Archive for the ‘Amusements’ Category

“my assembly’s adventure”

Eliza Southgate Bowne was born in Scarborough, Maine, in 1783. Her father was a doctor who, because he was familiar with the law, was eventually appointed a judge. Her mother, Mary King, came from a wealthy Maine family. Mrs. Southgate’s brother was Rufus King who played an important role in the Revolution and early years of the nation.

Eliza’s correspondence is a delightful collection of letters to family and friends during her lifetime, including the years in which she attended Susannah Rowson’s Young Ladies Academy in Boston (Rowson deserves attention for herself: she was an actor, a writer, and an educator. In 1791, she wrote America’s first best-selling novel Charlotte Temple.) Eliza’s letters to her cousin Moses Porter, the son of one of her mother’s sisters, are some of the most delightful. In this one Eliza describes a winter storm which does not deter her from attending an assembly (a ball). I hope you get a chuckle out of this.

Such a frolic! Such a chain of adventures I never before met with—nay, the page of romance never presented its equal. ’Tis now Monday—but a little more method, that I may be understood. I have just ended my assembly’s adventure; never got home till this morning. Thursday it snowed violently—indeed for two days before it had been storming so much that the snow-drifts were very large; however, as it was the last assembly, I could not resist the temptation of going, as I knew all the world would be there.

About seven I went down-stairs and found young Charles Coffin, the minister, in the parlor. After the usual inquiries were over, he stared a while at my feathers and flowers, asked if I was going out. I told him I was going to the assembly. “Think, Miss Southgate,” said he, after a long pause, “Do you think you would go out to meeting in such a storm as this?” Then assuming a tone of reproof, he entreated me to examine well my feelings on such an occasion. I heard in silence, unwilling to begin an argument that I was unable to support. The stopping of the carriage roused me; I immediately slipped on my socks and coat and met Horatio and Mr. Motley in the entry. The snow was deep, but Mr. Motley took me up in his arms and sat me in the carriage without difficulty. I found a full assembly, many married ladies, and every one disposed to end the winter in good spirits.

At one we left dancing and went to the card-room to wait for a coach. It stormed dreadfully; the hacks were all employed as soon as they returned, and we could not get one till three o’clock. . . . It was the most violent storm I ever knew, there were now twenty in waiting, the gentlemen scolding and fretting, the ladies murmuring and complaining. One hack returned; all flocked to the stairs to engage a seat. So many crowded down that ’twas impossible to get past; luckily I was one of the first. . . . None but ladies were permitted to get into the carriage; it presently was stowed in [so] full that the horses could not move. . . . The carriage at length started. . . . When we found ourselves in the street, the first thing was to find out who was in the carriage, and where we were all going, who first must be left. Luckily, two gentlemen had followed by the side of the carriage, and when it stopped took out the ladies as they got to their houses. . . . We at length arrived at the place of our destination. . . . the gentlemen then proceeded to take us out. My beau, unused to carrying such a weight of sin [and] folly, sunk under its pressure, and I was obliged to carry my mighty self through the snow, which almost buried me. Such a time! I never shall forget it. My great-grandmother never told any of her youthful adventures to equal it.

The story continues in the next post.

The miniature is by Edward Greene Malbone (1777-1809); Eliza poised for her portrait in New York City on June 18th, 1803, the year of her marriage to Walter Bowne.

posted February 6th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “my assembly’s adventure”, CATEGORIES: Amusements,Bowne, Eliza Southgate,Education,Fashion,Weather

“danced upwards of three hours”

George Washington was fond of music and dancing. There were instruments—a harpsichord, flute, and guitar—at Mount Vernon, as well as books of instruction and pieces for the piano belonging to Eleanor Parke (“Nelly”) Custis, his adopted granddaughter.

Washington attended and hosted many dancing parties. His favorite partner was Catharine Littlefield Greene, the wife of General Nathanael Greene. In 1778, the wives of several officers had joined their husbands at the Continental Army’s winter quarters in Middlebrook, New Jersey, Caty among them. At a party given by the Greenes, Nathanael wrote to a friend that General Washington and Caty “danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.”

Lucy Knox, the wife of another of Washington’s generals, was also a frequent partner. Washington’s execution of a minuet with her on one occasion inspired the following tribute in a Pennsylvania newspaper.

The ball was opened by his Excellency the General. When this man unbends from his station, and its weighty functions, he is even then like a philosopher, who mixes with the amusements of the world, that he may teach it what is right, or turn trifles into instruction.

Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, described a victory ball in Fredericksburg, held less than a month after the British surrender at Yorktown.

It was on this festive occasion that General Washington danced a minuet with Mrs. Willis. . . . The minuet was much in vogue at that period, and was peculiarly calculated for the display of the splendid figure of the chief, and his natural grace and elegance of air and manner. The gallant French men who were present, of which fine people it may be said that dancing forms one of the elements of their existence, so much admired the American performance, as to admit that a Parisian education could not have improved it. As the evening advanced, the commander-in- chief yielding to the general gayety of the scene, went down some dozen couple in the contre dance with great spirit and satisfaction.

General Greene’s comment appears in Caty, A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene by John A. Stegeman and Janet F. Stegeman (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1977), page 69. The newspaper tribute is from the Pennsylvania Packet, March 6, 1779. The painting by E. P. Morran depicts Washington dancing with Nelly Parke Custis in 1777 at Mount Vernon. The excerpt by George Washington Parke Custis is from his Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, with A Memoir by his Daughter (Phila: J. W. Bradley, 1861), pages 143-44.

posted November 25th, 2013 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Washington, George

“entertained last night in the usual way—dancing”

Lucinda Lee Orr was the daughter of Thomas Ludwell Lee, a well-to-do Virginia planter, and his wife Mary Aylett Lee. Lucinda kept a journal when she was an unmarried adolescent. It was intended for her friend Polly Brent, also from Virginia, and described a two-month period in 1782 during which she spent time with various relatives. Dancing was a frequent evening’s entertainment in the private homes of southern gentry.

Oct. 19
I don’t think I ever laugh’t so much in my life as I did last night at Captain Grigg’s minuet. I wish you could see him. It is really the most ludicrous thing I ever saw; and what makes it more so is, he thinks he dances a most delightful one.

Oct. 23
We were entertained last night in the usual way—dancing.

Nov. 9
Dinner is just over. Harry, the Fiddler, is sent for, and we are going to dance.

Excerpts are from Lucinda Lee Orr’s JOURNAL of a Young Lady in Virginia .

posted November 21st, 2013 by Janet, Comments Off on “entertained last night in the usual way—dancing”, CATEGORIES: Amusements

“Plays, Balls (yes Balls) visits and serenades”

Tea dances, balls, and assemblies were highlights of the social season for the wealthy. Descriptions of these entertainments by women are numerous. Nancy Shippen Livingston, separated from her husband Henry Beekman Livingston, was living with her parents in Philadelphia in 1784. Upset by the custody battle over their child she nevertheless enjoyed visiting friends and taking part in the social life of that city. In her journal she noted her attendance at a ball given on the birthday of the Dauphin of France. It is said that: “A dancing room sixty feet wide was built next to the French legation, its roof supported by lofty pillars painted and festooned, the walls covered with banners and appropriate pictures.”

Thursday 8—This Morning was entirely Taken up in preparing to go to a Ball at the French Ministers. I went with Mrs Powel, & passed a delightful Eveng—Mr [Bushrod] Washington, my partner [a nephew of George Washington]—danced a Minuet, I believed I look’d well at least My Partner told me so—came home at one.

The Tilghmans were a prominent Maryland family. Tench Tilghman was aide de camp and private secretary to General George Washington. His sister Mary, known as “Molly”, kept up a lively, gossipy correspondence with her cousin Polly Pearce. She wrote from Chestertown, Maryland, Friday morning [1785]:

Tho the season is so far advanc’d, yet our agreeables cannot yet give up dancing. The celebrated Mr Brown has lately arrived from Philada and last Tuesday there was a Concert for his Benefit, which concluded with a Ball I partook of the Music, and really had my Dollars worth of entertainment. I had no idea of such execution on the flute, and he draws the most exquisite tones that you can imagine. I came home at 10 o’Clock . . . . To night there is another Concert and Ball I shall just go to hear the Music.

Don’t you love the phrase “really had my Dollars worth of entertainment”? It sounds so modern. She wrote on July 7, 1788:

I need touch but slightly on our late grand exhibitions. All other distractions of gaiety fell far short of this last one . . . . Plays, Balls (yes Balls) visits and serenades, fill’d up both night and day. The vulgar refreshment of sleep, was not even thought of for one Week. and at the end of it, the gay ones look’d accordingly, pale and Haggard.

And on January 29, 1789:

The last [of our three Balls] was a very pleasant Evening. Polly gave us an excellent cold supper, and a profusion of Cake Almonds Raisins &c. They were quite family partys . . . .

She continued:

Late as it is, I must tell you that last night we were at a Ball at Petty Jacksons, where we staid till one o’Clock. It was really a very genteel entertainment. We had twelve couples. I went determin’d not to dance, but who can resist the temptation of a superexcellent partner. It was not in nature to refuse Jack Chew, with whom I danced three dances. We had some of the most capital figures I have seen for a long time. O that you had been there my dear Polly. I wish’d for you a thousand times tho’ tis ten to one but your wicked comments wou’d have made me misbehave.

Find Nancy Shippen Livingston’s entry, as well as editor Ethel Armes’ description, HERE, pages 170-71. The excerpts from Molly Tilghman’s letters are from the Maryland Historical Magazine Vol. 21, No. 1, page 38, and No. 3, pages 228 and 233. The portrait of Molly is by Charles Willson Peale and is at the Maryland Historical Society.

posted November 18th, 2013 by Janet, Comments Off on “Plays, Balls (yes Balls) visits and serenades”, CATEGORIES: Amusements,Entertainments

Dancing masters

As dancing became an increasingly popular diversion in eighteenth century America, dancing masters were in demand not only for the instruction of children but also of adults. Following is an ad published in the Pennsylvania Journal (September 7, 1774) describing the lessons offered by a dancing master.

Signior Sodi, late principal dancer at the opera in Paris and London, acquaints the ladies and gentlemen of this city, that he has opened a public school, at his room in Chesnut- Street, at the bank of the Fountain Tavern, where he will teach the following dances, viz. the minuet, the minuet dauphin, louvre, allemande, la bretagne, la marie’s, the paspie, rigadoon, new minuet by four, new minuet by eight, cotillons, cotillion step, the hornpipe, English country dances, and all the dances that are danced in the several courts in Europe.

N.B. Signior Sodi will wait on ladies and gentlemen at their own houses; and will likewise give private attendance, at certain hours, in his own school.–An evening school will be opened, when a sufficient number of scholars shall offer. Signior Sodi is to be spoken with at Mrs. Eastwick’s, in Walnut-Street, between Front and Second-Streets.

George Washington employed a dancing master to teach his grandchildren and was willing to provide a recommendation for him:

Philad. April 26th 1792.Dear Sister & Dear Madam,
Mr James Robardet, who has taught my two Grand children dancing, proposes going into your part of the Country to establish a School, if he should meet with sufficient encouragement, and has requested that I would give him a line of recommendation to some of my friends. Mr Robardet’s attention to my grand children, and the progress which they have made under his instruction, induce me to recommend him on these accounts from my own knowledge: He has likewise kept
a dancing School in this City the winter past—in which I am informed he has given much satisfaction, and his conduct has been marked with decency & propriety, so far as I have heard. G.W.

Books were also available for those who wished to learn on their own. The image is of the oldest surviving American book of country dances (1788).

See newspaper ad HERE; source for Washington letter can be found HERE; source for oldest book HERE.

posted November 14th, 2013 by Janet, Comments Off on Dancing masters, CATEGORIES: Amusements,Education

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