Roots and Seeds
July 31st, 2019
On the north wall of the Keeping Room hangs a portrait of Michael Floy, Sr., the great-grandfather of Jane Thacker Floy Mather, Stephen T. Mather’s wife.
Michael prized the portrait enough that in his will he stated, “My portrait I leave to her [Deborah Sniffen Floy, his second wife] during her life and thereafter will belong to my son James Floy and his heirs…”
From a family record in the Homestead attic, we learn that Michael Floy was born 18 December 1775 in Devonshire England and emigrated to New York City in July 1800.
On his naturalization filing in 1807, Michael Floy listed his occupation as “Gardner” (sic). In fact, he was a noted horticulturist and identified himself as “Nursery and Seedsman” on the sales catalog he produced in 1816.
A retrospective article in the National Horticulture Magazine in 1953 reads, “What are believed to be the first importations of Camellias into the United States were the plants received by John Stevens, Hoboken, New York, in 1797 or 1798, and Michael Floy of New York in 1800.”
Michael Floy owned ten acres of land between Fourth and Fifth Avenues from 125th to 127th Streets in Harlem, which he purchased for $8500 in 1827. (Yes, ten Manhattan acres, and yes, $8500!)
Michael Floy, Sr. had four children by his first wife. Michael Floy, Jr. died in 1837; the surviving son and two daughters had no interest in continuing the nursery business.
Michael married first, Margaret Ferris (b. 23 Aug 1778) on 8 Dec 1802. Margaret died 25 July 1825. He subsequently married Deborah Sniffen (b. 7 Sep 1789) on 6 February 1828. Michael Floy, Sr. died on 23 April 1854. Deborah died 9 Mar 1866.
In the attic, in addition to the Floy family record, there is a small book of Common Prayer, “A Pious Country Parishioner.” The flyleaf reads “Given to Michael Floy 18 Nov 1793. It was presented by Denys Rolle Esq. Rolle (1725-1797) was, at that time, the largest landowner in Devon. In addition, he was noted as a philanthropist and a benefactor of charities.
In his will, Michael Floy, Sr. directed that “The plants and shrubs of my nursery and greenhouse may be sold by my executors at any time in their discretion.” Although much of the property was retained by the heirs, the nursery business ceased upon his passing.
A transplant himself, Michael Floy, Sr. not only took root but purpose-fully and abundantly flourished in America. His is a story now firmly and lastingly grafted to the history of the Mather Homestead.
Portrait of Micheal Floy Sr.
25 October 1849 advertisement in The Evening Post of the location of Micheal Floy's Harlem Nursery and Manhattan Home