every stenographer in the city.” Young business women protested that they were competent to look after themselves. Employment agency managers weighed in against Geer’s claims of lecherous clerks.
Geer went ahead and called a meeting to discuss formation of a club. One hundred stenographers came. An “informal session” was held by the stenographers after Geer spoke, and they endorsed the club-- and the idea that it should be run entirely by their own contributions, rather than by any donations from their employers.
Sixty-five women signed up for the club, paying 25 cents for 31 lunch tickets. They met in St. Paul’s parish house, which was located in the west end of the churchyard. Membership soon swelled to 800, and a lunch room was created. Members purchased their lunches at cost.
“You can hardly realize what this Church means to me,” one member was quoted as saying in the Club’s annual report for 1910. “To get away from the rush outside, and step into the peaceful churchyard and up to this attractive room. The friendly greeting that always awaits me, the green plants in the window, the selected pictures on the walls…everything is so restful and it all makes life in the business world so much easier for me.”
The Club soon organized a library, a singing class, and ran a successful Ladies’ Employment Bureau. At the time, women stenographers were not well-paid— yet club members continuously paid for lunches for children in St. Paul’s kindergarten and supported other charitable programs.
Trinity Parish’s mission work with women came full circle in 1910. In December of that year, twenty-two year old Ortovia Bonasera, a veteran “little mother” who had raised her siblings and, from the age of 19, had also worked twelve hour days in a tailor shop, put her siblings to bed, “settled her father comfortably in the kitchen with his Italian newspaper,” and shot herself with a revolver.
Bonasera lived—she had missed her head, instead wounding her neck--and was taken to hospital under arrest for attempted suicide. The Club took up a collection for her, and sent $25.
As the Rev. William T. Manning wrote in 1910, “Because we believe in a God who came down here and cast his lot with us men, we must realize that His Church’s Social Mission, and His Church’s Social Responsibility are of the very essence of her life. We must not be less human, but more human.”
The Archivist's Mailbag invites you to learn more about this statesman and Trinity parishioner on the 207th anniversary of his death.
Inspired? Stop by the Gift Shop for an Alexander Hamilton plush doll.
July 12, 2011, marked the 207th anniversary of Alexander Hamilton’s death (watch a video here). Representatives of the Museum of American Finance laid a wreath on Hamilton’s grave in Trinity churchyard, and tourists paused in the summer heat to honor this Founding Father.
Alexander Hamilton was a member of Trinity Church, but whether he attended services is not known (read more about the Hamilton family’s connections to Trinity here). But at the very end of his life, as he lay bleeding and paralyzed in a house on Greenwich Street, he did call for the rector of Trinity Church.
But for all his modern accomplishments, Hamilton succumbed to an ancient vice: dueling. He died on the afternoon of July 12, 1804, of a gunshot wound suffered the previous day in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.
As hard as it is to imagine two such prominent statesmen settling a war of words through mutually-attempted murder, dueling was widely practiced in both Europe and America at the time. Dueling over political matters seems to have been a uniquely American invention. As a young man, Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel. Button Gwinnett, second governor of Georgia and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was killed in duel with a political rival.
Most clergy, including the clergy at Trinity Church, opposed dueling, as did Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Legal opposition to dueling had also formed, and the practice was outlawed in New York. None of this dissuaded Hamilton or Burr, who were longtime political enemies.
The events that lead up to the duel began on April 24, 1804, as Burr was campaigning for the governorship of New York. The Albany Centinel published a letter written by Dr. Charles D. Cooper to Philip Schuyler, Hamilton’s father-in-law and prominent politician in his own right. The letter alluded to Hamilton’s “despicable” opinion of Burr, reportedly expressed at a political dinner the previous winter. When Burr read the letter, he wrote Hamilton demanding that Hamilton either admit or deny the alluded-to statements. Hamilton argued that he could not admit or deny a vague inference, responding in a letter:
Repeating that I can not reconcile it with propriety to make the acknowledgment or denial you desire, I will add that I deem it inadmissible on principle, to consent to be interrogated as to the justness of the inferences which may be drawn by others, from whatever I may have said of a political opponent in the course of a fifteen years competition.
After several more letters back and forth, Burr formally challenged Hamilton to a duel. Hamilton accepted.
In the days before the duel, Hamilton wrote two letters to his wife, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, a devout member of Trinity Church.
My Beloved Eliza:
…This is my second letter. The scruples of a Christian have determined me to expose my own life to any extent rather than subject myself to the guilt of taking the life of another. This must increase my hazards and redoubles my pangs for you. But you had rather I should die innocent than live guilty. Heaven can preserve me and I humbly hope will; but, in the contrary event, I charge you to remember that you are a Christian. God's will be done! The will of a merciful God must be good.
In the early hours of July 11, 1804, Hamilton boarded a rowboat with Nathan Pendleton, his second in the duel (a sort of standby and assistant), and Dr. David Hosack, his physician. They arrived at a popular dueling ground overlooking the Hudson River in Weehawken, New Jersey (dueling was illegal in New York at the time). Burr and his party were already there.
Hamilton took the northern position and bothmen readied their Wodgen & Barton dueling pistols. Dr. Hosack, the rowers, and most of Burr’s party remained in the boats so as not to witness the duel and open themselves to criminal prosecution. The only men present during the duel were Hamilton, Burr, and their seconds. Both men fired once, and Hamilton was struck in the abdomen, just above his right hip.
Hamilton's Final Hours
The Rt. Rev. Benjamin Moore
Hamilton was rowed back across the Hudson to the home of William Bayard, a friend. Hamilton requested that the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity Church, Bishop of New York, and president of Columbia College, visit him. In a letter published on July 13, Moore described the events of the afternoon and evening of July 11:
Thursday Evening, July 12, 1804
Yesterday morning, immediately after he was brought from Hoboken to the house of Mr. Bayard, at Greenwich [modern day 82 Jane Street], a message was sent informing me of the sad event, accompanied by a request from General Hamilton, that I would come to him for the purpose of administering the holy communion, I went; but being desirous to afford time for serious reflection, and conceiving that under existing circumstances, it would be right and proper to avoid every appearance of precipitancy in performing one of the most solemn offices of our religion, I did not then comply with his desire. At one o’clock I was again called on the visit him. Upon my entering the room, and approaching the bed, with the utmost calmness and composure he said, “My dear sir, you perceive my unfortunate situation, and no doubt have been made acquainted with the circumstances which led to it. It is my desire to receive the communion at your hands. I hope you will not conceive there is any impropriety in my request.” He added “I was for some time past been the wish of my heart, and it was intention to take an early opportunity of uniting myself to the church, by the reception of that holy ordinance.”
…I then asked him, “Should it please God to restore you the health, sir, will you never be again engaged in a similar transaction? And will you employ all your influence in society to discountenance this barbarous custom?” His answer was, “That, sir, is my deliberate intention.”
I proceeded to converse with him on the subject of his receiving the Communion; and told him that with respect to the qualifications of those who wished to become partaker of that holy ordinance, my enquiries could not be made in language more expressive than that which was used by our Church—“Do you sincerely repent of your sins past? Have you a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of the death of Christ? And are you disposed to live in love and charity with all men?” He lifted up his hands and said “With the utmost sincerity of heart I can answer those questions in the affirmative—I have no ill-will against Col. Burr. I met him with a fixed resolution to do him no harm—I forgive all that happened.”
…The Communion was then administered, which he received with great devotion, and his heart afterwards appeared to be perfectly at rest. I saw him again this morning, when with his last faltering words he expressed a strong confidence in the mercy of God through the intercession of the Redeemer. I remained with him until 2 o’clock this afternoon, when death closed the awful scene—he expired without a struggle, and almost without a groan…
Moore’s letter was reprinted in newspapers across the country. On July 14, Hamilton’s funeral was held at Trinity Church. Gouvernor Morris, a close friend of Hamilton, gave the funeral address “on a stage erected in the portico of Trinity Church, having four of General Hamilton’s sons, the eldest about sixteen and youngest about 6 years of age with him.”
Alexander Hamilton was buried near the southern fence of Trinity churchyard. Today, his monument towers over the simple vault stone of his wife, Eliza. And somewhere in Manhattan, possibly very nearby, lay the bones of their eldest son Philip, killed in a duel three years before his famous father. Read more about that next time in The Archivist’s Mailbag.
Dr. David Hosack went on to have several children, including sons named Nathanael Pendleton Hosack and Alexander Hosack. Alexander Hosack followed in his father’s footsteps and became a prominent physician, tending to Aaron Burr in his final years. According to Alexander Hosack’s 1871 obituary in the New York Times, he once asked Burr if he felt any remorse over Hamilton’s death. Burr reportedly said that he suffered no remorse, and that Hamilton had brought his death on himself. Nathanael Pendleton Hosack was a vestryman at Trinity Church.
Both Alexander Hosack and Nathanael Pendleton Hosack are buried in Trinity’s uptown cemetery.
The Tet Offensive. Women’s liberation. The Civil Rights Act. In 1968, the nation and the world were caught up in a fever of revolution—but on the surface, the upheaval hadn’t reached Lower Manhattan. The World Trade Center was rising for the first time, built by hard hats with a reputation for conservative politics. Wall Street, still securely in the Mad Men era, was coasting through the longest period without a recession in American history.
Late in 1968, Don Woodward, Trinity’s vicar, hired Father Jack Moody as Associate for Community and Cultural Affairs. Moody was a veteran parish priest who had come to New York to pursue an M.F.A. in painting and sculpture at New York University.
“When Don Woodard came on, he realized there was a whole weekday community on Wall Street that Trinity had reached out to in terms of more traditional worship, preaching, some noonday concerts,” Moody said recently. “Don knew what I was interested in: the role of arts in community change.”
Working closely with Dr. Larry King, organist and director of music, Moody developed an arts program aimed at engaging the Lower Manhattan workforce. “At that time there was a big drug problem on Wall Street, particularly in the back office. This is before the day of automation—everything was done by people. Don Woodard really felt a need to reach out in a creative way, to build community that would be more involving of people than the work ghettos in which they found themselves.”
Inspired by the downtown arts movement, Moody created a Summer Festival. For twelve weeks, the church and churchyard were filled with musicians, dancers, actors, and painters every weekday from 12-2pm. There were poetry readings, a graffiti board, and a “paint-in.”
“Trinity was looked to as a place of refreshment and celebration,” Moody explained. “Our hope was always that if we could reach out to workers and begin to create an experience that not only had some quality but had a sense of celebration behind it, then the community could have a real entrée to talk to leadership.”
The Summer Festival was wildly successful. Photos from the time show a packed churchyard, and the media took notice of the groovy gatherings.
“The first year we had a rock group come in for a mass, in the church,” Moody said. “It was actually covered on The Huntley-Brinkley Report. And I think it was David Brinkley who said, ‘Goodnight, Chet. Well, this is how it is on Wall Street this week,’ then it ends with this huge, huge big rendition of a rock song that was being played in Trinity and place was packed. Well, that didn’t set too well with the establishment, not only within Trinity but within Wall Street establishment.”
In the autumn of 1969, building on the momentum of the Summer Festival, Moody and his colleagues opened 74 Below, a coffeehouse in the basement of 74 Trinity Place. 74 Below offered 25-cent sandwiches, arts programming, and a chance for workers to connect at lunch. A photography club was formed.
“Our whole idea was to try to demonstrate and be who and what we say and think we are,” Moody explained, “The arts tried to create a sense of community, celebration, acceptance, and inclusion.”
Another outgrowth of the Summer Festival was the “Sunday Service on Friday,” which was bring-your-own-instrument and offered “coffee and sandwiches in Exhibition Room for starving and/or wealthy musicians.”
The Summer Festival was repeated for the next four years and continued to commission music, theatre, and dance. The Festival drew high-profile artists, including the original cast of Godspell, who lead a mass. Moody, who served as celebrant, remembers, “The Jesus figure in the Godspell cast, when it came time for the kiss of peace, came and embraced me, and the cast all went out into the congregation for the peace. The writer [of Godspell], John-Michael Tebelak, was at that mass and he received the Eucharist. He said it was the first time he’d done it in years. It was amazing. Those things lift us up and push us on.”
Despite Trinity’s community-building work, violent protest shook the Financial District in 1970. The invasion of Cambodia and subsequent shootings at Kent State unleashed a wave of student strikes and protests. Peace demonstrations made their way up Broadway nearly every noon. Demonstrators regularly clashed with “hard hats,” the blue collar construction workers and longshoremen building the WTC.
“Trinity was open to the situation—by that I mean we tried to minister to the situation as we saw it,” Moody explained, “I remember that we would stand on the front porch as the confrontational demonstrations were going by the church. And the vicar would be there and the staff would be there and we were there ready to reach out in any way we could. And also we wanted to protect the church, we didn’t know if people were going to storm it. And I remember there were two hard hats who would stand with us, with their construction helmets on, because they were sympathetic to what we were trying to do.”
Trinity also hosted a first aid center, set up in what is now the museum and staffed with students from New York University Medical Center. At the height of the demonstrations the center treated 60 people a day, many with minor injuries from cinder blocks and other tools wielded by “hard hats.” A Parish Newsletter article reported:
At noon, it happened. Holy Communion on Friday was a Mass for peace and commemoration of the four Kent State students and war dead. Shortly after the Service began, as the noise of a growing mob filtered in from the street, the first injured were brought into the Church. Throughout the service this sad procession continued; the aid station, set up in the Exhibit Room, had to be expanded to the Sacristy and Clergy Vesting Room.
“I happened to be celebrant on that Friday,” Moody recalled, “And as I was celebrating, the first of the wounded were brought in to church and down the side aisle and back to the sacristy. It was one of the most moving scenes I ever experienced in my life.”
Trinity remained open to all that afternoon, with refreshments, first aid, and clergy standing by.
The church’s image—and the church itself—was transformed by the creativity and tumult of those years.
As a Mr. Vecsey wrote in a published letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:
The summer program in ‘Old Trinity’ is truly inspired. All of a sudden this stately edifice in the financial are has become an oasis to a very wide group of people who seek a half hour or so of the human touch whether it be rock of sublime music from the great organ.
And once there, regardless of individual beliefs, there is a feeling of the Spirit that put Trinity there in the first place.
The metal ball is mysterious. It is 22 inches in diameter, hollow, and weighs around 2 pounds. It has a seam around its equator, what appears to be navy blue paint underneath a second shade of paint, and a round area where something may have been affixed to it. The metal itself looks reddish-brown.
The Archivist's Mailbag has a few theories, but we want to know what our readers think. Have you seen something like this before? Why was it in St. Paul's Chapel? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
This Ayers Sarsaparilla bottle, with traces of the sarsaparilla still visible, is another recent discovery.
“On a bright sunny day in July,” the Trinity Parish Newsletter of September-October 1973 explains, “Trinity Churchyard became ‘location’ for a motion picture company, which filmed sequences of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. Here a scene is being filmed near the Churchyard Cross.”
The Archivist’s Mailbag can’t recall whether this scene made it into the film or was left on the cutting room floor.
The “Churchyard Cross” in the photograph is better known as the Astor Cross, and was erected in 1914 by Mrs. M. Orme Wilson in memory of her mother, Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, wife of William Astor. Both women were members of Trinity Church.
The Trinity Parish Yearbook of 1912 explains the symbolism of the Astor Cross:
“It is especially appropriate and significant that so striking a witness to the religion of Our Lord should be lifted up beside the Mother Church and in the midst of the dense crowds and the great business interests gathered in the lower part of the city…
The design has been prepared by Mr. Thomas Nash. The idea embodied in it is the genealogy of Our Lord according to St. Luke, as indicated by the figures of Adam and Eve, and then working around the upwards the figures are as follows: Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Ruth, Jesse and David, the whole structure culminating in the Crucifix, the Figure upon it being that of the Ruling Christ. The figure of the Blessed Virgin bearing Our Lord as an infant in her arms is placed on the back of the Cross. On the base of the monument will be the text from the First Corinthians, “The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.”
It is an interesting juxtaposition: a fictional character bent on making his way into society standing in the shadow of a monument dedicated to the grande dame of New York's upper crust.
By far the most interesting fire to threaten St. Paul’s Chapel was the burning of Barnum’s American Museum in1865. The museum stood directly across Broadway from St. Paul’s Chapel.
P.T. Barnum, a successful variety-show impresario, bought the museum in 1841 and turned it into the hottest and strangest attraction in New York City. The Museum, promoted as family-friendly and moral, was equal parts natural history exhibit, freak show, and Ripley’s-Believe-It-Or-Not. In addition to country’s first public aquarium, the museum boasted a lecture hall and theatre, and exhibits including Tom Thumb, Siamese twins Cheng and Eng, presidential mementos, wax sculptures, Egyptian mummies, the “Nova Scotia Giantess”, weapons from notorious crimes, fancy shoes, old clothes-patterns, live boa constrictors, animated landscapes of foreign countries, and stuffed monkeys.
The fire in Barnum’s American Museum broke out around 12:30pm on July 13, 1865. At the time, the Rev. Dr. Morgan Dix, Trinity’s rector, was at work in his office in the rectory, then located on Church Street, across from the World Trade Center site. Dr. Dix, who served as rector from 1862 to 1908, recorded his daily activities in a series of diaries over a fifty year period beginning in 1856. He wrote about the fire:
“This was a memorable day….it was about half-past 12 or a quarter to 1, I went out into the churchyard…when I saw people looking up towards Broadway…I went to the churchyard railings at Broadway and I saw a little smoke in Ann Street. In about five minutes Barnum’s Museum was all in a blaze to the second story and then we had one of the most memorable conflagrations that I ever saw. The flames became intolerable hot and drove us out of the porch of St. Paul’s, and then as it became evident that the old church was in danger I went up on the roof, and stayed until almost half-past 4. The falling of the Museum was a sublime sight. Saint Paul’s was saved only by the direction of the wind…
We had half a dozen firemen on the roof, with a couple of sections of hose…and many other persons came and rendered assistance. The man who did most was a person who gave his name was Captain de Rohan, and said that he was an old officer of Garibaldi’s and had come out here on some business connect with that revolutionary character. This person volunteered his services, and worked very hard; he also stayed all night and kept watch and would receive no compensation and hardly any thanks: he was a very intelligent and gentlemanly person…
The fire was terrible, but also exceptionally comical…as the crowd carried off most of the curiosities and were seen rushing about with stuffed snakes and birds, and shouting as the wax-work figures were thrown out of a window.”
Though he refused compensation at the time, Captain de Rohan wrote to Trinity’s vestry almost a decade later seeking compensation for his fire-fighting efforts. De Rohan had fallen on hard times by the mid-1870s; the strange tale of his life is worth a look.
Captain William de Rohan was born William Theodore Dahlgren in 1820 in Philadelphia. His father, Bernard Ulric Dahlgren, was a Swedish consul; his mother, Martha Rowan, was American. William had at least two brothers, both older, John and Charles.
Following in his brother John’s footsteps, William became a seaman at 15, fighting in the Seminole wars and in the Texas Navy. He changed his name to de Rohan in the 1840s, reportedly after a quarrel with John. De Rohan may derive from his mother’s maiden name, Rowan. Many newspaper reports connect his mother’s family with the French de Rohans, a noble family. Martha Rowan was actually Irish—though the de Rohan name didn’t hurt William’s naval career.
According to the National cyclopaedia of American biography of 1897, De Rohan left the United States and became a soldier of fortune, serving first in the Turkish navy and then in Argentina, where he met Guiseppe Garibaldi. Garibaldi was an Italian patriot—but at the time, Italy was divided into smaller kingdoms.
Garibaldi and de Rohan became friends, and de Rohan joined the struggle to unify Italy. It’s unclear if he participated in all of Garibaldi’s campaigns, but he spent his fortune in purchasing three steamers for the Italian navy in the late 1850s.
De Rohan commanded a U.S-made steamer named the Washington during the “Expedition of the Thousand” in 1860. The Expedition defeated the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (encompassing most of southern Italy) and brought the Kingdom’s territory into the newly unified Kingdom of Italy.
De Rohan eventually returned to the U.S. His brother John Dahlgren was then a Captain and head of the Union Navy’s Bureau of Ordance. John Dahlgren was in charge of all naval weapons throughout the Civil War, and even invented a gun that bears his name. (Dahlgren Naval Base and Dahlgren, VA are also named for John.) De Rohan supported the Union cause, but, according to the National Cyclopaedia, was unwilling to join the Union Navy for fear he might wind up under John Dahlgren’s command. The third brother, Charles, was a Confederate Brigadier General during the Civil War who feuded with Jefferson Davis. A modern biography of Charles states that de Rohan did serve the Union—as a spy in England.
In June, 1865, one month before the fire at Barnum’s Museum, the New York Times published a short article about de Rohan meeting with General Ulysses S. Grant:
Capt. DE ROHAN, Naval A.D.C. to Gen. GARIBALDI, and Commodore of the second Garibaldi Expedition to Sicily in 1860, under the American flag, had the honor of presenting to Gen. GRANT yesterday the congratulations of Gen. GARIBALDI, who throughout the rebellion has never for a single instant wavered in the most outspoken and heartfelt expressions of sympathy for our cause…
How de Rohan came to be at St. Paul’s Chapel on July 13, 1865, remains unknown. He continued to work for Italian unification but was never repaid the money he spent on outfitting the Italian Navy. He sought a Diplomatic Claim against Italy from President Grant, but was denied. He later sought out a consulship in Samoa and was also denied.
In November 1874, a destitute de Rohan wrote to Trinity’s vestry seeking compensation for his efforts in saving St. Paul’s Chapel. Dr. Dix advanced him $150, and a vestry committee later voted to reimburse Dr. Dix.
De Rohan suffered a stroke and died a pauper in 1891.
Author: Trinity Wall Street Communications
Created: March 18, 2009
Trinity Wall Street has played a pivotal role in the religious and civic life of the city and nation since its founding in 1697. This blog will answer readers’ questions and provide a glimpse into the fascinating and provocative history of the parish.