The Cotton King of Inwood Hill

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"Cotton King" Frederick Talcott
“Cotton King” Frederick Talcott

When one thinks of Inwood, the word “cotton” does not likely spring to mind. Of course folks rarely speak anymore of Frederick “The Cotton King” Talcott, who, in the mid-1800’s, made Inwood Hill his home.

Frederick Talcott was born into a founding New England family that traced its aristocratic roots in Warwickshire, England to 1558.

His father, Noah Talcott,  was born in 1768 in Durham, Connecticut. As early as 1803 the elder Talcott set up shop on Manhattan’s Murray’s wharf where he acted as a commission merchant for the supply-laden ships arriving from the far points of the globe.

Talcott family crest.
Talcott family crest.

According to a Talcott family history written in 1876, “Whenever the old ship ‘Joseph’ arrived from London, she had a valuable invoice for Noah Talcott. The schooner ‘Peggy’ traded between this port and Martinique, and belonged to Mr. Talcott. The schooner ‘Ann Margaret’ and the ‘Robert Martha’ also were owned by him. In 1810, there was no merchant in New York who was doing as large a business as Mr. Talcott.”

Described as mild mannered and gentle as a lamb in his later years, this envied merchant of an earlier age was also considered the finest judge of cotton in all of New York. When he opened his cotton broker’s office at 58 Wall Street in 1831, he immediately took his son Frederick under his wing.

Frederick could not have had a better teacher.

According to an 1885 account, “He had a gentle way with him, that commanded deep esteem. His samplers went to every merchant who had cotton to sell, and they were glad to have it from the hands of Noah Talcott. His office, where the tables were covered with hundreds of samples of large lots of white cotton in blue paper, will never be forgotten by the old school merchants.

The two operated under the name Noah Talcott & Son until Noah Talcott’s death in 1840.

Picking up where his father left off, Frederick Talcott took to the cotton trade like a trout takes to water.

Born in New York City on February 22, 1813, Frederick Talcott graduated from Columbia College in 1832. He married Harriet Newell Burnham in 1842. The couple would have seven children.

New York Cotton Exchange Building in 1883.
New York Cotton Exchange Building in 1883.

A doting father at home, Frederick Talcott cut a larger than life figure on the exchange floor, becoming the first individual in American history to corner the cotton market. In the 1850’s he became president of the organization that would later become the Cotton Exchange. He also served as president of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.

In 1858, Talcott let his sons assume control of the family business, but he did not remain idle. Instead he founded the stock brokerage firm Frederick Talcott & Co. located in the Mills Building.

Described by the New York Times as a “man of quiet tastes” who “preferred his home life to going into society,” Talcott would make Inwood Hill his home.

What follows is a description of the Talcott estate, located north of the Tubby Hook marina towards the western end of the present Dyckman Street.

Frederick Talcott Home
“The Cotton King”
New York Herald
August 29, 1869

The Mansion of Frederick L. Talcott

“The mansion and grounds of Mr. F. L. Talcott, a rich and retired cotton merchant, who has made his mark in the great cotton transactions of his time, an old Knickerbocker and a genial and accomplished gentleman are the first that are seen on entering the mountain road. Mr. Talcott has four acres with a front of 1,000 feet on the mountain road extending back to the Dyckman estate in the rear.

Inwood Hill estate of Frederick Talcott circled in red on 1879 real estate map.
Inwood Hill estate of Frederick Talcott circled in red on 1879 real estate map.

The ground, though not unusually large, is usually treated in its relations to landscape gardening. The area is terraced from the road and curves away to the highest point in an elevated mound planted with flowers. Aviaries, rookeries, glens, grounds for all kinds of sport , make up a part of the design, and the old preserved trees, such as the pine, the Norwegian maple , the dogwood and the lofty chestnut, all grow to admirable heights.

But the main feature of Mr. Talcott’s place is undoubtedly his house, now nearly completed, a model English baronial hall, built by an English architect. The structure is composed entirely of brick and stone, there being no lath or plaster or stucco work used at all. The foundations are solid, the walls eighteen inches thick and the house three stories high, with cellars and observatory. The parlors are very commodious, with sixteen feet ceilings, and all the rooms in the house are elegantly painted in colors, the blue room, the red room and others being finished regardless of cost.

Solid and substantial outside, the house inside presents a picture of luxuriance which our retired merchants gather about them when they give up business cares. Mr. Talcott is a connoisseur in sculpture and painting and has many valuable works illustrating both. His most noticeable pieces are two figures in marble, cut by the celebrated Welsh sculptor, Mr. Richard, a self taught artist some twenty years ago. The first is titled the “Boy and Butterfly,” a very successful attempt of the artist to represent the figure in the act of clutching the insect. The posture is natural, the lines graceful and the tout ensemble almost beyond criticism. The second piece is the “Girl and the Soap Bubbles,” representing a nicely molded figure performing her innocent exploit. Besides these works Mr. Talcott has others of note and value that were described in the HERALD over twenty years ago.

The lookout from this place is a broken prospect of water, meadows, lawns and forest, and opposite are the red and gray walls of the Palisades, where

Aloft the ash and warrior oak
Cast anchor in the rifted rock.

Gigantic rocks, tufted knolls declining in a circular descent into the woods of tall pines and spreading elms, the purpled peaks away towards New York in the hazy distance, are some of the picturesque scenes that can be enjoyed from this elevated plot.”

On November 1, 1884 The Cotton King of Inwood died after a long battle with cancer. According to his New York Times obituary, “It was nearly 15 years ago that a cancer appeared on one of the lips of Mr. Talcott. It was operated upon, as he thought at the time, successfully, but a few years afterward it appeared and was again cut out.” When a larger lump appeared on his neck the summer before his death, doctors told him there was nothing that could be done. His final weeks were marked by delirium and intense pain. Slipping into unconsciousness he “passed away peacefully at 5 o’clock.

Talcott estate sale, New York Herald, April 3, 1904.
Talcott estate sale, New York Herald, April 3, 1904.

In 1913, the Talcott estate was sold for some three-hundred-thousand dollars.

8 COMMENTS

  1. I have the following: Frederick Lyman Talcott, Sr., was buried at Greenwood Cemetery on December 4, 1884, but transferred to the Woodlawn Cemetery and buried there on May 12, 1886. Plot: Prospect Section: 44 Lot: 26-29LLP

    In addition, I have his obituary if you are interested.

    Do you have a picture of his house?

  2. My husbands great great grandfather was Frederick L. Talcott *New York City). My husband’s grandmother left him the Talcott Family History Book (one of 50 printed). We have his great grandfather’s photo album.. via late 1890’s with photos of
    Harriet Talcott Barr. However, no photo of the New York City Talcott home.

  3. I also have some pictures of Frederick Talcott and would love to see what you have. Are there any of his home? I also have a picture of his wife.

  4. My wife is a descendant of Harriet Elliott Talcott, through her first husband James Robert Harrison. We would love to know more about any photographs of the family … and any information at all about Harrison (his origins are a complete mystery)

  5. To Robert L. Curry. Responding to your comment Jan. 4, 2015. My husband,
    B. Dennis Sustare’s grandmother is the daughter of Harriet Elliott Talcott through her second marriage. His great-grandmother’s first marriage was to James Harrison. They had a son … so Natalie Talcott Barr had a half-brother, James Harrison, Jr. I do have
    information about James Harrison, In fact … James Harrison, Jr was killed in WWII. He was a pilot and shot down over Germany. James Harrison, Jr. and Suzette Talcott Dennison and James were cousins … I have a photo of him and mom (Suzette) together. I still have his silver flight wings he sent Mom before he was killed in Germany. I am curious how your wife is related to James Harrison (son of James Harrison, Sr. and Harriet Elliott Talcott. Please have your wife contact me at the e-mail above. I would love to share the family history/info with her. Thank you.
    p.s. By the way, my husband, B. Dennis Sustare, PhD is also a Biologist. Note .. looked him up on Linked-In for info. You and he have a lot in common.

  6. To Judy Sustare: just now found your reply from 25 January. My wife is the granddaughter of James Harrison and Harriett Talcott, through their son James Jr. and Elle Elmore; their son Victor Barr Harrison and Eunice Warnock; and their son Victor Barr Harrison Jr. and Elise Johnson. I do not have your email for a private reply; please email me at robert.curry@villanova.edu

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