Archive for the ‘France’ Category

“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.

posted April 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,France,London,Morris, Mary White,Paris,Philadelphia,Rawle, Anna,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Tilghman, Molly,Warren, Mercy Otis

“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

“Balloon mania”

The Montgolfier brothers launched their first balloon (powered by hot air) in June of 1783. Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers, Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis, launched a hydrogen balloon from the Champs de Mars in Paris on August 27, 1783 before a huge crowd of onlookers. The balloon landed 45 kilometers away where it was attacked and destroyed by frightened peasants with pitchforks.
Another Montgolfier balloon, this time carrying sheep, a duck, and a rooster in a basket attached to the balloon, rose into the sky on September 19. The craft landed safely with the animals no less the worse for wear.
These successes spawned a slew of subsequent flights by various engineers and inventors, with human passengers, across the English Channel in 1785 and in 1793 in Philadelphia, the launch of which was watched by George Washington. There were accidents, of course, the first in Ireland in 1785 in which the balloon crashed and nearly destroyed the town of Tullamore by fire.

Percy Bysshe Shelley composed this Sonnet:

To a balloon, laden with Knowledge

Bright ball of flame that thro the gloom of even
Silently takest thine etherial way
And with surpassing glory dimmst each ray
Twinkling amid the dark blue Depths of Heaven
Unlike the Fire thou bearest, soon shall thou
Fade like a meteor in surrounding gloom
Whilst that unquencheable is doomed to glow
A watch light by the patriots lonely tomb
A ray of courage to the opprest & poor,
A spark tho’ gleaming on the hovel’s hearth
Which thro the tyrants gilded domes shall roar
A beacon in the darkness of the Earth
A Sun which oer the renovated scene
Shall dart like Truth where Falshood yet has been.

Not everyone welcomed this fascination with flight. One author wrote: “Let us leave to each its domain,/ God made the skies for the birds;/ To the fishes, He gave the waters./ And to the humans, the Earth./ Let us cultivate it, my dear friends.”
But the balloon craze hit hard and was reflected in dress and hair styles, fashion accessories like cuff links and fans, furniture and snuff boxes, as well as many commemorative objects. And it was the subject of satire. Here are some examples.

You can even buy fabric (below on right) depicting airborne balloons for your walls today at 78 £ per meter.

posted July 20th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Art,Fashion,France,Paris,Philadelphia,Poetry,Washington, George

Patsy and Polly Jefferson; Mary and Sally Hemings

Please see the corrected version of the previous post on Martha Jefferson Randolph, another post about her here and, since the subject has come up, further information on the Hemings.

Thomas Jefferson, made his daughter Martha, known as “Patsy”, a wedding present of eight slaves, when she married Thomas M. Randolph, Jr., as was mentioned in the previous post. One of the slaves was Molly Hemings, a child of Mary Hemings, a slave in the household of Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles. The daughter of Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings, Mary was fathered by John Wayles, as were Betty’s other children, including Sally Hemings. When Wayles died, his slaves were inherited by his daughter, Jefferson’s wife Martha, and joined the Jefferson household at Monticello.

In 1785, Jefferson was appointed minister to France. While he was in Paris his slave Mary Hemings was hired out to Thomas Bell (a common practice) who later purchased and freed her. Mary became his common-law wife (marriage between whites and blacks was against Virginia law) and bore him two children whom he acknowledged and freed. When Bell died he left considerable property to Mary who lived out her life in comfort. Her older children, of whom Molly was one, remained slaves at Monticello. Molly was gifted to Patsy and a son, Daniel was given to Jefferson’s sister. Sally, however, was destined for a different life.

When Jefferson left for Paris he took his daughter Patsy with him but left his younger child Mary, known as “Polly,” with relatives in Virginia. Jefferson decided in 1786 that he wanted Polly to join him in Paris. Polly did not want to go, as is clear from this pitiful letter she wrote to her father.

Dear Papa [ca. 22 May 1786]I long to see you, and hope that you and sister Patsy are well; give my love to her and tell her that I long to see her, and hope that you and she will come very soon to see us. I hope you will send me a doll. I am very sorry that you have sent for me. I don’t want to go to France, I had rather stay with Aunt [Elizabeth Wayles] Eppes. . . .
Your most happy and dutiful daughter Polly Jefferson

Despite her protestations, Jefferson decided that 9-year-old Polly must join him and that the slave Sally Hemings, then 14 years old, should escort her to Paris. The child was tricked into going aboard a vessel (supposedly to visit friends) and fell asleep. When she awoke, to her dismay, she found herself on the high seas. On arrival In London, Abigail Adams took the pair into her care. For Abigail’s reaction see the next post.

Polly’s letter can be found on page 234 of In the Words of Women. Information about Sally Hemings can be found HERE, and more about Mary Hemings HERE.

posted January 24th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,France,Hemings, Mary,Hemings, Sally,Jefferson, Martha "Patsy",Jefferson, Mary "Polly",Jefferson, Thomas

“We have begun our new year in this city”

Mary Stead Pinckney was in Paris in January of 1798. (See another post about her here.) Her husband, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, had been sent there in 1796 to replace James Monroe as United States minister to France. Relations between France and the United States had worsened given the decision of the United States to remain neutral during the war then being waged between the French and British; France believed it was entitled to American support based on the treaty of 1778. The Jay Treaty of 1794, perceived as unduly advantageous to the British, caused relations to deteriorate further. Pinckney was denied accreditation and, indeed, was ordered to leave the country. Charles and Mary went to Holland where they remained for some months, returning to Paris in September of 1797. There Pinckney became part of a three-man commission designated by the United States to sort out relations between the two countries. Negotiations—known as the XYZ Affair—failed in the face of attempts by France to extort money from the United States. The Pinckneys returned to the United Sates in 1798. Following is the letter Mary Stead Pinckney wrote to her sister Elizabeth Stead Izard on January 6, 1798.

We have begun our new year in this city, my dear sister, but I am sure I shall not pretend to the spirit of prophecy and venture to foretell where we shall finish it. I hope I may be allowed to wish ourselves, as also you & yours, as happy a year as is consistent with our imperfect nature. After taking such a voyage I should like to see a little more of Europe merely to gratify curiosity, but, believe me, our country is capable of bestowing more real happiness than is to be found out of it. I mean for those who have the wherewith to live comfortable. As to the society of Paris, I know no more of it except by hearsay than you do; & with regard to public amusements they soon tire. My morning excursions procure me the most pleasure, and yet it is too cold and damp not to suffer from visiting churches & museums, and I dare not put them off to a milder season lest I should not then be here. . . . but I am wishing it was spring that I might make excursions round the beautiful environs of Paris. Yet we have no cards of hospitality, and if they are determined to consider us as private americans only are liable to be stopped every time we go out. . . .

I will not risk the safety of my letters by meddling with politicks, and tho’ the citizens allow themselves greater latitude on this subject than I expected, it is still a dangerous subject; and with regard to letters, I am told the owners of vessels both coming from & going to A. are so apprehensive for their cargoes that they generally throw them all into the sea. I hope therefore you will either send copies or write very often.

I wish particularly to know whether in case we are recalled you will venture to let us leave Ralph [Elizabeth Izard’s son] at school in St. Germains, or what you would wish to have done with him. He is losing all his time, & at present has no opportunity of learning even french. We should not hesitate, but send him immediately to St. Germains, tho’ but for a week, were it not for the expence of the outfit—for each student must have a bedstead, 4 mattresses, a pr of sheets, 3 doz. napkins, a silver cup, fork and spoon, and our stay is so uncertain. Sometimes we think of leaving him there if we go to Amsterdam; & then again I am fearful lest he should get sick &c: in a country where he will have no friends. . . . We are indeed quite puzzled what to do with him. Eliza [Ralph’s sister] too is losing all she has learnt—no instrument—no masters.

We changed our lodgings yesterday—these are rather more comfortable & quiet, but they are dark, and the situation much less agreeable; but we were in the Road to Ruin where we were, and lived in the most disagreeable manner. We paid 67 louis d’ors for 21 dinners, without the satisfaction of seeing one friend, except on New Year’s day, when Mr. & Mrs. Middleton [relatives of Charles Pinckney’s first wife] . . . dined with us. . . .

Friday evening—I have been running about Paris all this morning instead of writing. . . . I see very little jewellry or gold trinkets in the shops; and you will be surprised to hear I have not yet been able to meet with a pair of sleeve buttons for Ralph. I am persuaded there is greater choice, and neater work in London. I have not seen one pretty watch. Yet there appears to be a great abundance of all the necessaries of life. I suppose I have been a dozen times at least to the Palais Égalité, and I am as much amused with the shops as any child can be. Pray remember me affect. to &c: &c: and tell us all about Xmas. 4 months and not a line from any of you. Deplorable. . . .
Adieu MP.—

As always, it seems, visitors to Paris see the sights, visit museums and go shopping.

The letter has been arranged in paragraphs to make for easier reading. The Letter-book of Mary Stead Pinckney can be found online HERE pages 42-45.

posted January 5th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Education,France,Paris,Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth,Pinckney, Mary Stead

next page

   Copyright © 2017 In the Words of Women.