Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

” . . . in some points I am very obstinate”

Although MARY “POLLY” HEWSON lost her husband in 1774 and was left to raise her three children on her own (see previous post), in that same year Polly’s aunt died leaving her a small inheritance that eventually when it was settled enabled her to live in relative comfort. “I shall be rich enough to indulge myself and my children in any occasional expences that will essentially gratify me or benefit them.”
With all hope of reconciliation between Britain and her American colonies abandoned, Polly’s friend and mentor Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1775. The United States, at war with Britain, sent Franklin to Paris in 1777 to seek French aid and negotiate a treaty. Polly and Franklin continued to correspond as best they could during wartime, Polly forwarding news about Franklin’s friends in England.

My letters are a kind of private newspaper, I give the articles just as they happen to occur without regard to order or connection. I fancy this kind will be most pleasing to you, as it will not require an answer, and will make you feel somewhat like having your English friends about you.

Of course Polly described her children’s progress. She had a mind of her own and did not hesitate to go against custom when it seemed sensible to do so. She refused to dress her daughter in stays for example.

Contrary to fashion, and consequently to the opinion of most people (you know in some points I am very obstinate) I keep her without stays, by which means her shape retains its natural grace; being unconfined, and her motions free, her health too is preserved.

In January 1783, Benjamin Franklin wrote to Polly about the end of the war:

At length we are in Peace, God be praised; & long, very long may it continue. All Wars are Follies, very expensive & very mischievous ones. When will Mankind be convinc’d of this, and agree to settle their Differences by Arbitration? Were they to do it even by the Cast of a Dye, it would be better than by Fighting & destroying each other.

Franklin invited Polly and her children to spend the winter of 1784-85 with him in his residence in Passy. Much to his delight she accepted. Franklin loved small children and enjoyed their company. He wrote to her after she and the children had departed:

…My love to William and Thomas and Eliza, and tell them I miss their cheerful prattle. . . . I have found it very triste breakfasting alone, and sitting alone, and without any tea in the evening.

Polly was uncertain about where her children would be most likley to meet with success. Franklin offered this advice.

With regard to the future Establishment of your Children, which you say you want to consult me about, I am still of Opinion that America will afford you more Chances of doing it well than England. All the means of good Education are plenty there, the general Manners more simple & pure, Temptations to Vice and Folly fewer, the Profits of Industry in Business as great and sure as in England; and there is one Advantage more which your Command of Money will give you there, I mean the laying out a Part of your Fortune in new Land, now to be had extreamly cheap, but which must be increas’d immensely in Value before your Children come of Age, by the rapid Population of the Country. If you should arrive there while I live, you know you may depend on every Assistance in my Power to afford you, and I think my Children will have a Pleasure too in serving their Father’s Friend. I do not offer it as a Motive that you will be much esteem’d and respected there, for that you are & must be every where; but give me leave to flatter myself that my being made happier in my last Years by your Neighbourhood and Society, may be some Inducement to you.

Hewson did relocate to America with her children and lived in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin lent her some money, $185.30, in January of 1787 to help her get settled. During Franklin’s last illness, when his pain eased, Polly read to him from Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. Franklin died in 1790, age 84.

Polly’s children did indeed do well in the United States. William Jr. obtained some land and became a farmer, Thomas became a medical doctor, and Elizabeth married an American. Franklin’s “surrogate daughter” Polly died the 14th of October 1795 aged 56.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Hewson, 8 September 1776,” “To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Hewson, 23 December 1781,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson, 27 January 1783,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson, 7 September 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0355. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 22, March 23, 1775, through October 27, 1776, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London:: Yale University Press, 1982, pp. 287-289, 594–596, 67–68, 588–590.]
Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York: Viking Press, 1938), 638, 738, 776.
Autograph letter signed (“B. Franklin”) to Mary “Polly” Hewson, Passy, 13 April 1782.

posted April 15th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,England,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,London,Paris,Philadelphia

“Our Family here is in great Distress. . . “

For MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON HEWSON 1774 was a bad year. Her two little boys contracted smallpox; they recovered. But her husband of only four years died leaving Polly pregnant with a third child. Doctor William Hewson had constructed a theater in the Craven Street house where he lectured on anatomy to students. At the same time he was carrying on his own research to better understand the human body, particularly its blood and lymphatic systems. Dissecting corpses was one way to increase his knowledge. Hewson died of septicaemia contracted from this hazardous work. He was only 34.

In 1998 when conservation work had begun at 36 Craven Street to create the museum that is there today a bone pit was discovered under what had been the garden during Hewson’s two-year residency. Some 1200 pieces of human and animal bones were found from a dozen or so bodies, including some children. There were saw marks and scalpel scars on many; holes had been drilled in a skull with some sort of trepanning device. Cadavers were difficult to come by; grave robbers delivered some, and there were bodies of unclaimed persons and of those executed. The practice of procuring and selling cadavers was illegal until 1832. Rather than transport the remnants of skeletons and bury them elsewhere, risking discovery, Hewson apparently decided to bury them on site. Benjamin Franklin, scientist that he was, almost certainly knew what Hewson was doing; indeed he probably visited Hewson’s laboratory to see the work in progress.

Franklin wrote to his wife Deborah in Philadelphia:

Our Family here is in great Distress. Poor Mrs. Hewson has lost her Husband, and Mrs. Stevenson her Son-in-law. He died last Sunday Morning of a Fever which baffled the Skill of our best Physicians. He was an excellent young Man, ingenious, industrious, useful, and belov’d by all that knew him. She is left with two young Children, and a third soon expected. He was just established in a profitable growing Business, with the best Prospects of bringing up his young Family advantageously.

For more on the bone pit and for the Franklin quote see HERE and HERE.

posted April 5th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Medicine

“Lectures go on briskly”

In 1771, the year following her wedding to Dr. William Hewson, POLLY STEVENSON HEWSON had her first child, a boy they named William. Benjamin Franklin was the godfather. He was always delighted to hear news about the child: teething, weaning, walking. He had a bit of advice for Polly:

Pray let him have every thing he likes; I think it of great Consequence while the Features of the Countenance are forming. It gives them a pleasant Air, and that being once become natural, and fix’d by Habit, the Face is ever after the handsomer for it, and on that much of a Person’s good Fortune and Success in Life may depend.

In 1772 the Hewsons took over the house on Craven Street. In July Polly wrote Franklin, who was away, that her husband had made some changes.

My Mother I must tell you went off last friday week, took our little Boy with her and left Mr. Hewson the care of her House. The first thing he did was pulling down a part of it in order to turn it to his own purpose, and advantage we hope. This Demolition cannot affect you, who at present are not even a Lodger, your litterary apartment remains untouch’d, the Door is lock’d, and the Key in this House.

William Hewson was no ordinary doctor. Noted for his contributions in hematology, he was an anatomist and teacher. He had added a theater to the Craven Street house in order to give lectures to students. These were successful as Polly notes in a letter to Franklin in October: “Lectures go on briskly; a fresh Pupil to day who makes up the half hundred whose names are enter’d, besides some others who have promis’d. . . . ” It was in this month that Polly’s mother and Franklin moved to another house on Craven Street.

In 1773 Polly had a second child, another boy, who was named Thomas. The next year 1774 proved to be a sad one for Polly and those to whom she was dear.

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson with a Postscript to Dorothea Blunt, 25 November 1771,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-18-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 18, January 1 through December 31, 1771, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 252–253, 341-342.]

posted March 25th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Medicine

“I am apt to love every body that loves you”

POLLY STEVENSON must have written Benjamin Franklin asking his advice on whether she should accept the proposal of marriage from the surgeon William Hewson for he responded on May 31, 1770:

. . . . I am sure you are a much better Judge in this Affair of your own than I can possibly be. . . . My Concern (equal to any Father’s) for your Happiness, makes me write this. . . . I assure you that no Objection has occur’d to me; his Person you see, his Temper and his Understanding you can judge of, his Character for any thing I have ever heard is unblemished; his Profession, with that Skill in it he is suppos’d to have, will be sufficient to support a Family. . . . I shall be confident whether you accept or refuse, that you do right. I only wish you may do what will most contribute to your Happiness, and of course to mine; being ever, my dear Friend, Yours most affectionately

Polly apparently decided for herself since she married William Hewson on July 10. Benjamin Franklin gave her away. Franklin wrote to her on July 24-25 while she was on her honeymoon, in part spent visiting the relatives of her husband—a widowed mother, two sisters and a brother— in Hexam.

Your Friends are all much pleas’d with your Account of the agreable Family, their kind Reception and Entertainment of you, and the Respect shown you. . . .Make my sincere Respects acceptable to Mr. Hewson, whom, exclusive of his other Merits, I shall always esteem in proportion to the Regard he manifests for you. . . . I am apt to love every body that loves you. . . . We like your Assurances of continued Friendship unimpair’d by your Change of Condition, and we believe you think as you write; but we fancy we know better than you: You know I once knew your Heart better than you did your self. As a Proof that I am right, take notice, that you now think this the silliest Letter I ever wrote to you, and that Mr. Hewson confirms you in that Opinion. However, I am still, what I have been so many Years, my dear good Girl, Your sincerely affectionate Friend, and Servant
B Franklin

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 31 May 1770,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson Hewson, 24 July 1770,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-17-02-0082. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 17, January 1 through December 31, 1770, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973, pp. 152–153; 198-199]

posted March 18th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Friendship,Hewson, Dr. William,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Marriage

“For you my needle with delight I plied”

Benjamin Franklin replied the next day (September 2, 1769) to POLLY STEVENSON’s letter in which she tells of her meeting with a physician who had caught her eye. “Possibly, if the Truth were known, I have Reason to be jealous of this same insinuating handsome young Physician: But as it flatters more my Vanity, and therefore gives me more Pleasure to suppose you were in Spirits on Account of my safe Return, I shall turn a deaf Ear to Reason in this Case. . . .” Stevenson and Franklin exchanged gifts at Christmas; here is the verse Polly composed to accompany her present of a pair of Ruffles.

To Dr. Franklin with a pair of Ruffles Decr / 69
These flowers Dear Sir, can boast no lively bloom,
Nor can regale you with a sweet perfume,
This dreary season no such present yeild’s,
The Trees are naked, unadorn’d the fields,
The Gardens have their sweets and beauty lost
But Love and Gratitude, unchill’d by frost;
Put forth this foliage—poor indeed I own
Yet trust th’intent will for the faults atone.
Altho’ my produce not with nature vies,
I hope to please a friend’s indulgent eye’s,
For you my fancy and my skill I tried
For you my needle with delight I plied
Proud even to add a triffling grace to you
From whom Philosophy and Virtue too
I’ve gain’d—If either can be counted mine
In you they with the clearest lustre shine
My noble Friend this artless line excuse
Nor blame the weakness of your Polly’s muse
The humble gift with kind compliance take
And wear it for the grateful givers sake.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, [December 1769],” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-16-02-0174. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 16, January 1 through December 31, 1769, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972, p. 274.]

posted March 15th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Poetry

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