Why is it that I have to be reminded that New York City has always been shaped by the rich? Those highly entrepreneurial Dutch settlers who pulled a fast one, actually many, many fast ones on the Lenape Indians, brought slavery to what they called "New Netherlands," but were eventually outsmarted by the English, and you know the rest of the story.
[Not a history blog here, just a Little Red Hen resource provider. Read Kenneth Jackson's Encyclopedia of New York, for a left-of-center view there's Eric Foner on life among the working classes, when you're in the City, do a walking tour with Big Onion.]
Our son and his spouse suggest places we can visit while enjoying their Roxie. On we went to another of the Historic Hudson Valley sites. Last visit it was Sunnyside, mid-19th century home of the writer, Washington Irving in Tarrytown/Irvington. Roxie was a trouper as we stood near the Hudson, then squeezed into the small house with other tourists.
This time with better weather, it was Phillipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow and earlier years-- around 1750. As we stood in the house, our tour guide explained that we were not really in someone's home. Maybe a faux home would be a better description; the Phillips, an Anglo-Dutch family spent their time in Manhattan on Pearl Street. This was their office, so to speak, where they conducted their extensive farming, milling, and trading business.
How much property did this successful family own? Though we were told on the tour, these details are not on the official site but were noted at TravelLady magazine (filled with more detail about how the place operated, who worked where). 52,000 acres from northern Manhattan to Croton. Their holdings included 23 African slaves. [The Rockefeller estate is nearby.] One of the impressive aspects of our tour was that we were told these facts by our guide, told what were the kinds of jobs done by tenant farmers who had to be trusted by their distant employers and, of course, slaves and who were unble to barter for freedom. Detailed information on slavery at the manor on this video.
Unlike TravelLady whose visit was in 2007, we were at the Manor after the ruinous storms and flooding of Hurricance Irene in August. At her site are photos of the Grist Mill when it was in operation, producing flour. No longer; it will take a new round of fund-raising to fix it. Natural disaster must have occurred in earlier centuries. I wonders how this changed things: local people laid off, slaves sold?
Thanks to our first guide at the manor house whom we asked about her shawl (handwoven there), we were directed to another guide, also informative, the fiber expert. In the photo, she is explaining the origin on the farm of each color in her coat. Roxie proved adept at carding and rolling wool into rolags. We thought she'd been here before but, no, her parents said... maybe another nursery school adventure.
With all the sights and sounds in the afternoon, the variety of beans --and their names--(Roxie took home a black and white soldier bean), being able to touch the cheese in hardening stages, sheep roaming about, it was something we did not catch on camera that happened very fast just after this cow was led to the barn. A farm cat rushed past us, climbed quickly up a tree, rushed to the ground with a baby squirrel in his mouth. In seconds he/she began to eat. Ron was fascinated; Roxie missed it and was taken with the excitement of onlookers.
If we visit again in April, we might be able to see a "Sheep to Shawl" festival at Phillipsburg. The link, to a 2009 event, shows the traditional border collie sheep run held at many wool fairs and Manor guides enacting slaves. The costumed staff added a great deal to my experience, help to move me back in time. Made me wonder what it would have been like if I'd been costumed when I was a docent at the Tenement Museum on New York City's lower east side. A simpler setting in 1997 than now, the choices might have included myself as an immigrant German Jewish widow in 1860s, orthodox Jewish woman post World War I, or early 1930s first generation Italian housewife.
With all my political and moral critiques of the rich in America and what they have done/are doing to our lives, I am grateful that we had another wonderful afternoon with Roxie--thanks to the enormously wealthy people who decided to provide this connection to our pasts in New York. It is an ambivalent life.