Where do I Start?

So the reading/researching of this story is the delicious part of this process. I just plunge in and swim around, wallow in the shallows of what is readily available on Google Books and Wiki. Thorn is mentioned extensively in literature of the time. After all, men of his ilk – Astors, Waldorfs, Stuyvesants, Livingstons, and even the Jaunceys – were talked about. They built hotels, were on boards, made their mark in politics, or owned merchant ships in an era when boats were a community’s lifeline. Sadly, there is far less written about their wives.

Thorn though was a little different from the others. Firstly, he’d married into money. I get the feeling that it was, perhaps, a sensitive issue for the Colonel, and yet he had no problem spending his wife’s inheritance. His family had an interesting back story. On his mother’s side, he came from a line of Dutch immigrants (the Van Slycks) and a notable Native American (Mohawk) woman named, Ots-Toch, who in some accounts is likened to Pocahontas. Ots-Toch’s parentage is some dispute, and at the moment, I am making no attempt to verify the truth. A descendent of hers, Helena Van Slyke married Samuel Thorn.

The Thorn side had stemmed from English immigrant, William Thorn, who was an original signatory on the Flushing Remonstrance. This was a historic moment for the free world, and it could be argued that the Flushing Remonstrance is what made America. The letter demanded religious freedom for Quakers from the Governor, Peter Stuyvesant, and is considered the precursor to the Bill of Rights.

The Flushing Remonstrance
Commemorative stamp

Thorn’s wife, Jane Mary Jauncey, had a less well documented background. I have no absolute proof yet, but she seems to be the adopted niece of the wealthy and community-minded William Jauncey. William’s brother, John Jauncey, had conceived Jane Mary out of wedlock with what has been described by John Pintard (merchant and philanthropist) as a ‘vulgar low actress’. I have not been able to establish who her mother was, but sadly, John Jauncey took his own life when still quite young.

Herman and Jane Mary (Jauncey) Thorn

Jane Mary is said to have been raised by William and a maiden aunt, who groomed her to inherit William’s fortune. The Jauncey’s were from the Jamaica and owned merchant ships, no doubt heavily manned by slaves. This is where digging about in history can reveal shameful truths. A fortune founded on slavery is appalling and unworthy, and in some ways Herman Thorn’s story is a salutary tale of the perils of money earned without conscience.

I can’t undo what is done, but I can certainly condemn it with hindsight. How ironic that while the Dutch fought for religious freedom in their new country, African American’s were still being enslaved. History reveals change as uneven and fretful.

Here is an excerpt from one of Pintard’s letters to his daughter about the Jauncey-Thorn marriage:

“He [William] had a brother John who some  twenty 3 or 4 years ago, weary of life, terminated it by  drowning & left an illegitimate daughter by a vulgar low  actress. This child was taken home & bro’t up by Miss  Jauncey. She grew up handsome, dressed elegantly, but  not overstocked with mind. An heiress, a match was  intended with a son of Col. Barclay, another of our Tory  citizens, but of excellent character & British Consul. Her  uncle settled it is s*^ in consequence of the certainty of  the marriage $10,000 Guineas on her. Miss however  fancied a handsome genteel young man a M”” Thorn, of  no great family, but a midshipman or Lieu* in our Navy  & married him, to the great mortification of M”” Jauncey  & disappointment of young Barclay. The Aunt how-  ever protected her received her home & she has always  lived in the same House. But M”” J. w*^ never & has  hitherto for many years tho’ residing under the same  roof, spoken to M”” Thorn. A separate table is kept for  each, & you may judge of the establishment of the house-  hold by this fact.”

In defying her uncle and marrying Herman Thorn, Jane Mary divided her home life. William Jauncey and Herman did not speak, though living in the same house, and I am not surprised that in time Herman made the decision to take his family to Paris to live. This division became the root of later personal troubles. When a family has spoils to divide, lines are often drawn.

** This link is to a PDF entitled The Jauncey’s of New York.

5 comments

  1. The making of fortunes is often shrouded in nefarious activity…in this case downright shameful. It would be interesting to know if this was indeed the case with the Jauncey fortune. I note that Jane was not considered to be “overstocked” of mind! Again, would be interesting to know what attracted her to HT.

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    • I suppose we can only speculate on some of it. But in time, other information might be unearthed. As Jane Mary Jauncey was intended to marry Colonel Barclay’s son, I think it is safe to say that she was enamoured with Thorn. He, on the other hand, was possibly just marrying well.

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