WELCOME TO THE BLOG IN THE WORDS OF WOMEN

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.

The Philadelphia Jewess

Fourteen young Tory ladies were selected by Major John André as the “foremost in youth, beauty and fashion” in Philadelphia to participate in the Meschianza in May of 1778, a tribute to retiring General William Howe. Among them was REBECCA FRANKS. As he did with others in the group, André painted Rebecca’s portrait in miniature and penned several lines of poetry to go with it.

Rebecca Franks had Jewish ancestors. Her grandfather Jacob was a merchant and leader of the Jewish community in New York City; her father, David Franks, had moved to Philadelphia and married Margaret Evans, a member of a prominent family of Anglicans. Although David maintained his Jewish identity, his wife raised their five children to be Christians; two were baptized and four married non-Jews; the fifth did not marry. (David’s older sister Phila also married out of the faith, much to the sorrow of her parents; her husband was Oliver deLancy, a New York Loyalist and Anglican.) Despite her Christian upbringing and her mother’s faithful attendance at Christ Church, Rebecca Franks was frequently referred to as the “Jewish belle of the city.”

In 1782, Rebecca married an English officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Johnson, the commander of the British outpost at Stony Point, New York, which he had been forced to surrender in 1779. She and her husband left for England shortly thereafter and settled in Bath. When Johnson was sent to Ireland to deal with rebels Rebecca went with him.

It was from a musty old castle in Killarney that she wrote to her friend (and her mother’s first cousin) “Willie” (Williamina) Bond who had married one of Washington’s officers, Gen. John Cadwalader. She is clearly nostalgic for Philadelphia and its exciting social scene. It is interesting to note that Rebecca and many other women in her social circle maintained friendships across oceans and political divides. Peggy Shippen was her friend before she married Benedict Arnold, when he defected, and afterward when she came to London. On the other hand, she did not much care for Ann Willing Bingham. Excerpts of Rebecca’s letter follow. Do notice an expression for pregnancy I have not encountered before.

February 19, 1784
Dear Mrs. Cad
The night before last I had the satisfaction of hearing from you, a pleasure I wish much more frequently I could enjoy. But the vile sea — how much happiness does it deprive us of — but most willingly wou’d I encounter its dangers to visit Phila[delphia] again — but alas — I fear I never can hope for that ALL your eloquence will not prevail while he can he will stay, either in Ireland (where we are now) or England, and his wife must obey.

I couldn’t help smiling at that part of yr letter that so gravely reprobates grandeur & dissipation — you are indeed consum’d Old Lady — now if I who have it not in my power to enjoy such things — was to rail against them the world might excuse me — but in you who have all the rich gifts of fortune ‘tis laughable really — Becky [Rebecca, a sister of Willie’s husband] tells me you are again in for the plate [pregnant], poor Toad. Why don’t you follow your Mother’s wise example — she always contrived matters so as only to be that way once in 7 years. . . . I can tell you very little of yr American acquaintances in London as I left the place last August & indeed when there I knew very little of them except Mrs. Arnold who always behav’d more like an affect-te sister than a common friend, she still continues the same. I hear every week or fortnight from her, she expects to be confin’d [give birth] the beginning of next Month. . . she was & is still more noticed and more liked than any American that ever came over. She is visited by people of the first rank & invited to all their houses.

Rebecca goes on to tell her friend how others of their acquaintance have been received in London society. A measure of popularity was the number of invitations to tea or a party a lady received, and of course the number of invitations she extended to other women. These rounds of visits took up much of the time of socially prominent women.

Mrs. P[enn] was too violent an American to have any intimacy with a British officer’s wife – she is lately lain of a son — Mrs. Bingham [Ann Willing, one of the most beautiful women in Philadelphia, married to William Bingham, said to be the richest man in America] arriv’d but a little while before I left London & while I was confin’d so did not see . . . her . . . [she] . . . spent part of the Summer at Brighthelmstone where she was much admired[;] in London She is not known & I hear has had but six ladys to visit her since her arrival. At first she talk’d of going to court and living away at a great rate but that Idea is now quite thrown aside & she finds an American in London & an American in their own country quite different beings. Mrs. Arnold is the only one who has been the least Notic’d . . . .

I blow your Spouse a kiss and mine blows you one at the same time . . . When you receive this may you be happily fix’d in D—r Phila. Which in spite of Everything I shall always prefer to every other place . . . Advise & tell me soon that you have given General C another son—kiss those you have already for your Sincerely Affecte
B Johnson

Returning to Bath after putting down the Irish rebellion, Henry Johnson was given a baronetcy; Rebecca became Lady Johnson. The couple had two sons, one of whom was killed at Waterloo. Rebecca died in 1823; she never did return to Philadelphia.

The painting of Rebecca Franks, courtesy of Naomi Wood Collection at Woodford Mansion. “Dear Mrs. Cad: A Revolutionary War Letter of Rebecca Franks,” Mark A. Stern, American Jewish Archives Journal; original at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Cadwalader Collection (#1454), Series 3X, Box 71, Williamina Bond Correspondence, Letter B. Johnson to Williamina B. Cadwalader, February 19, 1784.

“A shameful scene of dissipation”

Because John André wrote such a detailed account of the Meschianza for Peggy Chew, I urge readers to read the piece in its entirety. It is the source for André’s self portrait attired for the joust and is well worth the time. As has been noted, Philadelphia’s Quakers frowned upon the excess of the spectacle. ELIZABETH DRINKER wrote in her journal: “How insensible these people appear, while our land is so greatly desolated, and death and sore destruction has overtaken and impends over so many.”

HANNAH GRIFFITTS was even more scathing:

A shameful scene of dissipation,
The death of sense and reputation
A deep degeneracy of nature
A Frolick, for the lash of Satire;
A feast of grandeur, fit for Kings,
Formed of the following empty things:
Ribbons and gewgaws, tints and tinsel,
To glow beneath the Historic Pencil

When the British evacuated Philadelphia on June 18, 1778, after a nine-month occupation, John André joined General Henry Clinton in New York City. He became chief of secret intelligence and was executed by the Americans in 1780 for conspiring with the traitor Benedict Arnold to deliver West Point to the British. André drew the self portrait on the night before he died.

Elizabeth Drinker, “Extracts from the Journal of Mrs. Henry Drinker, of Philadelphia, From September 25, 1777 to July 4, 1778” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XIII: 1889, 306.
For Hannah Griffitts Poem see David S. Shields and Fredrika J. Teute. “The Meschianza: Sum of All Fêtes.” Journal of the Early Republic 35, no. 2 (2015): 185-214. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed December 2, 2018).
The self-portrait on the right is at the Yale Art Gallery.

“this bit of superb frivolity” the Meschianza

Reading SARAH LOGAN FISHER’s diary, it is difficult to appreciate the “bright” side (for some) of the British occupation of Philadelphia. The inhabitants were short of provisions. Firewood was scarce, as was hard cash. Officers moved into houses abandoned by Whigs (without their consent), or they requested (demanded) rooms in the homes of Tory sympathizers. The poor suffered terribly as did American prisoners held by the British. Some Loyalists were disappointed by the treatment they received. And Quakers were dismayed by the revelry of the soldiers.

For the upper classes, however, the winter season (1777-1778) was one of gaiety. There were assemblies, balls, dinners, plays, concerts, and parades. Quite the social whirl in fact. On Monday nights people flocked to the theater to see, in the audience, General William Howe with his supposed mistress Mrs. Elizabeth Loring, whose husband Joshua had been appointed commissary general to the prisoners in Philadelphia. The ladies welcomed news of the latest fashions and went shopping for fabrics and baubles brought from England. Hoops were in, and hairdressers were in demand.

Major John André (1751-1780), a writer of prose and poetry as well as an artist, was one of the chief organizers of what may have been Philadelphia’s largest and most elaborate public spectacle, the Meschianza—the word is a play on the word for medley in Italian. It took place on May 18, 1778 to bid farewell to General William Howe who had submitted his resignation and was returning to England. (It was likely that Howe had been relieved of his command for his failure to come to the assistance of General John Burgoyne and was therefore considered responsible for Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga in October of 1777.)

The cost of the extravaganza was enormous, in part underwritten by twenty-two of the general’s officers who contributed £3,312. It lasted eighteen hours with some 400 military and Loyalist attendees, for whom elaborate tickets were designed by André. (Howe’s crest is shown along with a motto; cannons, swords, drums, flags, and other military equipment decorate the borders.)

The celebration included a flotilla of decorated barges, cannon salutes, a military parade, fireworks displays, testimonials, a mock Medieval jousting tournament, a lavish banquet, and a fancy-dress ball. Events were staged in the mansion Walnut Grove and its grounds, an estate abandoned by Patriot Joseph Wharton. The ball was held in a large canvas tent whose interior walls André adorned with mirrors and scenery. For the contest between Knights of the Blended Rose and Knights of the Burning Mountain he designed the costumes of the participants as well as those of the young ladies (Peggy Shippen among them) over whose beauty the knights were competing. André wrote and illustrated a commemo-rative program dedicated to Peggy Chew, one of Philadelphia’s belles who had taken his fancy. Her great-granddaughter described the manuscript:

Faded and yellow with age, the little parchment vividly calls up before us the gallant young English officer, eager and full of keen interest, throwing himself with youthful ardor, with light-hearted seriousness, into this bit of superb frivolity. On the cover he has outlined a wreath of leaves around the initials ‘P.C’, and he has made a water color sketch to show the design and colors of his costume as a knight of the ‘Blended Rose,’ and that of his brother . . . who acted as his esquire and bore his shield, with its quaint motto, ‘No rival.’

See an earlier post about the British occupation of Philadelphia HERE.

For the quotation see Old Time Belles and Cavaliers by Edith Tunis Sale, p 141, accessed HERE.
For a description of the Meschianza see Social Life During the British Occupation by Darlene Emmert Fisher HERE on page 251.
The ticket shown is held by The Library Company of Philadelphia, a gift of Mrs. John Meredith Read, 1900.
The print of Major John André is based on one of his self portraits. For additional information see the publication Quarto of the Clements Library Associates, pages 6 and 7, HERE.
Also David S. Shields and Fredrika J. Teute. “The Meschianza: Sum of All Fêtes.” Journal of the Early Republic 35, no. 2 (2015): 185-214. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 30, 2018).

“a day of public thanksgiving”

A departure from my usual commitment to focus on women and their words, this post presents George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 3 October 1789 issued in New York City, the capital of the new nation of which Washington was president.

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Go: Washington

“Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, found HERE. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 131–132.]

posted November 20th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Primary sources, Thanksgiving Proclamation, Washington, George

“many expect they will leave us in a very few days”

SARAH LOGAN FISHER continued with observations in her diary of Philadelphia during the British occupation of 1777-1778. Officers commandeered rooms in the homes of Philadelphians and stories circulated about their behavior with young ladies. Sarah had looked forward to the arrival of the British and was dis-heartened at their departure: the decision had been made, after the American victory at Saratoga and the subsequent French treaty with the Americans, to consolidate their forces in New York City.

December 30, 1777— …. an officer came to desire & insist on taking up his lodgings here, which I was obliged to consent to & gave him my front parlor to lodge in & removed all my furniture upstairs, & gave some more ordinary.

January 28, 1778— Lieutenant Apthorp, our lodger….appears to be an agreeable, modest young man, is about 22 & is the oldest of 14 children.

March 15, 1778— …. Very bad accounts of the licentiousness of the English officers in deluding young girls.

March 17, 1778— A great parade before General Howe’s door with the soldiers, it being St. Patrick’s Day, & the anniversary of my happy marriage.

March 25, 1778— Had my clothes stolen. [Sarah advertised in the Royal Pennsylvania Gazette for them, offering 10 guineas reward. They were not recovered.]

May 29, 1778— A fit of illness & many engagements has prevented me continuing my journal to this time…. My beloved husband returned to his welcome home the 29th of the 4th Mo. [April] with health of body & peace of mind….

And now another severe trial is likely to befall us. The English, who we had hoped & expected would have stayed & kept possession of the city, are near leaving us & it is said are going to New York, & we may expect some great suffering when the Americans again get possession. Great preparations are making for their going somewhere. All their baggage, provisions, stores of every kind are putting on board their ships, & many expect they will leave us in a very few days.

Sarah reports that three peace commissioners arrived in June “with very full powers to treat with the Americans.” The mission failed and the British continued their preparations for departure.

June 12, 1778— …. Took a ride in the afternoon … down the Neck. Saw great devastations indeed. Fences much destroyed, soldiers cutting the grass & bringing it away by horse loads—such is the wanton destruction that is made of our property. Apthorp, our lodger, tells me that he expects the whole army will leave the city in a few days….

June 18, 1778— This morning about 6 the grenadiers & light infantry left us & in less than a quarter of an hour the Americans were in the city. Judge, O any impartial person, what were my feelings at this time.

Sarah Logan Fisher’s “Diary of Trifling Occurrences” ends with this entry. Her journal gives a great deal of information about the British occupation of Phila-delphia from the point of view of a Quaker woman with loyalist sympathies. With small children at home, and an absent husband, Sarah managed as best she could.

Since she did not move in the same social circles as the elite of Philadelphia it is understandable that she has little to say about the busy social life of the upper classes who remained in the city—and would have disapproved of their frivolous pursuits in amy case. There was, of course, the usual card playing, gambling, drinking and visiting “ladies of the night” engaged in by idle soldiers. The officers of the occupying army, on the other hand, organized dinners, balls, horse races, theatrical productions, and other entertainments. All this while American forces were enduring the harsh winter at Valley Forge.

In the next post a glimpse of one of the most incredible extravaganzas ever seen in Philadelphia. Mounted and overseen by Major John André, it was intended to honor General William Howe who had resigned his commission and was returning to England.

Wainwright, Nicholas B., and Sarah Logan Fisher. “A Diary of Trifling Occurrences”: Philadelphia, 1776-1778.The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 82, no. 4 (1958), 460, 461, 462, 464, 465.


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