Category Archives: Salem

The Worldly Remonds of Salem

Great news on this Martin Luther King Day weekend: the Mayor of Salem has announced that a rather barren strip of waterfront land adjacent to the Salem-Beverly bridge will be reconstituted as Remond Park, after the prominent pair of African-American Abolitionist advocates and natives of Salem, Charles Lenox Remond (1810-1873) and Sarah Parker Remond (1824-1894). The announcement refers only to these famous siblings, but I prefer to think of the new park as a tribute to the entire Remond family, as the Remond parents, John and Nancy, created the material and cultural foundation that supported their children’s full-time advocacy against slavery. All at the same time, the Remond narrative is a great African-American, American, and Salem story, and it all began when the ten-year-old John “Vonremon” arrived in Salem in the summer of 1798–very much alone. He had been sent north from his native Curacao by his mother “for schooling” apparently, and the owners of the brig that transported him (the Six Brothers, John and Isaac Needham) employed him in the family bakery almost immediately upon his arrival. By his late teens he was in Boston, learning some of the “traditional” trades for freemen of color in the north, hairdressing, wig-making, and catering, and becoming acquainted with his future wife Nancy Lenox, by all accounts an excellent cook herself. In 1805 he returned to Salem and took up residence in the newly-built Hamilton Hall, working as its “Colored Restaurateur” for several decades, always referred to as Mr. Remond. Nancy and he married and had ten children between 1809-1824, all the while building their hair-dressing, culinary, and food provisions businesses. Two of these children died in infancy, Charles (b. 1810) and Sarah (b. 1824) became anti-slavery orators for the local, state, and national conventions while in their twenties, and the rest carried on–and expanded the family businesses in Salem.

The Remond American story started with John–and the Remond Salem story really started right next door at Hamilton Hall. I often think of John and Nancy as I work in my garden and look at its eastern wall, knowing that right on the other side was their home, their workplace, the birthplace of their children. I was stirring my tea this afternoon thinking about all that activity over there, and how great that the family name is now (or will shortly be) a place.

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Remond Hamilton Hall

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John Remond (1786-1874) later in life, Library of Congress; the wall of Hamilton Hall from my kitchen; the soon-to-be Remond Park in Salem, courtesy Salem News.

Charles and Sarah became forceful advocates for Abolition because they had a secure Salem base but they were not grounded by Salem: after he built a reputation as an effective orator for the cause in Massachusetts in the 1830s he became a paid lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London with William Lloyd Garrison in 1840, after which he lectured throughout Britain. He continued his advocacy upon his return to the U.S., though was eclipsed in the national realm by the man whom he once mentored, Frederick Douglass. (They seemed to have been rivals, yet Douglass named his son Charles Remond Douglass). Once the Civil War began, Charles became a fierce proponent of African-American engagement, and a major recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Sarah was even more worldly than her brother: after her first speaking tour for the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1856, she left for Britain and never came back. She continued her advocacy (now for the Northern cause), but combined lecturing with studies at the Bedford College for Ladies (now part of the University of London) and after the Civil War she left Britain for Italy, where she graduated from medical school, married an Italian, and remained for the rest of her life.

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Charles Lenox Remond and Sarah Parker Remond; Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society Broadsides from the 1850s, Massachusetts Historical Society.

And while their children spread their wings, John and Nancy Remond remained in Salem, minding to their varied, expanding businesses. John appears so entrepreneurial that I can’t quite grasp the full range of his activities: the catering operation was moved out of Hamilton Hall in the mid-1820s to a series of locales in Derby and Higginson Squares, on Front Street, and on Derby Street. According to advertisements placed in the Salem Gazette in the later 1820s, he became a purveyor of fine wines and oysters, lots and lots of oysters, along with curry powder, East Indian soy sauce, pickled nuts, Virginia hams, and “catsup” (a very early use of this word, surely?). He operated both a wholesale business and several retail establishments, including an oyster bar and an ice cream parlor. He evolved from caterer to “trader”, although Nancy seems to have continued her culinary activities, and offered lunches and dinners at 5 Higginson Square in downtown Salem, “at the sign of the big lantern”, above which they also lived. The 1850 census values John’s assets at $3600; in 1870 the man who is identified as a “dealer in wines” has $19,400 worth of real estate in Salem and $2000 in personal assets. Though he seldom left Salem after his childhood arrival, John was not only a wealthy but a worldly merchant, in the Salem tradition, with stores of exotic goods ready to “ship to any market.” I’m impressed by the ambition and achievements of both John and Nancy, but I don’t want to depict them as singularly focused on the family economy: both were members of anti-slavery societies and active in abolitionist circles. Their primary focus was on education: they actually left Salem, and their many businesses, when Sarah was denied entrance into Salem High School in 1835 and only returned six years later after the Salem schools were desegregated, in no small part to their efforts from Rhode Island. They opened their (busy!) home up to the young Charlotte Forten, the first African-American woman to graduate from my university, when her father sent her north from Philadelphia to attend Salem’s desegregated schools in the 1850s. They provided for their children, and changed the world.

*Sources: Sarah Parker Remond has received a lot of attention from historians; her brother and family less so, but I found Willi Coleman’s “Like Hot Lead to Pour on the Americans….Sarah Parker Remond—from Salem, Mass. to the British Isles”, in Kathy Kish Sklar & James Brewer Stewart’s Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Anti-Slavery in the Era of Emancipation (Yale, 2007) to be particularly helpful; there’s a podcast by Julie Winch with a very promising title here, but the link doesn’t seem to be working!


Deaccessioning Salem

The vast wealth accumulated by Salem entrepreneurs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries created a cultural landscape that still characterizes the city to some extent, encompassing institutions that inherited this wealth in the form of both currency and treasures. When the former runs out, the latter are tapped, and priorities shift over time: such is the pattern of deaccessioning. The First Church of Salem sold 14 pieces of colonial silver nearly a decade ago, and built an addition with the profits. The Trustees of the Salem Athenaeum have considered the sale of their 1629 Massachusetts Bay Charter, sealed with the signature of King Charles I, from time to time, with the earnest approval of some and the deep disdain of others. Sometimes a deaccessioning will enhance Salem’s heritage rather than take it away: such was the case of the Richard Derby House, which was donated to the City by the Society of the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) in 1937 to serve as a cornerstone of the new Salem Maritime National Historic Site. When it comes to smaller treasures, I think more things have left Salem than remained, and apparently another prize is about to depart: this week the Salem Public Library announced that it had consigned a painting by Salem’s most notable modern artist, Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951), to Skinner Auctions for its January 23 auction of European and American Works of Art. The painting, entitled Figure in White, apparently depicts Benson’s older sister, Georgiana, and was completed about 1890: he retained it throughout his life, and after his death his children bequeathed it to the Library, for which Benson had served as a Trustee from 1912 until his death.

Benson Figure in White

Benson plaque Figure in White

Benson Photograph Phillips Library Collections

Figure in White (1890), by Frank Weston Benson, and frame plaque, Skinner Auctions; Benson c. 1907-1908, Benson Family Papers, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

I am very torn on this one: obviously this man demonstrated a life-long commitment to the Library and his heirs wanted to honor that commitment in both a personal and generous way. When you approach the sale from that perspective it looks rather cold and cavalier. On the other hand, I’ve never seen this painting: its value (it has an estimate of $350,000-$550,000) has necessitated its securement behind closed doors. The Trustees of the Library, the successors of Benson, have a duty to the public as well as to the institution, and there must a long list of wants and needs that could be funded by the proceeds from the sale: one project that has been mentioned is the restoration of the Victorian cast-iron garden fountain adjacent to the Library building. The painting is one bequest, the entire library complex (building and fountain) another: it was donated to the City by the family of Salem’s most eminent philanthropist, Captain John Bertram, in 1887. Should one be “sacrificed” for the other? I’m just glad that I didn’t have to make this decision!

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Captain John Bertram’s House (and a bit of his fountain), built in 1855 and donated to the City of Salem by his heirs in 1887–now the Salem Public Library, Detroit Publishing Company, 1910; Let’s bring some Salem back! Beautiful heraldry paintings for the Vincent and Cogswell Families by Salem artist John Coles, c. 1794, from another upcoming Americana auction @ Christie’s.


Holiday Happenings

Material girl that I am, my Christmas spirit starts to surface with the first parties, at which (I have to admit) I relish the setting and scenery almost as much as the company. While I am always very happy to see all of my friends on festive occasions, I love Christmas decorations, both for their own aesthetic, traditional and seasonal qualities as well as all for all the effort and creativity that goes into their display–and last week was most definitely one of display. I had to get my own house in order for a Christmas tea at the beginning of the week, and at the end came the Christmas Dance at Hamilton Hall, which always kicks my seasonal spirits into high gear. Each year the committee which organizes the Dance chooses a group of patronesses who host dinner parties before the festivities–and these parties are often just as major as the main event; speaking as a former patroness, I would say more so. Hosting 30 or 40 people for dinner while you’re in an evening gown is never easy, and so when we all finally get ushered into the Hall these women deserve the bows and curtseys that we give them! We were fortunate to attend a pre-Dance party at a beautiful c. 1795 gambrel-roofed house on Federal Street, at which our hostess (who had just finished putting up beautiful Waterhouse wallpapers) had enlisted her children to serve us our home-cooked dinner on (50!!!) Friendship dinner plates accompanied by silver and linen. Then off she want to stand in the line of patronesses, leaving us to enjoy her beautiful house until our own departures for the Hall. I don’t have too many pictures of the Dance itself, for two major reasons: 1) I like to dance myself, and 2) I just can’t get the light right–with the only camera small enough to fit into my evening purse. But let me assure you, it was a lovely night.

My Christmas Decorations:  I’m big on bunnies this year, and deer as usual. The tree has a nice shape, but it’s dropping needles like crazy–I hope it makes it to New Year’s.

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On Federal Street: this house has the most amazing details and scale. One of my favorite mantel displays any time of year, and great entry and dining room. Besides the mantel, the living room has a lovely chair rail detail.

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At Hamilton Hall: the dance floor from below and above; my Hamilton Hall ornament next door.

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Addendum:  The Caterer’s View of the Hamilton Hall Christmas Dance! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dHf5PnT8z0&feature=share.


Pursuing Punch and Mr. Cassell

Now (almost) fully in holiday entertaining mode, having (almost) left the semester behind me, I have been perusing old cookbooks in pursuit of a famous punch traditionally served at Hamilton Hall’s annual Christmas Dance. It’s a particularly potent rum punch, which led to a few horrible hangovers in my youth. Now I know how to handle it and have no fears of this weekend’s dance! I had my own little party a few days ago and hoped to serve it myself, but I didn’t find quite the right recipe, despite consulting the most obvious source, the 1947 Hamilton Hall Cook Book. I like this slim volume for several reasons: the shortness of its recipes, which are limited primarily to ingredients and very few processes, the odd names and ingredients (“Shrimp Wiggle”, “Maggi Essence”, “Veal Bewitched”, “Forced Meat Balls”, “Old Election Cake”), historical information embedded in the recipes, and the various topical features, primarily those on the Hall’s Rumford Roaster (which I wrote about in an earlier post) and one of its most famous resident caterers, Edward P. Cassell. The most amazing image in the little book is a portrait of Cassell in front of the Peirce-Nichols House, basket of “coveted invitations to an Assembly, a debutante ball or a wedding at which he was to be major-domo” in hand, taken by Salem photographer E.G. Merrill in 1907. It’s an iconic image of an iconic man: at this time, the cookbook proclaims, Cassell had been “a Salem institution for nearly half a century and Salem [was] justly proud of him.”

Cook Book

Edward Cassell 1907 Merrill

I wish I could find the correct rum punch recipe and I wish I knew more about Mr. Cassell. He was the second African-American resident to cater to the crowds at Hamilton Hall, succeeding John Remond, the patriarch of the well-known Abolitionist family and quite the entrepreneur himself. Despite his more recent vintage, Cassell seems much more mysterious than Remond, although I haven’t really taken the time to dig into his life and work. The long history of service provided by African-Americans to the denizens of Salem, in and around Hamilton Hall, needs more attention, I think, along with the cumulative experience of African-Americans in Salem. I do know that at the commemorative exercises held in recognition of the 250th anniversary of John Endecott’s landing in Salem in 1878, the tables were laid by Mr. Edward Cassell, the well-known caterer, and were handsomely decorated with a choice display of flowers, arranged beautifully in large bouquets, and a small one at each plate, with a neatly designed carte de menu, memento of the celebration and that the lunch embraced more than a score of dishes, substantial and elegant”, that he was famous for his ice-cream figures (mostly animals) and savory salads, that his Ropes Street home burned to the ground in the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and that he died in the following year. But that’s about it. As to the punch: no rum variety in the Hamilton Hall Cook Book, but there is an interesting recipe for “1858 Mulled Wine” involving lots of boiled wine thickened with egg yolks and topped with frothy egg whites which looks to me far older than 1858. This is the forerunner of egg nog, called caudell in the medieval era and caudle later. This popular drink, like its cousin posset, was enjoyed at Christmas and all winter long, and inspired the creation of bowls, spoons, and cups for just that purpose–like the charming late 17th century cup made by John Coney, which later came into the possession of Oliver Wendell Holmes and the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Caudle Cup MFA 1690


Christmas in Salem 2014

I found this past weekend’s annual Christmas in Salem house tour to be rather eccentric as compared with previous years: centered on Lafayette Street and its side streets, it included both Colonial Revival houses that were built in the decade after the Great Salem Fire of 1914 and Victorian houses located just outside the conflagration zone. The focus on the Fire was more implicit than explicit–except for one house which featured a mantle of Christmas decorations made out of Fire devastation scenes! I did visit the Gove House of my last post, which has been subdivided into condominiums which feature original architectural details: lots of woodwork, beautiful doors and windows, and an amazing coffered ceiling and conservatory in one unit. Every single home on this year’s tour had a distinctive personality, presented as much by its architecture as the collections and creations of its owners, which were featured quite prominently. There were three homes open on Fairfield Street, the most distinguished post-Fire street, including one that was decorated by a group of very tasteful ladies (including, I must unabashedly add, myself), for two very tasteful owners. So of course, from a completely biased perspective, this house was my favorite!

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Six Fairfield Street a few years after it was built in 1915 (from Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture of Salem) and yesterday.

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Christmas in Salem 2014 Gove House

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The first floor of the Gove House on Lafayette Street.

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The colorful exterior of Seven Linden Street, built in 1855.

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Nine Linden Street: where the Gove family’s servants lived in the later 19th century. The tile around this fireplace has a subtle Greek key design which you can’t quite make out in the photograph.

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Sparkling Five Fairfield Street, built, solidly, in 1915.


Spotlight on South Salem

This weekend’s (35th) annual Christmas in Salem house tour is centered on South Salem and the neighborhoods along Lafayette Street which were rebuilt after the catastrophic Great Salem Fire of 1914. This seems like a very appropriate architectural focus for this commemorative year, and the tour poster really conjures up the era as well. All the tour information can be found here; it’s too late to buy advance tickets but they will be available on Saturday and Sunday at the tour headquarters, the Saltonstall School on Lafayette Street. Christmas in Salem is the most important annual fundraising event for Historic Salem, Inc., Salem’s venerable preservation organization which was formed in the 1940s to save the 17th century Corwin House (now unfortunately called the “Witch House”) from destruction. Generally the tour focuses on the downtown neighborhoods and Salem’s colonial and federal architecture, but occasionally it ventures out to the more outlying sections of town, including North Salem, the Willows, and now South Salem.

South Salem Tour

I’m looking forward to the tour because it will feature several (predominately Colonial Revival) homes on Fairfield Street, which I’ve featured on this blog several times. Now we get to go inside! Just after the fire, the property owners of this street commissioned the most renown Boston-area architects to rebuild their homes, with pretty impressive results. I have served as a tour guide for Christmas in Salem for many years, and I’m still not sure whether the majority of tour (ists? -goers?) are enchanted more by the architecture or the decorations, but for me it’s definitely the former. I walk to work along Lafayette Street two or three times a week, and there are several houses along my route that I examine in detail as I walk by–one of which is also on the tour. This is the William H. Gove house, an imposing Queen Anne mansion that survived the 1914 conflagration. Built by Salem attorney William H. Gove (who entered his profession through an apprenticeship, then went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School) in 1888, this mansion really dominates the streetscape and has a myriad of details that capture my attention every time I walk by. It was transformed into condominiums several years ago, and a ground-floor unit is on the tour. I know that Gove was a successful and wealthy man, but I can’t help wondering if some of his wife’s family fortune went into the construction of this house, as his mother-in-law was the one and only Lydia Pinkham, whose famous over-the-counter herbal remedy, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, made her the most successful female entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. Perhaps Mr. Gove would not be pleased with this suggestion.

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South Salem Gove House 1984

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The William H. Gove House (1888) today, in 1984 & 1918; Trade Card for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, 1880s, Baker Library, Harvard University; Lafayette Street facades.


Thanksgiving Colors

We spent Thanksgiving up in my hometown of York Harbor, Maine, which is only about an hour north of Salem. When we arrived York looked very different than still-green Salem, coated in icy snow. Many people in the southern counties of Maine and adjacent counties of New Hampshire lost their power due to a Thanksgiving-eve snowstorm, but we were fortunate to have light and heat and lots of food and drink. While waiting to eat on Thanksgiving Day, we took a drive around the grey town: York (encompassing York Harbor, York Village, York Beach and Cape Neddick) is a summer town and it always looks strikingly stark to me in the winter. I’ve also got some pictures of my stepmother’s Thanksgiving table here–before we messed it up. When we returned to Salem, all was icy and white but today is forecasted for the 50s so the terrain is returning to that golden brownish-green hue so characteristic of November.

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This cat o’nine tail exploded before we left; the rest burst while we were away (just one day and night!) Impossible to clean up all this fluff.

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Thanksgiving table: Della Robbia plates and Shaker chairs.

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Fifty shades of grey off Nubble Light.

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White on white: one of my favorite houses in York, and the gargoyle outside my parents’ house.

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My favorite childhood painting.

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Back home; sunny Sunday.


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