The Women of the House

The Women of the House

The Women of the House

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Biography & Autobiography > Women
History > United States > Colonial Period
History > United States > State & Local > Middle Atlantic
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
22.86 * 1.91 * 15.24

Product Description

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 Margaret's 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 couldn't shelter the family from the Revolution, which raged on Mary's doorstep.

Mining extensive primary sources, Zimmerman brings us into the parlors, bedrooms, counting-houses, and parties of early colonial America and vividly restores a forgotten group of women to life.

About the Author

Jean Zimmerman is the author of four previous books, including The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune and a Dynasty. She earned an MFA in writing from the Columbia University School of the Arts and has published her poetry widely in literary magazines. She lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.



"Ms. Zimmerman is a vivid writer . . . The way the world of colonial America looked, smelled, and sounded is beautifully evoked and based on extensive and shrewd historical research . . . Zimmerman’s sumptuous descriptions of social history and environment never flag."—THE NEW YORK SUN

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Inside Flap

        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: Her fleet of trading ships carried furs, molasses, and slaves around the globe and her real estate holdings stretched from Albany to Barbados. Women like her were known as "she-merchants," and Margaret rose to become the wealthiest in the colony, while also raising five children and keeping a spotless linen closet. 

        In a bold, vivid narrative that challenges all our assumptions about colonial women, Zimmerman traces the astonishing rise of Margaret and the Philipse women who followed her, who would transform Margaret's storehouse on the banks of the Hudson into a stately mansion called Philipse Manor Hall that still stands today. In sensual, gritty detail she animates the New York frontier these four very well-off women inhabited, taking us into the birthing chambers, genteel parlors, rowdy Manhattan markets and cramped decks of transatlantic ships where they lived their everyday trials and extraordinary triumphs.

        With a rich trove of unmined primary sources and a novelist’s flair for storytelling, Zimmerman gives a forgotten group of our foremothers a place at the colonial table.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

"A tale of the American dream with a feminist twist."--Library Journal
Brash and ambitious, twenty-two-year old Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse arrived in Manhattan and promptly built an empire of trading ships, furs, and real estate—including all of today’s Westchester County. She became the wealthiest woman on the Hudson while raising five children and keeping a spotless linen closet. And she did all this in 1659.
            Here is the captivating story of a dynasty of powerful, courageous women and the house they built from storehouse to mansion.
"Lively and informative . . . with extraordinary research and energetic writing."--BookPage 
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.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1659, 22-year-old Margaret Hardenbroeck arrived in New Amsterdam as a highly independent, unattached "she-merchant" who collected debts from a Dutch cousin's customers and sought out buyers for European merchandise. When she died three decades later, Margaret was an enormously rich, twice-married mother of five with a real estate empire stretching from Westchester and New Jersey to Barbados and a fleet of trading ships trafficking in slaves, furs, tobacco, textiles and molasses. Zimmerman's (Made from Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth) prodigious research unearths a mother lode of data on colonial American women, from the differences in Dutch and English inheritance laws to the fact that wealthy female colonists eschewed underpants and menstruated into exquisite handcrafted gowns. This rich history loses some momentum when the spotlight shifts from the feisty Margaret and her bustling Manhattan milieu to minibiographies of those women who followed in her wake on her Westchester estate. Her husband's pious second wife, Catherine, built a church; granddaughter-in-law Joanna was a socialite political wife whose privileged realm was rocked by an alleged slave revolt; and Joanna's daughter Mary rejected George Washington for a Tory soldier. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

At the time of her death, in 1691, Margaret Hardenbroeck was reputedly the richest woman in the English province of New York. Over the course of the 30 years since she had immigrated to colonial New Amsterdam as a self-sufficient young Dutch maiden determined to carve out a place for herself in the New World, she had amassed an impressive fortune, operated a thriving business as a fur trader, assembled a fleet of sailing vessels, built an impressive real-estate portfolio, and earned a well-deserved reputation as a shrewd she-merchant. Margaret's most important legacy, however, was the example she set for the generations of female descendents who followed in her remarkably independent footsteps. This extraordinary story of an American dynasty founded and perpetuated by women will be a valuable addition to both colonial and women's history collections. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Her New World
At 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 windmill’s 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 island’s 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 town’s 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 island’s 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 entrepôt, 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 entity controlled by a collection of prosperous burghers who persuaded the Dutch government to grant them a monopoly on trade with West Africa and the Americas and the right to colonize territories. One such territory included the pristine slice of land that ran south from present-day Albany through the island of Manhattan. New Netherland encompassed lands on either bank of the Hudson, as well as choice sections of what later would become New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. Dutch colonists were scattered through Manhattan, Long Island, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, as well as up the Hudson River, where the town of Beverwyck (later known as Albany) was a nucleus for the growing communities of Schenectady, Catskill, and Wiltwyck.
 Whether colonists arrived as employees of the Company, sold it the products of their land, or shopped for tools at its store, they all depend upon it for survival. In exchange, though, the Company had always taken care to provision its colonists— unlike, say, the English, whose ill-equipped settlers first landed in Virginia in 1607 and, faced with famine, choked down snakes, leather boots, and sometimes each other. To the Dutch, food mattered. In 1625, immediately after the first vessels reached Manhattan, three ships followed with more than one hundred head of hogs, sheep, cows, and horses destined for Company farms. En route, each animal had a private, sand-cushioned stall and an individual handler who “attends to it and knows what he is to get if he delivers it alive.” There would be no “starving times” for New Netherland.
 Close by the waterfront, on Winkelstraet, or Shop Street, the Company built a full block of brick warehouses, five under one roof, which it supplemented with a cavernous packinghouse that commanded a perfect view of all harbor traffic. Other nearby warehouses belonged to the town’s most successful private merchants. These buildings functioned in the same way as those that crowded the ancient seaports of Holland. With their stately red-roofed facades, they would easily have fit in on the Heerengracht, the grandest canal in Amsterdam. Their imposing heft appeared somewhat discordant in a town that had just finished cutting stones for its first paved street. But that did not matter. The colony’s commercial drive would not be thwarted by a lack of refined conditions.

Copyright © 2006 by Jean Zimmerman

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