Break Throughs and Curious Finds

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It’s been about three weeks since I’ve submitted any posts, and I apologize for the wait. The reason I’ve been holding off on writing about my research is because information is never cut and dry, especially, especially, when dealing with primary sources. Therefore, I was hesitant to put forth any sort of analysis of some of the new information I found – and I still am. It’s extremely important to have a context to put this all in, and though I’m familiar with New York history, I lack the in-depth knowledge required to speculate confidently on what our heroes, Peter Mesier Jr. and his father, Peter Mesier, were like. Thus I’ve been spending a lot of time with Professor Lou Roper, who does have that knowledge necessary for fair speculation. Mulling over my recent finds, we’ve had a great time trying to understand Peter Mesier Jr (1733-1805, Homestead’s namesake) and his motives as a merchant. I deeply appreciate his mentorship!

The past few weeks I’ve set out to answer some questions:

1) What was Peter Mesier, Jr., trading in? (Which goods, imported from where? Was he exporting, etc?)

This is an important question, as noted by a good friend of mine, for it would shed some light on Peter’s political interest, which we are very curious to know since he was operating businesses at the onset of the American Revolution.

2) Therefore, we want to know: was he a Tory?

The Historical Society maintain the idea that he indeed was, given the court minutes which detail the “Tea Party” during which two continental soldiers and a group of women raiding the store run out of his home in which he told tea. This information seems to suggests that the community believed him to be a Tory. Further, we have Maria Mesier’s short history of the family in which she writes that her grandfather, the Peter Mesier at hand, was a Tory, “though a very quiet one.” But there are contradictions with this idea.

New York City was under British control for mostly the whole of the Revolution and was a haven for refugees with Patriot sympathies. Beyond the City, much of upstate New York was in rebellion. During the time, Fishkill (Wappingers) was a contested town. It bordered those cities and towns loyal to the crown and those north who favored the rebellion. This sparked Professor Roper’s and Dr. Jaap Jacobs skepticism that Mesier was indeed a Tory. Why would a Tory flee where he was safest? Given his own example, life beyond the city for Tories was unsure! He would certainly have known this.

Thus the question is an important one, and one we can answer by way of the first question.

3) Who were Peter Mesier’s associations (i.e. who was he working with, his partners, etc.)?

Associations are very important, especially during this time. By understanding the circles Peter ran in, we can understand Mesier himself, of course! We can also find new leads – discover more questions in this way. I’m also hopeful that perhaps by uncovering Peter’s ‘friends’ we see if their family papers still exist (letters, indentures, petitions, etc) and maybe find some mentions of Peter there. A significant quest!

I’ve also been working on research regarding Peter Mesier, Jr.’s father, Peter Mesier, but information from this period (after the colony at New Netherland and before the Revoltion (1700-1770, which is ironically the dates which are Mesier’s birth and death), is very obscure. This can perhaps be owed to the fire at the archives in Albany in the year 1911 (learning this I was deeply affected, knowing that some essential information I could have found may no longer exists). But there is hope, and anything elusive is certainly worth finding, never mind how long it may take – this is the nature of research.

I want you to know that these past few weeks, in regards to these questions, have been extremely productive and eye-opening. I am ecstatic with the information recently found, for it has allowed me to start answering these questions were are vital to the project. Peter Mesier, Jr. is one our biggest focuses, and given the new information, I’m certain he is a curious and interesting case!

I am, though, holding off on sharing the exact documents found and what they may mean. The blog, as noted earlier, is raw – it follows my research, my errors, my ‘guesses.’ Given the significance of some of this information, I want to be sure of the ideas I put forth for you all. Moreso, I want to present it in its entirety, as it’s surely better appreciated in a comprehensive form. Thus everything will come in a full, finished package which will hopefully be published for the homestead. I’m very excited for this!

Clearing Things Up

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Good morning!

Last week I received in the mail from Andrew Hendricks, the Mesier descendant I was able to get in contact with, some of his genealogical research on the family and on the Mesier Mill. He also sent me his proposal to reconstruct the mill at Ground Zero as a memorial of the 9/11 attacks, as the mill was the first structure to be built on the site.

I was eager to read what research Hendricks had done in regards to the mill since it has been a big curiosity of mine since I learned of it last month. I’m happy to say that Hendricks has cleared a lot of confusion of mine when it came to the mill, and I finally feel settled about the matter.

I’ll explain what my initial concerns were, and why they came about.

When I first learned that the Mesier’s built/owned a mill in New Netherland, I looked for maps and the map keys that would label the sites and landmarks on them. I used Hugo Allard’s map, of course, as it’s one of the only topographic maps of early New Netherland. This particular map claims to depict the settlement circa 1660.

1673, From the Map of Matthew Seutter,

This version of Allard’s map was published by Matthew Suetter in 1673. The sites and key are the same. Here is the key:

Allards map key

You can see on the map to the far right a windmill with corresponds to the key, Q. In a book titled Views of Early New York, a description of Q, the windmill, is given:

Map key Q

**There’s an issue with this description in itself, which I’ll come back to later on in this post.

My mistake, which would lead to further contradictions, was assuming that this mill depicted on Allard’s map was the same mill on Castello’s Plan, located on the bluff just outside of fort New Amsterdam:

CastelloPlanOriginal

The information was at first non-controversial for me until I came to learn that the mill depicted on the Castello Plan was built around 1658. That wouldn’t make any sense if it were Peter Mesier who built it, since he arrived in New Netherland around 1661. I spent a lot of time confused about this matter. When I sat down with Dr. Jaap Jacobs and explained what I knew about the mill, he was hesitant to believe that Peter Jansen Mesier built the mill on Castello’s Plan and that he even built a mill in 1662.

Dr. Jacobs suggested Peter’s ownership of this particular mill would not have been likely given the context. Peter would have only been about 22 years old, and other documents which Dr. Jacobs has access to suggest that Peter may have been a solider (likely for the West India Company – this still has to be confirmed). In which case, coming to New Netherland would have been a “fresh start” for him. There are also sources which reveal that Peter was petitioning for an ancestor’s inheritance, perhaps insinuating a want/need of money? We can’t be sure, but it did seem unlikely to Dr. Jacobs that Peter had the means to erect this mill.  Thus this became my own hesitation, and I tried to overcome the contradictions by proposing that though the mill was erected by someone else, Peter Jansen Mesier and his family came to own it at a later time.

Don’t be confused – the end of all this is that was mistaken! Peter Jansen Mesier did in fact erect a mill. He did so around 1685 near Cortlandt and Wall Street. The street it was built on was appropriately named Windmill Lane. Dr. Hendricks is to thank for his research and clarification. He included a short description from The Tip of the Island: The Saga of Lower Manhattan  by David Allgeyer:

“Mesier’s windmill stood at the end of Windmill Lane near the bank of the North River. Built in the days of the early colony in 1686, the big windmill became a landmark for ships and river craft, as its tall “sails” could be seen for great distances. It was relatively easy to navigate by both land and water around the tip of the island in the days of early settlers by simply becoming familiar with the locations of the great windmills.

Mesier’s windmill prevailed for almost a hundred years before becoming run down, and it was finally torn down about 1780. By about the end of the 1700’s all of the city’s marvelous windmills had vanished.”

Here is a map I found that notes the mill in 1695:

new_york_1695It’s #24, “A Windmill”

On a few maps the landmark is designated as “Mesier’s Mill.” This was the future site of the World Trade Centers; the South Tower stood almost directly on the site of the windmill.

I’m happy to have cleared this up, thanks so much to Dr. Andrew Hendricks! The find is very cool and important! My end goal in all of this is to have a comprehensive “Mesier” history, but also to put their history into context, sharing how the Mesier’s history is very indicative of American History. This last point is what has made the project so fascinating for me. I love it.

Everything being said about the windmill, I’m happy to have settled the discrepancies! Now on to the next chapter!

An Interesting Find

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Hello, hello!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks this month! There are some goals of mine that I want to start working on again, and I figured I’d make a list and work on them in order from here on out.

  1. Research Abram & (his son) Peter Mesier (1696 – 1770, m. Jenneke Wessels)
  2. Research Peter Mesier (1733 – 1805, m. Catherine Sleght)
  3. Understand context further!
  4. Make a trip to NYC Historical Society
  5. Make a trip to The New Netherland Institute in Albany

Seeing how it took two months to take on my first focus, Peter Jansen Mesier & the Mill, and put a solid genealogical foundation behind my research, I imagine that it might very well take me the rest of the semester to tackle these goals. But there is no fear in that! I’ll be back for the Spring semester and I’m sure I’ll work through the winter. It’s an addiction, anyway!

I’m excited to undertake all of these goals. I want to know about the early Mesiers, how they made their fortune, and what kind of people they were and I found something the other day that made me extremely eager to understand the Mesier’s individual lives. I’ve been telling everyone because I just think the find is so cool. I was entering “Mesier” in a few databases to see if anything would turn up that could prove helpful, and so I was using JSTOR. Well, JSTOR turned up a few hits on “Mesier,” and as I was reading over the results one of the abstracts caught my attention. It was a chapter in the textbook American Literature, the chapter titled “Philip Freneau and The Time-Piece Literary Companion.” Philip Freneau was an American author and poet, and is often known as The Poet of the American Revolution. He was a dedicated nationalist and concerned with the new country’s affairs, which is the primary focus of his works. The chapter in the book I found comprises of letters written by Freneau to his friends, family, and I fellow writers. In one letter, in which the result directed me, Freneau is writing to another author named Seth Paine. Together, at the time in 1800, they had worked on a short piece, An Eulogy on General George Washington (an appropriate subject; Washington had just passed in December, 1799). In regards to the promotion of the eulogy, Freneau wrote to Paine:

“On my arrival in N.Y. in April last, I put the 50 Eulogies into the hands of P. A. Mesier, Bookseller, for sale (38). He tells me that he has disposed of very few, altho’ I had them advertised in the Daily Advertiser several times. There is no taste in this place for anything good or philosophical. The vilest trash has here a currency above all the eloquence of Plato-”

The footnote reads that “The Daily Advertiser for April 10 and 11, 1800, announced that Peter Mesier was selling Seth Paine’s Eulogy on General George Washington. A reading of Paine’s oration suggests that Freneau’s comparison with Plato expresses gratitude for the loan of one hundred dollars, rather than an objective appraisal.”

The find isn’t ground-breaking – but these little insights make history real. We get to read here about Peter A. Mesier (1773 – 1847), have an actual interacttion, and not just with anyone but with Philip Freneau! Isn’t that amazing to imagine? You can just picture Peter at his counter in the bookstore explaining that the eulogies aren’t selling, and Freneau disgusted by the lack of interest in his and Paine’s work. We can understand this, we can visualize the circumstance. So often we only have names, which makes history abstract to us. But here we have a primary source, a short little narrative, which we can use to become a little more intimate with history. I was elated with the little clue, and emailed my American Literature professor, Andrew Higgins, who (and this is the power of context, once again!) made the discovery even more interesting. He wrote (and I included another short anecdote he shared because I liked it): 
“One of the things I’ve always loved about studying the Nineteenth Century is that America was really so small at the time that there are so many interesting connections between people.  I’ve done a lot of work on Longfellow and his family history.  He and Hawthorne were close friends, and I discovered that their ancestors also knew each other. In fact, Hawthorne’s great-great-great grandfather was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials when one of Longfellow’s ancestors was being tried. (Longfellow’s ancestor was a pretty tough customer, and pretty much told the court off and walk away, which was the beginning of the end of the witch trials.)  So yeah, I know how much fun it is to find these connections.
What I like about this mention of Freneau is that it so fits with his personality. He always had this sense that he was unappreciated, and towards the end of his life he became pretty bitter about it. He’s got a couple of poems about being neglected.”
Isn’t it great when everything makes sense?

9/05/14 & 9/06/14 – Continuing Research and Getting Everything Organized

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As you can imagine, researching takes a lot of time! Not only that, once there is enough material on hand to write about, it still needs to be organized. I spent my time today doing that as well as continuing research on Ancestry, so I don’t have much to share today. Well, I have a lot to share – it’s just not ready! 

Other than that, today was a lively day at the homestead. Beth, Trish, Jackie, Sandra were all there this morning sharing some findings, archiving, and discussing our projects. I have to say the most exciting part about today was seeing what Sandra found on eBay! She found a genealogy of some families from Dutchess county which included the Mesiers (and all the way back to Peter J. Mesier). I was so, so, so  excited to be able to fill in some dates on our Mesier family tree and confirm some information that we already had (marriages, births, etc). We did notice that a few Mesiers were missing and realized the we had the second volume of the book, so now we are on a quest for the first! Sandra, you are amazing! 

I took some pictures of what the book contains, and you can see how valuable the information is for yourself! 

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4 photo 5 photo 6

**Click to Enlarge 

There’s one page missing, which is 82. I must have forgotten to take a picture of it. I’ll update this post with it next time I’m at the house. 

About my Internship at WHS and my First Day of Research

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Before I dive right in, I wanted to share my goals in creating this blog. First of all, I want a documented experience of my internship so I can reflect back on my findings. By doing this, I hope to organize my thoughts and ideas about the project and have a clear sense each day of how I am progressing. Sometimes when you lock your thoughts up in your head, you may think they make sense, but when you go to formally write them down you find that perhaps you don’t know all that you thought you knew! Or, maybe you do, but writing develops that further. This happens to me pretty often, thus the creation of this blog. And, most importantly, I want to share everything I find with anyone whose interested in knowing more about local history and the roles our ancestral neighbors played in the past. It’s so cool, so intimate, and so important that it definitely needs to be shared.

That being said, Forward in all Directions!

I am so super, super, super excited to be interning at the Wappingers Historical Society. I have a deep passion for local history, and having the opportunity to get involved, hands on, with the society makes me incredibly eager to get going! Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long to get started (thank you, thank you, thank you!).

The first few days I met with Sandra Vacchio, president of WHS, and together we ironed out the details of my duties as an intern. As it turns out, my internship will be totally awesome as Beth Devine, Vice President of WHS, suggested that my most consuming role would be fine tuning the society’s knowledge of the Mesier family. This means researching and gathering more information on Peter Mesier, the homestead’s namesake, and his kin. The project, it seems, is of immense importance to the progress of WHS as having a comprehensive history of the Mesiers, their role in the affairs Wappingers and earlier in New York City, would offer the society a firm foundation as to what exactly the long-term goals of the society would/could and should be.

Beth has already given me a wealth of information to kick start my own investigations, and today I dove right into it.

First I started by confirming some of the information Beth gave me that we were a little confused on. I went ahead and created a tentative genealogy of the Mesiers. My goal in doing this was solely to understand which Mesier members actually lived on the homestead (and when). This is what I ended up coming up with (highlighted in yellow are the ancestors I believe to have resided in the home): Mesier Family Tree

Then, to give myself a overall gist of the the Mesier’s history, I read Henry Suydam’s History and Reminiscences of the Mesier Family of Wappingers Creek. Henry Suydam was the son of Jane Mesier, daughter of Catherine and Peter Mesier, and frequently visted his Aunt and Uncle at the homestead. He privately published his History in 1882, the same year the last Mesier (Henry Mesier, I believe) occupied the house. The book is a brief, charming history of the the family and it’s more notable members.  Though not thorough in the least, it was another great starting point.

I also wanted to learn more about the Wappinger’s Tea Party and the conflict with Peter Mesier, and I found an official document written by what was called The Committee and Commission for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York. Sound juicy?! Well it is! It is so cool to read about this kind of event happening not only right here in Wappingers, but at the Mesier Homestead itself! So awesome. Here it is: Peter Mesier & Wappingers Tea Party

I feel it’s also super important to have an understanding of who Peter’s parents and grandparents were and what they did themselves in New York. I unearthed some awesome, well documented information on where the first Mesiers lived and what kind of property they owned in Manhattan (this information is dated back to the 1660s – it’s incredibly hard to find specific details about one person that long ago, so we are incredibly lucky). And here’s what I gathered on that: Peter Mesier, SR

Finally, I wanted to know about Peter Mesier’s property losses in Manhattan due to two “great fires,” one in 1776 and one in 1778. What  I found in regards to this was very intriguing, and I was able to figure out quite a bit. Here are my notes on that: Peter Mesier in NYC – Houses Burned

All in all today was a great, successful, rewarding first day at WHS. I feel like I gathered  a lot of useful information and have the tools to formulate some more goals for moving forward – and I absolutely loved doing it. I feel like Sherlock Holmes.

**I want to make a note that my blog will be structured as follows: each day I’ll post a brief description of what I did and my notes on each topic, and then at the end of each week submit an comprehensive, detailed entry of what I found and reflect on those findings.