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John C. Brinck autobiographical sketch


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

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John C. Brinck was born on April 9, 1811 to Cornelius P. Brinck and Maria Webb Brinck in Shawangunk, Ulster County, New York. After apprenticing at a dry goods store and teaching for several years in upstate New York, Brinck moved to New York City in 1833 and became a retail clerk on Hudson Street. He soon formed a partnership and opened his own retail business in the late 1830s. During his career, which spanned six decades, he operated dry goods stores on Hudson Street, Bleecker Street, Canal Street, Broadway, and Sixth Avenue, before retiring permanently around 1890. Brinck married Rebecca Marshall in 1838 and had several children. He died on September 29, 1900.

University of Delaware Library. Self works : diaries, scrapbooks, and other autobiographical efforts : catalog of an exhibition, August 19, 1997-December 18, 1997 : guide to selected sources. Newark, Del.: Special Collections, Hugh M. Morris Library, University of Delaware Library, 1997.1850 Federal Census (accessed via April 12, 2017)1900 Federal Census (accessed via April 12, 2017)Dutch Reformed Church Records, Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Shawangunk II, Book 47 (accessed via April 17, 2017)Information derived from the collection.

This volume contains an autobiographical sketch of John C. Brinck’s childhood in upstate New York, mercantile career in New York City, and travels to the Midwest, covering the period between 1811 and the early 1890s.

Brinck described his childhood in Ulster County, New York, noting that he was born in a log cabin to a farm family of Dutch descent. Brinck received limited schooling and his parents discouraged him from apprenticing to a trade since his labor was needed on the family farm. When he was around seventeen years sold, he apprenticed at a local dry goods store and spent several years teaching in Orange County, New York, before he secured a position as a retail clerk in New York City in 1833. In 1837, Brinck formed a partnership with Thomas J. Coleman and started his own retail business on Hudson Street. Much of his autobiography focuses on his successes and failures in business, economic trends that affected trade, and his search for the most fashionable places in the city to open a dry goods store. Brinck noted that he was in the retail business for fifty years, twenty-nine of which he spent in partnership with others.

In addition to his retail business, Brinck described his involvement with several historically-significant events. He met Aaron Burr when he was still a clerk in the 1830s and described him as a man of “small stature” with “very small and penetrating black eyes.” He joined the 7th Regiment of the New York State Militia in the mid-1840s, where he participated in the funeral procession of Andrew Jackson and acted as an honor guard for the body of John Quincy Adams while he lay in state in New York City. He was with the 7th Regiment when they intervened in the Astor Place Riot on May 10, 1849. Brinck noted that the 7th Regiment fired into the crowd when they failed to disperse, killing at least twenty people and injuring many others.

Brink made two trips from New York City to the Midwest, first to Nashville, Tennessee, in Fall 1843, and then to St. Paul, Minnesota, in Summer 1868. For both of these journeys, it appears that Brinck transcribed the daily entries from his travel journal, yielding more detailed information than other sections of his autobiography. Brinck traveled to Nashville to determine if he should move his retail business to the West, a decision that was “indefinitely postponed” following his journey. Brinck traveled primarily by steamer across the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River, but also made use of railroads and stagecoaches to reach his destination. Brinck and his wife visited their daughter and son-in-law in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1868, stopping at Niagara Falls and Chicago along the way. While in Minnesota, Brinck and his family visited Minneapolis, Fort Snelling, and several local lakes. Brinck noted how much had changed since his first journey west, and spent much time contemplating the “vast extent and magnitude of our country, the extent of lakes, rivers and mountains, its variety of soil for cultivation and production, the vast number of cities, with teeming millions, spreading over the country, the magnitude of business in its various branches, the method and facilities of speedy travel.”

Brinck frequently commented on “the active busy age” of the nineteenth century, and showed a remarkable awareness of the historical and social changes he had witnessed. His life often embodied prominent historical trends: he participated in the large rural-to-urban migration, took advantage of the expansion in commerce to establish himself in the retail trade, and even briefly fell under the spell of westward expansion. Brinck’s life also reflected the religious changes of the time. Although he was born into the Dutch Reformed Church, he attended many churches in New York City, eventually becoming an adherent of the burgeoning Universalist movement.

The volume is bound with black leather over boards, a gilt-tooled border, and a black leather spine and corner covers. It is missing its front cover. The volume contains 240 pages of wove paper with handwritten text in black ink. The first page is entitled “A Biographical Sketch.”

Item 0097: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0097


Processed and encoded by Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, July 2017.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2017 July 10
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

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Collection Inventory

John C. Brinck autobiographical sketch, approximately 1893.
Item 0097
Physical Description

1 volume

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