Archive for the ‘Warren, Mercy Otis’ 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

“On a SURVEY of the HEAVENS.”

Another poem from Mercy Otis Warren, patriot, dramatist, poet, historian, and correspondent, to mark the end of Poetry Month, this one with a religious bent. See another poem by MOW in the previous post.


DOES there an infidel exist?
Let him look up—he can’t resist,
These proofs of Deity—so clear,
He must the architect revere,
Whene’er to heaven he lifts his eyes,
And there surveys the spangled skies;
The glitt’ring stars, the worlds that shine,
And speak their origin divine,
Bid him adore, and prostrate fall,
And own one Lord, supreme o’er all.

One God this mighty fabrick guides,
Th’ etherial circles he divides;
And measures out the distant bound,
Of each revolving planet’s round;
Prevents the universal jar,
That might from one eccentric star,
Toss’d in the wide extended space,
At once—a thousand worlds displace.

What else supports the rolling spheres;
Nought but Almighty power appears,
The vast unnumber’d orbs to place,
And scatter o’er the boundless space,
Myriads of worlds of purer light,
Our adoration to excite;
And lead the wandering mind of man,
To contemplate the glorious plan.

Not even Newton’s godlike mind,
Nor all the sages of mankind,
Could e’er assign another cause,
Though much they talk of nature’s laws;
Of gravity’s attractive force,
They own the grand, eternal source,
Who, from the depths of chaos’ womb,
Prepar’d the vaulted, spacious dome;
He spake—a vast foundation’s laid,
And countless globes thereon display’d.

His active power still sustains
Their weight, amidst the heavenly plains;
Infinite goodness yet protects,
All perfect wisdom still directs
Their revolutions;—knows the hour,
When rapid time’s resistless pow’r,
In mighty ruin will involve,
And God—this grand machine dissolve.

Then time and death shall both expire,
And in the universal fire,
These elements shall melt away,
To usher in eternal day.

Amazing thought!—Is it decreed;
New earth and heavens, shall these succeed?
More glorious far—still more august!
In his omnific arm we trust.

But how this system ’twill excel,
Nor Angel’s voice, or tongue can tell;
Nor human thought so high can soar;
His works survey, and God adore.

The poem is from Mercy Otis Warren’s Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (Boston: I. Thomas and E.T. Andrews, 1790), pages 198-199. It can be found HERE. The image is from Abner D. Jones, ed., The Illustrated American Biography, Vol. 3 (1855) p 107.

posted April 30th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Poetry,Religion,Warren, Mercy Otis,Women Writers

“Woman’s Trifling Needs”

For the last week of April here are two more poems, these by Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), one today and the other on Thursday. Warren was a patriot, poet, dramatist and historian. See previous posts here, here, here, here, and here. She came from a prosperous Cape Cod family and was educated at home to a degree far above most women. She had close connections to many patriots: her brother James Otis was very active in the resistance to Britain; her husband James Warren served in the Massachusetts legislature; and she carried on a correspondence with friends Abigail Adams, Hannah Fayerweather Winthrop, and John Adams, among others. In 1790 a collection by her called Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous was published including the following poem which had appeared earlier. It supports the boycott of British goods that was one of the first actions taken by the colonies and ridicules those frivolous women who are too weak to participate.

Woman’s Trifling Needs

AN inventory clear
Of all she needs Lamira offers here;
Nor does she fear a rigid Cato’s frown
When she lays by the rich embroidered gown,
And modestly compounds for just enough—
Perhaps, some dozens of more flighty stuff;
With lawns and lustrings, blond, and Mechlin laces,
Fringes and jewels, fans and tweezer-cases;
Gay cloaks, and hats of every shape and size,
Scarfs, cardinals, and ribbons of all dyes;
With ruffles stamped, and aprons of tambour,
Tippets and handkerchiefs, at least three score;
With finest muslins that fair India boasts,
And the choice herbage from Chinesan coasts;
(But while the fragrant hyson leaf regales,
Who’ll wear the homespun produce of the vales?
For if ‘twould save the nation from the curse
Of standing troops; or—name a plague still worse—
Few can this choice, delicious draught give up,
Though all Medea’s poisons fill the cup.)
Add feathers, furs, rich satins, and ducapes,
And bead-dresses in pyramidial shapes;
Sideboards of plate and porcelain profuse,
With fifty dittos that the ladies use;
If my poor treach’rous memory has missed,
Ingenious T——l shall complete the list.
So weak Lamira, and her wants so few,
Who can refuse?—they’re but the sex’s due.
In youth, indeed, an antiquated page
Taught us the threatenings of an Hebrew sage
‘Gainst wimples, mantles, curls, and crisping-pins;
But rank not these among our modern sins;
For when our manners are well understood,
What in the scale is stomacher or hood?
‘Tis true, we love the courtly mien and air,
The pride of dress and all the debonair;
Yet Clara quits the more dressed negligee,
And substitutes the careless Polanee;
Until some fair one from Britannia’s court,
Some jaunty dress or newer taste import;
This sweet temptation could not be withstood,
Though for the purchase paid her father’s blood.
* * * * * * *
Can the stern patriot Clara’s suit deny?
‘Tis Beauty asks, and Reason must comply.

The poem was taken from E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes, 1891. Vol. III: “Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 1765–1787.” It can be found online HERE.

posted April 27th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Fashion,Poetry,Resistance to British,Warren, Mercy Otis,Women Writers

“I have stood long in the vineyard”

One of the last letters Mercy Otis Warren wrote to Sarah Cary follows. (See previous post here.) In it she contemplates her death and counts her life’s blessings:

February 7th 1802 This day counts up to twelve months since I have been able to read a page or take up my pen. You who can contemplate the wisdom and goodness of divine dispensation, who have health and vigour both of body and mind, cannot be indisposed to write and haste to strengthen the mental views of a friend, whose outworks are weakened and corporeal sight darkened. But you have cares, lovely cares, a family who I hope promises to reward every attention that occupies the time of so good a mother. I, too, have had the important charge committed to me, of educating youth of the best disposition, and regret that it has not been executed in a more perfect manner, yet hope I have not lived in vain.

I have stood long in the vineyard and seen many, many indeed, drop around me younger than myself and perhaps better qualified for useful labour. You my dear, Mrs. Cary are almost the only female friend I have left, to whom I can without restraint pour out the flow of thoughts as they arrive, amidst the chequered hue of my span of life. But the first friend of my heart still lives, and enjoys as much health and happiness, as any one who has seen such a variety of change, who has consigned to the grave three dutiful and amiable sons, as accomplished friends in the zenith of usefulness & capacity that fed the fondest hopes of the parent. I will be silent on the theme,—and consider, the sovereign Lord of all who lent, “has took but what he gave.”

I have two sons yet left to smooth the pillow of age, who I hope will be spared to fill up a useful life, after they have closed the eyes of their affectionate parents.

Tell me in your next if there is not a probability, if we should both stand a year or two longer, that we may have another interview before we mix with our departed friends and innumerable rational existences, inhabitants of worlds unknown. I hope you do not think I write in a gloomy style. I do not feel as if I did. I tread down the remnant of life with a tolerable degree of chearfulness—my days are tranquil, my nights not wearisome: I wake in the morning with a mind [filled?] with gratitude that it is as well with me as it is.

Richards, Jeffrey H. and Sharon M. Harris, eds., Mercy Otis Warren Selected Letters (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2009), ONLINE, page 250.

posted June 23rd, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children,Friendship,Warren, Mercy Otis

“No my dear Mrs Cary I have not forgotten you”

After reading three of Sarah Cary’s letters to her son Samuel here, here, and here, it’s time you learned something more about this interesting woman.

In 1791, Sarah and her husband Samuel returned to Chelsea, Massachusetts, from Grenada after a stay of almost ten years supervising a sugar plantation. While in the West Indies Sarah had borne, in addition to Samuel, Jr., ten more children, two of whom died in infancy. When the family took up residence in Chelsea, Samuel made substantial improvements to the house and property. And Sarah had four more children! During an insurrection on Grenada in 1795, the Cary plantation burned to the ground, a severe loss which caused financial difficulties for the family in the following years.

One feature of the last two decades of Sarah Cary’s life—she died in 1825—was her relationship with Mercy Otis Warren. Warren was several years her senior yet resumed a correspondence with her, after a period of twenty years, when Sarah returned to Massachusetts. (They were connected by family ties—Sarah’s cousin married Mercy Otis Warren’s brother.) She begins her letter of June 24, 1793, with these words. “No my dear Mrs Cary I have not forgotten you. I am not one of those who ever forget their friends.” She continues in a letter of June 8, 1799:

I again resume the pen to speak to my dear friend once more on this side the grave. I have stood on its marge: indeed at my time of life every one stands there, yet how hard to realize this truth.

. . . [F]ew things in this world would give me equal pleasure as an interview with my dear Mrs Cary. If this ever takes place it must be at my own house for I have no Idea that I shall ever again go many miles from home. Come on my dear Sally. Leave the cares of Domestic education for a short time: and spend a few days with perhaps as affectionate a friend as any one you have on this side of eternity out of your own little family circle.

Warren wrote again to Cary from Plymouth on August 18th, 1799. Shaking off her melancholy mood, the result of the death of one of her sons, and ruminations on (to her mind) the sorry state of political affairs, she returns to the main purpose of her letter: to reply to Cary’s inquiry after the state of her health.

Yesterday my dear friend I received yours dated July 13th. This like all I receive from Mrs Cary is replete with that tender interest that marks the mind of true friendship.

I will tell you in a few words some days I feel as if I could ride half way to Chelsey. Others weak and debilitated but not so but that I can think converse with my friends present and long to see the absent. If we meet again in this world I believe it must be in my residence at Plimouth.

I see by the public papers that your house has been struck by a flash of lightening by which a person therin received the summons of Death. Tis to most people would be an alarming shock, but I doubt not your calm mind was as usual unruffled. I have been repeatedly asked if your house was pointed.* I am not able to say. . . .

* Warren is asking whether Cary’s house had a lightning rod.

More about the correspondence between the two women in the next post.

Richards, Jeffrey H. and Sharon M. Harris, eds., Mercy Otis Warren Selected Letters (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2009), ONLINE, pages 239, 245-248.

posted June 19th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Cary, Sarah,Death,Friendship,Warren, Mercy Otis

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