It’s election time in the USA and while a battle rages between the Democratic and Republican Parties our thoughts turn to things American. Perhaps this is a good time to look at the connection between a big house in County Cork and a big house in Geneseo, New York.
We can begin this story in another big house in London, where James Samuel Wadsworth and Mary Craig Wharton went on honeymoon in May, 1834.
In London, the newlyweds were entertained by Francis Seymour Conway, the 3rd Marquis of Hertford at his villa (St Dunstan’s) in Regent’s Park.
According to the English writer, Philip Basham, the American couple loved this house so much that they got copies of the architect’s plans from Lord Hertford and decided to build a replica back in Geneseo. They called their home Hartford House.
James Wadsworth, a philanthropist and politician, was to become a Union General during the American Civil War. He died at the Battle of The Wilderness in 1864, at the age of 56. He was also a member of the “Free Soil Party”. This short-lived political grouping, formed in 1848, was made up of breakaway members of the Whig Party and the Democratic Party. Their banner proclaimed “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labour, Free Men”. Among their membership was Walt Whitman, poet and essayist. It was a small but influential party which appealed to moderate opponents of slavery. They were not committed abolitionists and while they opposed the expansion of slavery in certain states, it was mainly because they saw slavery as a threat to free white labour. While they had a constitution outlawing slavery, it also barred black settlements. One of their more famous critics was the African-American free slave, Frederick Douglass, who visited Cork in 1845. Nonetheless, they kept the issue of slavery at the forefront in politics at the time, whatever their motives. In 1854 The Free Soil Party was eventually subsumed into the Republican Party, the party which, under Abraham Lincoln ultimately brought about the end of slavery.
But back to our story of the big houses. James S. Wadsworth and Mary Wharton had six children, the youngest of which was Elizabeth, born in 1848, the same year as the Free Soil Party. Elizabeth married Arthur Post with whom she had a daughter, Helen. Arthur Post died in the late 1880’s. She then married Arthur Smith Barry in 1889 and they had a daughter, Dorothy.
Elizabeth’s older sister Cornelia also had a connection with Ireland. In 1867, as a widow with two young sons, she married John Adair, an Irish businessman from County Laois (Queen’s County) who owned Glenveagh Castle in Donegal. They split their time between Ireland, England and New York.
It’s not clear how much time Elizabeth spent at Fota House. According to William Eleroy Curtis in his book One Irish Summer , the Smith Barrys had “a beautiful home at Fota on Fota Island, in Cork Harbour, near Queenstown and a town residence in Berkeley Square, London”.
A fascinating article published in the San Francisco Call in May 1904, gives us some more details about Lady Barrymore. The writer of this article tells us that “although she leads an exceedingly quiet life, there is no American woman in the English Peerage who has a greater controlling influence on her husband’s actions than Lady Barrymore”. We’re told that, “she insisted upon living for a considerable portion of the year among her husband’s tenants and she devoted much time to moving about among them in a quiet, unostentatious way, studying their little peculiarities and sympathising with them in all their troubles and misfortunes”. According to this newspaper, the family residence had fallen somewhat into disrepair due to Lord Barrymore living mainly in England or Europe (and no doubt sailing around the world in yachts) but this was reversed by Lady Elizabeth who set about “putting it in order”. We’re also told that she encouraged cottage industries on the estate, especially for women.
Whether or not Lady Barrymore spent much time in the gardens of Fota House or was concerned with the market garden there, we have no way of knowing. It is amazing that her descendants on both side of the Atlantic continued the tradition of growing vegetables and flowers on a great scale.
Her daughter Dorothy Bell had a great interest and involvement in the gardens of Fota House. One of our Fuchsia plants is named Mrs Bell’s Favourite.
Now another descendant of hers, Corrin Strong, runs the Free Soil Farm (named no doubt for his great, great, great grandfather’s involvement with the political party of the same name).
This “chemical free” farm, on 5 acres, grows fruit and vegetables and sells them at the Geneseo Farmers’ Market and at The Little Green Market.
Just as we grow and sell fruit and vegetables in the Fota Frameyard.
One Irish Summer by William Eleroy Curtis, New York, Duffield & Co 1909.
California Digital Newspaper Collection: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/
V&A Lafayette Catalogue, Picture Library Victoria and Albert Museum.