I took the Amtrak train down to Manhattan last weekend and spent time at the Morris-Jumel Mansion. This is a “jewel in the crown” and is the oldest house in Manhattan. It is located in Fort Washington on the upper West side of New York City up from Harlem and off Amsterdam Avenue and past Columbia University.
Inside the black iron fence sits a sunken garden where I found myself watching on the awakening spring morning children from PS4 being introduced to the basics of gardening. Lecturers inside the mansion were preparing presentations on the founding fathers and their quest to establish a country free from tyranny.
Now I am back in Salem in my home off Lafayette Street and I am weaving this past week’s tour with our own local history. People often forget that Brigadier General John Glover, who was born in Salem/Danvers, did more than row Washington across the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776. Indeed, he was a major contributor to the New York campaign.
Washington lived and worked from the Morris-Jumel Mansion on Fort Washington hill during the Battle of Harlem Heights. He had a panoramic view of the Hudson, East and Harlem Rivers. He could see General Sir William Howe and his flotilla of British ships coming up the river; ultimately, trapping the American army on the island of Manhattan. And, it was John Glover and his able seamen who saved the day and evacuated the main army across to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, paving the way for the turning of the tide at the Battle of Trenton. When standing last weekend on the grounds of the Jumel Mansion, I could visualize that heroic feat.
Eliza Jumel — who had married a French wine merchant — owned this mansion. Later in life she became a very gay widow and eventually married Aaron Burr, the Vice President under Jefferson and the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel over a woman … but not Eliza Jumel!
Madame Jumel had built her “country estate” (where today one can look over at the old Yankee Stadium) and there she entertained for many years very lavishly. Indeed, as I peered into the octagonal drawing room appointed in the Chippendale-style and gazed upon some Sheraton pieces and a dining room table set for a banquet, I saw in my mind’s eye, Madame Jumel acting as the frivolous hostess to General Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and old Ben Franklin (who called her his ‘fairy queen’); and General Knox who likewise worshipped before her, and, the Marquis de Lafayette who was greatly charmed. There, too, she entertained both John and John Quincy Adams. It was later that she married Aaron Burr in the mansion.
In the hallway of this New York mansion are stained glass panels by the famous American glassmakers. I thought of the Tiffany and Lafarge windows in our own First Church of Salem. Upstairs in that mansion, in Washington’s bedroom, maps were laid upon a table where he could strategize the next move against William Howe and the British fleet. He soon realized, however, that Howe had trapped him on the island of Manhattan. So it was our own John Glover and his able seamen who, after the Battle of White Plains and after losing Fort Washington, evacuated the Americans across to New Jersey and Pennsylvania, paving the way for the turning of the tide at the Battle of Trenton. All of these anecdotes, it seems to me, might make a titillating novel. There was Washington sipping his Madeira when he realized that something had to be done to escape the entrapment.
At the end of the Revolution, John Glover returned to Marblehead and somewhere along the long campaigns he had contracted the dreaded malaria, which cost him his health. His personal wealth was greatly diminished by the collapse of the maritime economy. In 1789, the president of the United States, George Washington, visited Marblehead and was entertained by Glover. So, too, did the Marquis de Lafayette and the street that I live by is named for this important supporter to our American Revolution.
Glover is buried in Marblehead’s Old Burial Hill cemetery near Redd’s Pond. This native son rescued the Continental Army three times. He was a true American patriot. Here, entwined, are some marvelous stories still to be told.
Patricia Lee Glover Fougère is an essayist living in Salem. She recently completed her first novel.