I’ve been collecting all sorts of information and anecdotes about the Remonds of Salem, an African-American family who are in the center of many movements and activities in mid-nineteenth-century Salem: they were zealous pursuers of the abolition of slavery and the desegregation of schools and transportation and every aspect of daily life and work, but they also advocated for other forms of social justice in their day, including women’s suffrage and the abolition of capital punishment. They were extremely entrepreneurial: the parents, John and Nancy Remond, served as the resident caterers of Hamilton Hall right, while also operating a number of sideline businesses until well in their seventies, and their children followed suit, pursuing advocacy work and building up successful businesses in the fields that were open to them. I’ve been fascinated with the Remonds—all of the Remonds—for quite some time, I guess ever since I moved into this house, right next door to what was their base of operations at Hamilton Hall, almost twenty years ago. I posted about them several years ago when Salem announced it would be naming a new park after the prominent abolitionists Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker Remond, but I know a lot more now. The Board of Hamilton Hall secured a grant last year to prepare educational materials on the Remonds, and I supervised a Salem State intern named Katherine Stone to help with the research: she uncovered some great family history, I kept going this summer, and I’ll be offering a general presentation of the family’s activities and networks on September 24 and 29 at Hamilton Hall as part of Essex Heritage’s annual Trails and Sails programming.
Some of my Remond files; for some reason I’ve been keeping all of the genealogical information in a notebook I bought in Portugal.
There’s a lot to say about this family: and that’s my central theme, that they worked together as a family, and as part of network of African-American families, both in Salem and up and along the northeastern coast, who all worked together to improve their lives and the lives of other African-Americans at a contentious but somehow still-hopeful time. At least it seems that way to me; I’m not trained in American history so my knowledge is impressionistic. The Remonds are kind of like my window into this time, and they are so gung-ho, I’m like, let’s go! But certainly they had their share of disappointments: they left Salem from 1837 to 1842 after Salem’s schools were re-segregated, transferring all of their energy, entrepreneurialism, and activism to Newport, Rhode Island, and poor Charles Lenox Remond, intrepid agent of the Massachusetts and American Anti-Slavery Societies, was always appealing for reimbursement of his expenses. The networks are so amazing: it’s no accident that Charlotte Forten, now herself the namesake of a Salem park, ended up with the Remonds when they returned and Salem’s schools were desegregated yet again, as well as another famous future educator, Maritcha Remond Lyons.
Signatures of Susan, Nancy, and Maritcha Remond on a petition to abolish the death penalty, 1850, Harvard Antislavery Petitions Dataverse; Trade card from the Remond Family Papers, courtesy of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum at Rowley, Massachusetts. The Library staff made lovely reproductions of several Remond items for me, and Hamilton Hall, and we’ll be using these in our educational materials.
There’s so much to say that I’m worried that my presentation will not have enough focus: it’s always easier to explain the importance of someone or something if you focus. I wish I could give an entire talk on just one of the Remond’s big dinners—and there were many: for the Marquis de Lafayette, for Chief Justice Joseph Story, for Nathaniel Bowditch, for President John Quincy Adams, and more. But I think the biggest dinner happened TOMORROW in 1828, a feast for the 200th anniversary of the arrival of John Endicott in Salem. It’s probably just because I have more sources for this particular dinner, but it seems to have been a very big deal. The Phillips Library has two menus for the dinner, a clean version and an annotated one: John Remond contracted for a fixed price with the owners of Hamilton Hall for these dinners, but if the number of attendants rose above the agreed-upon number he was paid more. He was not just the cook (in fact, I think Nancy was doing most of the cooking, with his elder daughters Nancy and Susan as they came of age–not for this dinner) he was very much the event planner: and no detail was overlooked. The newspapers recorded every detail of this dinner: all the attendees, all the speeches, and decorations, including “pictures of our distinguished forefathers, and of individuals of more recent date, whose characters, and whose services, were not forgotten in the libations of gratitude poured out upon this joyous occasion.” The article in The Salem Observer also noted “the tables loaded with the richest viandes, and the most delicious wines and fruits served up in elegant style by Mr. Remond. In the centre of the Hall, stood the identical table which belonged to Governor Endicott, and covered with a profusion of pears recently gathered from the tree which he planted.” [Where is that Endicott table?]
Courtesy Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.
And then we have another, anonymous, account of a visitor who was in town for the big anniversary celebration and dinner. It was quite a day, a “grand celebration” in which it “seemed as if all Boston had moved to Salem. Many great men there beside myself.” This observer is constantly remarking upon the festivity of the day and wondering what the Puritan people of Endicott’s day would think of it: at the North Church for the anniversary program, he finds “the house blazing with beauty and fashion. Contrasted ladies with Puritan mothers. Imagined good dames of 1628 coming into assembly, and finding daughters decked out in such trim. Guessed they’d make fine havoc of laced veils, flounced petticoats, love-locks (???) and whole alphabet of sinful finery.” By the time that dinner rolls around in the later afternoon, however, our anonymous observer has forgotten 1628 and is completely in the culinary moment.
Salem Observer, September 27, 1828; turn-of-the-century Turk’s Caps from the Book of Cakes (1903) by T. Percy Lewis and A.G. Bromley.
Tables loaded with dainties of all climes…..went through the whole bill of fare from oyster-patties to transmogrified pigeon. Thought Remond best cook in the universe. I guess he still has 1628 on his mind a bit (before he gets into the champagne), as he “wonders what Pilgrim Dads would have said to such a carnival.” This is a colorful illustration of the authority that Mr. Remond (he is generally referred to as Mr., though also by just his last name) held throughout his career, and it is very clear from all the references I have collected that this is an authority that extended to his family, and that came not only from their professional achievements but also their role in the community, in Salem. So I just have to establish this is my presentation in the most succinct, but yet revealing and representative, way. And regarding this menu: it looks impressive and exotic to us, but these are some pretty conventional dishes for the early 19th century, with recipes that can be found in a succession of European and American cookbooks. I explored Pigeons Transmogrified here, Green Turtle soup is everywhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and teals are small ducks. Molded jellies are also very popular in this time, and a “Turk’s Cap” was a tubed and scalloped mold used primarily for cakes: in Remond’s time they look like pottery versions of a bundt-cake mold, but later on they were made of cast iron and resemble muffin tins. The use of the plural in the menu suggests individual little cakes to me, and Nancy Remond was by all account a spectacular baker well-ahead of her time–but I’m not sure her Turk’s Caps would have been quite as “Victorian” as those above. So here you have the other challenge before me: not letting the delicious little details get in the way of the big picture.
September 15th, 2019 at 4:10 pm
Great post.Thank you! What do you think of the reference to “Bacchus & Co.?” Black abolitionist Nancy Gardner Prince was well aware of the name’s derogatory significance when she wrote her memoirs. She protested that the Sargents renamed her enslaved grandfather “Bacchus” although he was a pious man. There are several accounts of C.L. Remond’s visits to Cape Ann and Essex on the Garrisonian lecture circuit. He had to steel himself against hecklers and worse both on public transportation and at his lectures. On one occasion, in February, he rode fifteen miles from his Salem home to an Essex chapel. Cognizant that open meetings could attract dangerous, unwelcome guests, he sized up his attendees and said, “if they wanted a black mark to shoot at, he was willing to take his place in the chair.” The audience proved harmless at that time.
September 15th, 2019 at 7:54 pm
Lise, I took it as just a reference to the bacchanalian nature of the feast but tell me if I’m wrong! God, I know, Charles was so very brave and sacrificed so much.
September 15th, 2019 at 11:25 pm
Bacchus had been a popular choice of name by owners of slaves in Massachusetts and elsewhere. So it seems likely that the writer was punning, using the name as a denotation for the Remond family’s complexion and, as you suggest, to refer to their role as caterers for this “feast of gormands and flow of bottles.”
In delicious irony, it is the white writer who confessed that after stuffing himself, relieving himself, and becoming excited after draining a bottle of champagne, he mellowed during the “battery of regular toasts” with a “homage to duty in a double glass” while around him “bottles poured out their blood like patriots.”
This clever writer said he began his day at the library reading religious works that gave a “picture of the county as black as sin.” They informed him that the Devil or “old Soot” was busy with his wickedness everywhere–and Salem was worse than Squam! The readings so “bedevilled” him that he ordered Sam [a name possibly signifying a black servant] to carry out the religious texts and “bury them under the witch hazel tree.” He resolved to “advise people to quit sin.” His resolve dissolved after seeing the Remond’s menu and he resolved anew “not to be an ass” so that he, like the other white guests, might indulge in hours of giddy gastronomic gluttony made possible by Bacchus & Co. Just as His Wickedness, he nearly had to be carried out himself.
So, any idea of the writer’s identity?
September 16th, 2019 at 6:30 am
No, but now I see I can’t just quote him uncritically! It’s a pretty amazing piece, no? Yeah, I better have you and some of my colleagues critique my ppt! It should be done by the end of the week; I just have some finishing touches to put in it. (I left the devilish stuff out because you know, SALEM: everyone will take it literally!)
September 15th, 2019 at 4:20 pm
I think I could do without pigeons transmogrified, turtle soup, and boiled tongues. Note the roast plovers on the menu. They probably ate so many back then that caused them to be endangered. Note DESERT vs. DESSERT on the menus. Can’t get the editor out of me! Best wishes with your presentation – I’m sure you’ll do a great job. If this will be recorded, will it be posted somewhere, such as on YouTube? It would be a good educational tool for others to learn more specifics about the Remonds, going forward.
September 15th, 2019 at 8:04 pm
I’m not sure; I’ll ask—but I’m happy to send my powerpoint to whoever wants it: I noticed the plovers too!
September 15th, 2019 at 11:28 pm
Would love to see the powerpoint. Thank you.
June 19th, 2021 at 10:23 am
[…] history tour of Salem about three years ago, and it began (and ended) with Hamilton Hall, where the Remond family lived and worked for decades. This was more familiar territory for me, and the Hall remains […]