The Punishment of Crimes in Colonial New York

The Dutch Vrouws,
page 5 of 9

Many of the leading taverns or hostelries were kept by women, — a natural calling, certainly, for good housewives. Madam Van Borsum was mistress of the Ferry Tavern in Breucklen. Annetje Litschar kept the tavern which stood near the present site of Hanover Square. Metje Wessell’s hostelry stood on the north side of Pearl Street, near Whitehall Street.

More successful still and bold in trade was Widow Maria Provoost. Scarce a ship came into port from Holland, England, the Mediterranean, West Indies, or the Spanish Main, but brought to her large consignments of goods. Her Dutch business correspondence was a large one. She, too, married a second time, and, as Madam James Alexander, filled a most dignified position, and became the mother of Lord Stirling.

In a letter written by her husband, James Alexander, to his brother William, and dated October 21, 1721, there is found a passage which gives extraordinary tribute to her business capacity and her powers of endurance alike. It reads thus:—

“Two nights agoe at eleven o’clock, my wife was Brought to bed of a Daughter and is in as good health as can be Expected, and does more than can be Expected of any woman, for till within a few hours of her being brought to bed She was in her Shop, and ever Since has given the price of Goods to her prentice, who comes to her and asks it when Customers come in. The very next day after She was brought to bed she Sold goods to above thirty pounds value. And here the business matters of her Shop which is Generally Esteemed the best in New York, she with a prentice of about 16 years of age perfectly well manages without the Least help from me, you may guess a little of her success.”

He closes his letter with a eulogy which can be cordially endorsed by every reader:

“I must say my fortune in America is above my Expectation, and I think even my Deserts, and the greatest of my good fortune is in getting so Good a Wife as I have, who alone would make ae man easy and happy had he nothing else to depend on.”

Madam Alexander accumulated great wealth, and spent it handsomely. She was the only person in town, besides the Governor, who kept a coach. Her will is an interesting document, and shows a fine style of housekeeping.


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