Sunday, February 26, 2017

1807 - Michael Floy, Seedsman, "Upper End of Broadway", New York

Michael Floy was a good businessman, a good writer, a good seedsman and nurseryman, who lived a good and prosperous life. 

Following his father into the trade he unfortunately had no offspring interested in the business.

In 1847 his basic history was noted :
About fifty years since, a nursery was established near Rivington, east of Sheriff-street, which street derived its name from Mr. Sheriff, the proprietor. 

Mr. Michael Floy, now living, succeeded Mr. S. in this nursery. He afterward occupied land in Greenwich~lane, and in 1807 removed from thence toward the North River, his nursery being situated between King and Barrow-street, extending across Hudson-street, that beautiful and spacious thoroughfare, to Greenwich-street.

This nursery being required for building lots, he was induced in 1820, to start a nursery on the Brevoort estate, immediately north of the Sailors Snug Harbor, which he carried on until the year 1827, since which time he purchased fourteen acres of land in Harlem, where he at present resides. 
 Snug Harbor Looking North

We thus see that the march of improvement has driven the nurserymen and market-gardeners far from the fields of their early exertions, and that where “once a garden smiled,” now stand the mansions of adventurous merchants and successful tradesmen.

Transactions of the American Institute: Of the City of New-York
(This is an interesting read if you are interested in New York.)

Following up on the theme of Floy moving around a lot considering he was a nurseryman is information on land speculators in the early 1800s buying up what used to be farmland surrounding the city.  Here is more detail on why he moved taken from an interesting dissertation cited at the end.  It is a good read.
In 1835 "speculators" offered Manhattan nurseryman Michael Floy ten times what he had originally paid for land in Harlem. The following year Floy's son excitedly penned in his diary; "A gentleman today offered father a fine farm at Jamaica for $10,000, and at the same time offered only $140,000 for our Nursery! The temptation is almost too great." Thus, high prices encouraged considerable areas of farmland to transfer from farmer to speculator.
 Manhattan nurseryman and author Michael Floy intended to leave the family business to his son Michael, with whom he operated the family business. Yet twenty-eight year-old Michael died unexpectedly in the spring of 1837, and his father continued on alone until his death in 1854. Floy's oldest son James, a successful clergyman, had no interest in horticulture. Apparently, neither did his daughters or their husbands.  
Suspecting that upon his death the nursery would be sold, the elder Floy empowered his executors to sell the entire stock of plants, shrubs and trees. The language of the senior Floy's will also suggests that potentially serious obstacles awaited the heirs of valuable properties; whether to sell, rent or develop, or to keep the land intact.  
In Floy's case the nurseryman purchased a ten acre parcel of land between Fourth and Fifth Avenues from 125th to 127th Streets for $8,500 in 1827.  A quarter-century later it had quadrupled in value. Apparently anticipating some disagreement over the dispersal of the estate after the death of his wife (who inherited use rights) Floy requested that the executors "come into agreement" with his family over whether to sell the property "or to improve it."    In 1854 the Harlem properties included four houses and lots, the nursery, plus the "house I now occupy in Harlem and also the lot 25 feet by one-half block in depth, on which the house stands.   The Floy heirs appear to have managed through the pitfalls of probate, but other families were less fortunate.
Manhattan nurseryman Michael Floy described his first encounter with an " awkward and ineffective one-horse cultivator" in the summer of 1834: 
Father had a great notion to buy an instrument called a "cultivator," so he borrowed Mr. Hall's. We put up the old Gray before it, but it made sad work, and might be truly called a "cultivator," for I believe it cultivated the weeds so as to make them grow better than before. ...
Wednesday, January 7, 1835: Clear sky and most intensely cold; thermometer but one above zero. . . . The frost has got in the little Green-house, and I do not know when we shall be able to get it out. I laid all the fault to the coal, so Father got a ton of Schuylkill; if he had not done so we should have been frozen all up.  
Thursday, January 8, 1835: Same as yesterday. By keeping two fires constantly going, got the frost out of the little Green-house. I do not wish to see Jack there again; the plants do not relish such a companion.

  • The Diary of Michael Floy, Jr., Bowery Village 1833-1837 (New York: Yale University Press. 1941).
  •  Last Will and Testament of Michael Floy, New York, New York (Proved 10 May 1854) vol. 110, pp. 82-86, New York County Probate Court. 
Tremante, Louis P. III, "Agriculture and farm life in the New York City region, 1820-1870 " (2000). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 12290.

The best Dwarf Marrowfats (peas) we have ever had, were some purchased the last year from Michael Floy, seedsman, New-York. 
Testimonial from The Southern Agriculturist and Register of Rural Affairs, 1830

New York, Dec. 27, 1828. 
I send you the quantity of Bishop's Early Dwarf Prolific Pea, ordered by you, being of the same kind as presented by me to the Horticultural Society of this city. 
Agreeably to your request, I will give you a short account of its origin, peculiar properties, and mode of treatment. 

In the year 1826, they made their first appearance in London, having been sent, as I am informed, from some part of Scotland, where they were originally raised by a practical gardener, of the name of Bishop. 

In the year 1817, so great a reputation had they obtained in the neighbourhood of London, that they were readily sold by the nursery men there at a guinea a pint; and in the spring of that year I received a small portion of them as a present from an eminent horticulturist, who, in the letter accompanying them writes as follows: 
"These peas are making a great noise here, and knowing they would be highly acceptable to you, I have, with some difficulty, procured you a small quantity. Its peculiar excellences Appear to be these: its great productiveness, equalling, if not surpassing any variety hitherto known; its earliness and its remarkable dwarf habit, seldom attaining, even in the best soils, the height of twelve inches, which of itself would make it a most valuable acquisition, more especially for small gardens." 
In addition to what is here stated, I remark from my own experience, that this pea fully realizes the description here given, and the following appears the most judicious method of treating them: 

They should be planted three, or at any rate two inches apart in the rows, as from their dwarfishness and spreading habit they do not do so well if sown closer; hence it is obvious there will be a great saving of seed, as a pint of these Peas will go as far as two or three quarts of any other, sown in the usual manner. 
They commence blooming when not three inches high, bear most abundantly, and are very fine eating. If a few were planted weekly, a constant succession of Green Peas might be obtained all the summer and autumn, as from the habit of their growth they appear better calculated to withstand the heat of an American summer than any variety with which I am acquainted. 

I have still a few quarts left; which are offered to those desirous of cultivating an excellent vegetable, at one dollar per quart. Persons at a distance, by remitting the cash by letter (post paid) will receive them by any conveyance they may designate.              

Michael Floy
Seedsman, &c., New York.

The author of the The Cottage Garden of AmericaWalter Elder, said in 1850:
Michael Floy, nurseryman and florist, New York City, is an excellent writer ; his edition and additions of Lindley's “Guide to the Orchard" is a valuable book on fruits.

The Diary of Michael Floy Jr. is not available online...sigh. ..BUT I got a copy for $3.48 on ABE!!! Can't wait til it gets here :-)

Mr. Brooks Edits Michael Floy's Diary, A Vivid Picture Of Life In The 1830's
By Katherine Eisenhart '42

The Diary of Michael Floy Jr. edited by Professor Richard Brooks of the English department, has just been published, in celebration of 75th anniversary and as a memorial to Margaret Floy Washburn.   Washburn,  professor of psychology at Vassar from 1903 to 1937, discovered the diary of her uncle and began the work of preparation for publication. 

The diary covers the period from October 1, 1833 to February 1837. It is of great interest because, as Miss Washburn says in her introductory note, it gives "a vivid picture of American life at a period and in a social medium of which there is little contemporary record." 

Started In Nursery Business 

Michael Floy. Jr.. was a young New Yorker, who after his graduation from Columbia, joined his father in the nursery business, and did very well, particularly with dahlias and camellias (also canaries on the side).    The Floy family lived in a brick house in the Bowery which in 1893 was a rather a different place than it is today.   Through his daily records that range from weather observations to philosophical inquiry, one sees clearly the New York of that time and at the same time gathers a very distinct picture of the author who is chiefly remarkable for the variety of his interests. 

Above and beyond his work m the nursery (which required a daily trip to Harlem to care for the fruit trees and watermelons) he was an ardent Wesleyan Methodist and regularly attended a round of religious functions.  The Sunday school that he taught, he took very seriously and confessed at one place that "it requires a person of pretty firm muscle to manage a Sunday school of youngsters." 

Floy is Versatile 

In spite of this arduous religious life, he treats it in such a way that in Mr. Brooks' words, "his diary will contribute toward a reestimate of the Puritan as portrayed by writers at the end of the century."   He was enormously susceptible to women, and having spontaneously proposed to a Miss Deborah S. from Poughkeepsie he spends several years disengaging himself.  Besides all this, he was a voracious reader of anything from the Bible to Byron, and an amateur mathematician, musing on tibei ical trigonometry and geometric proportion, and an active member of the Anti-Slavery Association.

 The diary is a delightfully frank expose of his moods, activities, and the changing state of his health. It seems quaint in some places, amazingly contemporary in others. Even in 1833 the price of travel from New York to Poughkeepsie was $1.50.

Not especially related to this story but I liked this illustration of the Sailors Snug Harbor.