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Charles Augustus Smedberg (1781-1845) was born in Sweden. His family were prominent bankers and merchants. He came to New York in 1812 as a representative of the Bank of England. While in New York City, he met and married Isabella Renwick (miniature by John Wesley Jarvis) and like many enterprising young men became an importer or merchant of goods from overseas. The family lived among other leading merchants along Beech Street in what is now lower Manhattan. In the 1840s, he purchased a summer home for the family called Devasego as well as a tannery and a mill in Prattsville, Greene County, New York. The couple had thirteen children, eleven boys and two daughters, including Jane Renwick Smedberg (1827-1913) whom the family called “Jeanie.” By 1841, only eight of the children were still living. Sadly, Charles Smedberg died unexpectedly in the summer of 1845. His death left the family in a precarious financial situation.
With the death of her husband, Isabella Smedberg, seen here with her two youngest children, Renwick (right) and Charlie (left), found her financial circumstances reduced. Nevertheless, she managed to maintain some social standing, continued to make social calls with either her older daughter Agnes or her youngest daughter Jeanie. In addition, she was able with the assistance of her brother, Professor James Renwick, to send four of her six sons to Columbia College (after 1896, “Columbia University”). All four graduated and entered into a profession. After her father’s death, Jeanie’s education continued at home. She also assisted her mother in the care of her three younger brothers. From her letters as well as those of her mother and sister, Agnes, we learn that Jeanie enjoyed an active social life in New York City full of parties, balls, the theater, as well as the opera and many small gatherings among her friends who called themselves the “Square Set” referring to St. John’s Square where most of them resided.