Marchands de New York
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The Old Merchants of New York City
by Walter Barrett, 1863
(extrait du chapitre 5)
Martin Hoffman was a great merchant once. He was of the house of Hoffman & Seton, auctioneers. Old Hoffman married a Miss Seton. If I was to write all that I could about those Hoffmans, I should have to commence back as far as 200 years ago, when Martin Hoffman was an auctioneer in 1661. I can't swear positively that he was an auctioneer, but I know he was a large tax payer in that year, and of course decidedly Dutch. He lived (the 1661 gent,) in De Heere Straat.
Of all the Hoffmans, I am more pleased with the Martin Hoffman who flourished just after the Revolution, and who was father of several children, among them, Lindley Murray and Martin, I remember very well. There was a daughter, Sarah. I think she married a Roberts; she was born in 1783. L.M. Hoffman was born in 1793. He had an elder brother named Daniel M., and another named Martin.
Martin (of 1790 memory) was a public-spirited man and took an interest in everything that was going on in New York then. He made three of his children Tontine stockholders, and it is curious that out of 203 shares, based on 197 lives, Lindley Murray Hoffman was born last, 1793. He died a few months ago. Martin Hoffman was in everything. He belonged to a fire-company, 1791. In 1792 he was a Sachem of Tammany Hall, and in business on his own account at No. 67 Water street that year. He was captain in the first Regiment of Infantry, 1792. He was master of St. Andrew's Lodge (Free Mason.) In 1795 he founded the auction and commission house of Hoffman & Seton; the store was at No. 67 Wall street. His partner was one of the Setons. It was a great family sixty years ago. The head was William Seton, cashier of the Bank of New York, when it was first chartered, 1784. There was Andrew and William, Jr., and James and Charles. William, the older, was of the great house of Seton, Maitland & Co., they did business at 61 Stone street, and old William lived over the counting-room. His partner was William Maitland. I think Charles Seton was the partner of Hoffman & Seton, afterwards H.S. & Co.
In 1808, Mr. Hoffman took in a Mr. Glass as a partner, and did the same business at 67 Wall street, under the firm of Hoffman & Glass. That concern continued in business under that style until 1822, when they took in L.M. Hoffman a partner, and added a Co. to it. Old Mr. Hoffman lived up Broadway, near Jones street. In 1823, Mr. Hoffman took in his son L.M., and a Mr. Pell, and the firm was Hoffman, Son & Pell, at No. 65 Wall street. The other son, Martin, Jr., did an auction business on the corner of Wall and Pearl, but lived with his father, while L.M. was keeping house at No. 113 Grand Street. In 1826, both of these sons joined their father, and kept on the auction business at No. 63 Wall street, under the firm of M. Hoffman & Sons.
Mr. Pell kept the old store at No. 65, and did business under the firm of W.F. Pell & Co. Never lived in this city a handsomer race of men than those Pells. Old William was a noble old fellow, and his sons William and Waldron were also splendid fellows. I think the old gentleman, Mr. Hoffman, died in 1827. He was buried from No. 691 Broadway, but the firm was not changed for some years, or until the law was passed to the effect that no name should be used in a firm, unless it really was in it. In 1834, the old firm was changed to L.M. Hoffman & Co.___Martin, Jr. being the company___and they moved from the old store near Pearl, down to No. 83 Wall. Some years later, they moved to No. 111 Pearl, in Hanover square, and this firm was not changed, but was there down to 1861. Martin, the brother of L.M., I believe died some years ago at Maranoneck; and I think young L.M. Jr., was in the dry good business. Now these younger ones, grandsons of the famous Martin of 1790, still keep up the old business, under the firm of L.M. Hoffman's, Son & Co., at No. 111. Next door to them, at No. 109, under the style of Pells & Co., are these old neighbors of thirty-five years ago, when one house was at No. 63 and the other at No. 65 Wall street.
When L.M. Hoffman died, a few weeks ago, the journals were filled with notices of him. The Chamber of Commerce passed resolutions of condolence. He deserved them all, for he was an honorable merchant, and a useful citizen. He was as mild and gentle as a lamb. I do not know that he ever spoke an unkind word to any one in his life. He never did a mean action since he was born.
THE TONTINE BUILDING
I had an idea that he would be one of the seven persons that would have inherited that property. His chances were far better than others who still live. There is a curious history yet to be written about that Tontine building, if one could get at all the facts. Here are some of them. The building now standing, and which is the second erected, stands at the north-west corner of Wall and Water streets, and was commenced in 1792 by an association of New York merchants, and completed in 1794. There had previously been no proper place where the merchants could meet to do business. By the constitution, 203 shares were subscribed for $200 a share. Each share entitled the holder to name a life of each sex. Each nominee had his or her age and parentage stated by the nominee. During such nominee's life, the subscriber received his equal proportion of the net income of the establishment. Upon the death of the nominee, the subscriber's interest ceased, and his interest became merged in the owners of the surviving nominees.
The original shares were assignable and held as personal estate, and the whole property was vested in five trustees, who were to be continued in trust, or by succession, until the number of nominees was reduced to seven, when the holders of these shares, contingent upon these surviving nominees, became entitled to a conveyance in fee of the whole premises to be equally divided between them.
The nominee himself did not necessarily have an interest in the association; for each subscriber, in naming a person, generally a child, looked to such as had a premise of length of days.
For instance, old Martin Hoffman nominated before March, 1795,____three of his children____one born 1791___1792____and 1793. L.M. was the latest date___none later. His chance was good for many years. One nominee was born as early as 1752. Martin was born between 1778 and 1790. William Gracie was a nominee. There are now alive Chas. King, born 1789____ John, born 1787____and Archibald Gracie born 1791, and others whose names I don't know. The constitution was signed November 4, 1794.
All the meetings of citizens were held in the Tontine Coffee house. All the famous charities of the city were born there. So were banks and corporations. A grievance was remedied by a meeting at the old Tontine Coffee house, and it decided everything. It was a hotel, too. George Frederick Cook died there in 1812.
The Merchants' Exchange was kept in this grand building in the large room, until 1825. It was thirty feet square.
I remember how Colonel Gracie used to walk to the looking-glass, pull up his shirt collar, and say: "Don't I look as though my chance for the Tontine, one seventh, is as good as any one else?" Alas, his chances died with him in 1840____twenty years and more ago.
I presume the men of that day named all their children who were born then. Rufus King subscribed heavy. So did Archibald Gracie. He named William and Archibald. Among the males yet left, beside those named are G.C. Verplanck, 1786; William Bayard, 1791.
It was called the Tontine Coffee House; but the subscribers, when the Exchange opened, got a decree of Chancery authorizing them to let the premises for general purposes, in 1834. In 1843, the legislature altered the title to "Tontine Building." On the 4th of June, 1861, it had existed sixty-seven years.
Originally there were 137 males and 66 females, 203; 3 females and 3 males were duplicated, so that really only 197 names were mentioned.
Some parties, a few years ago, made a new proposition. They agreed to put up a new building, which should revert to the seven left, provided they, the builders, had the rent of it for the balance of the time. For this they agreed to pay the Tontine trustees the sum of $20,000 per annum. The new building, it was agreed, should not cost less than $40,000.