I hate cleaning, don’t you? Because cleaning has always seemed to land on my shoulders, I often wonder (well, not too often, but I do occasionally wonder) how others — including those who lived in different centuries — have managed with their household chores. Clearly those who could afford help, procured it. Manor homes and estates had armies of help behind the scenes. Britain’s “Downton Abbey” comes to mind. Our Gilded Age was the American equivalent–a period when having domestic workers signaled one’s wealth and upward mobility. As for my ancestors–no major estates or mansions discovered so far, sadly, although if I go wayyyyyyy back, we do have a link with Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814), and some Welsh princes and kings. In census records, I have seen an occasional household helper recorded as residing with some of my ancestors or their extended family. Just every once in a while; usually 1, rarely 2. I presume the vast majority of my female ancestors spent plenty of time engaged in household chores, although perhaps if they had 6-16 kids, as was frequently the case, they could delegate plenty of their “favorite” tasks to the children. Sounds perfect to me.
The only one in our not-too-distant tree who comes immediately to mind in terms of having a sizable home and a seemingly nice level of household help was James Easton Brodhead (b. 1851), brother of my great grandfather Andrew Douglas Brodhead. James was a very successful businessman, who lived with wife Hattie Boyd in Flemington village, Hunterdon Co., NJ. The house they lived in on Main Street still stands today–it appears to be home to a business or two; it’s a grand, three-story Victorian home with an expansive wrap-around porch and, in its heydey had lovely grounds. James and Hattie had four sons, Walter Easton, John Romeyn, Frederick Moon, and Nathaniel Boyd. As a boy, my father remembered watching his parents head off to Flemington to “Uncle Jim’s” for grand holiday parties that were always big family occasions (James had 9 siblings) and very much looked forward to. When Hattie died in 1935, James donated seven Tiffany stained-glass windows to the Flemington Presbyterian Church in her memory. I imagine they may be some of the ones visible in the main photo on the church’s website.
In 1910, the census shows the couple as having three live-in domestic workers–a cook, a waitress, and a chambermaid. Perhaps there were other household helpers who came during daytime hours. I have a feeling Hattie did not have to do much cleaning or dusting in that house! In 1930, census records show three live-in workers residing with them. By that time, the kids had all flown the coop, but no doubt they returned often to visit, together with their spouses and children.
Upon his passing at 92, James E. Brodhead’s obituary was published as a special to The New York Times, on November 11, 1943. He was a year older than my great grandfather but outlived him by some 26 years. James may well have outlived all his nine siblings. I know for sure that he outlived 6 of them (Andrew, Richard, Calvin, Emily, Jean, and Andrew); I don’t have dates of death for the others. None are mentioned in the obituary, so perhaps that’s a clue.
James Brodhead, 92, Helped Build U.P.
Flemington’s Oldest Resident Worked on Railroad as a Boy
Special to the New York Times
Flemington, NJ, Nov. 10 — James E. Brodhead, Flemington’s oldest resident, died this morning in his home at age 92. He began his career in a construction camp of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1867, two years before that line, the first transcontinental system, was opened to the Coast. He continued in that field until 1879, when he entered business for himself as a wholesale dealer in heavy lumber and railroad cross-ties, retiring in 1911.
For thirty years, Mr. Brodhead was a member of the Maritime Exchange in New York and served on its board of arbitration, and for a similar period he was vice president of the Trenton Potteries Company. He was formerly president of the Prospect Hill Cemetery Association here.
Before the incorporation of the borough, in 1910, Mr. Brodhead served as a village trustee. When the high school was erected in 1915 he was a member of the Board of Education and donated the kitchen equipment for the home economics department. Mr. Brodhead was born in Bushkill, Pike Co., Pa., and was a son of the late Andrew Jackson Brodhead and Mrs. Ophelia Easton Brodhead.
On May 1, 1877, he married Harriet Lochlin Boyd who died in 1935. They had four sons, Frederick Moon Brodhead of Manchester, Mass., Nathaniel Boyd of Stamford, Conn., Walter Easton Brodhead who died this year, and Romeyn Brodhead, who died in 1936.
You can find James, Hattie and some of their children listed on Find a Grave. Interestingly, son Nathaniel planted the seed for Parade magazine!
That’s all for now. Time to go put that robotic floor cleaner to work!