“we might have been Buried Alive “

I cannot help coming back to Jane Mecom, Benjamin Franklin’s sister who lived in Boston. The two corresponded throughout their lives. Jane’s letters are delightful to read, if only to puzzle out what she is trying to say—her spelling was atrocious. Her life was filled with difficulties, but blessed with an optimistic nature, she always seemed to make the best of things. Franklin regularly sent her both practical necessities and thoughtful gifts.

Resuming residence in Philadelphia in 1785 after years abroad, Franklin continued to help his sister. In a letter dated November 5, 1786, Jane thanked him for ten cord of wood “so that we shall have Plenty Should your Prognostications happen to be in the Right.” Benjamin’s prediction of a hard winter proved to have been spot on as the following letter confirms. This past winter in Boston seems to have been a replay of the one Jane describes.

Boston Decr 17 1786
My Dear Brother
Mr. Bradford has Just informed me of his going to Philadelphia to morrow morning. I would not let him go without a Line as I have not yet had opertunity to thank you for the charming Barrill of Flower you sent me. He is to take the Bill you Premited me to Draw, I some times seem to feel giulty at being so Expencive to you, but why should I; when I know it gives you Pleasure to make Every won happy: and I constantly feal the Blesing. Your Predictons concerning a hard winter are begining to be Verified in a formidable maner. The snow has been so Deep and we no man in the House that we might have been Buried Alive were it not for the care of some good Neibours who began to Dig us out before we were up in the morning, and cousen Williams came Puffing and Sweating, as soon as it was Posable to see how we were and if we wanted any thing, but thank God we had no want of any thing Nesesary if we had been shutt up a fortnight. Exept milk.

My Daughters Gout, or Rhumitism or what Ever it is, has not Left her yet; but she can Just hobble about the chamber, she desires her Duty to you.

I want much to know if you were so Luckey as to git your New Apartments covered in before the hard wether [Franklin was building a new house]. . . .

I had Intended to have wrote to my Niece but cannot at this time but Remember my Love to Mr. and Mrs. Bache [Benjamin’s daughter Sarah] and all the Dear Children. From your Ever obliged and Affectionat sister
Jane MecomAddressed: His Excellancey Benjamin Franklin Esqr. / Philadelphia / Favrd by Col: Bradford

The letter can be found online in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, The Digital Edition maintained by the The Packard Humanities Institute in the unpublished letters for the years 1786-87.

“I still feel a partiality for my native country”

In 1774, Peggy Hutchinson (see post here) had accompanied her father, Thomas Hutchinson former governor of Massachusetts, to London where, in exile, he tried to effect a reconciliation with the rebellious colony. She wrote the following letter to her sister-in-law Polly in America on October 29 describing a dispute after a dinner as to “which was the best country—New England, or Old?”

Papa, your husband [Peggy’s brother Elisha], and myself, were for the former : Mr. C[larke], and Billy [Peggy’s brother William] for the latter. I own I still feel a partiality for my native country. Papa could not help expressing his in very strong terms. Mr. C. said he never should lose the idea of the last winter : that the injuries he then received were too strongly impressed upon his mind ever to be erased. I told him I was surprised to find his affections so alienated from his country : that I thought the friends he had there, if nothing else, must make the place dear to him : and, as to climate, surely, said I, we have the advantage. They would neither of them allow it, but said the extremes of cold and heat were enough to ruin people’s constitutions. I, in return, had no mercy upon this, but exclaimed against it as cold, damp, dirty, and altogether disagreeable, and declared that I could not take a breath of air, but it gave me a cold and cough, which immediately fixed upon my lungs : and that if I lived here fifty years, I never should be reconciled to the climate, or to living in London; but could not but allow that the country was exceedingly beautiful, and struck me beyond anything I could imagine : but that only served to tantalize, as the ground was always so wet, (even in the middle of summer) that it was impossible to enjoy it by walking. We carried it on till it was time for them to go to the Play : and I believe Mr. C. was glad to get off with a whole skin. How happy should I be to see that country restored to a state of peace and quiet! not so much for my own sake as papa’s, who I think will be happier there. . . .

In a later letter Peggy writes “What joy would it give me if [Papa] could be the means of restoring peace to his native country, but I see no prospect of it : you are bent upon destruction.” Thomas Hutchinson’s attempts proved futile.

The letter can be found in The Diary and Letters of Thomas Hutchinson, Vol. 1, HERE, pages 276-77, 278.

posted March 10th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Britain,Loyalists,New England,Weather

“I sallied forth to brave the tempestuous weather”

Eliza Southgate Bowne relates the end of her assembly adventure begun in the previous post.

The storm continued till Monday, and I was obliged to stay—but Monday I insisted, if there was any possibility of getting to sister’s, to set out. The horse and sleigh were soon at the door, and again I sallied forth to brave the tempestuous weather (for it still snowed) and surmount the many obstacles I had to meet with. We rode on a few rods—when coming directly upon a large drift we stuck fast. We could neither get forward nor turn round. After waiting till I was most frozen we got out, and with the help of a truckman, the sleigh was lifted up and turned towards a cross street that led to Federal Street—we again went on. At the corner we found it impossible to turn up in turn, but must go down and begin where we first started, and take a new course, but suddenly turning the corner we came full upon a pair of trucks heavily laden. The drift on one side was so large that it left a very narrow passage between that and the corner house—indeed we were obliged to go so near that the post grazed my bonnet. What was to be done? Our horses’ heads touched before we saw them—I jumped out—the sleigh was unfastened and lifted round, and we again measured back our old steps.

At length we arrived at sister Boyd’s door, and the drift before it was the greatest we had met with. The horse was so exhausted that he sunk down, and we really thought him dead. ’Twas some distance from the gate, and no path; the gentleman took me up in his arms and carried me till my weight pressed him so far into the snow that he had no power to move his feet. I rolled out of his arms, and wallowed till I reached the gate; then rising to shake off the snow, I turned and beheld my beau fixed and immovable; he could not get his feet out to take another step. At length, making a great exertion to spring his whole length forward, he made out to reach the poor horse, who lay in a worse condition than his master. By this time all the family had gathered to the window—indeed, they saw the whole frolic; but ’twas not yet ended, for unluckily, in pulling off Miss Weeks’ bonnet to send to the sleigh to be carried back, I pulled off my wig and left my head bare. I was perfectly convulsed with laughter; think what a ludicrous figure I must have been—still standing at the gate—my bonnet half-way to the sleigh and my wig in my hand! However, I hurried it on—for they were all laughing at the window—and made the best of my way into the house; the horse was unhitched and again set out, and left me to ponder on the incidents of the morning. I have since heard of several events that took place that assembly night, much more amusing than mine—nay, Don Quixote’s most ludicrous adventures compared with some of them will appear like the common events of the day.
Portland, Maine, 1 March, 1802.

See the next post for information about Eliza’s wig.

Stedman, E. C. & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. A Library of American Literature; An Anthology in Eleven Volumes, 1891. Volume IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 1788-1820, online HERE.

posted February 10th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bowne, Eliza Southgate,Weather

“my assembly’s adventure”

Eliza Southgate Bowne was born in Scarborough, Maine, in 1783. Her father was a doctor who, because he was familiar with the law, was eventually appointed a judge. Her mother, Mary King, came from a wealthy Maine family. Mrs. Southgate’s brother was Rufus King who played an important role in the Revolution and early years of the nation.

Eliza’s correspondence is a delightful collection of letters to family and friends during her lifetime, including the years in which she attended Susannah Rowson’s Young Ladies Academy in Boston (Rowson deserves attention for herself: she was an actor, a writer, and an educator. In 1791, she wrote America’s first best-selling novel Charlotte Temple.) Eliza’s letters to her cousin Moses Porter, the son of one of her mother’s sisters, are some of the most delightful. In this one Eliza describes a winter storm which does not deter her from attending an assembly (a ball). I hope you get a chuckle out of this.

Such a frolic! Such a chain of adventures I never before met with—nay, the page of romance never presented its equal. ’Tis now Monday—but a little more method, that I may be understood. I have just ended my assembly’s adventure; never got home till this morning. Thursday it snowed violently—indeed for two days before it had been storming so much that the snow-drifts were very large; however, as it was the last assembly, I could not resist the temptation of going, as I knew all the world would be there.

About seven I went down-stairs and found young Charles Coffin, the minister, in the parlor. After the usual inquiries were over, he stared a while at my feathers and flowers, asked if I was going out. I told him I was going to the assembly. “Think, Miss Southgate,” said he, after a long pause, “Do you think you would go out to meeting in such a storm as this?” Then assuming a tone of reproof, he entreated me to examine well my feelings on such an occasion. I heard in silence, unwilling to begin an argument that I was unable to support. The stopping of the carriage roused me; I immediately slipped on my socks and coat and met Horatio and Mr. Motley in the entry. The snow was deep, but Mr. Motley took me up in his arms and sat me in the carriage without difficulty. I found a full assembly, many married ladies, and every one disposed to end the winter in good spirits.

At one we left dancing and went to the card-room to wait for a coach. It stormed dreadfully; the hacks were all employed as soon as they returned, and we could not get one till three o’clock. . . . It was the most violent storm I ever knew, there were now twenty in waiting, the gentlemen scolding and fretting, the ladies murmuring and complaining. One hack returned; all flocked to the stairs to engage a seat. So many crowded down that ’twas impossible to get past; luckily I was one of the first. . . . None but ladies were permitted to get into the carriage; it presently was stowed in [so] full that the horses could not move. . . . The carriage at length started. . . . When we found ourselves in the street, the first thing was to find out who was in the carriage, and where we were all going, who first must be left. Luckily, two gentlemen had followed by the side of the carriage, and when it stopped took out the ladies as they got to their houses. . . . We at length arrived at the place of our destination. . . . the gentlemen then proceeded to take us out. My beau, unused to carrying such a weight of sin [and] folly, sunk under its pressure, and I was obliged to carry my mighty self through the snow, which almost buried me. Such a time! I never shall forget it. My great-grandmother never told any of her youthful adventures to equal it.

The story continues in the next post.

The miniature is by Edward Greene Malbone (1777-1809); Eliza poised for her portrait in New York City on June 18th, 1803, the year of her marriage to Walter Bowne.

posted February 6th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Bowne, Eliza Southgate,Education,Fashion,Weather

“four to five feet of snow had fallen in the night”

In the fall of 1779, General Friederich von Riedesel received news that he had permission to leave Virginia, where he and his Hessian troops were being held after their defeat at Saratoga. He was to go to New York City where he would be exchanged. His wife and their children would join him there. The Baroness was pregnant and the journey was hard on her. British General Henry Clinton arranged for her and the children to stay at a country estate* that he had at his disposal, an hour from the city, which was at the tip of Manhattan Island at that time. There the children were to be inoculated against smallpox which had been rampant in the city. The Baroness described their stay.

The estate was lovely, as was also the house, but the house had been built more for a summer residence, so that, as we were there in December, I suffered a great deal from the cold. However, the inoculation was a success. When it was over, and we henceforth no longer had to fear contagion,we prepared for our return to the city and sent our cook and the rest of the servants on ahead to get everything ready for our arrival the next day. However, we had such a terrible storm that night, that we thought the house would be blown down. In fact, an entire balustrade actually was torn off and fell to the ground with a dreadful crash, and when we woke up the next morning we saw that four to five feet of snow had fallen in the night, and in some places there were snowdrifts eight feet deep, so that it would be impossible for us to leave without sleighs. I tried therefore to get together whatever food I could for our dinner. An old chicken which had been forgotten was used for soup, and this with a few potatoes given us by the gardener and some corned meat, which was the last of our supplies, formed our whole dinner for fourteen people. In the afternoon, as I was sorrowfully looking out of the window, thinking of how we could get along, I saw our cook approaching on horseback. Full of joy, I turned around to tell the others about this. When I looked out again the cook was nowhere to be seen. Horrified at his disappearance, the gentlemen ran out and found him with his horse buried so deep in the snow that he could never had gotten out alone and probably would have died. Our people in the city had become uneasy when we did not come, and knowing that we had no supplies, the cook brought us some food for supper. It was impossible for a carriage to drive to the city. The next morning Captain Willoe brought us two large sleighs. We got in and I was rather worried about the children, because their inoculation had not yet entirely healed on account of the awful cold. But the trip did not hurt them a bit. While their inoculations were healing, Caroline did not have her whooping cough, but it set in again immediately afterwards and hung on for a whole year.

*The house was the Beekman mansion “Mount Pleasant,” built in 1763 for the New York City merchant James Beekman. On a rise between 50th and 51st Streets between First and Second Avenues, it is commemorated nearby as Beekman Place. The mansion served as the British military headquarters during the Revolutionary War. American spy Nathan Hale was held, tried, convicted, and condemned there in 1776.

The above passage was taken from pages 97-98 in Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution, Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty, 1776-1783, A Revised Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1965). The illustration is a wood engraving, 1876, from the Granger Collection.

posted February 3rd, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Children,Hessians,Inoculation,New York,Travel,Weather

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