The Harmonic Society of 1896

I unfortunately can’t find much history on the Harmonic Society of Brooklyn, except that they were organized sometime in the mid 1890’s and were an exceptional choir of around 180 members. They sang in churches, private gatherings, galas, and other social functions around New York, many times to support various charities. They were praised often in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Harmonic-Society-2-May-14-1896

My great-great Grandmother, Ella T. Sheaff, or as she’s named in most articles – Mrs. George B. Hawthorne, sang Soprano solos. All my life my mother mentioned a relative who was a quote “Opera Singer who sang in shows.” – That’s such a Brooklyn way of putting it!

Lately I’ve been conducting a lot of family research through Ancestry.com and news clippings from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (See my clippings) and it’s been fun to put certain pieces together.

Great_Grandmother_performance-Nov-27-1892

Here’s two beautiful songs Ella sang for the Harmonic Society. It helps me to imagine how she might’ve sounded while singing to the crowd.

Calm as the Night by Carl Bohm (1891)

“Adieu” by Gabriel Fauré

English Lyrics
How quickly all dies, the rose unfolds as the fresh mantle of the meadow.
The long sighs, the lovers: Vanished!
One sees in this rapid world change faster than the waves on the sand; our dreams, faster than the frost on the flowers;
our hearts!
I thought I was true to you, Cruel!
But, alas, the longest loves are the shortest ones!
And I say to you as I leave your charms, without tears; till the moment of my avowal:
Goodbye!

 

 

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The Brooklyn Public Library digital Collection

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Brooklyn takes its history seriously and has the digital resources to prove it. I was browsing the new and improved BPL website – I really miss living in Brooklyn since my big out-of-state move – There’s a wealth of newly digitized information, articles, and photographs just waiting to be discovered! Sign yourself up for a Virtual Library card if you don’t already have a BPL card.

How would you like to browse through Phone Directories and City Listings over 500 pages long going back to 1856? You may find your ancestors listed.

There are 20,000 digital historical photos with the option to purchase for personal, commercial or educational use.

Civil War Buff? History Teacher? Student? Browse Brooklyn In the Civil War for information, pictures, and lesson plans.

I could keep listing, but why not just go directly to the Collections Page and see for yourself. They’ve added a bounty of treasures from Theater playbills to a digital collection of American and European Children’s books.

A Slave Burial Ground in Gowanus, Brooklyn?

Van-Brunt Homestead

A painting by James Ryder Van Brunt – Grandson of the Cornelius Van Brunt, who bought the farm in 1796. It likely took up four modern street blocks from 8th to 11th Street.

Civil activist groups are at odds with the City over the preservation of what could be a slave burial ground at 9th Street and 3rd Ave. in Gowanus. Since 2015, the City had wanted to build a pre-Kindergarten on the empty lot, but the Preservationists desire more research be done on the land before that happens. Recent Archeological digs haven’t found any remains or artifacts, but there’s still the possibility. According to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams – “…it is imperative that New York stands for preserving history and protecting the truth.”

Read the ongoing story here at the New York Times and here at the New York Daily News.

The Van Brunt family were Pioneers of Brooklyn, prominent farmers, but also slave-owners who lived at the location in the 19th century. A detailed diary, written by Adriance Van Brunt, noted that slaves were buried on the land.

“Buried old Mr. Bennet Aged 80,” Van Brunt wrote in September 1828. “Also a Black woman.” The following month, he wrote: “Buried Oct. 1 Nancy (Black girl) aged about 12 years.”

In 1846, members of the Van Brunt family were disinterred from the land and buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, the family continued on the Gowanus farm until 1867. The slaves’ final resting place, however, remains a mystery. There’s no longer a “well wooded” section on this plot of land and most likely the graves were unmarked.

The full diary can be accessed with advance notice through the New York Public Library’s archive and manuscript section in the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room.

You can also find Van Brunt’s Genealogy records at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

I also found an interesting genealogical page created for the Van Brunt family –

http://bklyn-genealogy-info.stevemorse.org/Town/Homesteads/VanBruntRobarts.html

Red-Hook-1875-LibCongress-via-Wiki-940x529

Red Hook Waterfront: 1875

Some further reading into Red Hook’s history. Van Brunt Street is most-likely named after Rutgert Van Brunt, a member of the Dutch family from the latter 1700’s.

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Credit: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

I hope the City and activists can come to an agreement and that the remains are found. If they aren’t, it would still be fitting to put a monument there, or plaque, acknowledging the slave’s grave-sites and ensuring that this vital piece of Brooklyn’s history and their existence are not forgotten.