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,
If true, the marriage record's information would challenge the claim that Bristow was born in America
in 1825. The family emigrated from England sometime before July 4, 1823, when his father, William
Richard, led the band at a celebration in Brooklyn . . . This new information casts a shadow on
Bristow's claims that he was a virtual child prodigy, and that he was a native American composer
deserving of special attention on that account.2
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
Bristow's second teacher was reportedly Sir George McFarren (1813-1887) but, despite the statements
in biographical articles, this is questionable, for the English composer, editor, and teacher remained
in England all his life and there is no evidence that Bristow ever left the United States.7
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
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
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
Sept. 13, 1858
Mr. Charles Holder
Knowing that the yellow fever is now prevailing in Galvaston [sic], I write to ask if you are well -- and
to say to you that if you should take the fever that my father, Mr. Cleveland34 is a
very resourceful nurse in that disease - and would if you will let him know should you be sick
render you any assistance in his power -- He has been through all the epidemic in Galvaston and
has been very [unclear] to many strangers.
I will write and ask him to call to see you as he may be able to give you some advice in case you
should be sick.
You are temperate and I hope will be careful not to expose yourself to the sun nor be out in the
I wish I were at home that I might invite you to come and spend some weeks with me.
Hoping that you are pleasantly situated -- I shall only add my kindest wishes for your family
and friends North from whom I should be glad to hear about through you.
The girls desire to be remembered to you, I am very truly your friend.
The letter must have never been sent as a second letter from Martha's sister, Lucy Johnson explains:
[To] Mrs. Charles A.S. Holder
Knowing that sister had written to your husband I sent to get the letter, I knew it by the
handwriting and took the liberty of opening it and thought it best after doing do to have it fowarded
to you. My father, Mr. Cleveland regrest very much not knowing of your husband's illness until it
was too late. Marthat had written to me saying she was fearful he was sick, but when her letters reached
here Mr. Holder was very low as the sad results shows.
Your husband's last [unclear] were [unclear] that I know were those that did all that could have
been done. Hoping this sad affliction may not fall too heavily upon you. I sign myself yours
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
CGohari@worldnet.att.net. 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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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