A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

History: Isabella Grapes, Keyport (1849)

Isabella grapes (Wikimedia)

William Hughes and Thomas L Porter ran an advertisement in the 5 Oct 1849 edition of The New York Daily Tribune, pg 4. From about 1849 - 1852, these two men raised prize-winning Isabella grapes. They operated vineyards in Matawan Point in Raritan Township, New Jersey.

In 1849, at least, they were selling their grapes by the 30 lb bushel through a New York City grocer named Gassner & Young's. The ad said, "Samples can be seen at the Fair -- General depot at Gassner & Young's, 132 Chatham Street."

Gassner & Young's

These Isabella grapes were being sold at a grocery store named Gassner & Young's, 132 Chatham Street.

Longwood's American Almanac, which consisted of a New York city directory and register, had listings on pp 261 and 689 for Gassner & Young, John B Gassner (residence: 78 Grand) and William R Young (residence: 61 James St). Gassner and Young were identified as grocers working at 132 Chatham.

The 1850 Federal Census showed John B Gassner age 57, born in New York, a grocer, and head of household in the 6th Ward of New York County (Manhattan). His wife was Rachel L, age 49. Their many daughters were Helina (age 28), Louisa (age 26), Elizabeth (age 25), Cecelia (age 19), Rachel (age 18), Mary (age 15), Adelaide(age 14), Josephine (age 12), and Almira (age 8). Also living in the household was William L Lyon, a 22-year-old clerk born in New York, and Bridget St John, a 24-year-old woman from Ireland.

Enumerated next to Gassner's household on the same page was that of his business partner, William R Young. William R was age 45, born in New York, a grocer, and head of household. His wife was Sarah A Young, age 38. Their children were Edward R (age 16, clerk), Oscar W (age 14), Charles (age 9), Robert (age 6), and Ida (age 2). Also in the household were Margaret L Demilt (?) (age 26, NY) and Bridget McLaughlin (age 24, Ireland).

Purdy's National Theatre

Chatham Theatre (Wikimedia
I suspected that Chatham Street was in New York, but I didn't know exactly where. When I searched for it in Google, Google Maps immediately suggested Park Row and put a marker on the map. That made little sense to me, so I skipped that clue.

Instead I pursued a number of historic ads that I found online*. They said that 132 Chatham Street was just across the street from the National Theatre in New York City.

After some research, I found that the Nederlander Theatre in midtown New York City used to be called the National Theatre, but it wasn't built until 1921. We can rule that one out.

After more research I learned that Chatham Street was actually situated at the northern edge of the Financial District in downtown Manhattan, where Park Row is now found. (If you've ever been to J&R's Music World, it's in that neighborhood.)

Chatham Street was only a stub of a road in 1850. But it was located close to City Hall, so it was prime real estate. Chatham Street eventually became known as Newspaper Row, because all the major newspapers set up offices near City Hall. But that wasn't until the late 19th century. The Brooklyn Bridge appeared much later as well, more than thirty years after Matawan Point grapes were being sold downtown. 

It turns out that this grocer was located across from Purdy's National Theatre, which was built as the Chatham Theatre in 1839. It held popular black minstrel shows in the mid-1840s and was acquired by A H Purdy in 1850.

The 1850 Federal Census showed Alexander H Purdy, age 33, born in NY, the manager of a theater, and head of household in the 6th Ward of New York County (as above). His wife was Catharine, age 26. Their children were Ann M (age 12), Estandia (?) (age 8), Edwin (age 5), and George (age 3).

* Rockland County Register, 15 Jul 1852 edition, re W P Moody and Co; and several 1852 editions of the Amenia NY Times at Old Fulton NY Postcards - fultonhistory.com

William H Hughes and Thomas L Porter

William H Hughes and Thomas L Porter

The 1850 Federal Census showed William H Hughes, age 35, born in NY, a farmer, as head of household in Raritan Township, Monmouth County, NJ. He had $4,000 in property. His wife was Ann Eliza, age 36, born in NY. Their children were Eliza (age 11, NY), Adelaide (age 9, NY), Isabella (age 4, NJ), and Emma (age 8/12, NJ). Also in the household were James M McAlpin (age 34, NY), Sarah Kane (age 25, Ireland), and Augusta Weed (age 18, Connecticut).

Thomas Porter also appeared in the 1850 Federal Census in Raritan Township. He was 45 years old, born in Vermont, a farmer, and head of household with $1,500 in property. Henry Foot, age 48, born in NY, a laborer, lived in the same household.

Monmouth County Farmers in New York City Almanac

William Hughes and T L Porter, each of Mateawan Point, NJ, were mentioned in a list of prize-winners in the realm of agriculture in The Annual Report of American Institute of the City of New York, 1850.

The listings for the Monmouth County area read as follows:

  • Eleazar Parmly, of Shrewsbury, N. J., 1st prize shote. Silver medal.
  • Eleazar Parmly of Shrewsbury, N. J., 2d prize lot of pigs.
  • Wm. H. Hughes, Mateawan Point, N. J., for the best bushel of rye. Silver medal.
  • Wm. Hughes, Mateawan Point, N. J., for the best Isabella grapes. Silver medal.
  • T. L. Porter, Mateawan Point, N. J., for a sample of fine Isabella grapes. 4 Nos. Hovey's Fruits.
  • Wm. Hughes, Mateawan Point, N. J., for the best Catawba grapes. Silver medal.
  • John S. Whitlock, Middletown Point, N. J., for a sample of very fine black monthly raspberries. Diploma.
  • Miss Eleanor Badmond, Jamesburgh, N. J., for the best brandy peaches.
An undated directory similar to the above included the following listings for Matteawan Point, NJ:
  • Edward Harris - bushel of superior rye. (Browne's Trees of America)
  • William H Hughes - for a delicate wine resembling Malaga. Diploma
  • William H Hughes - for the best Isabella grapes. Silver medal.
  • Thomas R Porter - for the fine Isabella grapes. (Allen on the vine)
  • William H Hughes - for the best Catawba grapes. Silver medal.
  • William H Hughes - for the three best cheese pumpkins. (Farmer's Dictionary)


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