Edith Brevoort: Diary of a Wealthy Manhattan Orphan

From the catalogue for our April 27 sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana. The sale will feature a year-long manuscript diary of wealthy Manhattan orphan Edith Brevoort.

 

Edith Henry Brevoort (1832-1891) was the daughter of Henry Brevoort, Jr. (1782-1848), one of the wealthiest members of New York’s Dutch-American aristocracy. They lived at a mansion on the corner of 9th Street and 5th Avenue (a landmark until its demolition in 1924). The house was notorious for a 1840 masked ball during which two young lovers escaped and eloped. For decades after, it was illegal to hold a masked ball in New York.

 

The Brevoort Mansion on 9th and 5th, circa 1915. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York.

The Brevoort Mansion on 9th and 5th, circa 1915. Courtesy Museum of the City of New York.

 

Edith began this diary shortly before her 16th birthday. Her mother had died three years before, and her father died ten days into the diary, leaving Edith at home with her three unmarried older sisters. Interestingly, for a well-educated girl for her class and time, Edith’s handwriting was nearly illegibly bad.

Lot 232: Edith H. Brevoort, manuscript diary, New York, May 8, 1848 through January 1, 1849. Estimate $1,000 to $1,500.

Lot 232: Edith H. Brevoort, manuscript diary, New York, May 8, 1848 through January 1, 1849. Estimate $1,000 to $1,500.

 

Many entries describe visits by carriage to her sister Laura Brevoort Bristed at Hell Gate. Her July 7, 1848 entry, one of the longer ones in the journal, describes an outing to Manhattan’s rustic northern reaches (around 70th Street) with her sister and her governess Mrs. Sewell: “She took us over to the ferry house and we walked & walked such a pretty path by the river. Odd that we should never have found it out before. We passed all the Jones & Schermerhorn places, saw the maniac asylum on Blackwell’s Island & at last arrived at the Jones Wood, & plunged into it. . . . We met an old negro whom Mrs. S. accosted as Daddy and he told us to go straight along and we would find ourselves on the 3rd Avenue. We therefore proceeded and arrived on this hot dusty avenue, & finding it so disagreeable we turned out & went down a private lane leading to a Mrs. Ryder’s or Ryker’s farm. We . . . found a gate leading to a small hut, so we went up and knocked at the door which was opened by a little old man. . . . Told us he was a Jew and his name was Mr. Levi . . . Laura says she thinks it is a woman. He certainly was made like a woman, small arms & hands and a gentle voice.”

 

Lot 232: Edith Brevoort, June 17, 1848.

Lot 232: 1950s manuscript transcript of Edith Brevoort’s diary for June 16, 1848.

 

Edith seems to have been mature beyond her years. “Who should pop in but Mr. Cay? We sat on the piazza until nine o’clock, he writing poetry & me listening of course. . . . We read, smoked, & talked for some time in the library” (13 August). One suspects Edith hadn’t been taking gentleman callers in the evenings, or smoking, under her parents’ supervision. A morose streak was frequently expressed: “I can’t help seeing the evil in everyone. I don’t judge them for it, for I feel I am as bad. . . . I feel as if the evil was spreading & I feel it spreading in myself” (2 December). In the rear of the diary are 21 pages of memoranda, mostly notes on sermons attended, bits of poetry, and an essay titled “The Object of Life.”

 

Lot 232: Edith Brevoort's journal and ephemera.

Lot 232: Edith Brevoort’s journal and ephemera.

 

Edith later married Pierre C. Kane and had children of her own. Clearly beloved by her descendants, the diary is enhanced by an 11-page typescript commentary on the diary by mid-20th century author and bookdealer George S. Hellman, bound with a charming watercolor on the front wrapper. This commentary was apparently unpublished, though another copy can be found among his papers at the New York Public Library. Among Hellman’s best-known works was his edition of the correspondence between Edith’s father and Washington Irving. Also included is a 34-page manuscript transcript of the diary done circa the 1950s by granddaughter Rose Kane Geer.

 

Peruse the full catalogue.