Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sanford Gifford's Patron N. C. Folger: Part 1

On Friday, Gossips published an item from the Daily Star for June 4, 1851, announcing that two paintings by Sanford R. Gifford, which were commissioned by N. C. Folger of New Orleans, were temporarily on view at W. W. Hannah's jewelry store. Today, as promised, we share some information discovered about N. C. Folger, the man who commissioned the paintings.

Nathan Cyprian Folger, as it turns out, was the brother of Frederick Fitch Folger, whose life is documented in Columbia County at the End of the Century. Since the lives of the two brothers have some interesting parallels, they will be explored together--at least initially. The information about N. C. Folger comes primarily from a website called Nova Nurismatics and old newspapers; the information about F. F. Folger is from the biographical sketch found in Columbia County at the End of the Century.  

Nathan and Frederick were the sons of Obed Worth Folger and Mary Mayhew Fitch. Obed was born in Nantucket in 1784, the son of Nathan Folger. Although Nathan Folger was not one of the original Proprietors (the two Folgers that were Proprietors were Benjamin and Walter), Nathan found his way to Hudson not long after. He is mentioned in Franklin Ellis's History of Columbia County as being one of the ringers of the official bell hung in the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church in 1792. Tax records indicate that in 1803 Obed W. Folger owned property in Hudson. In 1807, he was one of the incorporators of the Hudson Academy. The federal census for 1810 (the year Nathan Cyprian Folger was born) shows Obed Folger and his wife and children living in Hudson. Columbia County at the End of the Century, however, indicates that when Frederick Fitch Folger was born in 1812 the family was living in Delaware County.

Mary Fitch Folger
Around 1819, Obed and Mary returned to Hudson. At that time, they had seven children: four sons and three daughters. (Strangely, when Mary Fitch Folger died in December 1884, having achieved the remarkable age of 100 years and 11 months and the status of being the oldest resident of Columbia County, her obituary in the Albany Journal indicated that she was "the mother of two sons--N. C. Folger, late of New Orleans, and F. F. Folger of Hudson.")    

It is not known--to Gossips, at least--how Obed W. Folger made his money, but it appears he was quite well off. The history of Cavell House that accompanies its nomination for local landmark status suggests that the original house may have been built by Obed W. Folger sometime around 1819, coinciding with his return to Hudson. It's possible then that Nathan, who would have been 9 in 1819, and Frederick, who would have been 7, grew up with their five other siblings in this mansion on Prospect Hill.

We  know that Frederick was educated at Hudson Academy, "then a noted institution of learning," and it is very likely that Nathan was as well, since their father had been one of the incorporators of the institution.

It is unclear what the appeal was, but both Nathan and Frederick and a third brother, Lafayette, went to New Orleans as young men to seek their fortunes. Nathan, the oldest of the three, was the first to go, arriving in New Orleans on New Year's Day 1830, when he would have been not quite 20 years old. He immediately became involved in the retail clothing business and soon opened his own store: Nathan C. Folger, Boys' and Children's Clothing. Sometime in 1837, Nathan's business failed, and he left New Orleans and went to New York City for the next five years. 

Meanwhile, the biography of Frederick in Columbia County at the End of the Century indicates that, in the same year that Nathan's business failed, Frederick arrived in New Orleans:
While still a young man, scarce twenty-five years of age [Frederick was born on December 24, 1812], he was offered a position in a mercantile house in New Orleans with liberal pay and an opportunity for advancement. The commercial crisis of 1837, which, a year after his arrival in New Orleans, caused a contraction of all business enterprises, compelled his employers to reduce their force of clerks; but Mr. Folger, having proved his ability and made himself of special value to his employers, was retained with increased salary.
In 1837, a third Folger brother, Lafayette, was also in New Orleans. His obituary, which appeared in the New Orleans Times-Democrat in June 1882, recounts that he "came to New Orleans from his birthplace, Hudson, New York, in 1835, at the age of 20, with the world before him." He entered into the clothing business Nathan, but when Nathan's business failed, and Nathan decamped to New York City, Lafayette stayed on in New Orleans.

In 1842, Nathan returned to New Orleans, but nothing is known of him until 1849, when he entered into a partnership with a former competitor, Thomas N. Blake. Within a few years, Nathan became the sole proprietor of the business.

The year 1842, the year Nathan returned to New Orleans, was also significant for Frederick. Here's how his biography in Columbia County at the End of the Century tells it:
In 1842, through a reorganization of the house with which he was connected, an interest therein was offered him; but his keen foresight led him to decline the offer, whereupon a high position with a munificent salary was created and given him, in order that the firm might retain his services. However, the effects of the recent financial crisis were more than the house could overcome, and in 1842 it went into liquidation and all its interests were purchased by Mr. Folger. Thus he entered the hardware and ship chandlery trade, taking as a partner his brother, under the style of Frederick F. Folger & Co.    
It seems likely that the brother with whom he partnered in the hardware and ship chandlery business was Nathan, who had just returned to New Orleans from five years spent in New York City. Lafayette was also involved in Frederick's new business. His obituary indicates that, in 1847, Lafayette "started in the hardware business with another brother, Mr. F. F. Folger, and in this house he continued until his death."

We'll pause here in the story of N. C. Folger, who commissioned two paintings by Sanford Robinson Gifford early in the artist's career, but there is much more to tell. Rest assured that Gossips will tell it in the next couple of days.

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