Black Gotham Stories

Home Life

"To Martina"

Poem copied by Rebecca Peterson into Martina Dickerson's frindship album

Since racial prejudice prevented the black elite from enjoying much of the city's public entertainment, a good deal of their leisure activities took place within the home.

Maritcha’s memoir offers a fascinating glimpse into the social lives of the black elite.  In it, she described in vivid detail the "circles" formed around the wives of elite men, most notably Clorice Esteve Reason, Elizabeth West Bowers, and her own mother, Mary Joseph Lyons.  Whether serious or fun loving, these social functions were always in the best of taste.

To keep in contact with friends in other cities--notably Philadephia, Baltimore, and Boston--women of the elite maintained friendship albums which akend together made up a diffuse social circle.  These albums circulated from friend to friend, home to home, neighborhood to neighborhood, and city to city.  The few that have survived were kept by Philadelphia women in the late 1830s and early 1840s.   One album belonged to Martina Dickerson and contains several poems submitted by John Peterson's daughter, Rebecca.  Peter Williams Jr.’s daughter, Amy Matilda Cassey, who had moved to Philadelphia after her marriage to prominent merchant Joseph Cassey, owned a second album.  Similar to scrapbooks, these friendship albums contained items of all kinds—poems, essays, letters, watercolors.  Whether contributed by women or men, the majority of the literary pieces were not original but copied from works of favorite poets and writers.  They tell us less about the personal emotions of the contributors and more about what they valued: literary knowledge of eighteenth and nineteenth-century authors, the aesthetic sensibility their works reflected, and the moral values of friendship, marriage, motherhood, domesticity, piety they espoused.