Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy (1855-1906): scofflaw or scapegoat? Part 2

by Nancy Maliwesky

Note: APHGA has joined NewYorkHeritage.org, an online research site for New York history offering collections from New York libraries, historical societies, museums and archives. View our online collection here. Nancy wrote about the collection last year after completing its transcription. – Susan Hughes 

The Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy Collection is an aggregate of three separate eBay purchases.  Of these three purchases, at least two came from the same seller.  One contains seven letters of condolence written to Pomeroy’s boss at the New York Central Railroad, Francis La Bau, on various other railroad company’s letterheads.  The second, and smallest, is a group of four letters written to Pomeroy by business acquaintances on the occasion of the birth of his only child, a son, Frederick Jr.  The largest group contains 66 pieces.   The letters in this group were written between 1877 and 1916 with the majority written in 1906, the year Pomeroy died, and afterwards.  Upon first reviewing the entire collection, it seemed to me that it belonged to Pomeroy’s widow, Ophelia Taylor Williams Pomeroy, as most of the letters were written to her by her friend, distant relative and pastor, Reverend Albert J. Lyman, of the South Congregational Church in Brooklyn, NY.  But, on closer inspection, I now wonder who in fact saved these letters. 

The collection contains six letters of condolence written to Frederick Jr., one letter and one telegram of condolence written to “the family”, but no letters of condolence written to the widow, causing me to wonder whether the letters may have been saved by Frederick Jr., not Ophelia.  There is also a series of correspondence, starting in 1888, between Pomeroy and Rev. Lyman regarding Pomeroy’s reluctance to join the South Congregational Church.  He did eventually join and soon after served on the Board of Trustees.  There is also an interesting exchange of letters and telegrams between Rev. Lyman and Pomeroy in which Lyman asks if Pomeroy could have a train make a special stop for Lyman and his bride on their wedding day [see photos].

It is evident in the letters written by Rev. Lyman that Ophelia Pomeroy was very active in the South Congregational Church. Included in this collection are a few letters from other church members and some literature regarding foreign missions. Because we are only privy to one side of these conversations, we end up learning more about Rev. Lyman than we do about Ophelia or Frederick. Also, due to the conventions of the day these letters, full of allusions to events and people, remain frustratingly vague in specifics.  The authors never directly state what he or she means – although in the case of the good Reverend, he ends up saying little to nothing but spends a great deal of time and paper saying it!

It would appear from Rev. Lyman’s letters that he was raised in the manner of Victorian etiquette in which a gentleman did not refer to other’s hardships or concerns with any degree of specificity and always flattered a lady.  Even when these social mores changed in the early 20th Century, Rev. Lyman kept this style of writing, at least as evidenced in this collection.

It would certainly be interesting to know who saved these letters, what the entirety of the collection was, and why the seller or sellers decided to split them up.  I find myself wondering whether Ophelia kept earlier correspondence between herself and her husband or her family, and whether there is an archive somewhere that contains Ophelia’s letters to her family and friends.  Because most of these letters are written to Ophelia, I feel that I know more about Ophelia than her husband, and I wonder about her later life.  It does not appear that she ever remarried. In 1940, Ophelia was living with her son and family in Westfield, Union County, NJ, having moved there sometime after 1935.  Prior to that, evidence indicates she lived in Brooklyn. She died about January 1955, and was buried next to her husband in the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY on 25 January 1955.  Her son died the following year. How did Ophelia fill her days and how different would her life have been had Frederick Pomeroy not died in 1906?  Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy’s trial and subsequent conviction has become a footnote in American business law and history.  But more so than his guilt or innocence, the loss of Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy may best be felt in the way it changed the lives of those around him.

"My Dear Mr Pomeroy. I have an idea that you are practically omniscient in railway matters and I am going to frankly ask whether you can help us out -" Lyman, Albert J. Letter to Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy. 17 June 1902. MS. Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy Collection. American Pomeroy Historic Genealogical Assn., Syracuse, NY. 2010.0307.1.11.

Lyman, Albert J. Letter to Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy. 17 June 1902. MS. Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy Collection. American Pomeroy Historic Genealogical Assn., Syracuse, NY. 2010.0307.1.11a.