Township of Morris – 275 Years
The North Jersey History & Genealogy Center is proud to present a series on the heritage of Morris Township as the municipality celebrates its 275th anniversary. The exhibit, Township of Morris – 275 Years, is on display in the F.M. Kirby Gallery of the Morristown & Morris Township Library through August 15th.
Selina G. Butterworth documents the realities of Gilded Age New Jersey
By Cheryl C. Turkington, North Jersey History and Genealogy Center
The diary of Selina Gibbs Butterworth (1837-1919), mistress of the Butterworth estate in Morris Township, offers a fascinating look into a life of wealth and privilege. When the young British-born wife of silk merchant Theron Butterworth arrived at his estate in Morris Township in 1868, she had little experience overseeing an upper-class household.
Selina Gibbs Butterworth, the daughter of a minister, had little formal education and often felt overwhelmed by her new duties. Her diary reflects the ebb and flow of maintaining “Ventosa,” a twenty-two room mansion, as well as caring for her adult stepchildren and extended family, entertaining guests, dealing with illnesses and health scares, and supervising a large household staff that often consisted of Irish immigrants untrained in proper domestic service. Lonely and lacking a confidant with whom to share her experiences, she turned to writing,
January 1, 1868
The new year has come in with clouds, and rain, and wind, and snow, and hail, and sleet…if the day had been fair we might have been expecting someone to come, and they might not have favored us and then we might have been a little disappointed, altho [sic] we do not know any body in Morristown, except the Minister and the storekeepers. It is just as well that the storm came – but how many gorgeous dresses & jewels, and how much paint and whitewash has been expended to-day, without accomplishing the desired result.
Thursday, January 30, 1868
I thought I was doing a good deed by giving the servants a sleigh-ride but Mr. B. said, with a wise shake of his head – “there will be trouble out of it. I never knew it to fail when you go out of your way to oblige these people, there is sure to be trouble.” Mr. B is convinced I have learned my lesson.
Sunday, October 4, 1868
Maggie our waitress took it into her head to quarrel with “Mary Mac” [the cook] and went off without any warning or without even coming to tell me; and she pretended to “love” me so much. There is no faith or dependence to be put in such kinds of humans.
This Summer in addition to the ordinary household duties, canning and preserving fruits, making jelly, etc., etc., I have been sewing to be in readiness for a “little visitor” who is expected to make its appearance in a week or two, so, of course, I have been very busy especially as the work was new to me, and I have not felt like doing much real work. Now I am about ready, I believe. Mary [her Irish maid] has been with me since Mama went away and she has helped a great deal.
Mary Edna “Birdie” Butterworth was born exactly one month later. Selina Butterworth bore three more children at Ventosa – daughters Charlotte May and Alice Geraldine, and son Samuel Fowler. Alice and Charlotte both attended Miss Dana’s School and later travelled to Europe with their mother and brother Samuel, who attended Stevens Institute of Technology before finding work as an engineer. Mary Edna graduated from Woman’s Medical College in 1902 and worked as a resident physician at Laura Franklin Hospital; Mary dedicated her life to improving children’s healthcare in New York City.
January 1, 1870
…dear little “Birdie” is over a year old now and a dear little thing she is; she can walk alone a few steps and tries to talk very plainly…Mary Ann [the baby nurse] is so good to her that I do not take as much care of her as I would like to, and I have so many things to attend to. Now we have a new cook, who is desperately slow, so I have to be in the kitchen a good deal more than I like.
In later years, as a widow, Selina travelled extensively in the company of her adult children and wrote professionally, often under the pseudonym Sophy S. Burr, for a Christian newspaper, published in New York City. She died in Morristown in 1919.
The Diary of Selina Gibbs Butterworth is part of the Butterworth Family Collection, which is available to researchers in the North Jersey History and Genealogy Center.