Archive for the ‘Jefferson, Thomas’ Category

“scarce an Evening . . . but we are entertained . . . “

ANNE BLAIR was born in May 1746, the seventh child of John and Mary Monro Blair. Her father was President of the Virginia Colonial Council. Anne concludes her letter to her sister MARY BLAIR BRAXTON writing about what was going on around her. Her sister had visitors who knew much of what she had planned to tell her. Nevertheless she added some interesting details. I am sure you have noticed that Anne uses apostrophes in plural words not just in possessives. A common practice at the time.

They are Building a steeple to our Church, the Door’s for that reason is open every day; and scarce an Evening . . . but we are entertained with the performances of Felton’s, Handel’s, Vi-vally’s. &c. &c. &c. &c. I could say a great deal about this, and that, & tother, but knowing the company you now have can tell all that I know, with greater ease than I can write it——will refer you to them; do ask a Thousand question’s, there is an abundance of New’s stiring. . . .

Did I tell you Major Watson’s Family was arrived? No, pshaw, yr Guests could have told you that. Oh! but they were not so polite as I was, I went to wait on them; the Eldest is about eighteen, a young Lady of good Sense, with an easy affable behavior, and I think handsome. The other about fourteen, has a Charming complexion, with good nature stamp’t in her Countenance; she wears her Hair down her Forehead & almost to her Eye-Brows, wch gives a just Idea at first sight, of what on a little acquaintance you find in reality——She is a Wild Philly.——Well come! I will rejoice you by telling you I have a pain in my Rist, consequently it obliges me to conclude: tho’ cannot without assuring you I am
yr truly Affec. Sisr.
A Blair

William Felton (1713-1769) was a British composer whose works were quite popular. I love Anne’s reference to Vivaldi; at least I think that’s whom she means.

On February 26, 1779, ANNE BLAIR married Colonel John Banister whose first two wives had died. They had two sons Theodorick Blair and John Monro Banister. The younger son married Mary Burton Bowling. Their son John later migrated to Alabama. Anne’s husband died in 1788; she survived until 1813.

In 1787 she wrote at least two letters to Thomas Jefferson in Paris requesting his assistance for Madame Oster, the wife of the French consul, who had been misrepresented by her husband to the French minister and was “suffering in a strange country.” She mentions Jefferson’s kind letter to her “better half.” (I was surprised to learn that the expression dates to the 16th century.) Jefferson replied to her and said that the matter of Madame Oster had been resolved. He asked: “Do all your desires center in your friends? Is there nothing you wish for yourself? The modes of Paris, it’s manufactures, it’s good things, do they furnish you no temptation to employ me?”

William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XVI, 1908, 179-80. See this SITE for more information about the Banister family history. Consult also the Blair, Banister, Braxton, Horner, Whiting Papers, 1760-1890. See Jefferson’s letter to Anne HERE.

posted June 12th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Banister, John,Blair, Anne,Braxton, Mary Blair,Jefferson, Thomas,Music

“the relation of lover and mistress”

ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH was the sister of Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth, usually called Eliza or Betsy. They were the two eldest of the eight children—Angelica one year older than Eliza— of soldier and statesman Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer both of whose families were wealthy Dutch landowners. The Schuylers lived in Albany where the girls were educated by their mother and private tutors.

Alexander Hamilton met Eliza in Morristown, New Jersey, the Continental Army’s winter quarters, in 1780 where she had come to stay with relatives. Hamilton was smitten; he wrote to his friend John Laurens in March 1780:

I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good-hearted girl who, I am sure, will never play the termagant. Though not a genius, she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty she has fine black eyes, is rather handsome, and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy.

Hamilton married Eliza but he was also drawn to her sister Angelica whom he also met in 1780. Angelica was gay, witty, vivacious and interested in politics. In 1777 Angelica had married John Church, an Englishman who left for America under suspicious circumstances. Since her father did not approve of the match the pair eloped. Church made a fortune in the Revolution; after the war he and Angelica settled in London where John became a member of Parliament and Angelica established herself as a noted hostess. Angelica and Hamilton corresponded frequently during her stay abroad.

Angelica also made a friend of Thomas Jefferson who was serving as minister to France. Although they were on opposite sides of the political scene in America—Federalists vs Republicans—the two also corresponded. They had discussions about the appropriate roles for women, Jefferson expressing the view that “French ladies miscalculate their happiness when they wander from the true field of their influence into politics.” (Recall the exchanges Jefferson had had with Ann Willing Bingham on this subject here, here, and here. Angelica and Jefferson also corresponded in language that is quite intimate and flirtatious. They worked together to assist victims of the French Revolution.

Hamilton’s letters to Angelica in London were also intimate and flirtatious. Just after the Churches left in 1785 he wrote:

You have I fear taken a final leave of America and of those that love you here. I saw you depart from Philadelphia with peculiar uneasiness, as if foreboding you were not to return. My apprehensions are confirmed and unless I see you in Europe I expect not to see you again.
This is the impression we all have; judge the bitterness it gives to those who love you with the love of nature and to me who feel an attachment for you not less lively.

He wrote on December 6, 1787, thanking her for some information she had sent him.

. . . I can not . . . resist the strong desire I feel of thankg you for your invaluable letter by the last packet. Imagine, if you are able, the pleasure it gave me. Notwithstanding the compliment you pay to my eloquence its resources could give you but a feeble image of what I should wish to convey.
This you will tell me is poetical enough. I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress. It has a very inspiring effect. And in your case the dullest materials could not help feeling that propensity.

More about Hamilton and Angelica Church in the next post.

Sources for LETTER to John Laurens and Hamilton’s letters to Angelica: “From Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [3 August 1785] also Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [6 December 1787 Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 3, 1782–1786, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 619–620 and pp. 374–376.] The portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church, son Philip, and a servant is by John Trumbull (1785).

posted July 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Church, Angelica Schuyler,French Revolution,Friendship,Hamilton, Alexander,Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler,Jefferson, Thomas,Letter-writing,New York

“too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics”

Thomas Jefferson and ANNE WILLING BINGHAM continued their correspondence, he in Paris where he was the American minister and she in Philadelphia where she was a leader of society. In his letter of May 1788 to Anne he makes mention of the developing tensions that ultimately led to the French Revolution—”Paris is now become a furnace of Politics.” The letter is also most interesting as it contains his views on the proper place of women, which were typical of the times.

Paris May 11, 1788DEAR MADAM,
— A gentleman going to Philadelphia furnishes me the occasion of sending you some numbers of the Cabinet des Modes & some new theatrical pieces. These last have had great success on the stage, where they have excited perpetual applause. We have now need of something to make us laugh, for the topics of the times are sad and eventful. The gay and thoughtless Paris is now become a furnace of Politics. All the world is now politically mad. Men, women, children talk nothing else, & you know that naturally they talk much, loud & warm. Society is spoilt by it, at least for those who, like myself, are but lookers on. — You too have had your political fever. But our good ladies, I trust, have been too wise to wrinkle their foreheads with politics. They are contented to soothe & calm the minds of their husbands returning ruffled from political debate. They have the good sense to value domestic happiness above all other, and the art to cultivate it beyond all others. There is no part of the earth where so much of this is enjoyed as in America. You agree with me in this; but you think that the pleasures of Paris more than supply its wants; in other words that a Parisian is happier than an American. You will change your opinion, my dear Madam, and come over to mine in the end. Recollect the women of this capital, some on foot, some on horses, & some in carriages hunting pleasure in the streets, in routs & assemblies, and forgetting that they have left it behind them in their nurseries; compare them with our own countrywomen occupied in the tender and tranquil amusements of domestic life, and confess that it is a comparison of Amazons and Angels. . . .

Madame de Rochambeau is well: so is Madame de la Fayette. I recollect no other Nouvelles de societe interesting to you. And as for political news of battles & sieges, Turks & Russians, I will not detail them to you, because you would be less handsome after reading them. I have only to add then, what I take a pleasure in repeating, tho’ it will be the thousandth time that I have the honour to be with sentiments of very sincere respect & attachment, dear Madam,
your most obedient & most humble servant.

Jefferson’s letter can be read online HERE.

posted April 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,French Revolution,Jefferson, Thomas,Lafayette, Marquise Adrienne

“you have buried their good Qualities in the Shade”

ANNE WILLING BINGHAM replied to Thomas Jefferson’s letter of February 1787 (see previous post) fairly promptly. He had asked her to let him know whether she thought a woman’s life in Paris or in America ought to be more admired. Anne waffles a bit, but does not back down from her opinion that the activities of those French women in the upper social strata, especially the “salonnieres,” played an important role in the intellectual and political life of Paris. Anne asks to be remembered to Jefferson’s daughter Patsy and thanks him for the information on cultural events and fashions he provides. A lovely and interesting letter.

[Philadelphia, 1 June 1787]I am too much flattered by the Honor of your letter from Paris, not to acknowledge it by the earliest opportunity, and to assure you that I am very sensible of your attentions. The Candor with which you express your sentiments, merits a sincere declaration of mine.

I agree with you that many of the fashionable pursuits of the Parisian Ladies are rather frivolous, and become uninteresting to a reflective Mind; but the Picture you have exhibited, is rather overcharged. You have thrown a strong light upon all that is ridiculous in their Characters, and you have buried their good Qualities in the Shade. It shall be my Task to bring them forward, or at least to attempt it. The state of Society in different Countries requires corresponding Manners and Qualifications; those of the french Women are by no means calculated for the Meridian of America, neither are they adapted to render the Sex so amiable or agreable in the English acceptation, of those words. But you must confess, that they are more accomplished, and understand the Intercourse of society better than in any other Country. We are irresistibly pleased with them, because they possess the happy Art of making us pleased with ourselves; their education is of a higher Cast, and by great cultivation they procure a happy variety of Genius, which forms their Conversation, to please either the Fop, or the Philosopher.

In what other Country can be found a Marquise de Coigny, who, young and handsome, takes a lead in all the fashionable Dissipation of Life, and at more serious moments collects at her House an assembly of the Literati, whom she charms with her Knowledge and her bel Esprit. The Women of France interfere in the politics of the Country, and often give a decided Turn to the Fate of Empires. Either by the gentle Arts of persuasion, or by the commanding force of superior Attractions and Address, they have obtained that Rank and Consideration in society, which the Sex are intitled to, and which they in vain contend for in other Countries. We are therefore bound in Gratitude to admire and revere them, for asserting our Privileges, as much as the Friends of the Liberties of Mankind reverence the successfull Struggles of the American Patriots.

The agreable resources of Paris must certainly please and instruct every Class of Characters. The Arts of Elegance are there considered essential, and are carried to a state of Perfection; the Mind is continually gratified with the admiration of Works of Taste. I have the pleasure of knowing you too well, to doubt of your subscribing to this opinion. With respect to my native Country, I assure you that I am fervently attached to it, as well as to my Friends and Connections in it; there is possibly more sincerity in Professions and a stronger desire of rendering real services, and when the Mouth expresses, the Heart speaks.

I am sensible that I shall tire you to Death from the length of this Letter, and had almost forgot that you are in Paris, and that every instant of your Time is valuable, and might be much better employed than I can possibly do it. However, I shall reserve a further examination of this subject to the Period, when I can have the happiness of meeting you, when we will again resume it. I feel myself under many obligations for your kind present of les Modes de Paris; they have furnished our Ladies with many Hints, for the decoration of their Persons, and I have informed them to whom they are indebted. I shall benefit by your obliging offer of service, whenever I shall have occasion for a fresh Importation of Fashions; at present I am well stocked having lately received a variety of Articles from Paris.

Be so kind as to remember me with affection to Miss Jefferson—tell her she is the envy of all the young Ladies in America, and that I should wish nothing so much as to place my little Girl, under her inspection and protection, should she not leave Paris before I re-visit it. I shall hope for the pleasure of hearing from you, and if you accompany another book of fashions, with any new Opera’s or Comedies, you will infinitely oblige me. It is quite time I bad you adieu, but remember that this first of June I am constant to my former opinion, nor can I believe that any length of time will change it. I am determined to have some merit in your eyes, if not for taste and judgment, at least for consistency.
Allow me my dear Sir to assure you that I am sincerely & respectfully yours &c.,
A Bingham

Letter to Thomas Jefferson from Anne Willing Bingham, [1 June 1787],” Founders Online, National Archives. Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 392–394.

posted April 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Fashion,France,Jefferson, Thomas,Paris

Tranquil Pleasures vs Empty Bustle?

Anne Willing (1764-1801) was one of the most beautiful women in Philadelphia and William Bingham was one of America’s richest men. The two married in 1780 when she was sixteen. The couple traveled to Europe in 1783 where they spent three years impressing and being impressed by both English and French nobility. Thomas Jefferson who was serving as American minister to France became one of Anne’s friends. Anne admired French salons, the elevated level of discourse on a variety of topics, including politics, that characterized them, and especially the women who organized them. When the Binghams returned to the United States in 1786 Anne determined to become a political hostess in Philadelphia. She promised to let Jefferson know within a year’s time whether a woman’s life in Paris or in America ought to be more admired. He wrote the following letter to her on February 7, 1787 reminding her of her promise. It’s a wonderful and amusing piece of writing that is worth sharing.

I know, Madam, that the twelve month is not yet expired; but it will be, nearly, before this will have the honor of being put into your hands. You are then engaged to tell me, truly and honestly, whether you do not find the tranquil pleasures of America, preferable to the empty bustle of Paris. For to what does that bustle tend? At eleven o’clock, it is day, cher madame. The curtains are drawn. Propped on bolsters and pillows, and her head scratched into a little order, the bulletins of the sick are read, and the billets of the well. She writes to some of her acquaintance, and receives the visits of others. If the morning is not very thronged, she is able to get out and hobble round the cage of the Palais royal; but she must hobble quickly, for the coeffeur’s turn is come; and a tremendous turn it is! Happy, if he does not make her arrive when dinner is half over! The torpitude of digestion a little passed, she flutters half an hour through the streets, by way of paying visits, and then to the spectacles. These finished, another half hour is devoted to dodging in and out of the doors of her very sincere friends, and away to supper. After supper, cards; and after cards, bed; to rise at noon the next day, and to tread, like a mill horse, the same trodden circle over again. Thus the days of life are consumed, one by one, without an object beyond the present moment; ever flying from the ennui of that, yet carrying it with us; eternally in pursuit of happiness, which keeps eternally before us. If death or bankruptcy happen to trip us out of the circle, it is matter for the buz of the evening, and is completely forgotten by the next morning. In America, on the other hand, the society of your husband, the fond cares for the children, the arrangements of the house, the improvements of the grounds, fill every moment with a healthy and an useful activity. Every exertion is encouraging, because to present amusement, it joins the promise of some future good. The intervals of leisure are filled by the society of real friends, whose affections are not thinned to cob-web, by being spread over a thousand objects. This is the picture, in the light it is presented to my mind; now let me have it in yours. If we do not concur this year, we shall the next; or if not then, in a year or two more. You see I am determined not to suppose myself mistaken. . . .
Shall I fill [a] box with caps, bonnets, &c.? Not of my own choosing, but—I was going to say, of Mademoiselle Bertin’s, forgetting for the moment, that she . . . is bankrupt. They shall be chosen then by whom you please; or, if you are altogether nonplused by her eclipse, we will call an Assemblee des Notables, to help you out of the difficulty, as is now the fashion. In short, honor me with your commands of any kind, and they shall be faithfully executed. The packets now established from Havre to New York, furnish good opportunities of sending whatever you wish.
I shall end where I began, like a Paris day, reminding you of your engagement to write me a letter of respectable length, an engagement the more precious to me, as it has furnished me the occasion, after presenting my respects to Mr. Bingham, of assuring you of the sincerity of those senti-ments of esteem and respect, with which I have the honor to be, Dear Madam,
your most obedient and most humble servant,

Read Anne Willing Bingham’s reply in the next post.

Find Jefferson’s letter online HERE. The portrait (1797) by Gilbert Stuart is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

posted April 7th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,Jefferson, Thomas,Paris

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