Archive for the ‘Stoddert, Benjamin’ Category

“Mrs. Adams’s drawing room”

ELIZABETH STODDERT, the daughter of Rebecca and Benjamin Stoddert, President Adams’s secretary of the navy, wrote to her aunt in January 1800 from Philadelphia describing the memorial held there for George Washington who had died in December.

There was a funeral eulogium last Thursday pronounced by General Lee, and the most splendid procession ever seen in America. . . . Mamma was not well enough to go to the procession. . . .
I must not omit to tell you, that though mama has not been as yet to wait on Mrs. Adams, that good and handsome old lady called to see her this afternoon, with her daughter Mrs. Smith, and brought more plum-cake for the children than all of them could eat. You may be sure after this she is a great favorite of the whole family.

REBECCA STODDERT wrote to her sister on February 23, 1800 of her visit to Mrs. Adams levée.

. . . . I have been to . . . Mrs. Adams’s drawing room, which was a very full one, and well worth going to . . . . Mrs. Adams was extremely kind. . . . she not only desired me to move from a window where I was sitting, but in the course of the evening sent to me to know if I would have some drops. From my pale looks she took it in her head that I was going to faint, which brought a little red to my cheeks. . . .
I have been kindly and prettily asked by both Mr. and Mrs. Liston [Robert Liston was the British minister plenipotentiary to the United States] to go to their house the public day of having company, which is something like Mrs. Adams’s drawing room, only that Mrs. Liston sometimes has dances and at others cards. She mentions in the winter when they commence, and that is looked upon as an invitation, and all of her acquaintances go that choose it or that wish to show her respect. I go because I respect them both extremely.

Mrs. Stoddert wrote again in April 1800:

I saw Mrs. Washington when she was in Philadelphia for the first time in my life. I visited her in the morning at Mrs. Powell’s where she stayed, and in the evening she very politely called on me, but I could not prevail on her to stay to tea. She left the city the next morning, and is expected to return the first of May, when I hope I shall see her again. She appears to be a mild, lady-like woman. I should like to hear her sing. I am sure I have heard she excelled in both playing and singing.

Congress met in Washington for the first time in the fall of 1800. In 1791, it had passed the Residence Act designating an area along the Potomac River as the site of the capital of the United States. (It was in the center of the country at that time.) Land was donated from both Maryland and Virginia and the city to be built there was called Washington, often referred to as the “Federal City.” It was in an unfinished state when Abigail Adams took up a brief residence in the president’s house. See her amusing description of its condition she penned to her daughter Nabby.
When Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, Mrs. Stoddert briefly returned to her home in Georgetown but she and her husband shortly moved to Bostwick in Maryland which Rebecca had inherited from her father. She died there in 1802. The family’s finances were much reduced by Benjamin Stoddert’s speculation in land by the time he died in 1813. Husband and wife are buried in Addison Chapel in St. George’s County, Maryland.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, pages 815, 817-18. Henrietta Liston’s portrait is by Gilbert Stuart, 1800. My colleague and friend Louise North has compiled and edited The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2014). It is a great read.

posted May 16th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Capital of the United States,Philadelphia,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Stoddert, Benjamin,Stoddert, Elizabeth,Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes,Washington, George

“We yesterday gave eleven pence for two cucumbers”

REBECCA STODDERT wrote again to her niece Eliza on June 7, 1799 about the threat of a yellow fever epidemic and the difficulty of obtaining fresh fruits and vegetables in Philadelphia.

I imagine by the time you receive this you will have heard very exaggerated accounts of the yellow fever, which certainly exists at this time in Philadelphia, but is not so bad, as yet, to give me the least uneasiness. Mr. Stoddert’s office [her husband Benjamin is John Adams’s secretary of the navy] is very near the house we live in, which is at a considerable distance from the part of the city where the fever prevails. The children are taken from school; indeed I believe the schools are very generally broke up till autumn. As soon as it is improper to remain here we will go to Trenton, where Mr. Stoddert has engaged a house, so I think we are safe from this dreadful, melancholy calamity. . . .

I very often put myself in mind of the Prodigal Son, and think how glad I should be of the fruit that is left at our table when the family are done with it. I have had strawberries twice, only, and I think paid half a crown a quart, with the stems on. Raspberries were a quarter of a dollar a quart, and so bad that they made me very sick. As for cherries, I have eaten them once green. It is unlucky that I should want fruit this summer,—for the first time in my life, I believe. However, next summer will make amends for all my wants. We yesterday gave eleven pence for two cucumbers, and till within a few days that has been the price of one only. Cherries are sold by the pound; so are potatoes when they first come. When we bought first, the price was a five-penny bit. What it was when they were first brought to market I cannot say, but probably higher than that. In short, living here is dear beyond anything I could have supposed, and we buy everything we make use of except water. . . .

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, page 812-13. The view of Philadelphia in 1799 showing Christ Church, at which Mrs. Stoddert attended a service mentioned in an earlier post, is a photograph of a color engraving made by William Russell Birch (1755-1834).

posted May 5th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Epidemics,Food,Philadelphia,Stoddert, Benjamin,Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes

“markets. , . . Good shops, but very dear”

REBECCA STODDERT, the wife of Benjamin Stoddert, Preisdent John Adams’s secretary of the navy, wrote again to her niece Eliza on January 23, 1799. She didn’t like Philadelphia very much.

By the time you receive this, the wonder of all the family at Graden that I should have gone to the President’s ball will be at an end. I shall set you all a-wondering again on another account, when I tell you that I have not bought an article of dress except a calico gown and a Dunstable bonnet*, which latter I soon quarreled with and gave to Betsy [her daughter Elizabeth], whom it suits much better than myself; in its stead I bought a blue satin slouch; and yet I go out every now and then to dinner. The satin is the only thing that I have appeared in on such occasions; and before I dined at the President’s it underwent a little reform. But next week I shall add considerable to my wardrobe; and I must get a smart dress bonnet. Old, as well as young, have their hair dressed. I am not sure that I shall not; but I hardly think is possible that I shall, especially as the great ball is over.

I have only been three times to church since I came here, and must own I was rather disappointed. The singing is not as great as I expected; and still the congregation behaved very well. A delightful organ too; but yet there was something, I don’t know what, wanting to make it answer the idea I had formed of the church in Philadelphia. I intend to try another soon. . . .

Nancy is more troublesome, if possible, than ever; pretends to be very fond of learning music. which is the only thing she has been taught since she came here. Neither she, Harriet [10], nor Richard [6] have been to school yet, because I haven’t been able to find one near our house; but as the spring approaches I shall look out for one, and shall not care if they do have a long walk. Mr. Stoddert has lately given twenty dollars for a hobby horse,—a delightful amusement for them all, you may be sure. . . .

Mrs. Weems stayed a week with me. . . . I took her advice, and opened the holes in my ears. You may remember, perhaps, to have heard me say they were bored formerly. I now have lead in them, but intend to get a pair of plain rings. . . .

I cannot imagine what has put it in your head that I am so delighted with Philadelphia. Upon my word and honor, I am not; nor have I by any means that preference for it which you suppose. It has some advantages over small towns, and to mention a few, I will begin with the churches. The markets, too, are a thing of no little consequence. Good shops, but very dear. . . .

I was at Christ Church this morning, and am very much pleased with it. I am fortunate enough to have the use of a pew there, too. Bishop White read the service, but unluckily, a man that I am not partial to preached.

The yellow fever is certainly in the city. Indeed, I understand that Dr. Rush says it has never been clear of it since ninety-three. I am not uneasy yet, even for Mr. Stoddert’s safety. As for my own, I shall never bestow a thought on it.
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* Straw bonnets imported from Dunstable, England, were becoming popular in the late eighteenth century.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, 807-809. Charles Willson Peale painted the portrait of three Stoddert children in 1789. Elizabeth the oldest is on the left, baby Harriet is one year old, Benjamin, Jr. is on the right. The painting is owned by National Society of the Colonial Dames of America and is at Dumbarton House Washington D.C.

posted April 28th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children,Clothes,Education,Fashion,Philadelphia,Stoddert, Benjamin,Stoddert, Rebecca Lowndes

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