Select Curtis Miscellany

Here are some Curtis stories and accounts over the years:

Curteys in Cornwall

There was an ancient family of Curteys based at Pill in Lanlivery near Lostwithiel. A monumental brass to Tristram Curteys who died in 1423 can be found on the floor of Lostwithiel church.  His son Robert was mayor of Lostwithiel in 1445 and 1447. 

Tristram's descendant John Courtis of Pill, who died in 1605 in Fleet Prison, was said to have been the last male representative of the family.  However, the name persisted in Cornwall in various spellings, born perhaps by younger or collateral branches.  A pedigree of the Courtis of Helston exists.  And Curtis became an important family name in Polperro

Sir William Curtis aka Billy Biscuit

For nigh on fifty years, from 1780 to 1829, Sir William Curtis was a king of London’s commerce.  He is remembered today only by a few of his multitude of descendants (he had 41 grandchildren) and by caricature collectors.  But his story has been told in Nick Brazil’s 2010 book Billy Biscuit..

“The remarkable story of Sir William Curtis who rose from humble beginnings as a baker in Wapping to become a self-made multi-millionaire, banker and shipping magnate.  He was at the center of Georgian society for over fifty years.  A friend and confidant of Kings, Czars and Prime Ministers, he was the last great merchant prince of Regency England."

The 1809 Isaac Cruickshank portrait showed three of the four near invariable characteristics of a Curtis cartoon:
  • first, the sailor suit and hat;
  • second, the stomach – Curtis was famous both for enjoying his food and for the naturally consequential belly, his pictures often including edibles like a turtle or turtle soup, or sausages;
  • and third, the red nose – today, as at least one of his descendants can attest, we know this as herpes simplex.
The fourth characteristic was that he was no master of words. He was not a polished orator and he would have scorned the affectation of being one; plain, simple, and energetic in the delivery of his sentiments, he trusted to the substance of what he had to say.  His mangled catch words and phrases were the delight of satirists. 

Listening to a debate on schooling, he was bored by those who talked about the importance of Latin and Greek.  He had none of that.

“What children need,” Curtis said in the House, “is the three Rs, Readin’, Ritin’ and Rithmatic.”  Posterity’s laugh is on those who laughed at the MP for the City.  No one knows if he spoke from wit or from ignorance and confusion – but the Three Rs remains the classic expression of basic education.

Hannah Curtis's Letter from Ireland in 1847

Hannah Curtis wrote in 1847 from Laios in Ireland to her brother John in Philadelphia about the horrors of the potato famine.  Here are some extracts from her letter:

“I related to you in my last letter the state of the country.  Therefore I need not go over it anymore.  Only the distress that was amongst the people at that time was nothing to what it is at present.   The people are in a starving state, the poor house is crowded with people, and they are dying as fast as they can - from ten to twenty a day.

Out of it there comes a kind of a strange fever in it.  It is the opinion of the doctor that it will spread over town and country when the weather grows warm.  No person can be sure of their lives.  One moment the times are so sudden you would scarcely see as many people with a funeral as would take it to the grave.

In fact I would not describe the awful state of Ireland.  At present you all may think the people are not so bad on account of all the provision that is coming in.  But for that the country could be a great deal worse.  There is no trade of any kind doing norany money in the country.  Everyone that can go to America is going this year as there is no prospect of anything here but poverty and distress.

The Rev. Father Healy is getting I think above fifty letters and money in all of them. They were sent to his care by people in America to their friends at home to take them out to them.  The post office here is full of letters every day, every one without money.

With regard to the rates of provision they are as follows:bacon is per pound, butter 1-3s per pound, beef 8 pence a pound, mutton 4 pence a pound, best flour 3s-8, oatmeal 3s-10 per stone.  I need not mention potatoes by any chance as we have none.  For now you see how hard it is to live here."

The Curtis Family of Stratford, Connecticut

In August 1635 John Curtis, his wife Elizabeth, and their sons John. William and Thomas from Nazeing in Essex boarded in London the ship Safety bound for New England.  Records in Roxbury show John Curtis senior owning land there in 1638 and his son John having a home in Wetherfield, Connecticut where other Essex men had settled.  The elder John apparently died there.

His widow Elizabeth – who added an extra “s” to her Curtis name - then moved the family to Stratford, Connecticut.  She died there in 1658.  Her eldest son John lived onto 1707, dying there at the grand old age of ninety six. 

The Curtis family presence in Stratford has remained with the Nathaniel Curtis house, a colonial-style saltbox structure built around 1735.  It is one of Stratford’s few surviving 18th century houses.  The family lineage was covered in Harlow D. Curtis’s 1903 book A Genealogy of the Curtiss-Curtis family of Stratford, Connecticut.

Eleazer Curtis in Ohio

In 1791 Eleazer Curtis and his family set out from Connecticut to Ohio.  They would have known before their departure of the massacre at Big Bottom by Indians and the attacks on immigrants traveling down the Ohio river.  Yet they made the journey nevertheless. 

They were able to make the trip for the loss of only one life due to an accident.  And they saw no Indians.

They would live in garrisons as protection against the Indians for four years after their arrival.  However, in 1794 General Wayne defeated the Indians in the area at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.  The following spring Eleazer went down to his property at Newberry Bottom and built there a cabin into which his family moved.  He lived there for five peaceful years until his death in 1801.

Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis

Hermann Kotzschmar was a German musician who had emigrated to America in 1843 with a group of musicians from Dresden.  While in Boston, Kotzschmar met Cyrus Libby Curtis, an amateur musician from Portland, Maine who suggested he move there to find work. Kotzschmar arrived in Portland in and lived with the Curtis family for his first year there. In 1850 Curtis' first son was born and was named Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis in his honor.

From 1850 until his death in 1908 Hermann Kotzschmar solidly established Portland as a center for music excellence.  His
legacy includes two students who left an indelible mark on American music and music education:
  • one was John Knowles Paine.  He was America's first composer of large scale orchestral works and America's first music professor.
  • and the other was Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis.  Having become one of America's richest men publishing magazines including the Ladies Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post, he became a music philanthropist who donated several important organs, funded the early Philadelphia Orchestra, and provided, through his daughter's memorial gifts, the Curtis Institute of Music.

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