Note: The hyper rich Stokes family were deeply intertwined by blood, business and investments to Ansonia and Derby Connecticut other leading industrial Baron families.
The prickly but well intentioned heiress Caroline Phelps and her sister Olivia built the Ansonia library in 1892 in memory of her grandfather, Ansonia founder Anson Greene Phelps and her parents; Caroline Phelps Stokes (The daughter of Anson Greene Phelps) and James Boulter Stokes of New York City.
James and Caroline had 11 children, including the notorious William Earl Dodge Stokes (WED Stokes) who built the famed Ansonia Hotel in Manhattan.
James Stokes parents came from England in 1798 where they started several businesses including importing fine woolen cloth, selling coal and real estate investment. In his life time Stokes was known as simply James Stokes, although he had been born James Boulter Stokes, Boulter being his mother’s name and her father’s full name. However on a trip to England in 1833 to meet his grandfather, he found the old man so cantankerous that he legally removed Boulter from his name.
A deeply religious man he joined the New York Peace Society and the New York Tract Society and from those groups met the industrialists Anson Greene Phelps and David Low Dodge. When he died in 1832 his sons James and Edward Halesworth Stokes took over the businesses.
James Stokes's younger brother, Josiah, worked for Anson Greene Phelps as a confidential clerk and was engaged to Phelps daughter Caroline when he was killed on May 4, 1832 when a warehouse he was working in collapsed. In 1837 James Stokes married Caroline and became a partner in the Phelps-Dodge financial and industrial empire, the third son-in-law of Anson Phelps to become a partner in the family business.
By 1847 James was a partner in Ansonia Brass & Copper Company, the Ansonia Clock Company, and the Ansonia Land & Water Company. He still held interest in the Stokes, cloth importing company.
Stokes had several homes. One in England, a house called Clifton Cottage, on the grounds of Anson Phelps's 35 acre estate on the East River, 37 Madison Avenue and in a house situated between Derby and Ansonia that was originally an Episcopal rectory, enlarged at the rear.
Despite his wealth Stokes visited Bellevue Hospital and taught Bible class there and gave of his time to several public schools. He supported the YMCA and gave fortunes to the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor; Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled; New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was offered the nomination for Mayor of New York but declined.
Caroline Stokes, James wife died on March 9 1881 and Stokes died shortly afterwards.
Caroline Phelps Stokes partner in building the Ansonia library was her sister Olivia Egleston Phelps Stokes (1847-1927) the sixth child of James and Caroline and the older sister of Caroline Phelps Stokes.
Both sister were raised in an atmosphere of Christian piety, missionary zeal, and philanthropy. Her father thought it his duty to spend the family’s wealth in alignment with his Christian values.
They were both home educated and grew to be almost identical in their outlook and tastes despite being seven years apart. When their sisters married, both girls stayed single and dedicated themselves philanthropic deeds.
Olivia served as secretary on the board of the New York Young Women’s Christian Association, taught Sunday school, inherited her mother’s sewing class at the Phelps Chapel, and attended a club for working girls. She was an accomplished writer and authored several inspirational and religious works.
The sisters had been especially interested in creating opportunities for the vocational education of African-Americans in the South, and Caroline bequeathed large sums of money to support institutions like the Tuskegee Institute and the Calhoun Colored School in Alabama. Most importantly, she bequeathed the remainder of her estate to establish the Phelps-Stokes Fund for the improvement of tenement housing in New York, and the education of “Indians, deserving white students, and Negroes in Africa and the United States.”
Following her sister Caroline’s death in 1908, Olivia Phelps Stokes donated generously to the Phelps-Stokes Fund, which concentrated primarily on African-American education and the improvement of race relations in its early years. She bequeathed $100,000 (equivalent to approximately $2.4m today) to both the Tuskegee and Hampton institutes, as well as a smaller sum to establish similar facilities in Africa.
In 1915, Olivia donated two tenements she had built in memory of her sister to the Phelps-Stokes Fund. Surviving Caroline by nineteen years, Olivia died of pneumonia in Washington, D.C., at eighty.
James Fisk, Jr. (April 1, 1835 – January 7, 1872) was a stockbroker corporate executive who was one of the robber barons of the Gilded Age. Born in Pownal, Vermont, he ran away with the circus as a boy, when on to become a hotel waiter and peddler and eventually found his way to Washington DC where he worked for Jordan Marsh selling textiles to the government. Army contracts and probably some cotton smuggling across enemy lines made him rich (Although he lost his first fortune in speculation)
Fisk became a stockbroker in New York City, and went to work for Daniel Drew a master at manipulating stock prices, as a buyer and played an essential role in Drew’s campaign to wrest control of the Erie Railroad from Cornelius Vanderbilt. Fisk and Jay Gould eventually took the railroad for themselves (By continually issuing fraudulent Erie stock) and remained lifelong business partners. The pair had an alliance with corrupt Tammany Hall leader Boss Tweed who handled their political bribery and when their back channel attempts to corner the gold market caused thousands of investors to lose fortunes Fisk and Gould another fortune.
Fisk married a women named Lucy Moore, an orphan from Springfield, Massachusetts, when he was 19 and she was 15. Lucy was. (She was a stepsister of Col. George W. Hooker of Vermont) It was a sort of open marriage. Fisk carried on in extramarital affair and Lucy had a childhood friend, Fanny Harrod as her lover. One of Fisk’s women was Josie Mansfield, a plump woman whom Fisk put up in an apartment a few doors down from the Erie Railroad headquarters on West 23rd Street and had a covered passage built linking the back doors of the headquarters and her apartment building.
In 1867, Jim Fisk met Helen Josephine “Josie” Mansfield, an unemployed actress, while visiting to the Manhattan bordello of Annie Wood, who introduced the couple. Mansfield was a friend of the Madam and may or may not have been working for her, history isn’t clear on that. Mansfield was broke and close to homeless and Jim Fisk fell instantly in love with her. He bought her clothes, gave her a place to live (a four story house on Twenty-Fourth Street) and paid all of her bills.
Mansfield was born in Boston and at age ten moved west to Stockton, California with her family. Her father was killed in a duel over a political issues and her mother remarried a man named Warren.
She was caught in a scandal when a middle-aged attorney named D. W. Perley started flirting with her and her stepfather had to chase him away at pistol point. Mansfield would later say she was being used by her parents in a blackmail plot. According to a newspaper report “
About one month after this acquaintance had been formed, Perley was visiting at the house of Mrs. Warren. Some have said that Mrs. Warren was Josie’s mother. Perley was in the parlor with Helen Josephine at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The door was locked.
Suddenly a loud knocking was heard at the door. Before the inmates of the room had time to respond, the door was burst open, and Lawlor and Mr. Warren rushed into the room. Each had a cocked revolver in his hand. Lawlor quickly advanced to Perley and placed the revolver to his head. Warren stood guard at the door, while Helen Josephine pretended to faint. Lawlor said to Perley: “You infernal scoundrel, you have tampered with the affections of my wife. If you don’t instantly sign a check for $5,000 I will blow your brains out.”
Lawlor then produced a check already filled up for the amount on a local bank, only lacking the signature of Perley. Perley signed it. Lawlor then put his pistol to Perley’s head a second time, and ordered him out of the house, telling him if he ever spoke of the affair he would shoot him on sight.
When Perley escaped he hurried to the bank and stopped payment of the check. He then published the whole transaction in the San Francisco newspapers, describing it as a conspiracy by Warren, Mrs. Warren, Lawlor and his wife. He also sent a friend to Lawlor, warning him out of California within thirty days, on penalty of death. Lawlor sailed with his wife for New York. Mansfield eventually married an actor named Frank Lawler and made their way east. They divorced two years later.
The married Fisk's relationship with Mansfield scandalized New York society.
On New Year’s Day, 1870, Josie Mansfield hosted an open house and Fisk invited d Stokes to join him at the party where he introduced Stokes to Mansfield. Soon afterwards Stokes and Mansfield were secretly seeing other behind Fisk’s back. Mansfield eventually left Fisk and Stokes left his wife and children and moved in with her.
Edward Stiles Stokes (April 27, 1841 – November 2, 1901) was the owner of a New York oil refinery and the son of Edward Halesworth Stokes, A millionaire who owned a New York cloth business. Edward Halesworth Stokes was the brother of James Stokes.
Young Stokes was educated in Philadelphia and later New York before starting in a partnership with Jenks Budlong, manufacturing and selling cheese. In 1862 he married Maria Southack, daughter of John W. Southack, wealthy furniture manufacturer of New York.
In 1865 Stokes was operating an oil refinery in Brooklyn at Hunter’s Point and brought in railway man James Fisk as a silent partner and carried on a secret arrangement with Fisk discounting freight charges for the Stokes refinery while they billed buyers for the nonexistent charges. Stokes, was a well know figure in New York’s night life. He was rich, tough, dashing, desperately handsome and athletic from a good family. But he was also spoiled and rash, a gambler who spent most of his free time between racetracks and saloons. A flashy dresser who liked be the center of attention, Stokes spent money at a faster rate than he could make it.
Fisk learned about the affair no doubt, since he regularly hired private detectives to follow his partners and top executives around. He struck in a revenge campaign and had Stokes arrested on a charge of embezzlement in connection with the oil business. Stokes also took over the refinery by force and got injunctions against Stokes and his mother (Who the land the refinery was on) from entering the property.
Mansfield has epic nerve. Although she has purred Fisk, she demanded that he turn over $25,000 he told her that he was keeping in trust for her. Fisk refused of course. Now she was in trouble. Word went out across the city that Fisk was no longer paying Mansfield bills and the creditors came called.
Stokes was almost bankrupt at this point. Fisk attacked Stokes Wall Street speculations and refused to ship oil from the Pennsylvania regions to New York. Stokes began a scheme to extort Fisk by blackmail, threatening to give his love letter to Mansfield to the press. The letters were said to outline Fisk’s various fiscal crimes and cheating but Fisk refused to pay.
On January 6, 1872, Fisk, 36 years old, came across Stokes in the Grand Central Hotel and Stokes shot him twice, once in the arm and once in the abdomen as he climbed a set of marble stairs where Stokes was waiting. Fisk died six hours later after giving a dying declaration identifying Stokes as the killer.
The murder was the sensation of the day. Jubilee Jim Fisk lay in state for a day at the Grand Opera House, a theatre he had owned and managed where 20,000 people came by to pay their last respects. His body was taken by train to Brattleboro, Vermont where thousands more turned out to see the body.
Stokes pleaded self-defense using a blithering string of half-baked truths to explain his actions. Stokes was tried three times for the murder, with each trial showing signs of bribed jurors. He was eventually found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to four to six years in Sing Sing prison.
The thirty-nine blackmail letters from Fisk to Mansfield were published in the New York Herald one week after Jim Fisk’s death. They contained no proof of wrong doing and were, essentially, syrupy love letter and little else.
Stokes’s father had gone bankrupt paying for his son’s defense and Stokes himself was penniless. Businessman Cassius Reed put up the money for the second trial, and relatives spent $60,000 on the third trial. Stokes cousin, W. E. D. Stokes, convinced his father to spend this $60,000 for Stokes legal defense. The money never stopped pouring in. While in Sing Sing, he had a private office, a very comfortable cell with a small but respectable library and shelves stocked with good whiskey, cigars, champagne and delicacies.
After his release from prison Stokes became a one third partner of Cassius H Read, a friend of his who owned the Hoffman House Hotel, corner of Twenty-Fifth Street and Broadway. The Hoffman House was New York’s gather spot for the rich and famous. Its tenants and guests included Sarah Bernhardt, Grover Cleveland, Buffalo Bill Cody, Tony Pastor, John L. Sullivan, General Winfield Scott and others. Stokes and his family lived there as well. Stokes and Read were involved in several business ventures together before the Fisk killing.
While Stokes was on trial and sitting in a cell in the Tombs, he asked Read to watch over his affairs for him, which Read did faithfully. Despite the toll it took on his own reputation, Read stood by Stokes during the entire trial.
It’s interesting that while Stokes was being held on Murderer’s Row in the Tombs, he didn’t live badly. At the time, prisoner with money could have whatever they could pay. Stokes had a carpet on the cell floor, had meals brought in from Delmonico’s which was across the street from his home.
When Stokes was in Sing Sing Prison. Read loaned him $1,500, a considerable amount of money at the time and when Stokes was released from prison, Read took him in. But Stokes was always quarrelsome, with everyone, and seemed to thrive on lawsuits and he of course eventually sued Read. (Stokes also had a long running battle with his cousin, W. E. D. Stokes)
When he took Stokes in as a partner, Stokes managed to have Read change ownership of the hotel into a corporation. Stokes managed to get control of the corporation by secretly buying up stock and making himself President of the company. At the same time, Read made a series of bad investments at Stokes suggestion, and by 1895, Stokes had pushed him out of the company. Broke, Read retired from business. When Stokes and Read first went into business together, Read was worth an estimated $700,000, a fortune at the time equally today to about $20 million dollars.
Three years later, Stokes, now very wealthy, sold the hotel. However the New York Times reported that Stokes never went to bed without the lights on and a valet on a couch, beside him. He was always afraid of Fisk’s ghost.
Stokes died in New York City on November 2, 1901 at 3 o'clock afternoon at his sister home at 731 St. Nicholas Avenue. He had been battling Bright's disease for two month. Just before he died Rosamond Langdon Barclay, who was half black and half white, (called an “Octoroon” in the newspapers of the day) appeared at Stokes death bed and claimed to be his wife. She said they were married a year before “On Oct. 18, 1900, at Shipmen’s Point, Canada, by an Episcopal minister whose name I don’t remember.”
She said that she had first met Stokes when she was a little girl. She said her father was Charles Barclay, an Englishman, and a friend of Stokes and that she was given a private education in Farmington, Conn., and that twelve years ago she renewed her acquaintance with Stokes. “Mr. Stokes and I were married He was stopping at the hotel where we were. At the time Mr. Stokes was not in good health, and he wished to provide for me and arrange matters so that should he become seriously ill I would have the right to visit him, even though our marriage was not made public.”
The Stokes family probably managed to pay her off because a day after Stokes died Rosamond and her mother and brother (Who lived at Stokes house as well) left Stokes mansion and moved to Yonkers never to be heard from again.
Josie Mansfield, the lover of both Fisk and Stokes, sued Fisk’s widow for $200,000, which she claimed she was owed. She lost the suit. She left New York for Paris, France. In 1891, at the age of 50, in London, she married Robert Livingston Reade, a young multimillionaire who soon left her but always supported her. In 1899 she was stricken with paralysis she moved to Philadelphia to live with her sister, the wife of a wealthy merchant. In 1909, she was reported to be living in poverty with her brother in Watertown, South Dakota. She went to Boston. But was hooted and booed in the streets. She managed to return to Paris where she lived for many years, dying in an American hospital in Paris in 1931.