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.