Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dining Chamber

This model, in the Visitor's Center, gives an impression
of the working courtyard which once stood, connected
by a covered walkway, to the back of the house. This area
would have been the working, and likely living area for
the people enslaved by the Schuyler family. The kitchen
was the second building on the north wall of the courtyard.
"Dining rooms" as we know them today - a separate space used only for meals and post-meal socialization - did not become popular in America until the 1790s. Since most houses in Europe and the Colonies were only one or two rooms, the concept of using one's limited space for a singular purpose was not even possible for most families. Though this space would have served other purposes in the early years of the house, the Schuylers would have been early adapters of the dining chamber.

The novelty of this type of space would have been only the beginning of the decadence of this room when the Schuylers entertained guests. Polished silver and wood work, shining mirrors, exotic fruits, and elegant twisted-stem glassware reflected a deep sense gentility. The silver epergne on the side board, which displayed fruits, desserts or garnishes, is an original family piece, engraved with Schuyler's crest. 

Volunteer Donald Hyman portrays Prince, a valet
and personal attendant enslaved by Philip Schuyler.
He is dressed in livery - the silk uniform worn by
household servants who would be seen by guests.
The status of the family would have been further displayed by the presence of enslaved servants. The men, and sometimes young boys [read more about Hanover, a child born into enslavement at the house], clad in bright yellow livery coats waited upon the Schuylers and their guests at meals. The absence of windows along the east wall helped to hide the labor taking place in the courtyard from view, including the food preparation, which was done by enslaved women in a detached kitchen [read about uncovering the identities of these female slaves]. The door on the east wall would have led into a covered walkway that attached the working buildings of the courtyard and allowed food to be brought directly into this space.

On the same wall are portraits of middle son Philip Jeremiah and his second wife, Mary Ann Sawyer. Philip Jeremiah attended Trinity College (formerly Kings, currently Columbia University) and became a New York State Assemblyman, and is often considered the most successful of the three sons. The second youngest daughter, Cornelia, is depicted on the south wall with her husband, Washington Morton, with whom she eloped in October of 1797. Morton claims that Cornelia leapt from a second-story bedroom window in order to elope with him, but other parts of the story (and common sense) suggest that this was exaggeration. All four paintings are by artist Thomas Sully, who was commissioned by the two couples in turn to paint portraits as gifts to one another. Sully also painted the portrait of president Andrew Jackson which is currently on the US twenty dollar bill.

Left; Sarah Rutsen Schuyler and Right; Philip Jeremiah Schuyler. Young Philip's first wife Sarah died in childbirth. The fact that multiple portraits are available of Philip J. while no portraits seem to exist of oldest son John B. or youngest son Rensselaer Schuyler, is an indicator of the comparative success of this middle son. Note also the changes in  hair and clothing styles from these Robere portraits (c.1795) to the Thomas Sully paintings (c.1810) in the dining chamber.


As You Exit :

You will pass through the Back Hall

Left will bring you to the Central Hall

Straight ahead, you will find the Library

Right will bring you upstairs into the Salon

Other Rooms:

Formal Parlor

Family Parlor

Blue Chamber (Upstairs)

Yellow Chamber (Upstairs)

Green Chamber (Upstairs)

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