Sunday, December 8, 2019

The Unraveling of Bellows Family Ties

Established in America by early colonist John Bellows in 1635, his extended family became one of the country’s historic clans, a close knit group with a motto meaning “All from On High” and a crest of a disembodied hand pouring something into a goblet.  It ironically might have been whiskey, the liquid that led to the unfortunate unraveling of the Charles Bellows family of New York City.

Born in February 1825 at 21 Leonard Street in Manhattan, Charles Bellows was educated in New York schools and began his business career in the employment of Arthur Tappan, a well known New York merchant and abolitionist.  An indication of Charles’ grit was his being one of the defenders of Tappan’s store when it was attacked by pro-slavery rioters in 1845.

By that time Charles had moved to the leading New York mercantile house of Archibald Gracie where he learned the wine and liquor business.  By 1848 he had gained sufficient funds and experience to buy into the company’s interest in that trade.  He then moved in 1850 to open his own store at 42 New Street, selling whiskey and wine, both domestic and imported.   From 1853 to 1862 his brother Theodore was in business with him. Operating as Charles Bellows & Company, the firm outgrew its first quarters and moved to 50 Broad Street, shown below in the 1800s,

An 1898 history of the Bellows family described Charles’ success: “The business of the firm became very extensive and profitable, and brought them into relations with wine producers all over the world.  In the extent of their business they stood at the head of the wine merchants of the United States.”  Also dealing in imported whiskey, Charles made buying trips to the British Isles and Europe in 1860 and 1864.  Shown here is a bottle of Glenlivit Scotch with a Bellows label.

In 1848 Charles, age 23, had married Eliza Delano in New York in May, just after her twentieth birthday.  She was the daughter of Christopher and Rachel Fenton Delano.  Hers was an even more distinguished American lineage.  Eliza’s Delano family forebears include the pilgrim who chartered the Mayflower, seven of its passengers, three signers of the Mayflower Compact, and two American Presidents.  The couple would have only one child, a son born in 1852 that they named Charles after his father. 

Eliza proved to be of frail health and after only thirteen years of marriage, she died in April, 1861.  After waiting the obligatory year and few days after her death Charles married again.  This time his bride was Eliza’s older sister, Mary Ellen Delano.  That is when the family ties began to unravel.  Charles Jr., age 14, now was faced with a stepmother who also was his aunt.  Moreover, Charles and Mary would have four children of their own, a daughter who died in infancy and three sons:  Arthur C., born in 1865;  Clarence Ernest Stanley (known as “C.E.S”), 1866; and Albert Edward, 1871.  Charles Jr. may well have felt himself the “odd man out” of the family.

Meanwhile his father was continuing to flourish, said to be “in receipt of a large income.”  He soon found a way to spend it.  In addition to a residence in Brooklyn, Bellows bought a country mansion sixty miles north of New York City at Cornwall on Hudson, shown above.  He lavished large amounts of money on the property, improving and terracing the gardens to resemble those at Versailles that he had seen and admired on one of his trips to Europe.  He also began to entertain his friends extravagantly, providing them with food and drink on the scale of a rich country squire.

By 1878, because of business reverses in his liquor and wine house, Bellows found himself deeply in debt.  Forced to sell his country house, he declared Charles Bellows & Co. bankrupt and what few assets remained were allocate by a judge to his creditors.  Not long after, he started a new spirits business at the same 50 Broad Street address.  Perhaps apprehensive about his post-bankruptcy reputation, this business was in the name of his wife, Mary Ellen.  He called it “M.E. Bellows Co., Charles Bellows, Agent.”  A bottle closure shown here bore the new name.

Meanwhile Charles Jr., shown here in 1897, was reaching maturity.  During his father’s years of luxury he was able to gain a college education, including some legal training, and spent the three years from 1873 to 1876 traveling throughout  Europe.  He made hiking trips through France, Switzerland, and Germany;  visited Belgium, Holland, England and Scotland, and took a series of cruises around Europe and the British Isles.  While Charles Jr. may have been working on behalf of Bellows business interests in those jaunts, his Bellows family biography mentions only that he sent “occasional letters” to the New York newspapers.

Summoned home as his family’s finances failed, Charles Jr. joined his father in a management role in the new Broad Street enterprise, now operated under the name of his stepmother.  Over the next 12 years the pair rebuilt a successful liquor house.  Then Charles Bellows, the founding father, died in March 1890 at the age of 65.  He was buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery,  Section 111, Plot 379.  A statue of a grieving woman marks the grave.

Tasked immediately with managing the liquor house, Charles Jr. after several months asked his stepmother, Mary Ellen, to buy the business outright.  She refused.   By this time her sons were well grown and had experience working in the 40 Broad Street establishment.  Arthur C. was 35 and married, with a child on the way.  Clarence was 34 and engaged.  Their mother wanted her boys to have the company.  In 1891 she assigned a half interest in the firm to Arthur immediately and in her will gave the other half to Clarence.  Nothing for Charles Jr.

The crack in the Bellows family was now irreparable.  Charles Jr., clearly disappointed and angry, set up his own wine and liquor establishment, opening at  42 Broad Street, immediately next door to M. E. Bellows and in direct competition.  When that location apparently proved problematic, Charles Jr.  moved to 52 New Street, not far from the address where his father had first started.  An 1898 Bellows family history described him as the head of a firm he called “Charles Bellow & Company”:  “He is an enthusiast on the subject of wines, and by long study has become an expert as to the quality of rare old wines, to the care and sale of which he devotes his principal attention in business hours.”

Meanwhile Arthur Bellows was proving to be a highly competent manager of the enterprise his father had begun 43 years earlier.  Once again the name changed, this time to M.E. Barrows Son (and later, Sons’).  The company was selling its own brands of whiskey, including "Monogram 1880 Rye." As shown above, the brother sold it in unembossed clear and amber glass bottles with paper labels, many of them damaged or destroyed over time.

The company also was bottling its own Scotch whiskey, including a brand it called “Old Mackenzie,” some labeled as “expressly” made for Arthur G. Vanderbilt,  a wealthy American businessman and a member of the famous Vanderbilt family.  The bottle is shown right.

Arthur and C.E.S. Bellows carried on their business under the firm name of M.E. Bellows Sons, representing themselves as successors to the business carried on by their father as “Charles Bellow, Agent” until July 1897.  At that point, for reasons unknown, they assigned the firm to Arthur’s wife, the former Kittie Strang.  As a result of this change Charles Bellows was now identified as the forerunner of Kittie Bellows Company,  Charles Jr. was infuriated.  He sued and in August 1898 the case of Bellows vs. Bellows came before the Supreme Court of New York County.  Now the family unraveling was on view for all of New York to see.

Charles Jr. claimed that his New Street enterprise was the successor to the firm of Charles Bellows and exclusively was entitled to the use of the name.  Moreover, the continued use of the founder’s name on his half-brothers’ business was a fraud on the public.   Judge J. Stover disagreed.  “The business at 50 Broad Street has been continued since the death of Charles Bellow by various successors and there is no attempt now to deceive the public…There is no fraud practiced upon the public or the plaintiff.”  Stover then dismissed Charles Jr.’s charges and charged him court costs.

Both Bellows firms continued to exist in Manhattan until at least 1915, according to Manhattan directories.  Charles Jr. died in 1934 at the age of 74, the same year as his half-brother, Arthur, age 69.  Clarence followed in 1937 at 71.  The brothers are buried adjacent to their father, Charles, in the family plot.  But the family ties remained broken:   Charles Jr. appears to be buried elsewhere, outside the family circle.

Note:  The information for this post was drawn from a variety of sources.  Two principal were “The Bellows Genealogy,” a family history compiled by Thomas Bellows Peck and published in 1898.  It contains biographies of both Charles and Charles Jr.  A second source was the lengthy decision of Judge Stover in Bellows v. Bellows.


  1. What connection does this family have to the Bellows’ who established a bourbon brewery in Bourbon County, Kentucky in the 1830’s?

  2. Unknown: If this Bellows family is related to the Kentucky Bellows, I have found no evidence of it. The name is reasonably common.

  3. Did someone else carry on the business after the deaths of the sons? I've seen a reference to a Mr. Knight selling bottles of wine with the Bellows label.

  4. Anonymous: I have checked my notes and find nothing on a Mr. Hunt. It could be, however that the Bellow family sold stock to someone (i.e. Mr. Hunt) after 1915 who then re-sold it before 1920. That would be well before the death of the sons. It is unlikely to have occurred after Repeal.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I picked up a pint glass with the Bellows Partners Choice logo on from a local antique store. Although I assume it is a relatively new item, I still looked into the possible existence of the company and to my delight it was a real entity. Now I'm on a search to know more about the business(es) and this family history makes the story even more intriguing. Again, thank you.

  6. Unknown: Thanks for being in touch. Your bottle is at least 100 years old. A good find. Glad to be of help.

  7. Hi Jack -

    I have a corked bottle of the 1862 Glenlivit with the Bellows label like the one featured in your article. I'm certain it is not drinkable, but I wonder if it has any collector's value?

  8. Anonymous: While I am far from an expert on values, I know that there are buffs who collect these antique whiskeys. Your bottle likely has some value. Check in on sites on the internet that specialize on such. By the way, the contents may well be drinkable - but be careful.

  9. Great write-up. I have an unopened bottle of 1830 Comet Sherry which bears an ME Bellows label very similar to those pictured here. One question I have is that both that label and all the labels on this page have the address 77 Broad Street. You don't mention that address yet it's listed as the main address stretching back to at least 1860 on their label. What's up with that?

  10. Bobby G.: Glad you liked the article and congrats on the unopened bottle of Bellows sherry. Checking my notes, it appears that the M.E. Bellows firm moved down Broad Street t0 77 at some point. I also have a 50 Broad address on a label taken from the Internet.

  11. Great write-up as always Jack. Similar to question above, my bottle of 1868 Rye has the 77 Broad St address, label "M.E. Bellow's Son" . Will try to track down timeframes of the 77 Broad and 50 Broad address, it wasn't noted in the court paperwork.

  12. Follow-up on M.E. Bellow's address. Based on NYC Directory they moved from 50 Broad St to 77 Broad St. between 1913 & 1914. The 1914 Directory has 77 Broad St, from 1897 until then it was listed as 50 Broad St.

  13. Curt K: Thanks you for your contribution. That date is a useful date.

  14. Do you have any other information on this family? We just emptied a relatives basement and came across a bottle with their monogram hand dated 1870. This has been the only source we can find online.

  15. Anon: Unfortunately, what you see in the article basically is what I have. Sorry not to be of more help in your search.