Society for American Music

Bulletin, Volume XXV, no. 2 (Summer 1999)

George Frederick Bristow: Incidental Gleanings

By Carol Elaine (Smith) Gohari

It is great interest that I read "Bristow's Divorce" by Victor Fell Yellin in the Fall 1994 American Music.1 Yellin's attention to the details of George Frederick Bristow's life caused me to think that I might be able to contribute to this historical inquiry. I am a collateral descendant of Bristow's through his sister, Sarah. As a result of my genealogical investigation, I had collected substantial information about him but had not found a paper for it until now. In this article I have tried to present only new material, and some familiarity with the prior literature on George Frederick Bristow is assumed.

In his article, Yellin states that the New York County Marriage Records contain the entry that Bristow's 'nativity' was England. He continues,

Although it is true that the original marriage record ledger entry of 1853 stated that Bristow's nativity was "England," I believe that this is in error. Several errors exist in the historical record. The officially recorded date of Bristow's first marriage to Harriet Newell Crane was on 14 September 1853. Both contemporary newspaper marriage notices erroneously bear the date of 21 September.3 Bristow's name was entered on the marriage record as Britow or Briton.4 According to the Bristow Family Record,5 George Frederick Bristow was born in Brooklyn, New York, on Monday, 19 December 1825, at 8 minutes past 10 A.M. In addition, the Parish Register of St. Ann's Protestant Episcopal Church in Brooklyn contains the following entry: "George Frederick son of William R. and Mary Ann Bristow born December 19, 1825, baptized January 25, 1826. Sponsors, parents."6 It hardly seems possible that George Frederick Bristow could have been born in England and baptized a little over a month later in Brooklyn.

Although the source of hte error in the New York County Marriage Records may never be actually known, several recent discoveries may help explain it. Delmer D. Rodgers states that

Yet a passenger manifest exists for the ship "Hannibal" which departed from London, England, arriving in New York on 3 June 1833 listing Wm. R. Bristow and his family, including son "Geo Fredc," age 7.8 The date of their departure from the United States is not yet known as no official record of the family's departure has been located; however, the last entry for William Richard Bristow in the Brooklyn Directory is for the year 1832/33. Perhaps they were only gone for a few months, or for as much as a year. William Bristow's naame reappeared in the New York Directory for 1834-35, listed as "Bristow, William R, prof music, 220 Houston [street]."

Secondary evidence of George's visit to England appears in one of his early compositions. The Isle of Sheppy Waltzes, a seven-page folio for piano two hands published by Firth & Hall in 1840 when Bristow was fourteen, was divided into short sections with geographical titles: No. 1. Sheerness; No. 2. Miletown; No. 3. Minster; No. 4. East Church; No. 5. Laysdown; No. 6.9 The Isle of Sheppy is just east of London in Kent County, England. Queensborough. Sheerness, Minster, Eastchurch, Laysdown, and Queensborogh are the names of current towns located on the Isle of Sheppy. The location of Miletown has not been ascertained. This evidence might logically lead to the conclusion that the young composer may have vissited these locations in England during his stay in 1832-33, during which time he also would have had the opportunity to study with McFarren.

One may hypothesize many reasons why incorrect information appeared the marriage records. It may be that it was said that Bristow's parents came from England, or that he was of "English" ethnicity. Perhaps because of his visit and the ethnicity of his parents, he even spoke with a slight English accent, and the minister simply assumed Bristow was English. At that time, no concrete proof was demanded to verify these statements of nativity, and it is not surprising to learn that, in many cases, the parties themselves may have supplied incorrect information, for whatever reason. Perhaps the minister did not even write down the responses at the time, and made the report later from memory. In the case of George Frederick Bristow's first marriage, the official original ledger entry was made on 23 September, when the information about the marriage was received by the New York County clerk from the returns of the minister, nine days after the event.

The same search that located the Isle of Sheppy Waltz mentioned above has also shown that the period of the 1840s was a particularly prolific song writing period for Bristow, thus substantiating his claim of being a child prodigy. The following Early Period (1825-1855) works by George F. Bristow were located primarily by using the Copyright Records for the Southern District of New York. Apparently Bristow was not conscientious in his assignment of opus numbers to his works. There are many gaps in the record, and many subsequent short pieces were published without opus numbers.

1840: The Celebrated Air Zip Coon with Brilliant Variations, Composed for the Piano Forte by Geo. F. Bristow.10

1842: Miss Lucy Long with variations for the Piano Forte. Composed and dedicated to his friend B.F. Christman.11

1844: A Shepherd Youth Abroad Did Stray, A Ballad, as Sung with great Applause by Miss Mary Taylor at the Olympic Theater. Written and respectively dedicated to Mis Constantia Clarke by B.A. Baker, Arranged to the popular Negro Melody Dandy Jim by Geo. F. Bristow. It was published again a year later as Variations for the piano with no vocal accompaniment.12

1844: The Boatman's Dance with Variations for the Piano Forte,13

Belisario Quick Step, as performed by the New York Brass Bands, Arranged for the Piano Forte.14

1845: Passion Flower Waltz, Composed and Respectfully Dedicated to John A. Kyle,"15 and "Dandy Jim from Caroline," with Variations for the Piano Forte.16

1949: The Columbia Grand March [for the piano].17

1850: E. Mlle. Charlotte A. Morse, La Serenade, Nocturne pour le Piano [Op. 8]. 18

1850: La Belle Amerique, Nocturne pour a Piano Composee et dedice a Mlle. Fanny Miller [op. 4].19

1850: Tripler Schottisch, Composed and respectfully dedicated to Miss Anna Dolson.20

1850: Love is every where, written and adapted to a popular Neapolitan air by Charles Edward, Esq. of New York. Arranged for the piano by G.F. Bristow.21

1851: To Miss Lydia Virginia Walters, The Bright Chain is Broken, Song Composed for and Sung by Mr. Giswold, Poetry by Carlos D. Stuart.22

1851: To Miss M.T. Wainwright, I bring thee love no costly gems, Ballad, The Poetry by J. Howard Wainwright.23

1852: Hark, through the Air, A Dirge to the memory of the late Hon. Henry Clay, Written and Sung by Miss Jean L. Bruce.24

1854: Fanny Fern as sung by Miss Brainerd, words from Willis' Music World, composed and dedicated to Fanny Fern25 by Geo. F. Bistow.26

1855: Don't you love the Sprint Time, Lizzie, A Ballad composed expressly for Ward School No. 44. Respectfully Dedicated to Miss Catherine Connolly.27

1855: I Will Arise, Quartette for Four Voices, with an Accompaniment for the Organ or Piano Forte. Composed and Respectfully Dedicated as a Mark of Esteem to Charles Tracy Esc." 28

Bristow's second wife was Louise Newell Westervelt Holder. Yellen states "unfortunately, we do not know anything as yet about Louise's status. If she was eligible for remarriage, how did that eligibility come to pass?"29 According to my research, Louise Newell Westervelt was born on 10 February 1836, one of thirteen known children, and the fourth daughter of the family. Her father, James Westervelt, was a city weigher and her mother was Eleanor Mealey.30 Louise's first husband, Charles A.S. Holder, was a purveyor of pianofortes. A Charles J. Holder, "Pianofortes," who was a New York City Councilman for the Twenty-second District for 1854 and 1855, perhpas was his father.31 Louise N. Westervelt Holder was said to have married Charles Holder on 2 June 1856.32 No record of this mariage has been found in the official marriage ledger of New York County. The available records for Kings County Marriages were not regularly recorded until 1866. Perhaps we may assume that Louise N. Westervelt's firts marriage occured in Brooklyn at the home of her parents. Louise's first husband, Charles Holder, died on 15 September 1858 in a Yellow Fever epidemic in Galveston, Texas.33 Two letters held by a collateral descendant of the Bristow family describe what happened. The first letter was written to Charles Holder by Louise's sister-in-law, Martha.

The letter must have never been sent as a second letter from Martha's sister, Lucy Johnson explains:

After her husband's death, Louise Holder was a widow with a two-year-old daugher to support. The 1860 census lists her a living in the Tenth Ward of Brooklyn, Kings County, with her parents, James and Eleanor Estervelt, and youngest sibling, sister Euphemia Westervelt. She is listed under her maiden name of Westervelt, and, for some unknown reason, her infant daughter, Nina Louise, is not enumerated in this family group.36 Her subsequent hesitation to involve herselft with Bristow may have stemmed from her concerns over the legality and terms of his divorce and the future of her daughter. Perhaps her parents were opposed to her marriage to a divorced man.

Louise N. Westervelt Holder married George Bristow on September 1, 1864.37 Additonally, from the NY State Census of 1865, the marriage of George Bristo [sic] and Lousa [sic] Holden [sic] was recorded as occurring in the previous year, in the Tenth Ward of Brooklyn, presumably at the home of her Westervelt parents.38

The material presented above represents only part of my findings on the life and works of George Frederick Bristow. I welcome inquiries by Bristow scholars Research on his life and enormouse body of work should continue. By using the most recent aids of computerized systems, such as OCLC, many more undiscovered works of George Frederick Bristow and facts concerning the life of this important composer are bound to be discovered.

Discography Note
Since the publication of Delmer D. Rogers's seminal dissertation on George Frederick Bristow, very little has changed in the way of performances of American composers' music. In addition to the four records by the SPAMH, I have located only four more commercially produced recordings of Bristow's music:

1. Piano Music in America, with Neely Bruce, includes Bristow's Andante and Polonaise, Vox Box SVBX5302, 1972, 3 vinyl discs.

2. The Wind Demon and Other Mid-Nineteenth Century Piano Music, includes Bristow's Dreamland, New World Records NW 257, 1976, CD.

3. An Anthology of American Organ Music, includes Bristow's Six Pieces for Organ, Nos. 1, 4 & 6, Musical Heritage Society MHS263, 1 vinyl disc.

4. Symphony in F# minor, op. 26, also includes Samuel Barber's Symphony no. 2 and Adagio for Strings, Chandos CHAN9169, 1993, CD.

1. Victor Fell Yellin, "Bristow's Divorce," American Music 12/3 (Fall 1994): 229-54.

2. Ibid, 252.

3. Gertrude A. Barber, Marriages from the Brooklyn Eagle 1852-1854, Vol. 3, 1963. Issue of 23 September, 1853: "City 21st inst. Rev. James Millett George Frederick Bristow of NY to Harriet Newell Crane of Bklyn." New York Times, 21 September 1853, 8. Date of marriage given as 21 September.

4. New York County (Manhattan) Marriage Ledger, entered on 23 September 1853.

5. Bristow Family Record, in possession of the author, is a holograph page, presumably removed from a bible, listing births, deaths, and marriages. It was handed down to the author by her mother and father from the possessions of her grandfather (who was the great-grandson of William R. Bristow).

6. Parish Register of St. Ann's Protestant Episcopal Church, Vol. II, 7, Typescript available at the Brooklyn Historical Society Library.

7. Delmer D. Rogers, "Nineteenth Century Music in New York City as Reflected in The Career of George Frederick Bristow" (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1967), 68.

8. National Archives, Passenger Arrivals Records for the Port of New York, Microfilm 237, reel 19, record 347, Ship "Hannibal" arriving on 3 June 1833 from London, England.

9. The U.S. Southern District Court Records of New York, Copyright Record Books, Microfilm at the Copyright Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Copyright No. 416, Published by Firth & Hall, 2 March 1840, Reeel 32, Vol. 142, 443. All other references to original coprights are found in this same series. This series of records was examined by the author in January, 1990, through the end of 1855 only. Only those compositions not previously identified have been mentioned in this article. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division.

10. Copyright No. 260, Published by Firth & Hall, 14 December 1840, Reel 32, Vol. 143, 358. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division.

11. Published by C.G. Christman, 404 Pearl St., 1842. A copy of this piece may be found in the Hunt-Berol Colleciton at Columbia University, New York City, NY, or at the Library of Congress, Music Division. The original copyright of this selection has not been located at the Library of Congress.

12. Copyright No. 29, Published by Firth & Hall, 1 Franklin Sq., 19 January 1844, Reel 33, Vol. 146, 29, A copy of this piece may be ofund in the Hunt-Berol Special Collection at the Butler Library of Columbia University, New York City, NY.

13. Copyright No. 68, Published by Charles G. Christman, 12 February, 1844, Reel 33, Vol. 146, 68. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division.

14. Copyright No. 715, Published by C.G. Christman, 24 December 1844, Reel 33, Vol. 147, 209. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division.

15. Copyright No. 206, Published by C.G. Christman, 19 May 1845, Reel 33, Vol. 147, 449. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress Music Division.

16. Copyright No. 423, Published by C.G. Christman, 23 December 1845, Reel 33, Vol. 148, 362. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division. The 1846 composition, Thine Eye Hat Seen The Spot, a complete copy not found by Rogers (189), may also be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division.

17. Published by Pearson?, New York, 1949. Copyright No. 4795, says copyright was sought by Bristow himself, 29 December 1849, Reel 35, Vol. 156, n.p. "Composed & dedicated to the graduating class of Columbia college, N.Y. by George F. Bristow. And first performed at their commencement, Tuesday, October 2nd 1849. [Title page]." A copy of this work may be found at the Boston Public Library or the Library of Congress, Music Division.

18. Published by Pearson?, New York, 1850. Copyright No. 5040, says copyright was sought by Bristow himself, 23 March 1850, Reel 35, Vol. 157, n.p. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division.

19. This piece previously listed as unlocated by Rogers (p. 197), Published by Pearson?, New York, 1850. Copyright No. 5525, says copyright was sought by Bristow himself, 26 August 1850, Reel 36, Vol. 158, n.p.

20. Published by Pearson, New York, 26 November 1850. Copyright No. 5874, Reel 36, Vol. 158, n.p. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division. Ferdinand Beyer's School for the Piano Forte, listed in Rogers as published in 1866 (p. 193) was originally copyright 14 May 1851, by Firth, Pond & Co., Copyright No. 6493, Reel 36, Vol. 160, n.p.

21. Published by A. Fiot, Philadelphia, W. Dubois, New York, 1850. A copy of this piece may be found in the Library of Congress, Music Division.

22. Published by Pearson, New York, 15 May 1851. Copyright No. 6499, Reel 36, Vol. 160, n.p. A copy of this piece may be found in the Library of Congress, Music Division.

23. Published by Pearson, 7 Oct. 1851, Copyright No. 6984, Reel 36, Vol. 161, n.p. No known copy.

24. 4 Aug 1852, Deposited by William Vanderbeek, Copyright No. 8082, Rel 37, Vol. 163, n.p. A copy of this piece may be found in the Library of Congress Music Division.

25. Fannie Fern was the pseudonym of Sarah Payson Willis, "the first American Woman newspaper columnist . . . noted for her courageous and independent stance . . . [she wrote fearlessly on such taboo subjects as venereal disease, prostitution, birth control, and divorce . . [s]he questioned male authority and conventional marriage patterns." She was the sister of Nathanial Parker Willis. Abstracted from Joyce W. Warren, 'Writing a Biography of Fanny Fern," Culturefront 2/3 (Fall 1993), 24-27.

26. Published by H.B. Dodworth & Co., 3 February 1854. Copyright No. - None (format changed), Reel 38, Vol. 168, 122. A copy of this ballad is at the Hunt-Berol Collection at Columbia University, New York City, NY.

27. Published by H.B. Dodworth, 10 April 1855, Reel 39, Vol. 172, 34. No known copy. Bristow was said to have begun his teaching career with the New York City Schools in 1854. This piece would support that association. See also: Thurston Dox, "George Frederick Bristow and the New York Public Schools," American Music, 9:4, pp. 339-352.

28. Published by Bristow, 12 November, 1855, Copyright Reel 39, Vol. 173, p. 140. A copy of this piece may be found at the Library of Congress, Music Division. This piece found in the Bristow Manuscript Collection at the New York Public Library, American Music Division, was listed by Rogers (p. 191, #30) as "MS parts only, indications of organ accompaniment." Also in 1855, Bristow's Te Deum, listed by Rogers (191, #34) was dedicated to Rev. Stephen H. Tyng, D.D., Rector of St. George's Church, Copyright 14 December 1855 Reel 39, Vol. 174, 69.

29. Yellin, 249.

30. Walter Tallman Westervelt, compiler. Genealogy of the Westervelt Family, NY, 1905, 69.

31. Joseph Shannon, Clerk of Common Council, Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, New York, 1868, 657.

32. Although the date of Louise Westervelt's first marriage was given in the Westervelt Family, the name of her fist husband was omitted. The name of her second husband, and the date of her second marriage were recorded in the Westervelt Family. Although the Westervelt Family was published in 1905, and the author could have known about Louise Westervelt Bristow's two daughters, information about them was also curiously omitted.

33. Galveston Tri-Weekly News, "List of Deaths," 25 November 1858.

34. Probably J.A.H. [Jesse] Cleveland, who was listed as Assistant Marshal of Galveston in the Census of 1850 TX, NARA Microfilm M 432, Reel 910, Galveston, 238. In the 1860 Census of Galveston, Tx, Jesse Clevelenad is listed as "Gentleman," NARA Microfilm M 653, Reel 1294, 457.

35. Both letters: Typescript of original manuscript, courtesy of Mrs. L.T. Edwards of East Hampton, NY. Mrse. Edwars if the niece of George Frederick Bristow's late garanddaughter, Violet Dearborn Latham. M. Westervelt (Martha) referred to in the letters was most probably Louise N. Westervelt's sister-in-law, married to Louise's brother, Stephen, and was living in Brazoria, TX in both the 1850 and the 1860 census (1850 Census TX, NARA Microfilm M 432, Reel 908, Brazos Co., Brazoria, p. 376; 1860 Census TX, NARA Microfilm M653 Reel 1289, Brazoria, p. 79). Lucy Johnson was apparently Martha's sister, and Mr. Cleveland was Martha and Lucy's father.

36. Westervelt Family, p. 69; 1860 Census of the U.S., New York, Kings Co., 10th Ward, 2nd District, 238, Dwelling 458, Family 799, taken 18 June 1860.

37. Westervelt Family, p. 69. Marriage returns in certificate form from the Department of Health in the City of Brooklyn in Kings County, NY were only regularly recorded beginnin in 1866.

38. Marriages in Kings County N.Y. Between June 1, 1864 and May 31, 1865, copied by Edwin Webb Wheat from the records of the State Census of 1865 for Kings County NY, Brooklyn, NY, 1939, 18. 10th Ward.

Carol Gohari has been researching the Bristow family since 1981 as part of her personal genealogical record. She is a Physical Science Laboratory Specialist at Grove Cleveland High School in Queens, NY. Carol is the second great grand niece of George Frederick Bristow.

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