Excerpt from The Frozen Water Trade by Gavin Weightman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Frozen Water Trade

A True Story

by Gavin Weightman

The Frozen Water Trade
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2003, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2004, 288 pages

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In Charleston, they were entertained by some kindly Bostonians who were living there, but the heat was just as bad as in Havana. The brothers sailed on to Virginia, driven north by the rising summer temperatures, and, still with their "tongues hanging out," as John Henry put it, cruised into the Potomac River, where they had a glimpse of Mount Vernon, which had been George Washington's estate. In search of a cure for John Henry, they went on overland to a spa in Bath, Pennsylvania. Each day his health was deteriorating--he may have been suffering from bone tuberculosis--and lumps appeared on his side. In August, they met up by chance with their mother and eldest brother, William, and all four went to Philadelphia, from where Frederic and William took the stagecoach back to Boston. At the end of January 1802, John Henry died in Philadelphia, his mother by his bedside. When Frederic, back on the Rockwood estate, heard the news four months after he had last seen his brother, he was deeply affected.

Frederic's brother William, who had finished his studies, went off to Europe to broaden his education. The Judge found Frederic an unpaid position with a mercantile firm owned by his friends the Sullivan brothers. There he spent two years arranging shipments of pimento, nutmeg, sugar, and tea. With this experience behind him, the Judge felt confident enough to set Frederic up in business on his own, though he did not know what exactly he would trade in. The best bet at that time appeared to be speculation in real estate, for Boston was a growing city, and handsome profits had been made by those who owned land that could be built on. The Judge himself decided to put the family fortune into a venture in South Boston that was considered to be gilt-edged. A new bridge was being built to connect the town with an isolated area of land in the complex archipelago of Boston Bay. Frederic had a stake in it too, buying land for $7,640 in partnership with his brother William.

While they still mourned the death of John Henry, the family was able to look forward to a happy event, the marriage of Frederic's younger sister Emma Jane. She was by all accounts an attractive young woman, and her family's wealth appeared to be assured. Her suitor was a shy young man named Robert Hallowell Gardiner, who had come into a fortune by chance. His father, Robert Hallowell, had been collector of taxes for the port of Boston before the War of Independence, and had fled to England in 1776. Robert was born in Bristol in 1782, and his family moved back to Boston the same year. When he was six years old, his maternal grandfather, Dr. Silvester Gardiner, who owned a very large estate on the Kennebec River, in Maine, died, leaving everything to Robert's uncle William. A year later, William died and left everything to Robert, provided he agreed to change his name to Gardiner. He would come into his inheritance on his twenty-second birthday.

Robert had studied at Harvard, and when he first met Emma Tudor, he was a member of the New England elite, a very eligible young man. His marriage to Emma was a great match for the Tudors, and would turn out to be vital for the new trade Frederic and William were about to embark upon. Though they fell out in later life, Robert Gardiner would be the very best friend and supporter Frederic could have hoped for in the years ahead. It was in the heady atmosphere of the summer of 1805, when the wedding was celebrated with picnics and parties on the Tudors' Rockwood estate, that Frederic and William finally decided to embark on the venture they had talked about for some time. Emma had married Robert on June 25, 1805. A few weeks later, Frederic bought a leather-bound farmer's almanac and inscribed on the cover the title "Ice House Diary," above a crude drawing of the kind of icehouse, if not the very one, the family had at Rockwood. He also wrote the inscription "He who gives back at the first repulse and without striking the second blow, despairs of success, has never been, is not, and never will be, a hero in love, war or business." It is probable he added that later, inscribing it as if in stone on the illustration of the icehouse, for he had absolutely no idea in 1805 of the trials he was to face over the next ten years.

From The Frozen Water Trade by Gavin Weightman. Copyright 2003 by Gavin Weightman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Hyperion Publishing.

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