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Based largely on the book of the same name, the blog is a kind of trailer for it and the primary source material it contains. An invitation, you might say … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … and to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

The women featured lived between 1765 and 1799. But once you attune your ears to their way of writing, their voices easily leapfrog across the centuries. Read just a few sentences and you’ll find yourself back in time, entering their concerns, sharing their feelings. And what they have to say is always fascinating, often eye-opening, sometimes heart-rending.

Please bookmark the blog and visit regularly to see which writers and issues are being featured. There are two new posts weekly: on Monday and Thursday. And do explore those related to the many topics listed on the right. In addition to posts based on the book, others introduce the writings of women who didn’t make it into the book or who turn up as a result of ongoing research. To subscribe via email, click here. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your visits.

A remedy for an earache!

Living in Philadelphia with her family in 1799 while her husband served as secretary of the navy, REBECCA STODDERT kept up a correspondence with her niece Eliza. Her letters included gossip as well as information about personal and domestic matters. And, in this letter, a remedy for an earache!

April 15, 1799My Dear Eliza,—I have been mending up the children’s old clothes to fit them for school. At length Harriet and Nancy go, and when I can get shoes for Richard he will go also. I suppose you are surprised at my saying “when I get shoes.” You will hardly believe that the difficulty of getting such things is greater here than in Georgetown, but so it is. . . .

After a passage in which Mrs. Stoddert writes about the elopement of the daughter of William and Anne Willing Bingham with a French count of “horrid character,” and penniless besides, she goes on to discuss other matters.

I hope long before this my acquaintances have been told it was a mistake about my hair being dressed. I declare, I would not have such a thing supposed for a trifle; notwithstanding I am the only person, almost, if not entirely, that has gone into company with straight locks. But then I have always made use of powder, and I was once under the barber’s hands to cut my hair. . . .

Harriet’s hearing is very near, if not quite, restored. I was advised by Mrs. Wolcott, the secretary of the treasury’s lady, to keep some of Grace’s hair, or any black person’s (as that was most efficacious), pretty moist with the best sweet-oil I could procure, constantly in the ear most affected. This I have done for a month with the greatest success. So much for old women’s receipts, as I suppose they would be called by the doctors. . . .

Grace was in all likelihood a free black servant or, more likely, a slave in the Stoddert household. While oil of some kind has been a common remedy for an earache this is the first time I have seen the recommendation that it be mixed with hair, in this case, of a black person.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, 809-10.

posted May 2nd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children, Fashion, Illness, Medicine, Philadelphia, Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes

“markets. , . . Good shops, but very dear”

REBECCA STODDERT, the wife of Benjamin Stoddert, Preisdent John Adams’s secretary of the navy, wrote again to her niece Eliza on January 23, 1799. She didn’t like Philadelphia very much.

By the time you receive this, the wonder of all the family at Graden that I should have gone to the President’s ball will be at an end. I shall set you all a-wondering again on another account, when I tell you that I have not bought an article of dress except a calico gown and a Dunstable bonnet*, which latter I soon quarreled with and gave to Betsy [her daughter Elizabeth], whom it suits much better than myself; in its stead I bought a blue satin slouch; and yet I go out every now and then to dinner. The satin is the only thing that I have appeared in on such occasions; and before I dined at the President’s it underwent a little reform. But next week I shall add considerable to my wardrobe; and I must get a smart dress bonnet. Old, as well as young, have their hair dressed. I am not sure that I shall not; but I hardly think is possible that I shall, especially as the great ball is over.

I have only been three times to church since I came here, and must own I was rather disappointed. The singing is not as great as I expected; and still the congregation behaved very well. A delightful organ too; but yet there was something, I don’t know what, wanting to make it answer the idea I had formed of the church in Philadelphia. I intend to try another soon. . . .

Nancy is more troublesome, if possible, than ever; pretends to be very fond of learning music. which is the only thing she has been taught since she came here. Neither she, Harriet [10], nor Richard [6] have been to school yet, because I haven’t been able to find one near our house; but as the spring approaches I shall look out for one, and shall not care if they do have a long walk. Mr. Stoddert has lately given twenty dollars for a hobby horse,—a delightful amusement for them all, you may be sure. . . .

Mrs. Weems stayed a week with me. . . . I took her advice, and opened the holes in my ears. You may remember, perhaps, to have heard me say they were bored formerly. I now have lead in them, but intend to get a pair of plain rings. . . .

I cannot imagine what has put it in your head that I am so delighted with Philadelphia. Upon my word and honor, I am not; nor have I by any means that preference for it which you suppose. It has some advantages over small towns, and to mention a few, I will begin with the churches. The markets, too, are a thing of no little consequence. Good shops, but very dear. . . .

I was at Christ Church this morning, and am very much pleased with it. I am fortunate enough to have the use of a pew there, too. Bishop White read the service, but unluckily, a man that I am not partial to preached.

The yellow fever is certainly in the city. Indeed, I understand that Dr. Rush says it has never been clear of it since ninety-three. I am not uneasy yet, even for Mr. Stoddert’s safety. As for my own, I shall never bestow a thought on it.
——————————————
* Straw bonnets imported from Dunstable, England, were becoming popular in the late eighteenth century.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, 807-809. Charles Willson Peale painted the portrait of three Stoddert children in 1789. Elizabeth the oldest is on the left, baby Harriet is one year old, Benjamin, Jr. is on the right. The painting is owned by National Society of the Colonial Dames of America and is at Dumbarton House Washington D.C.

“As soon as I get a bonnet, I shall go to church”

President John Adams created the position of secretary of the navy and appointed Benjamin Stoddert to that post in 1798. Stoddert, a well-to-do merchant from Georgetown, near the the Federal City which was being built, moved with his wife REBECCA LOWNDES STODDERT and their family to Philadelphia then the capital of the United States. In the previous post Mrs. Stoddert gave her impressions of Anne Willing Bingham in letters she wrote to her sister. Her correspondence with her niece Eliza Gannt of Graden, Maryland, includes details about the practical side of establishing themselves in Philadelphia. and what life was like there. Mrs. Stoddert wrote to Eliza in November 1798 about her arrival in Philadelphia, the boarding house in which they lived at first, and the house they rented that belonged to Major William Jackson, secretary to President Washington during his presidency and in 1798 surveyor of the port of Philadelphia. Jackson’s wife was Elizabeth Willing, sister to Anne Willing Bingham.

[The house] is roomy, and I could make it very convenient too, but I imagine it owners would think me mad if they knew that I did not think it so already. Only four of the rooms have anything in them, two down stairs and two up. The third story and garret, which are well finished, I have not the least use for. I have very little furniture, nothing but the chairs Mr. Stoddert . . . had bought, which are very pretty, their color white and a little blue. . . .
One tea-table I bought this morning, and am to give thirteen dollars for it,—a very great price, but nothing is cheap here except some few things at market—mutton and beef, I mean.
Do not suppose we have no dining-tables; luckily we have one and a sideboard of Mrs. Jackson’s, which is a great convenience, as we brought none here. I was this day going to get a set of dining-tables, but the wretch had the conscience to ask sixty dollars for them. . . .
As soon as I get a bonnet, I shall go to church. . . . Mrs. Harrison, whom I think almost perfection [the daughter of Dr. Craik, Washington's family physician] advises me not to be in a hurry about it, as the fashions are not so well known yet. I am coming on, you see.
We lived together at Mrs. White’s [before the Stodderts found a house]. . . . Mrs. White lives charmingly . . . everything is clean, and only genteel people board there. I for the first time for twenty-odd years saw General Washington there:* it is his boarding house, too. We breakfasted together every morning, but only dined with him once, and that was last Sunday. He makes a point of not going abroad on Sundays, I am told, and I suppose that was the reason why he dined at Mrs. White’s last Sunday. He receives invitations constantly every day . . . to dine out.
I received four visits before we came to housekeeping,—I cannot call it home. . . . I have not returned [them]. I know if I was at home I would think it was time; but in this place I must consult Mrs. Harrison, whom I shall take as my preceptor in all cases. . . .
I fancy it is very much the custom here for ladies to walk. Indeed, the walking is so clean—except just where we live—that it would be extraordinary if they did not. The streets about us are not paved yet. We have very good water, I daresay the best in town.
I cannot help feeling sorry that Mrs. Adams’s health is so bad as to prevent her being in Philadelphia this winter. . . .
As to the braid that she [Miss Lowndes] desired Betsy to procure for her, I suppose the thing is impossible, for no other reason than that wigs are all the fashion. . . . I heard even General Washington talk of the ladies wearing wigs. . . . I do not feel the least partiality to this place, and I never expected I should. Perhaps when I see the river—for I am a great admirer of water—and something of the city—, for to tell the truth, I have seen nothing of it yet—I shall like it better; and I wish I may. . . .
Mr. Stoddert is at the President’s who came to town last night.
Your truly affectionate.
R. Stoddert.

*In preparation for a possible war with France President Adams had organized a provisional army and persuaded Washington to head it.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, 804-807.

“leaders of the Republican Court”

When ANNE WILLING BINGHAM and her husband returned to Philadelphia in 1786 they built a large house, a palatial mansion really, surrounded by gardens, to accommodate the extensive entertaining they planned. The city flourished when it became the capital of the United States. An English traveler, after a tour of the chief cities, remarked in 1794 that “Boston is the Bristol, New York the Liverpool, and Philadelphia the London of America.” The Binghams became the leaders of what was called the Republican Court.
Mrs. Benjamin Stoddert, the wife of the first secretary of the navy, arrived in Philadelphia from Maryland in 1798 and began the round of social activities expected of the wife of a cabinet officer. Mrs. Bingham did not call upon her in a timely fashion which drew this comment:

Mrs. Bingham has at last thought proper to show her painted face here, and her two daughters—they were without paint. You must not suppose from my manner of speaking about Mrs. B. that I am offended with her for not coming before. I should have been better pleased if she had, to tell the truth; but if she had not come at all I should not have cared; though she is of great consequence, in some people’s opinion, in the city. As she has put it in my power to go to her house, I shall certainly see all that I can by asking for. I am determined to see her garden, her greenhouse, and everything else that is worth seeing. Their house and all the outside look very pretty, and I daresay the inside corresponds with the external.

Mrs. Stoddert was invited to a ball at the Binghams and wrote this detailed account to her sister.

About half-past seven I called for Mrs. Harrison, and we made our appearance at Mrs. Bingham’s. . . . [S]he was seated at the head of the drawing-room, I should call it, or, in other words, on one side of the chimney, with three ladies only. There were some young ladies in another room, where her two daughters were also, who, upon my inquiring after their health, were sent for by their mamma.
I should suppose that it was near nine o’clock before the dancing commenced. At the end of the first dance, or near it, punch and lemonade were brought in. That was the first refreshment. Sometime after, I think, it was brought in again, and soon after the best ice-cream, as well as the prettiest, that ever I saw was carried around in beautiful china cups and gilt spoons. The latter I had seen there before.
Except punch and lemonade, nothing more to eat till supper, which we were summoned to at eleven, when the most superb thing of the kind which I ever saw was presented to our view,—though those who have been there before say that the supper was not as,elegant as they had seen there. In the middle was an orange-tree with ripe fruit; and where a common spectator might imagine the root was, it was covered with evergreens, some natural and some artificial flowers. Nothing scarcely appeared on the table without evergreens to decorate it. The girondole, which hangs immediately over the table, was let down just to reach the top of the tree. You can’t think how beautiful it looked. I imagine there were thirty at the table, besides a table full in another room, and I believe every soul said, “How pretty!” as soon as they were seated; all in my hearing, as with one consent, uttered the same thing.
The only meats I saw or heard of were a turkey, fowls, pheasants, and tongues, the latter the best that ever I tasted, which was the only meat I ate. The dessert (all was on the table) consisted of everything that one could conceive of except jelly; though I daresay there was jelly, too, but to my mortification, I could not get any. I never ate better than at Mrs. Bingham’s. Plenty of blanc mange, and excellent. Near me were three different sorts of cake; I tasted all, but could eat of only one; the others were indifferent. Besides a quantity to eat, there was a vast deal for ornament, and some of them I thought would have delighted my little girl for her baby-house.
In short, take it altogether, it was an agreeable entertainment to me. Notwithstanding the crowd—or numbers, rather, for the house is so large that it was not crowded—there was no noise or the least confusion.
At twelve o’clock or a little after Mrs. Harrison and I left the ball. We were among the first to come away. Never did I see such a number of carriages, except on a race-ground.

The Binghams had two daughters, the elder Anna Louisa, married the young Englishman Alexander Baring of the famous banking house in 1798. The younger daughter Maria Mathilda eloped, when she was fifteen, with the Comte de Tilly an older man of low character and without funds. The Binghams were distraught. Mr. Bingham secured a divorce for his daughter and the Comte left the country. Maria Mathilde then married the younger brother of her sister’s husband and some years later, after another divorce, married a French nobleman and moved to France. In 1799 the first child of the Barings was born; at the age of 35 Anne Willing Bingham had become a grandmother. She herself in the next year gave birth to a son. Anne’s health began to deteriorate and in 1801 her husband planned to take her to the island of Madeira where he hoped she would be returned to health. En route she died in Bermuda where she was buried.

Margaret L. Brown, “Mr. and Mrs. William Bingham of Philadelphia: Rulers of the Republican Court”, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 61, No. 3 (July 1937), pp 207, 318, 319-321. Mrs. Stoddert was quoted in The Golden Voyage, Robert C. Alberts (pp 357-359). From Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia A Century Ago,”Lipincott’s Monthly Magazine, Vol 62, 1898. In footnote 808, Jan 23, 1799; 805, 809-18.

“too much dissipation and frivolity of amusement”

An article by Margaret L. Brown on Mr. and Mrs. William Bingham in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography includes several impressions of ANNE WILLING BINGHAM by women that give a good idea of what she was like. Anna Rawle wrote to her mother shortly after the Bingham wedding in 1780:

Speaking of handsome women brings Nancy [a nickname for Anne] Willing to my mind. She might set for the Queen of Beauty, and is lately married to Bingham, who returned from the West Indies with an immense fortune. They have set out in highest style; nobody here will be able to make the figure they do; equipage, house, cloathes, are all the newest taste,—and yet some people wonder at the match. She but sixteen and such a perfect form. His appearance is less amiable.

The Binghams traveled to London in 1783 and Anne had her second child there. When the family went to Paris in 1784 the Adamses—Abigail, John, and daughter Abigail called Nabby, were often in their company. Mrs. Adams described Anne in a letter to her friend Mercy Otis Warren as “a very young lady, not more than twenty, very agreeable, and very handsome. . . .” Nabby noted in her journal after a dinner party her parents gave which included the Binghams:

Mrs. Bingham . . . is pretty, a good figure, but rather still. She has not been long enough in this country to have gained that ease of air and manner which is peculiar to the women here; and when it does not exceed the bounds of delicacy, is very pleasing. . . . I admire her that she is not in the smallest degree tinctured with indelicacy. She has, from the little acquaintance I have had with her, genuine principles; she is very sprightly and very pleasing.

The Adams family were invited to dinner at the Binghams some time later after which Nabby wrote:

{Mrs. Bingham] is possessed of more ease and politeness in her behaviour, than any person I have seen. She joins in every conversation in company; and when engaged herself in conversing with you, she will, by joining directly in another chitchat with another party, convince you that she was all attention to everyone. She has a taste for show, but not above her circumstances.

The Adamses did not regard William Bingham so highly and became rather critical of the lavish life style of the Binghams in Paris. Mrs. Adams was quite shocked when Anne confessed that she was so delighted with Paris that she preferred to stay there rather than return home. In a letter to her niece Mrs. Adams wrote that Mrs. Bingham “was too young to come abroad without a pilot, [and] gives too much into the follies of this country. . . . ” In the following year she wrote to her sister:

The intelligence of her countenance, or rather, I ought to say animation, the elegance of her form, and the affability of her manners, convert you into admiration; and one has only to lament too much dissipation and frivolity of amusement, which have weaned her from her native country, and given her a passion and thirst after all the luxuries of Europe.

The Binghams returned to Philadelphia in 1786 and Anne brought with her clothing in the latest Paris styles. Molly Tilghman remarked on her appearance at a party given by Mary White Morris and her husband Robert. Mrs. Bingham appeared

in a dress which eclips’d any that has yet been seen. A Robe a la Turke of black Velvet, Rich White sattin Petticoat, body and sleeves, the whole trim’d with Ermine. A large Bouquet of natural flowers supported by a knot of Diamonds, Large Buckles, Necklace and Earrings of Diamonds, Her Head ornamented with Diamond Sprigs interspersed with artificial flowers, above all, wav’d a towering plume of snow white feathers.

The Binghams in Philadelphia wanted to impress and entertain in style. To do so they had built a large, and some said, pretentious home. In the next post read what a visitor had to say about it.

Margaret L. Brown, “Mr. and Mrs. William Bingham of Philadelphia: Rulers of the Republican Court”, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 61, No. 3 (July 1937), 286, 290, 291, 293, 294. Sources include William Brooke Rawle, “Laurel Hill,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (1911), XXXV. 398, Anna Rawle to Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker, November 4, 1780; Charles Francis Adams (ed.), Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams (Boston, 1848, 4th ed.), 203, September 5, 1784; C. A. S. DeWindt (ed.), Journal and Correspondence of Abigail Adams Smith (N.Y. 1841), I. 19, September 25, 1784 and I. 28-29, October 26, 1784; Letters of Mrs. Adams, 207-208, December 3, 1784 and September 30, 1785; “Letters of Molly and Hetty Tilghman,” Maryland Historical Magazine (1926), XXI. 145-46, Molly Tilghman to Polly Pearce, February 18, 1787.


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