SENIOR POWER: Holiday Connections

Helen Rippier Wheeler, rippierfamily@gmail.com
Friday December 22, 2017 - 01:30:00 PM

The Rippiers were new to America. Mid-19th century. The name refers to "one who carries fish inland to sell" rather than to something classy and perhaps French, as I for years was allowed to assume. Shades of Hyacinth Bucket and her riparian entertainments. But there’s more! In England it was also Ripper (as in Jack-The…). Perhaps it was changed in the New World, perhaps inadvertently, to Rippier.  

Thomas Shortin Ripper was born on a Terrington, Norfolk County farm in 1824 and indentured at sixteen to a London shopkeeper. Spinster Sarah Clarke and he, a draper, were married in 1847. That year his father wrote to son Thomas at 52 New Bond Street, a London retail building occupied in 1794 by William Gattie, Perfumer, still in existence in 1983 as The White House, and today, Emporio Armani offers Luxury Menswear, Womenswear & Accessories. His father regretted that he would not be able to come and see London that summer as the mustard was nearly fit to cut and was an excellent crop. 

The District Parish Church of St. Peter, Eaton Square, Pimlico, recorded the couple's residences as Victoria Road. My great grandfather's rank or profession as well as that of Sarah's father are recorded as draper, and Thomas' father as farmer. This St. Peter's stands today, serving "a varied social and economic mix of residents, commuters, company offices, embassies, shops, theatres, hotels, transport facilities, mixed primary school and secondary school for boys, within central London." Built in 1827, it was founded to meet the needs of Church of England residents of new houses being built by the Grosvenor family to make what became known as Belgravia.  

London in the first half of the nineteenth century has been described by historian Steven Johnson as “a rank, overcrowded sewer.” By September 1854 a cholera epidemic was rampant in the overcrowded neighborhoods. Thomas and Sarah and their three children sailed for America on the Southampton, considered a reliable ship during her sixteen years of New York-London packet service (1849-1865) with Master Isiah Pratt. She consisted of cabin class and steerage. The Hampshire Independent newspaper carried advertisements in 1854 for the General Screw Steam Shipping Company: First Class fares started at £20 and 2nd Class at £15, including bed and bedding, provisions, and steward's fees. For "Intermediate passengers" at £10 each, the ship provided cooked provisions, mattresses and pillows ("not bedclothes") and mess utensils. Steerage Passengers were allowed five cubic feet of baggage. Westbound trips averaged 33 days. I wonder how Sarah managed with three small children: Agnes age one, Edwin Thomas age three and Arthur age four.  


Thomas and Sarah and their children were processed at Castle Garden Immigration Station at the tip of Manhattan Island. It may have been here that Ripper became Rippier. Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants as the United States' busiest immigrant inspection station for over 60 years from 1892 until 1954. From 1855 to 1890, the Castle was America's first official immigration center, a pioneering collaboration of New York State and New York City.  

They settled in Brooklyn, where he established a butter and eggs business. By 1886 he was paying off the mortgage on property at the corner of East New York Avenue and Lackawana Street. Thomas and Sarah were admitted to Henry Ward Beecher's Brooklyn Heights Congregational Plymouth Church. City directories between 1888 and 1890 also identify him as a Fulton Street baker. An 1890 Statement to Thomas from David T. Williams & Co., "Commission Merchants and wholesale dealers in butter, cheese, lard, eggs and provisions, flour, soap, starch, salt fish, salt, etc.," refers to "merchandise and cash to make 300." At the time of his death, in 1895, they resided in the Windsor Terrace section of Brooklyn (“the poor man’s Park Slope”) and summered in the Bedford countryside. Seven years later at the time of her death, Sarah was living with son Edwin.  

My maternal grandfather, Alfred Charles, was born in 1861, the youngest of Charles and Sarah's eight children. The oldest brother, Edwin Thomas, did not graduate from high school and was apprenticed with a dentist in downtown Brooklyn. Later he established his own dental practice and residence at 354 9th Street, moving up in Brooklyn society and politics. Frequently mentioned in Brooklyn Daily Eagle turn-of-the century reportage, Edwin was a Republican, Mason and Elk and a member of the yacht club and Knights of Templar. A formal card directed to "Dr. E. T. Rippier and Ladies" invited them to view the Grand Pyrotechnic Display attending the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge aboard the ferry-boat Garden City. 

In an 1880 letter to his mother, Edwin wrote "My very dear mother… I listened to the first of a course of lectures (Illustrated) by Stodard at the Academy of Music the Subject was Vienna…" He urged his mother to visit: "we have fitted up a nice spare room." And "I have been honored by being elected President of the Brooklyn Dental Society. The first time in the history of the Society that a young man has been chosen. I must say I have lots to be thankfull for to the powers that be. I never thought in the days gone by when it was a struggle for a respectable existence that I would attain the position in life I now hold but in spite of the many sorrows and heart tearings and with a determination of work and wait I got there, and without any egotism on my part I feel that I have the right to be proud… Affectionately Edwin."  

In 1898, Edwin wrote from Bermuda. "I am still gaining strength and now weighing 165 pounds. … I wish the weather would permit. I would come on the next boat… Yours as ever.” By the time Edwin was thirty years old, tuberculosis had become a problem. A generation later, Aunt Sadie's son also was afflicted. Edwin returned from Bermuda through Ellis Island after taking the cure. I don't remember great Uncle Edwin at all, although I dimly recall his sisters, Aunt Aggie (Agnes) and Aunt Sadie (Sarah). By 1920 Edwin owned his own home with a mortgage, had become naturalized, lost his first wife and their children, and started a second family.  

A few years ago I received an email from England from a second cousin I never knew I had – she had found me via the Internet. She was a Ripper and is a genealogy buff. We exchange news and photographs via the Internet email attachments from our personal archives. I shared photographs and clippings I’d inherited that her mother enjoyed before her death. 

This December she writes Dear Helen, I hope this email finds you well. We follow the news from the USA with great interest to see what Trump will do next. I'm not sure that he's going to get a rapturous welcome when he visits the UK next year but I may be wrong. I don't think that you are near the fires in California as they seem to be raging near Santa Barbara but it must be dreadful to be caught up in them. The highlight of our year has been the arrival of another grandson in early November so we now have two. The older one, who is just over two years, is beginning to talk and his vocabulary increases in leaps and bounds. It's wonderful to be able to stand back and be amazed by the development of a child in his early years. Have a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2018. 

Alas, I fear she is spot on (as they say) with The Donald not getting a rapturous welcome! 

Although seniors 74-years-old and older are the fastest-growing age group on social-networking sites, some senior citizens are resistant to technology. Would they be less so if senior centers and retirement communities encouraged their pc learning and acquisition? Instruction and equipment are often lacking in senior centers and low-income housing. The Pew Research Center in May 2017 reported tech adoption climbing among older adults. Roughly two-thirds of those ages 65 and older go online and a record share now own smartphones – although many seniors remain relatively divorced from digital life. It seems to depend on income. Distant cousin’s home in England appears online to be quite nice!