Archive for the ‘Morris, Mary White’ 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

“Mrs. Washington ate a whole heap of it.”

I thought I would continue in a lighter vein with some insights into the lives of George and Martha Washington. William Maclay represented Pennsylvania in the United States Senate from 1789 to 1791. The diary he kept during that time is one of the few records of what went on in that body—sessions would not become public until 1795. He was a staunch critic of the Federalist party as is clear from his journal entries. He also commented on his other activities, reporting that on June 11, 1789 he had dinner with Robert Morris and his family—Morris was the other senator from Pennsylvania. He recounted an amusing anecdote related by MARY WHITE MORRIS about an experience she had while dining with the Washingtons.

Dined this day with Mr. Morris. Mr. Fitzsimons and Mr. Clymer, all the company, except Mrs. Morris and three children. Mrs. Morris talked a great deal after dinner. She did it gracefully enough, this being a gayer place, and she being here considered as at least the second female character at court. As to taste, etiquette, etc., she is certainly first. I thought she discovered a predilection for New York, but perhaps she was only doing it justice, while my extreme aversion, like a jealous sentinel, is for giving no quarter. I, however, happened to mention that they were ill supplied with the article of cream. Mrs. Morris had much to say on this subject; declared they had done all they could, and even sent to the country all about, but that they could not be supplied. She told many anecdotes on this subject; particularly how two days ago she dined at the President’s. A large, fine-looking trifle was brought to table, and appeared exceedingly well indeed. She was helped by the President, but on taking some of it she had to pass her handkerchief to her mouth and rid herself of the morsel; on which she whispered the President. The cream of which it is made had been unusually stale and rancid; on which the General changed his plate immediately. “But,” she added with a titter, “Mrs. Washington ate a whole heap of it.”

Maclay’s Journal can be found HERE, pages 73-74. The portrait of Mary White Morris was painted by John Trumbull in 1790 and is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

posted February 8th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Food,Maclay, William,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“The Sentiments of an American Woman”

Continuing the story of Esther De Berdt Reed: Esther was able to return to her home in Philadelphia in 1778 after the British left. She wrote to her brother Dennis in England in September 1779: “[A]fter danger’s past, how sweet is safety and peace—peace, I mean, as to own dwelling; and we are no longer obliged to leave our houses, or stay there with constant dread and apprehension. These are now past, I hope never to return. . . . ”
In May 1780, Esther Reed’s last child was born; he was named George Washington. While she was pregnant, concerned with the welfare of the troops, Esther suggested the idea of a subscription for the relief of the Continental soldiers and orchestrated a network of women to solicit sufficient funds for this purpose. Furthermore, to forestall any possible criticism of this undertaking, she published “The Sentiments of an American Woman” in which she reviewed the brave deeds of women throughout history and extolled the courage and self-sacrifice of the men in the Continental Army.

On the commencement of actual war, the Women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country. Animated by the purist patriotism, they are sensible of sorrow at this day, in not offering more than barren wishes for the success of so glorious a Revolution. They aspire to render themselves more really useful; and this sentiment is universal from the north to the south of the Thirteen United States. Our ambition is kindled by the fame of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good. . . .

Who knows if persons disposed to censure, and sometimes too severely with regard to us, may not disapprove our appearing acquainted even with the actions of which our sex boasts? We are at least certain, that he cannot be a good citizen who will not applaud our efforts for the relief of the armies which defend our lives, our possessions, our liberty? The situation of our soldiery has been represented to me; the evils inseperable from war, and the firm and generous spirit which has enabled them to support these. But it has been said, that they may apprehend, that, in the course of a long war, the view of their distresses may be lost, and their services be forgotten. Forgotten! never; I can answer in the name of all my sex. Brave Americans, your disinterestedness, your courage, and your constancy will always be dear to America, as long as she shall preserve her virtue.

We know that, at a distance from the theatre of war, if we enjoy any tranquility, it is the fruit of your watchings, your labours, your dangers. If I live happily in the midst of my family, if my husband cultivates his field, and reaps his harvest in peace; if, surrounded with my children, I myself nourish the youngest, and press it to my bosom, without being affraid of seeing myself seperated from it, by a ferocious enemy; if the house in which we dwell; if our barns, our orchards are safe at the present time from the hands of those incendiaries, it is to you that we owe it. And shall we hesitate to evidence to you our gratitude? Shall we hesitate to wear a cloathing more simple; hair dressed less elegant, while at the price of this small privation, we shall deserve your benedictions. Who, amongst us, will not renounce with the highest pleasure, those vain ornaments, when she shall consider that the valiant defenders of America will be able to draw some advantage from the money which she may have laid out in these; that they will be better defended from the rigours of the seasons, that after their painful toils, they will receive some extraordinary and unexpected relief; that these presents will perhaps be valued by them at a greater price, when they will have it in their power to say: This is the offering of the Ladies. . . .
by An American Woman

Mary Morris wrote to her friend Catharine Livingston about the plan and her part in it:

I dare say you have heard of the Ladys plan for raiseing a Subscription for the Army. I will enclose you one of them but there is an Alterration taken place instead of waiting for the Donations being sent the ladys of each Ward go from dore to dore & collect them. I am one of those, Honourd with this business. Yesterday we began our tour of duty & had the Satisfaction of being very Successful. There were two ladys that were very liberal One 8000 dollars & 10000. . . .

Many men were scandalized by women soliciting door to door, deeming it unseemly. Many made fun of the effort. But it seemed to have worked wonderfully well. By July 4, 1780, Esther Reed wrote General Washington that the ladies had raised “200,580 dollars, and £625 6s. 8d. in specie, which makes in the whole in paper money 300,634 dollars.” She was also proud of the fact that the contributors were from all levels of society: from a black woman, Phillis, to Adrienne de Noailles, Marquise de Lafayette.
Read about Washington’s reaction in the next post.

The material quoted is taken from In the Words of Women, pages 131-32.

posted October 29th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Lafayette, Marquise Adrienne,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Morris, Mary White,Patriots,Philadelphia,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Washington, George

“. . . descended with him, without repining”

It is not fair to MARY WHITE MORRIS, or you the reader, to abandon her without giving some information about subsequent events in her life.

The Morrises were among the first families of Philadelphia after the Revolution, entertaining the nation’s leaders as well as distinguished visitors and diplomats from abroad. During the constitutional convention held there in 1787, George Washington stayed at the Morris House— Robert Morris made the motion for Washington to preside over the convention. After the Constitution was ratified, Morris was chosen by the Pennsylvania legislature to be one of its two senators in the new government.

Martha Washington did not attend her husband’s inauguration as president in April 1789 in New York City but subsequently made her way north, honored and feted along the way. She stayed for several days with Mary Morris in Philadelphia, who then accompanied her to New York where Mary was present at the first levée held by Mrs. Washington in May.

Robert Morris declined the position of Secretary of the Treasury which President Washington had offered him, preferring to tend to his personal business. When the capital of the United States was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, Morris gave up his house to the President and moved to an adjacent dwelling. The hot air balloon described in an earlier post was launched from his back garden in 1793. At the end of his second term in 1797, Washington gave a farewell dinner at which he presented Mrs. Morris with a portrait miniature of himself.

During this period Robert Morris’ financial troubles multiplied as a result of excessive spending and bad investments. He rashly speculated in western lands in several states and overextended himself right before the Panic of 1796-97. His creditors caught up with him and in 1798 he was sent to debtor’s prison in Philadelphia where he remained for more than three years. Mary, the loyal wife, visited her husband daily and often took dinner with him. Morris was released from prison in 1801 with the passage of a new bankruptcy law. Gouverneur Morris (no relation), perhaps the closest of their family friends, arranged for Mary to have an annuity of $1500 a year that allowed the pair to live in modest circumstances until Morris’ death in 1806.

Lafayette, touring the United States in 1824, visited Mary in Philadelphia and at his invitation she attended the ball given in his honor. Mary died in 1827 at the age of 78. This passage taken from her obituary describes her well: Morris’ “deceased widow, after having enjoyed with him without arrogance the wealth and the honours of the early and middle years of his life, descended with him, without repining, to the privation incident to the reverses of his fortune towards the close of it.”

The portrait of Mary White Morris was painted by John Trumbull in 1790 and hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A summary of the life of Mary White Morris is included in an ADDRESS delivered in 1877, which includes the obituary.

posted July 27th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Capital of the United States,Lafayette. Marquis de,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert,Philadelphia,Trumbull, John,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“Globes fill’d with inflammable air”

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY wrote one last letter to MARY WHITE MORRIS from Paris in September of 1783, a short letter as she had just written a long one to her mother. (See previous posts here, here, here, and here.) She took the opportunity to tell her friend about the ascent of the Montgolfier brothers’ balloon and the “balloonmania” it was causing.

I find myself too weak to indulge myself [in writing a long letter] you will however my dear friend take the will for the deed & excuse rather than blame me. . . . As the experiments that have been made & are daily making of Globes fill’d with inflammable air occasions various speculations & furnishes matters for a variety of conjectures I doubt not but accounts have already reach’d you of the experiment lately made near Paris, & therefore take the liberty of sending you the engravings copy’d from it. It is confidently reported that the colours of the ba[ll] (which you’ll perceive is of a yellowish cast) will be the ton [fashion color] for next winter & there are already handkerchiefs à la ballon. . . . With best Compts to mr morris, I remain dear madam
Yours &c
Sa. Jay

See the letter about the balloon ascent Sarah wrote to her husband who was in England.

The letter in this post is from the Robert Morris Collection at the Henry E. Huntington Library. The balloon pictured is a model of the Montgolfier balloon on display at the Science Museum in the UK, as is the commemorative teapot. The handkerchief commemorating the first ascent of a hydrogen-filled hot air balloon at the Tuileries is of block-printed cotton, Alsace (France), ca.1783, and is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

posted July 16th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fashion,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Morris, Mary White,Paris

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