The remarkable Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse arrived in New Amsterdam from Holland in 1659, a brash and ambitious twenty-two-year-old bent on making her way in the New World. She promptly built an empire of trading ships, furs, and real estate that included all of Westchester County. The Dutch called such women "she-merchants," and Margaret became the wealthiest in the colony, while raising five children and keeping a spotless linen closet. Zimmerman deftly traces the astonishing rise of Margaret and the Philipse women who followed her, who would transform Margarets storehouse on the banks of the Hudson into a veritable mansion, Philipse Manor Hall. The last Philipse to live there, Mary Philipse Morris the It-girl of mid-1700s New York was even courted by George Washington. But privilege couldnt shelter the family from the Revolution, which raged on Marys doorstep. Mining extensive primary sources, Zimmerman brings us into the parlors, bedrooms, countinghouses, and parties of early colonial America and vividly restores a forgotten group of women to life.
JEAN ZIMMERMAN is the author of four books, including Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth. She lives just north of Philipse Manor Hall in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.
1 Her New WorldAt the bow of the yacht, her fingers gripping the rail, a young woman stood face into a wind that had buffeted the ship for days with a cocktail of fresh-mown hay, pine sap, and even the sweetness of wildflowers. Behind her, the pilot leaned all his weight on the tiller to thread the vessel through the Narrows, the Hoofden, where even the most seasoned skippers had been known to founder their ships on knife-sharp shoals. The little ship skimmed across the bright open lake called the Upper Bay, and then made its way through one final channel. Finally, a harbor town materialized all at once out of the haze, still a musket shot away but close enough to make out the fort, towering above everything, and the sparse forest of masts in the roadstead before it, colored pennants drooping in the still summer air. As the ship pushed closer, the dense heat of the land descended upon the deck like a wet sponge.The woman at the rail spotted a windmills sails turning counterclockwise above a church spire. Over the cry of gulls she heard the bellow of sea lions that sprawled across the black rocks at the islands arrow-shaped foot. The rooflines of the port rose into view, then behind them a scattering of farms tucked into rolling hills, their fields interspersed with stretches of forest. A white signal flag flew above the fort to show that a ship had safely reached the harbor. As the guns began to crack out their welcoming salutes, children could be seen running barefoot toward the shore.The captain shouted to make the ship fast. A half-dozen small boats, a sturdy raft, and a canoe pushed away from the towns long Winebridge Pier, built just this year. Carrying port inspectors and merchants, the boats headed toward the ship to ferry passengers and goods ashore. A frill of seawater washed the pebble beach north of the dock. Farther north still lay raw pastures, sand hills, and salt marshes, acres of them, all along the islands coast. An immense flock of bluebills splashed down nearby. Some River Indians stood beside their canoes, waist-deep in the water, unloading nets of oysters they would hawk door-to-door to housewives, who would pickle the meat in jars for export to the planters of the West Indies.The year was 1659. The woman at the ship rail was Margaret Hardenbroeck, she was all of twenty-two years old, and this was her New World. The seaport before her was tiny compared with the European ports of Amsterdam or London, but it was a promising entrept, an infant marketplace that just might grow to be a moneymaking giant. Holland had the audacity to christen this settlement, which thirty-five years ago was nothing but a bare-dirt trading post, after its urbane commercial capital, Amsterdam. Now, finally, the frontier community of New Amsterdam was beginning to look as if it might amount to something.New Amsterdam was not only a market center. It also was the consummate company town. The company was the Dutch West India Company, an ent
Excerpted from The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty by Jean Zimmerman
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