Exploring Germantown

I am visiting my son in Philadelphia and took the opportunity to do some more legwork, hunting down Calhoun ancestors who lived in the area.  I made an appointment with the Archivist at the Germantown Historical Society.

Germantown, Pennsylvania is now part of Philadelphia.  In the 1860’s, many wealthy Philadelphians built ‘summer homes’ (which were very large, beautiful estates) there.  They were helping their families escape the cholera outbreaks that were occurring in Philadelphia itself. Germantown wasn’t as wet and swampy and mosquitoes were not the problem they were down in town.

A pair of ancestors (a great-uncle and a great-aunt) were servants of a couple of those wealthy families and are recorded as such in the  1870 and 1880 censuses.  Unfortunately, the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire and I cannot track what happened to these folks at that time.

Germantown Early Map Great-grandfather, ROBERT CHARLES COLHOUN (or CALHOUN, once he immigrated to Canada), was part of a large family.  His older sister, MARY CALHOUN, immigrated from Gortin, County Tyrone, Ireland to Philadelphia by 1870.  I found her in the 1870 census, living in Germantown, with the William Wynne Wister family as a domestic.

Here are the family members and domestics listed:

William W Wister 63
Hannah Wister 62
Wm Wynne Wister 32
Hannah Wister 28
Mary W Wister 23
Emily Wister 21
Mary Cavanagh 30
Mary Calhoun 24

Now, Mary Colhoun/Calhoun (the Colhouns seemed to all understand that once they hit the New World, they HAD to change the spelling of their names) was born on 21 March 1841, so she was 29 years old not 24, as stated in the census.  Of course, one never knows who was giving the census-taker the information and there was possibly a fair amount of guessing-of-ages going on, especially in terms of the servants.   Hey, maybe Mary looked younger than her years…or told her employers that she was younger than she was.

William Wynne Wister was part of a very prominent Philadelphia family.  William, himself, was the president of the Germantown Bank.  He was a mover and a shaker in the community and did business with all the other wealthy men in the area.  He was born in 1807 and died in 1898; he went into the Bank till a few weeks before his death.  He was an amateur Botanist and was known as the Grand Old Man of Germantown.

Mary was still working for him in 1880.  The census says that Mary Calhoun was still a domestic (and age 30!), while the other live-in servant was a C. McLoughlin, 23, who was the Cook.  The house was large, so Mary must have had quite a time keeping that big house clean, unless there were other servants that lived outside the house.  Doubtful.

I have a hunch that Mary got her job through a relation.  In the 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses, a certain Bridget McCullough was living as a servant right next door, at the Isaiah Hacker home.(Isaiah Hacker was a very successful merchant.  His house still stands.)  McCullough was the last name of Mary Calhoun’s mother.  There were no other McCulloughs listed in Germantown, either.  I suspect that Bridget McCullough helped her niece/cousin get a place when she immigrated.

In the 1880 census, Mary’s younger brother shows up in Germantown.  ALEXANDER CALHOUN was twelve years younger than his sister Mary; he was born in 1853.  In 1880, he was 27 years old, though he was listed as 24 in the census.  He was listed in that census as working as the only male live-in servant of Harry Ingersoll, Farmer. SARAH CRAWFORD, who would later become Alexander Calhoun’s wife, was also listed as a servant for the same family. There were 5 live-in servants.

Harry Ingersoll was much, much more than a Farmer.  His family had deep roots in the country. His grandfather was a personal friend of George Washington and he himself was a personal friend of Charles Dickens and James Fenimore Cooper.  He was very wealthy…his wife brought a considerable fortune to their marriage.  Their estate, called Medary, was known for its’ incredibly beautiful garden.

I suspect that Mary helped her brother get his position at Medary, through the connections that William Wynne Wister, her employer, had.

Doing research on servants in 19th century America, I read that Irish servants were often suspected of trying to convert the children of their employers and there was much prejudice.  Alexander and Mary were Protestants and Protestant servants were hard to come by, and very much in demand.

Germantown is no longer a place where the wealthy live and play.  The area has become a victim of white-flight and is noticeably poor.  There is still some fine architecture there and one day it will probably turn back to being a fashionable place to live.  I did get a sense of the area that Mary and Alexander lived and worked, though, and it was a worthwhile visit.

 

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