Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wiser to Marry than Hire a Housekeeper (Part 2)

I found him!

This is Grant Thorburn, Long Island seedsman and father of the C. G. Thorburn who published seed catalogs and books of plant care.  (Do you find the feet oddly big?)
He was a Scot who emigrated to the United States.  Born near Edinburgh in 1773, he was the son of a nail-maker.  Twenty years later his father paid the passage on the Providence of New York for Grant and his brother. They set sail in 1794 to make their way in a new country.  Father Thorburn gave them 20 shillings silver to tide them over until they found work.  The young men had a family heirloom trunk stuffed with provisions they would need on the voyage.  They went steerage, as did many Scots (my husband's grandfather among them) and found themselves 3 to a bunk... with their bunkmate being a "very large Highland porter".  Squished between the Highlander and his brother, Grant feared smothering when the ship listed. 
There was a scare of being impressed into the English navy one day when the ship was stopped by an English ship.  Young men were sent below so as not to catch the eye of the officers. While it turned out they were only looking for a deserter, politics of the day would continue to mark Thorburn's activities.

His activities are amusing, making an enjoyable read if you are so inclined.  The original multi-tasker, Thorburn even arranged it so his future wife would sit in the window of his shop doing needlework while he made nails, thus "killing two birds with one stone"!  In his defense, he was rising at 4 AM and made nail until 8 when he went to open a store he and his brother kept.  He worked there until 8 PM at which time he went back and made nails until 12!  Getting married was the only answer...he would then have a shopkeeper.  His brother was sickly, if you were wondering where he was keeping himself.

He prospered, had amusing adventures is this new republic, had a son, the Yellow Fever decimated New York, his wife died.  He married again, "thinking it more creditable and wise to marry a wife than to hire a housekeeper". 

I'll end the tale today with the sad news (to Grant Thorburn) that the Industrial Revolution had inched its way into nail making.  The invention of the cut, rather than forged,  nail eliminated the trade he was so proud of, the trade of his father.  He was now a grocer.

Tomorrow - how does a grocer become a seedsman?

Extra info for those so inclined:

I like old technologies.  I have been surrounded by men all my life who work in crafts that haven't changed much in 500 years.  I know bits and pieces, some much bigger than others, of many skills needed in the pre Industrial Revolution world. Until I became a teacher in my 40's, I made my way being an artisan...thinking back on it, the only modern tool that crept its way onto my workbench is a Dremel or Fordham tool (teeny tiny routers that can sound like, and work like,  a dentist's drill).
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FYI - By 1886 wire nails were edging out cut nails.

Information on the history of cut nails:


This is from: 

Encyclopaedia Londinensisor, Universal dictionary of arts, sciences, and literature, comprehending, under one general alphabetical arrangement, all the words and substance of every kind of dictionary extant in the English language ... embellished by a ... set of copper-plate engravings ... Compiled, digested, and arranged, by John Wilkes, of Milland House, in the county of Sussex, Volume 16, 1819



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