Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Harp of Pelham: A Book Published in 1844 by William Jay Bolton of Pelham Manor

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In 1844, a son of Rev. Robert Bolton of Pelham Manor named William Jay Bolton published a book of poetry entitled "The Harp of Pelham". A scanned copy of the book recently has been made available online as part of the collections of Google Book. A citation to the book and a link to the scanned copy appear immediately below.
Bolton, William Jay, The Harp of Pelham (NY, NY: Windt's Printery 1844).

The image of the book is not perfect. On a number of important pages the text is cut off along the right margin making it difficult to read some of the material. Nevertheless, very few copies of the privately-printed tome still exist. I have unsuccessfully been trying to acquire a copy for nearly five years. Thus, the searchable online copy is a welcome addition to Google Books.

The story behind "The Harp of Pelham" is fascinating. Today's Historic Pelham Blog is an effort to tell that story.

William Jay Bolton

William Jay Bolton was a son of the Rev. Robert Bolton who built Bolton Priory and founded Christ Church in Pelham Manor. William Jay Bolton was an exceptional artist who eventually was admitted to the National Academy of Design where he won prizes including a coveted "Silver Palette" for one of his works. See Roberts, Anne Elliott, William Jay Bolton -- Artist in Glass, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 22, 1954.

He put his talents to good use as he, his brothers and father worked to beautify Bolton Priory and the nearby church building they had constructed. He became a master stained glass window artist assisted by his brother John Bolton. He began working with glass when he created some small panels "bearing the arms of the Pell family and those of his father's forbears" for windows in Bolton Priory, the family residence. See Bolton, Reginald Pelham, William Jay Bolton Associate of the National Academy, Artist, Author, Worker in Stained Glass and Minister of the Gospel, 9(2) The Quarterly Bulletin of the Westchester County Historical Society 25, 27-28 (Apr. 1933). Thereafter, he created for the little Christ Church building what is believed to be the nation's first figured stained glass window. The beautiful window, which depicts figures for the "Adoration of the Magi", may still be seen in the church.

I have written about William Jay Bolton and his work a number of times. Examples include the following.

Monday, April 4, 2005: Art and Poetry of William Jay Bolton of Bolton Priory in Pelham

Thursday, April 7, 2005: Another Volume of William Jay Bolton's Sketches and Ruminations Located?

Friday, April 1, 2005: The Earliest Newspaper in Pelham?

The Pelham Chronicle

In 1838, William Jay Bolton began the preparation of a family "newspaper" distributed about every other week. The cost of the paper was a "donation" of the reader's choice. No printed copies of the little newspaper are known to exist. It appears that the "newspaper" was prepared in handwritten form in small journals and was passed among Bolton family members as a form of amusement to alleviate some of the tedium of living in the undeveloped and somewhat isolated rural area in the Manor of Pelham.

Interestingly, though, the collections of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham contain two slim leather-bound journals filled with handwritten pages that appear to contain many of the "issues" of the little newspaper that William Jay Bolton prepared and circulated among family members. In most such "issues" there is a "Poet's Corner" containing poetry written by William Jay Bolton.

An example of the first page of such an "issue" of The Pelham Chronicle (Sept. 1, 1842) from one of those volumes appears immediately below:

The Schoolhouse and The Harp of Pelham

In the early 1840s, members of the Bolton family worked to build and open a tiny little schoolhouse to provide free education for local children. The little building still stands next to Christ Church on Shore Road near its intersection with Pelhamdale Avenue. An engraving of the school building appears immediately below.

In about 1844, William Jay Bolton decided to collect the poetry he had written and publish it in book form. The book, The Harp of Pelham, was sold for $1. Proceeds of sale were used to fund development and operation of the little schoolhouse pictured above. In fact, in the Preface to the volume, Bolton wrote:

"The contents of this little volume originally appeared in the domestic newspaper of a large family, who, living in the seclusion of the country, and thrown upon their own resources for amusement, found a chronicle of passing events both interesting and instructive.

A word about such a family periodical, and this one in particular, may not be improper here, or useless elsewhere. It appears about once in a fortnight [every two weeks]: the price is 'one contribution.' It usually opens with advertisements, humorous or real, and a leading article: it notices events passing and past, contains tales, essays, conundrums, &c. and concludes with a 'poet's corner.'

From a small beginning six years ago, our 'Pelham Chronicle,' has grown in importance among a circle of friends who have been pleased to consider it possessed some merit . . . .

The proceeds of sale, if any, will be appropriated for to the school-house for this destitute neighborhood."

The Harp of Pelham is notable in a number of important respects. First, it may be the first published book actually written in Pelham Manor. Second, it reflects the early work of a young man who later became a noted artist. Third, it is part of the history of Bolton Priory and the little schoolhouse built by the Bolton Family for the neighborhood. Finally, though apparently never printed, it reflects content that appeared in what might be viewed as the earliest "newspaper" prepared in Pelham.

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