The ChristmasinSalemhouse tour, Historic Salem, Inc.’s major fundraiser, has been an annual tradition in Salem for over 30 years. It alternates between neighborhoods from year to year, and this year’s tour–Ports of Call–is centered on Derby and Essex Streets in the eastern end of the city. I’m always impressed with the effort that goes into this tour, as well as the generosity of the owners (and I speak from experience here–it’s quite a commitment), but of course it’s all about the architecture. Ports of Call suggests a maritime theme, but for me, this year’s tour was all about architectural diversity–as I walked through a succession of houses that included McIntire’s perfect Gardner-Pingree House and a stunning modernized house on Salem Harbor filled with the “souvenirs” of a global life well-lived with a bunch of super-insightful friends, I was, once again, blown away by Salem’s architecture. The tour is on today, so if you’re in our area you should go.
Starting out at Gardner-Pingree (1805):
Some amazing floors at 91 Essex Street (1868):
The very creative owners of Two Curtis Street (c. 1731), short on space but quite attached to their piano, turned their dining room into a “lounge” situated in its quadrilateral addition!:
Various vignettes and views of the Captain John Hodges House (c. 1750):
Captain Hodges himself, and exterior decorations of the house:
26 Hardy Street (built 1851): a Christmas display with Lenin bust, and the dining room overlooking Salem Harbor. So much to see I was overwhelmed!
Purple glass doorknob leading into the Sarah Silsbee House (c. 1807); “Three lobstermen” in a Derby Street shop window).
The public presentation of history is often driven by anniversaries, and Britain is just beginning a long Georgian moment driven by the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian dynasty’s accession in 1714 and commencing (after the birth of little Prince George this summer) with the British Library’s new exhibitionGeorgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain. Viewing it from afar (online), I like the exhibition’s emphasis on Georgians rather than the more boring King Georges, and its inclusion of some of the more interesting aspects of the era: the development of “celebrity culture”, the “commercialization of leisure”, the emergence of the novel, and intensifying consumerism in many realms of life. But from my own distant Anglo-American perspective, I’m noticing a distinct lack of a colonial presence. Before the Revolution, we should certainly consider the people who inhabited British America as Georgians, so I’m featuring a few of my favorite American Georgian gentlemen here. Although I don’t have quite the same connection to them that I do for some of the people of the earlier era in which I specialize, there is something compelling about both their images (personas) and their stories, if only because several of them walked on the same streets that I do.
My Georgian Gentlemen: Benjamin Pickman, the dashing Loyalist Salemite and husband of the faithful Mary of my last post. What better Georgian than a Loyalist? Even though he left his family and country, his letters testify to the earnestness of his decision and the pain he endured from the separation. Here John Singleton Copley pictures him as a young man, well before this rift, and I think he looks both dashing and earnest. Jonathan Jackson, a contemporary of Pickman’s from Newburyport, painted in his resplendent blue robe by Copley. Jackson looks a little more “Georgian” here but he was no Loyalist: he converted his merchant ships to privateering vessels during the Revolution and later served as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress. His first wife, Sarah Barnard Jackson, was the daughter of the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, whose silhouette is below. As a true Georgian, Barnard helped avert what might have become the first clash of the American Revolution in early 1775–an incident called “Leslie’s Retreat”–when he negotiated British Colonel Alexander Leslie’s retreat from Salem.
John Singleton Copley, Benjamin Pickman, c. 1758-61, Yale University Art Gallery; John Singleton Copley, Jonathan Jackson, late 1760s, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Painted Silhouette of the Reverend Thomas Barnard of Salem, late 18th/early 19th century, Skinner’s Auctions.
Obviously I have a preference for Copley, who, like his colleague and compatriot Nathaniel West, represents the Anglo-American/Atlantic world in which the acclaimed artist lived and worked. Both were “American” artists who became “English” artists: they were true Georgians above all. Both left their “country” for good before the American Revolution, along with Henry Pelham, Copley’s stepbrother and the subject of one of his most famous compositions, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel (1765). My favorite illustration of this Anglo-American artistic world is a painting of West’s London studio by his protégé Matthew Pratt: entitled The American School, it hints at the future division.
John Singleton Copley, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel, 1765, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Matthew Pratt, The American School, 1765, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It looks like Georgians Revealed depicts British Georgians as a fun-loving, pleasure-seeking people: there are lots of illustrations of drinking, dancing and dressing: by comparison, American Georgians look rather earnest and restrained. It’s hard to compete with the vibrant print culture that emerged in Britain from the 1780s on, however, just when Americans ceased being Georgians.
Carousing Georgians in Britain and Psalm-singing Georgians in America: Midnight. Tom and Jerry at a Coffee Shop near the Olympic, illustration by Issac and George Cruikshank in Pierce Egan, Life in London, 1823, British Library; Paul Revere, “the Music Party”, engraving for the frontspiece of William Billings, The New England Psalm-Book, Boston, 1770. Library of Congress.
There is a lot to admire about eighteenth-century women in general; two that I admire in particular are Abigail Russell Curwen (1725-1793) and Mary Toppan Pickman (1744-1817), the wives of two of Salem’s most prominent Loyalists. In 1775 their husbands Samuel Curwen and Benjamin Pickman decamped for London, leaving both ladies behind to mind their considerable estates. Whether Mrs. Curwen and Mrs. Pickman were passionate Patriots we do not know, but one smoothed the way for her husband’s return after the Revolution, while the other did not. We are fortunate to have portraits of these two Salem ladies, painted by two of the best portrait painters on either side of the Atlantic.
Abigail Russell Curwen, 1755: Joseph Blackburn (Northeast Auction’s March 2010 Americana Auction); Mary Toppan Pickman, 1763: John Singleton Copley (Yale University Art Gallery).
These portraits were painted very shortly after their respective marriages; consequently they look a bit more carefree than I expect they would have appeared later in life–especially the parasol-bearing Mrs. Pickman! The Pickmans appear to have had a happy marriage even while he was away, but by all accounts the Curwens disliked each other intensely and were happiest on opposing sides of the Atlantic Ocean. After the Revolution was over, Pickman came right back to Salem and picked up (professionally–perhaps personally???) where he left off, but Curwen reluctantly returned and then fled right back to London, writing about his wife in his later-published Journal that “the Marriage shackle that unhappily linkt her to me is now to all intents and purposes broken”. It was not just his wife of which Curwen spoke ill: he was clearly a “miserable lout” (to use the words of one of my Americanist colleagues) and angry at the world; consequently he could not be reconciled to either his wife or Salem. By all accounts, Pickman was clearly a much more affable sort who was even referred to as “the agreeable Mr. Pickman” by John Adams, the ultimate Patriot.
But this post is not about the men, it’s about the women, who assumed (or did not assume) ultimate responsibilities for their family’s fortunes and well-being during a time of apprehension and agitation. The Curwens had no children (unsurprisingly) and one of the reasons Samuel fled back to London was because he faced “ruin” at home, while the Pickmans had four children, a town house and a farm in South Salem, which Mary managed with her mother-in-law, Love Rawlins Pickman. Because of her “sacred” character, Mary was “admitted to all circles in Salem” during the war and after, and thus facilitated her husband’s return. After Abigail’s death in 1793, Samuel Curwen returned to Salem for a second time, and remained until his death in 1802. Benjamin Pickman’s letters to Mary (in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum) continually testify to his “unfeigned love and esteem” for her and the pain of their separation (as well as that of America and Great Britain): upon his return they lived together for over thirty years, until her death in 1817.
The Pickman Farm off the present-day Loring Avenue in South Salem: A VIEW OF THE HOUSE AND PART OF THE FARM OF THE HON’BLE BENJAMIN PICKMAN, ESQ., SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS, MID-LATE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, Northeast Auctions.
Just back from a long celebratory Thanksgiving weekend in the Hudson River Valley, stuffed and tired. In between the festivities, I indulged in my usual activities: looking around for interesting houses, and things. Almost as soon as you cross over the line from Massachusetts into New York the traditional domestic architecture is different, which never ceases to amaze me. You enter into a world of board and batten, center gable roofs, and little square second-story windows. Lots more pillars. I believe that the Dutch influence is much less evident on the eastern side of the Hudson River where my brother lives than the western, but I could be wrong: my favorite house of the weekend, which I’ll start with below, has a Dutch look to it along with lots of interesting outbuildings, all of which possess an irresistible air of abandonment–love the Gothic Revival windows casually propped up against the side of its barn.
Some more Rhinebeck houses that caught my eye, beginning with the center-gabled ones that are everywhere in this area, and ending with a house that is in Red Hook, just to the north along route 9G: Rhinebeck was a bit crowded on Black Friday so I ventured up there.
I have pledged to do all my Christmas shopping in downtown Salem, but I can look elsewhere, so I popped in all the shops of Rhinebeck and then drove up to less-precious Red Hook. Just a few things that caught my eye–still-trendy mismatched pattern plates from Spruce Design & Decor, embroidered pictures and cardboard “busts” (dressed for the holidays) from Paper Trail, and an assortment of creatures from Tivoli Mercantile.