The rags-to-riches story of Eliza Jumel, the wife of wealthy merchant Stephen Jumel, and the second wife of Aaron Burr, made substantial grist for the gossip mills of the New Republic. The beautiful house Eliza purchased with her first husband (and where she later married Burr) was the largest Manhattan estate at the time, and survives as Manhattan’s oldest house. Here, Eliza entertained the crème de la crème of New York society in her mad scramble up the social ladder. Briefly assisting her in that arduous social climb was Anne Northup.
Anne Hampton Northup was an American citizen of mixed European, African and Native American heritage. She became the wife of Solomon Northup, a free man of African descent, whose harrowing tale is told in the 1853 book and 2013 movie, Twelve Years A Slave.
Anne and Solomon had wed on Christmas Day in 1829. Their union had resulted in three children: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Solomon Northup had moved his family to Saratoga Springs in 1834 for its employment opportunities. The town was known as Spa City, and attracted the elite of the New Republic. Solomon played his violin during seasonal dances. He is known to have played at the United States Hotel, one of the grandest hotels in the resort town. He also worked, off season, laboring to build the railroad that served Saratoga. Anne was a noted cook, working at the town’s many upscale hotels to earn extra money to round out Solomon’s seasonal employment.
Anne Northup likely met Eliza Jumel at the United States Hotel in Saratoga Springs. Here, Eliza escaped the heat of Manhattan summers at the fashionable watering hole in upstate New York. It is likely that Anne was hired by Eliza Jumel to cater private dinners. Eliza Jumel enjoyed the role of fashionable hostess at private parties held during the summer months.
In 1841, at age 32, Solomon Northup met two men who offered him a job as a fiddler for several New York City performances. Expecting the trip to be brief, Solomon did not notify Anne, who was working an extra job as cook at Sherrill’s Coffee House in Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls) to supplement their income. His disappearance left Anne without the knowledge of his whereabouts and without income to support their three children.
At the end of the summer of 1841, it appears that Anne accompanied Eliza to work as a cook in her elegant Manhattan home. There is no documentation of any contract, wages, duties or the reasons behind Eliza’s offer and Anne’s acceptance. Though Anne had likely cooked for Eliza in the past, and often took on private catering jobs, she usually stayed close to her home in Saratoga Springs.
Anne might have felt that in New York City, she could more easily pick up information about Solomon’s whereabouts. It seems Anne knew her husband’s initial musical performances took place in the city. Anne might also have hoped that access to powerful New York figures might offer some clue as to her husband’s fate.
As the widow of a Frenchman who had imported wine from Bordeaux to New York and who had visited France extensively, Eliza Jumel fancied herself a judge of good wine and the good food to go with it. Likely, Anne Northup’s repertoire of dishes included rich sauces, made flavorful by the addition of wine from the estate wine cellar. As the ex-wife of Aaron Burr (following a scandalous divorce in 1836), Eliza was also anxious to re-establish herself in good society. Dinners catered by Anne Northup might offer another rung up on the social ladder back into the graces of New York society.
For a time, New York’s richest woman and Saratoga’s most unfortunate woman, Eliza and Anne, certainly saw one another each day to confer on menus and discuss the availability of fresh products on the estate. At Eliza Jumel’s country estate in northern Manhattan, diners were treated to oysters harvested from the Harlem River. Grapes from Eliza’s carefully-tended vineyard and choice fruit from her orchards of peach and apricot trees were featured at her table.
Today, visitors can see the restored basement kitchen at the mansion. It is now furnished with cooking implements and an open hearth that pre-dates Anne’s arrival. Anne would cooked on a stovetop. The kitchen also included a dairy, a pantry for storage, the wine cellar and the laundry.
A staircase runs from the kitchen up to a serving alcove on the ground floor dining room. The treads likely rang with the steps of Anne Northup as she carried dishes up to the sideboard for Eliza Jumel’s formal dinners in the dining room.
Both Eliza Jumel and Anne Northup were unsuccessful in their joint efforts. Kidnapping was a lucrative business, and Anne was unable to use New York City as a site to help locate her missing husband. All the elegant dinners in the world could not salvage Eliza’s dubious position in good society. But for a time, New York’s richest woman and Saratoga’s most unfortunate woman, joined forces. Today, you can visit the site where these fabulous New York women of the past collaborated in order to achieve their individual ends.
As Manhattan’s oldest residence, the Morris-Jumel Mansion Museum presents American life from the colonial era to the present by preserving, collecting, and interpreting history, culture, and the arts to engage and inspire diverse audiences. Morris-Jumel Mansion is located at 65 Jumel Terrace, a short block which extends from West 160th & West 162nd Streets. For more information on Eliza Jumel, refer to Margaret Oppenheimer’s book, The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel.