Archive for the ‘Bingham, William’ Category

The Adamses: “quite out of their element”

MARY HILL LAMAR wrote again from London to her brother Henry Hill in Philadelphia this time including a couple of catty remarks about John and Abigail Adams as well as Ann Willing Bingham and her husband, said to be the wealthiest man in America.

London, March 18, 1786. . . . Please make my affectionate compliments to my sister Mrs. Hill, with my thanks for the nice cranberries. Before this gets to hand you will probably see Mr. and Mrs. Bingham, whom I have not seen since their return from France, although I called twice after I heard of their being in London. I am told the extreme of the French fashion, or her own taste, has made great alteration, while on the continent, in her manners, &c. When I mentioned her own taste, it was because she appeared at the opera in a hat unlike anything that ever made its appearance there before or since; fond as they are here of the French fashions. She has been introduced to their majesties, by Mr. and Mrs. Adams, our American plenipo [plenipotentiary], who, by the by, the girls have been to wait on several times, with myself. We have had them to a party of cards and tea, and she has been asked a second time, but as they have not returned the compliment, I think it unnecessary to pay them any farther attention.

They seem sensible people, one and all, but quite out of their element. Mrs. Adams has been very handsome, but an indifferent figure, being very short and fat. Miss [the Adams’s daughter Nabby], by some, reckoned handsome. . . .

Excuse haste, and believe me, my dear brother,
Your sincerely affectionate sister,
MARY LAMAR

John Jay Smith, ed., Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and His Children 1798-1881 (Philadelphia: 1854), 260-61. Anne Willing Bingham (above) was the model for an early coin design. More than 23 million non-gold coins of Bingham were introduced into circulation from 1795 to 1808.

posted February 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,Hill, Henry,Lamar, Mary Hill,London,Paris,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

“leaders of the Republican Court”

When ANNE WILLING BINGHAM and her husband returned to Philadelphia in 1786 they built a large house, a palatial mansion really, surrounded by gardens, to accommodate the extensive entertaining they planned. The city flourished when it became the capital of the United States. An English traveler, after a tour of the chief cities, remarked in 1794 that “Boston is the Bristol, New York the Liverpool, and Philadelphia the London of America.” The Binghams became the leaders of what was called the Republican Court.
Mrs. Benjamin Stoddert, the wife of the first secretary of the navy, arrived in Philadelphia from Maryland in 1798 and began the round of social activities expected of the wife of a cabinet officer. Mrs. Bingham did not call upon her in a timely fashion which drew this comment:

Mrs. Bingham has at last thought proper to show her painted face here, and her two daughters—they were without paint. You must not suppose from my manner of speaking about Mrs. B. that I am offended with her for not coming before. I should have been better pleased if she had, to tell the truth; but if she had not come at all I should not have cared; though she is of great consequence, in some people’s opinion, in the city. As she has put it in my power to go to her house, I shall certainly see all that I can by asking for. I am determined to see her garden, her greenhouse, and everything else that is worth seeing. Their house and all the outside look very pretty, and I daresay the inside corresponds with the external.

Mrs. Stoddert was invited to a ball at the Binghams and wrote this detailed account to her sister.

About half-past seven I called for Mrs. Harrison, and we made our appearance at Mrs. Bingham’s. . . . [S]he was seated at the head of the drawing-room, I should call it, or, in other words, on one side of the chimney, with three ladies only. There were some young ladies in another room, where her two daughters were also, who, upon my inquiring after their health, were sent for by their mamma.
I should suppose that it was near nine o’clock before the dancing commenced. At the end of the first dance, or near it, punch and lemonade were brought in. That was the first refreshment. Sometime after, I think, it was brought in again, and soon after the best ice-cream, as well as the prettiest, that ever I saw was carried around in beautiful china cups and gilt spoons. The latter I had seen there before.
Except punch and lemonade, nothing more to eat till supper, which we were summoned to at eleven, when the most superb thing of the kind which I ever saw was presented to our view,—though those who have been there before say that the supper was not as,elegant as they had seen there. In the middle was an orange-tree with ripe fruit; and where a common spectator might imagine the root was, it was covered with evergreens, some natural and some artificial flowers. Nothing scarcely appeared on the table without evergreens to decorate it. The girondole, which hangs immediately over the table, was let down just to reach the top of the tree. You can’t think how beautiful it looked. I imagine there were thirty at the table, besides a table full in another room, and I believe every soul said, “How pretty!” as soon as they were seated; all in my hearing, as with one consent, uttered the same thing.
The only meats I saw or heard of were a turkey, fowls, pheasants, and tongues, the latter the best that ever I tasted, which was the only meat I ate. The dessert (all was on the table) consisted of everything that one could conceive of except jelly; though I daresay there was jelly, too, but to my mortification, I could not get any. I never ate better than at Mrs. Bingham’s. Plenty of blanc mange, and excellent. Near me were three different sorts of cake; I tasted all, but could eat of only one; the others were indifferent. Besides a quantity to eat, there was a vast deal for ornament, and some of them I thought would have delighted my little girl for her baby-house.
In short, take it altogether, it was an agreeable entertainment to me. Notwithstanding the crowd—or numbers, rather, for the house is so large that it was not crowded—there was no noise or the least confusion.
At twelve o’clock or a little after Mrs. Harrison and I left the ball. We were among the first to come away. Never did I see such a number of carriages, except on a race-ground.

The Binghams had two daughters, the elder Anna Louisa, married the young Englishman Alexander Baring of the famous banking house in 1798. The younger daughter Maria Mathilda eloped, when she was fifteen, with the Comte de Tilly an older man of low character and without funds. The Binghams were distraught. Mr. Bingham secured a divorce for his daughter and the Comte left the country. Maria Mathilde then married the younger brother of her sister’s husband and some years later, after another divorce, married a French nobleman and moved to France. In 1799 the first child of the Barings was born; at the age of 35 Anne Willing Bingham had become a grandmother. She herself in the next year gave birth to a son. Anne’s health began to deteriorate and in 1801 her husband planned to take her to the island of Madeira where he hoped she would be returned to health. En route she died in Bermuda where she was buried.

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), pp 207, 318, 319-321. Mrs. Stoddert was quoted in The Golden Voyage, Robert C. Alberts (pp 357-359). From Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia A Century Ago,”Lipincott’s Monthly Magazine, Vol 62, 1898. In footnote 808, Jan 23, 1799; 805, 809-18.

posted April 22nd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Children,Entertainments,Food,Marriage,Philadelphia

“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

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

“where can I hope to find such friends as I parted from”

The last post referred to the friendship between MARY WHITE MORRIS and the sisters Kitty Livingston and SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY. Sarah was one of the few wives who accompanied their husbands on diplomatic missions abroad. She was brave enough to undertake what was very much a dangerous crossing of the Atlantic and emotionally strong enough to leave their young son in the charge of her parents in New Jersey. She missed her friends in America and tried to stay in touch by mail which was unreliable at best. Following is one of a series of letters she wrote to Mary Morris, this one from Madrid where John had been sent to try to secure loans from the Spanish.

[Madrid April 22d 1781]My dear Mrs. Morris,
. . . As Mr. Jay & myself are interested in Mr. Morris’ and your happiness, we were very anxious last fall about both your healths, for we had heard (from France) that they were impaired, & a letter from Kitty some time after was doubly welcome by giving us the pleasing information of the recovery of persons we so much esteem’d, and likewise the re establishment of mama’s & her own health. How amply, my dear madam! does your affection compensate Kitty for the absence of her sister—but where can I hope to find such friends as I parted from in quitting America—not I am sure in the acquaintances of a few months or in the formal birthday visitors—preserve therefore I charge you the regard you honor me with, that in your company when I return, I may forget how long we have been seperated.
I dare say you were pleased with the marriage of Mr. [William] Bingham & Miss [Ann] Willing, as it promises happiness to the parties interested: shall I request you to present to them our congratulations?
Tell Miss Hetty [the oldest Morris daughter, aged seven] if you please that if she thinks she can smile upon a Don, I’ll use my influence to engage a few to accompany us, for we hope to return before she seriously thinks of paying her devoirs to Hymen. Kitty’s accounts of Maria [a Morris daughter aged two] increase my inclination to see her; and I am quite happy that your little sons are likely to answer the expectations form’d of them. . . .
You & Mr. Morris will do us justice in believing that you have not more sincere friends in the numerous circle of those who love & esteem you, than in Mr. Jay and your humble servt.
Sa. Jay
I have often smil’d at the apologies made for Incorrect letters, but none ever requir’d them more than this.

The expression “paying her devoirs to Hymen” refers to courtship and marriage. I would think Hetty was a bit young to be thinking such thoughts—but maybe not. Ann Willing was a Philadelphia socialite regarded as one of the most beautiful women in America. She married the wealthy William Bingham referred to in this post.

The letter is in the Robert Morris Collection, Henry E. Huntington Library. The print of Sarah Livingston Jay is from the Print Collection Portrait File of the New York Public Library.

posted June 25th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Madrid,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert

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