Biography

Nathan Beekley kept a diary for the whole of 1849 in which he describes a thirst for knowledge and an active social life including frequent calls upon young ladies (whose names are obscured for propriety’s sake). This is typical of young clerks working in the big city in the 1840s according to Brian P. Luskey, author of On the Make: Clerks and the Quest for Capital in Nineteenth-Century America (New York University Press, 2010). In one key area, however, Beekley does not fit Luskey’s model of a city clerk.  Nathan, for one, does not appear to be very interested in financial advancement. At least he does not discuss his work very often in his diary. There is very occasional mention of being in the Counting House (of Reeves, Buck and Co, 45 N Water Street, manufacturers of nails and railroad iron) and one mention of asking for and receiving a raise to $500 per annum.

Young Mr. Beekley, though, has much to say on the cultural events of the day. We learn much about the plays, concerts, operas and other performances in his city. He is not reluctant to give his opinion of performances, good or bad. He attends church regularly, often two or three times on a Sunday. He appears to relish the sermons and he makes a point of attending lectures when the opportunity arises. He makes frequent trips to Norristown (six miles distant) where he lately worked in the “type-sticking business” and where he has many friends.

Mostly though, Beekley is looking for a wife. His diary is replete with references to young ladies he calls upon almost every day. Who are E____h S__d__n and F__y C___t and how do they feel about Nathan’s attentions? There are also the Misses West and MacKay and young female friends who pose as cousins to avoid raised eyebrows as they gain entrance to his lodgings. The life and loves of a mid-19th century iron clerk are not exactly Melrose Place-material, but remain fascinating none the less.

Nathan Stem Beekley was born June 26, ca. 1827 probably in Pennsylvania. (The 1860 US census, however, lists his birthplace as New Jersey.) His father was John Beekley (17 Apr 1793 – 17 Jun 1882) a shoemaker and veteran of the War of 1812. John Beekley owned a farm in East Nantmeal, Chester County, Pennsylvania and is buried at St. Andrew’s Cemetery, West Vincent, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Nathan’s mother was likely Elizabeth [perhaps Stem] Beekley (ca. 1800 – ?) enumerated on the 1840 US census as a head of household in Gloucester, New Jersey (across the river from Philadelphia). John Beekley was enumerated in East Nantmeal in 1840, also as the head of household. Why the two were not living together is not known. Nathan mentions his father in his diary, but not his mother. By 1850, John Beekley was still living in East Nantmeal with his mother Catharine, 95, and his two daughters, Elizabeth (b. ca. 1823) and Sarah (b. ca. 1826). Nathan’s brother Henry R. Beekley (b. ca. 1829), a mason, was lodging at a hotel in East Nantmeal in 1850.

Nathan married Catharine Wetherell Mason (b. ca. 1828) perhaps between 1854 and 1856 (In the 1854 Philadelphia directory Nathan Beekley is listed at 106 N 5th Street, the boarding house of his mother-in-law Parthenia Mason, giving weight to an 1854 marriage to Catharine). The pair had at least four children: Nathan Stem, Jr (29 Jul 1857 – ?), William Mason (Jun 1859 – ?), Mary Cornelia (Feb 1862 – 1 Sep 1862), and Sallie May (b. ca 1864 – ?).

The family is enumerated in Philadelphia on the 1860 and 1870 US census. In 1860, Nathan and Catharine, with the two small boys, also have two servants living with them on Market Street near 40th in West Philadelphia. By 1870, Nathan’s home is worth $35,000 the most in the neighborhood. Nathan still listed his occupation as Clerk, Iron Co., but he had clearly done quite well for himself. His life would not last a great deal longer, though; he died in Philadelphia on 16 Oct 1877 of an unknown cause and is buried at Woodlands Cemetery, an historic rural cemetery in Philadelphia.


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