Archive for the ‘Furnishings’ Category

“I found a large Bundle of Letters”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL not only purchased six coach horses from George Washington when he was preparing to move back to Mount Vernon from Philadelphia in 1797, she also bought his writing desk (at auction). The following letter reveals that she found an interesting packet in a drawer of the desk.

Phila. 11 [–13] th March 1797My very dear Sir
Like a true Woman (as you will think) in the Moment of Exultation, and on the first Impulse (for you know we are never supposed to act Systematically or from attentive Consideration,[)] I take up my Pen to address you, as you have given me a complete Triumph on the Subject of all others on which you have I suppose thought me most deficient, and most opposite to yourself; and what is still more charming—your Candor shall preside as Judge, nay you shall pass Sentence on yourself, and I will not appeal from your Decision. Suppose I should prove incontestably that you have without Design put into my Possession the love Letters of a Lady addressed to you under the most solemn Sanction; & a large Packet too. What will the Goddess of Prudence and Circumspection say to her favorite Son and Votary for his dereliction of Principles to which he has hitherto made such serious Sacrifices. Was the Taste of your Sex predominant in your Breast; and did the Love of Variety so preponderate, that because you had never blundered as President, was you determined to try its Delights as a private Gentleman; but to keep you no longer in Suspense, tho’ I know that your Nerves are not as irritable as a fine Ladies, yet I will with the Generosity of my Sex relieve you, by telling you—that upon opening one of the Drawers of your writing Desk I found a large Bundle of Letters from Mrs Washington bound up and labled with your usual Accuracy. Mr Lear was present, I immediately desired him to take Charge of the Package which he declined—alleging that he thought it was safer in my Hands, at least for some Time—at first I urged it; but finding him Inflexible as I suppose from Motives of Delicacy I sealed them up And I trust it is unnecessary for me to add that they will be keept Inviolably until I deliver them to him or to your Order. As Mr Lear has been connected both with you and Mrs Washington, and as it is probable that some family Circumstances may have been mingled into her Communications to you, to save his Feelings I have sealed the Package with Three Seals bearing the Impression of my blessed Friends Arms, such as that I myself use. Should Mrs Washington appear to have any unpleasant Sensations on this Subject you will I am certain remove them by reminding her—that tho’ Curiosity is supposed to be a prominent feature of the female Mind, yet it will ever be powerfully counteracted when opposed by native Delicacy, or sense of Honor, and I trust a pious Education.

I shall my good Sir give to Mr Lear 245 Dollars which I find was the first Cost of the writing Desk. In my Estimation its Value is not in the least diminished by your use of it; nor from its having been the Repository of those valuable Documents that originated with you during your wise and peaceful Administration for Eight Years. I am sensible many true & handsome Compliments might be paid to you on this Occasion; but as they have been resounded with Elegance & Sincerity through the Whole Continent, and will be re-echoed by Posterity, as you must be conscious they are just and as you are not a Man of Vanity, I will not in my blundering Way attempt a Theme that I feel myself totally inadequate to, as Blundering would not have to me even the Charm of variety to recommend it.

And now let me return you Thanks for your Tributes of Affection. Mr Lear has sent me in your Name a Pair of Lamps & Brackets with the Appendages. From you they are acceptable tho from no other Being out of my own Family would I receive a pecuniary Favor, nor did I want any inanimate Memento to bring you to my Recollection. I most sincerely hope to hear that you are all well and safely arrived at Mount Vernon long before you will receive this Scrawl. Be pleased to present my best Wishes to Mrs Washington & Miss Custis. Truly & affectionately I have the Honor to be, Sir Your most Obedt & Obliged
Eliza. PowelN.B. March 13th Mr Lear dined with me Yesterday. I desired him not to mention the Circumstance alluded to in the first ⟨Para⟩-graph of this Letter, therefore Mrs W. need not be informed of it unless you choose to tell her yourself. E.P.

Only four letters between Washington and his wife have survived. The others were almost certainly destroyed, either by Washington before his death, or by Martha later. Tobias Lear in a letter to Powel (March 9) indicated that the original cost of the desk was 98£ in New York Currency. He also listed the gifts from Washington Powel refers to in her letter as “a token of his respectful & affectionate remembrance.”

Information about the desk:
“George Washington’s presidential desk, usually exhibited at Mount Vernon, was on display Feb. 17-20, 2006 at the Atwater-Kent Museum of Philadelphia. The desk is attributed to New York cabinetmaker Thomas Burling and is modeled on a French style called bureau à cylinder. The desk, purchased by Washington on November 21, 1789, in New York City for £98 New York currency, was brought to Philadelphia in 1790. It is made of mahogany, pine, mahogany veneer, and maple inlay. The desk stands 66″ high, 62″ wide, and 35″ deep and is estimated to weigh 350 pounds. The legs and finials are replacements. A mechanism retracts the roll top, when the writing surface is extended. When Washington returned to Mount Vernon at the end of his presidency in 1789, he left the desk to be sold at auction. Elizabeth Willing Powell purchased it for $245 on March 10, 1797, and placed it in her home at 244 South 3rd Street. The desk was in her family until 1867, when it was donated to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by Charles Hare Hutchinson.

Information…provided by the Atwater-Kent Museum. Pictures ©2014 ushistory.org”

In the next post Washington’s reply to Powel’s discovery.

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 11–13 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0020. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 28–30.] Details about the desk were found HERE.

posted September 21st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Furnishings,Lear, Tobias,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

“The India counterpanes make very pretty curtains . . . “

The last two posts have focused on Dr. Richard Hill and his family. When Hill and his wife left the country for Madeira to escape his creditors his large family was broken up. Seven of his nine children remained in America under the care of his daughter Hannah and her husband, Dr. Samuel Preston Moore. Two—Mary and Harriet—accompanied their parents to Madeira. Daughter Deborah later joined them there. These three daughters married and lived abroad. Daughter Milcah Martha was born in Madeira and eventually returned to the United States.

Son Henry Hill, who was raised by his sister in America, and his English brother-in-laws joined his father in the wine business that Hill had established in Madeira. With a lodge in Madeira and offices in London and Philadelphia it became a thriving venture supplying much of the wine to the American colonies and then the United States in the second half of the eighteenth century. Henry inherited a large share in the firm when his father died in 1762 making him a man of considerable wealth.

When Philadelphia became the capital of the United States in 1790, President George Washington and the officers of the new government moved there establishing what became known as the “Republican Court.” They rented and refurbished large houses and the wealthy residents of the city built or redecorated their own mansions and delighted in being part of the lively social scene. The latest fashions in furniture and decor from London and Paris were much sought after. Henry Hill and his wife Ann Meredith built a house on Fourth Street between Union Street and Cypress Alley. Hill sought the advice of his sister MARY HILL LAMAR, who lived in London, on what furniture would be suitable and solicited her help in making appropriate purchases for him. Here is a letter containing Mary’s advice.

London [without a date]

Captain Willet being to sail to-morrow, you may depend on the above going by the first opportunity after all are ready. As to the chimney-piece and slab, a handsome white marble which is the fashion for the best room and looks beautifully, cannot be got under £40 or £50. By what you say of Mr. White’s, it cannot be such as I mean, which is entirely marble without any wood. His I imagine is only a plain slip of wood in front; such, here, are only put in bed and back rooms; the best dining parlors of late have also entire marble pieces. If the foregoing articles cannot be got ready to go very soon, I think to send as soon as possible the paper; the most fashionable is such as will suit any colored furniture. Yellow is a color quite the fashion at present, and from experience I know it wears and cleans the best of any.

You say nothing of chairs. I shall strive to make the upholsterer give some plans, when, if you want any you can choose. I think the best for America are cane seats with hair cushions covered with silk, which may be taken off in summer; the sofas made in the same manner.

A best room furnished in the present style and plainest taste is nothing more than two sofas, twelve or more chairs, a marble half circular table under the glass or glasses, glass lustres on the slabs to hold four lights, the lowest price of which will be twelve or fourteen guineas the pair, or in place of them, silver or plated branches for three candles; or in place of the marble slabs, inlaid wood, which are very pretty and come cheaper.

Neither tea or card tables stand in the best room, but are brought in when wanted; in the back room or common sitting room, one or two sofas according to the size of the room; chairs the same as in the best; a small breakfast table, one or two card tables, a double half oval under the glass, or in lieu, the tea or card tables. The India counterpanes make very pretty curtains for a back room or best bedroom; as one counterpane of the largest size makes a window curtain, they come much cheaper than a good English cotton; some time ago they were to be got for three guineas apiece, but are not to be met with now; they make beautiful beds lined with white, and white clothes [bed linens] and testers [curtains for four-poster beds].
I have written you a long scrawl.
[The remainder of the letter is missing.]

Henry Hill’s wife died in 1785. He died from the yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia in 1798.

John Jay Smith, ed., Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and His Children 1798-1881
(Philadelphia: 1854), 197-98. The illustration is of Henry Hill from the aforementioned book. Additional information on the wine trade can be found on this site: “The Role of the Madeira Shipper in Relation to American Connoisseurs: The Case of Henry Hill.”

posted February 13th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Furnishings,Hill, Dr. Richard,Hill, Henry,Lamar, Mary Hill,London,Philadelphia

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