Thursday, November 29, 2007

Melissa Morse of Roxbury, NY

My wife and I dined at a diner and pizzaria, Brio's, in Phoenicia, NY. The late Spalding Gray mentions Brio's in his HBO monologue Terror of Pleasure, which is about his purchase of a cabin in Phoenicia. Our waitress at Brio's was the extremely charming and personable Melissa Morse. Ms. Morse grew up in Roxbury, NY, the birthplace of financier Jay Gould(1836-1892) and no relation to the science writer Stephen Jay Gould, who was a Queens boy. The Wikipedia article on Gould states that Gould (of British and Scottish, not Dutch, ancestry) was famous as a financier associated with Jim Fisk and Boss Tweed. According to Wikipedia:

"Gould and James Fisk became involved with Tammany Hall. They made Boss Tweed a director of the Erie Railroad, and Tweed, in return, arranged favorable legislation for them. Tweed and Gould became the subjects of political cartoons by Thomas Nast in 1869. In October 1871, when Tweed was held on $8 million bail, Gould was the chief bondsman."

Wikipedia adds:

"In his lifetime and for a century after, Gould had a firm reputation as the most unethical of the 19th century American businessmen known as robber barons...He had no opposition to using stock manipulation and insider trading (which were then legal but frowned upon) to build capital and to execute or prevent hostile takeover attempts...Even so, John D. Rockefeller named him as the most skilled businessman he ever encountered...These biographers portrayed Gould as a parasite who extracted money from businesses and took no interest in improving them. Anti-semitism, in connection with Gould's name, motivated some of this hostility...More recent biographers, including Maury Klein and Edward Renehan, have reexamined Gould's career with more attention to primary sources. They have concluded that fiction often overwhelmed fact in previous accounts, and that despite his methods, Gould's objectives were usually constructive...At the time of his death in the 1890s, Gould, who was worth $72 million, was a benefactor in the reconstruction of the Reformed Church of Roxbury, now the Jay Gould."

Given Gould's bad reputation (possibly due to misguided anti-Semitism, according to Wikipedia) I had been, for many years, surprised that the Roxbury church was named after Gould, i.e., it is called the Jay Gould Church. I wonder if Gould funded it to prove that he was of a Protestant English rather than a Jewish background.

Melissa Morse told me that there are five large families in Roxbury, to include Morse, Gould, Hinkley and two others, and that she is related to several of them. I have met some of the Gould descendents through the years, for instance at a talk one gave in Andes, NY.

Roxbury, NY is a uniquely beautiful village. Although it is about 40 miles from my house, my wife and I frequently drive up there to Great Gorge, NY because of the striking scenery along NY 30.

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