Archive for the ‘Meschianza’ Category

The Philadelphia Jewess

Fourteen young Tory ladies were selected by Major John André as the “foremost in youth, beauty and fashion” in Philadelphia to participate in the Meschianza in May of 1778, a tribute to retiring General William Howe. Among them was REBECCA FRANKS. As he did with others in the group, André painted Rebecca’s portrait in miniature and penned several lines of poetry to go with it.

Rebecca Franks had Jewish ancestors. Her grandfather Jacob was a merchant and leader of the Jewish community in New York City; her father, David Franks, had moved to Philadelphia and married Margaret Evans, a member of a prominent family of Anglicans. Although David maintained his Jewish identity, his wife raised their five children to be Christians; two were baptized and four married non-Jews; the fifth did not marry. (David’s older sister Phila also married out of the faith, much to the sorrow of her parents; her husband was Oliver deLancy, a New York Loyalist and Anglican.) Despite her Christian upbringing and her mother’s faithful attendance at Christ Church, Rebecca Franks was frequently referred to as the “Jewish belle of the city.”

In 1782, Rebecca married an English officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Johnson, the commander of the British outpost at Stony Point, New York, which he had been forced to surrender in 1779. She and her husband left for England shortly thereafter and settled in Bath. When Johnson was sent to Ireland to deal with rebels Rebecca went with him.

It was from a musty old castle in Killarney that she wrote to her friend (and her mother’s first cousin) “Willie” (Williamina) Bond who had married one of Washington’s officers, Gen. John Cadwalader. She is clearly nostalgic for Philadelphia and its exciting social scene. It is interesting to note that Rebecca and many other women in her social circle maintained friendships across oceans and political divides. Peggy Shippen was her friend before she married Benedict Arnold, when he defected, and afterward when she came to London. On the other hand, she did not much care for Ann Willing Bingham. Excerpts of Rebecca’s letter follow. Do notice an expression for pregnancy I have not encountered before.

February 19, 1784
Dear Mrs. Cad
The night before last I had the satisfaction of hearing from you, a pleasure I wish much more frequently I could enjoy. But the vile sea — how much happiness does it deprive us of — but most willingly wou’d I encounter its dangers to visit Phila[delphia] again — but alas — I fear I never can hope for that ALL your eloquence will not prevail while he can he will stay, either in Ireland (where we are now) or England, and his wife must obey.

I couldn’t help smiling at that part of yr letter that so gravely reprobates grandeur & dissipation — you are indeed consum’d Old Lady — now if I who have it not in my power to enjoy such things — was to rail against them the world might excuse me — but in you who have all the rich gifts of fortune ‘tis laughable really — Becky [Rebecca, a sister of Willie’s husband] tells me you are again in for the plate [pregnant], poor Toad. Why don’t you follow your Mother’s wise example — she always contrived matters so as only to be that way once in 7 years. . . . I can tell you very little of yr American acquaintances in London as I left the place last August & indeed when there I knew very little of them except Mrs. Arnold who always behav’d more like an affect-te sister than a common friend, she still continues the same. I hear every week or fortnight from her, she expects to be confin’d [give birth] the beginning of next Month. . . she was & is still more noticed and more liked than any American that ever came over. She is visited by people of the first rank & invited to all their houses.

Rebecca goes on to tell her friend how others of their acquaintance have been received in London society. A measure of popularity was the number of invitations to tea or a party a lady received, and of course the number of invitations she extended to other women. These rounds of visits took up much of the time of socially prominent women.

Mrs. P[enn] was too violent an American to have any intimacy with a British officer’s wife – she is lately lain of a son — Mrs. Bingham [Ann Willing, one of the most beautiful women in Philadelphia, married to William Bingham, said to be the richest man in America] arriv’d but a little while before I left London & while I was confin’d so did not see . . . her . . . [she] . . . spent part of the Summer at Brighthelmstone where she was much admired[;] in London She is not known & I hear has had but six ladys to visit her since her arrival. At first she talk’d of going to court and living away at a great rate but that Idea is now quite thrown aside & she finds an American in London & an American in their own country quite different beings. Mrs. Arnold is the only one who has been the least Notic’d . . . .

I blow your Spouse a kiss and mine blows you one at the same time . . . When you receive this may you be happily fix’d in D—r Phila. Which in spite of Everything I shall always prefer to every other place . . . Advise & tell me soon that you have given General C another son—kiss those you have already for your Sincerely Affecte
B Johnson

Returning to Bath after putting down the Irish rebellion, Henry Johnson was given a baronetcy; Rebecca became Lady Johnson. The couple had two sons, one of whom was killed at Waterloo. Rebecca died in 1823; she never did return to Philadelphia.

The painting of Rebecca Franks, courtesy of Naomi Wood Collection at Woodford Mansion. “Dear Mrs. Cad: A Revolutionary War Letter of Rebecca Franks,” Mark A. Stern, American Jewish Archives Journal; original at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Cadwalader Collection (#1454), Series 3X, Box 71, Williamina Bond Correspondence, Letter B. Johnson to Williamina B. Cadwalader, February 19, 1784.

posted December 15th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Bond, Williamina (Willie),Britain,Cadwalader, General John,Childbirth,England,Franks, Rebecca,Friendship,Ireland,Johnson, Henry (British officer),London,Loyalists,Meschianza,Philadelphia,Social life,Stony Point Battlefield

“A shameful scene of dissipation”

Because John André wrote such a detailed account of the Meschianza for Peggy Chew, I urge readers to read the piece in its entirety. It is the source for André’s self portrait attired for the joust and is well worth the time. As has been noted, Philadelphia’s Quakers frowned upon the excess of the spectacle. ELIZABETH DRINKER wrote in her journal: “How insensible these people appear, while our land is so greatly desolated, and death and sore destruction has overtaken and impends over so many.”

HANNAH GRIFFITTS was even more scathing:

A shameful scene of dissipation,
The death of sense and reputation
A deep degeneracy of nature
A Frolick, for the lash of Satire;
A feast of grandeur, fit for Kings,
Formed of the following empty things:
Ribbons and gewgaws, tints and tinsel,
To glow beneath the Historic Pencil

When the British evacuated Philadelphia on June 18, 1778, after a nine-month occupation, John André joined General Henry Clinton in New York City. He became chief of secret intelligence and was executed by the Americans in 1780 for conspiring with the traitor Benedict Arnold to deliver West Point to the British. André drew the self portrait on the night before he died.

Elizabeth Drinker, “Extracts from the Journal of Mrs. Henry Drinker, of Philadelphia, From September 25, 1777 to July 4, 1778” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. XIII: 1889, 306.
For Hannah Griffitts Poem see David S. Shields and Fredrika J. Teute. “The Meschianza: Sum of All Fêtes.” Journal of the Early Republic 35, no. 2 (2015): 185-214. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed December 2, 2018).
The self-portrait on the right is at the Yale Art Gallery.

posted December 3rd, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: André, Major John,Clinton, General Henry,Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith,Griffitts, Hannah,Meschianza,Philadelphia

“this bit of superb frivolity” the Meschianza

Reading SARAH LOGAN FISHER’s diary, it is difficult to appreciate the “bright” side (for some) of the British occupation of Philadelphia. The inhabitants were short of provisions. Firewood was scarce, as was hard cash. Officers moved into houses abandoned by Whigs (without their consent), or they requested (demanded) rooms in the homes of Tory sympathizers. The poor suffered terribly as did American prisoners held by the British. Some Loyalists were disappointed by the treatment they received. And Quakers were dismayed by the revelry of the soldiers.

For the upper classes, however, the winter season (1777-1778) was one of gaiety. There were assemblies, balls, dinners, plays, concerts, and parades. Quite the social whirl in fact. On Monday nights people flocked to the theater to see, in the audience, General William Howe with his supposed mistress Mrs. Elizabeth Loring, whose husband Joshua had been appointed commissary general to the prisoners in Philadelphia. The ladies welcomed news of the latest fashions and went shopping for fabrics and baubles brought from England. Hoops were in, and hairdressers were in demand.

Major John André (1751-1780), a writer of prose and poetry as well as an artist, was one of the chief organizers of what may have been Philadelphia’s largest and most elaborate public spectacle, the Meschianza—the word is a play on the word for medley in Italian. It took place on May 18, 1778 to bid farewell to General William Howe who had submitted his resignation and was returning to England. (It was likely that Howe had been relieved of his command for his failure to come to the assistance of General John Burgoyne and was therefore considered responsible for Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga in October of 1777.)

The cost of the extravaganza was enormous, in part underwritten by twenty-two of the general’s officers who contributed £3,312. It lasted eighteen hours with some 400 military and Loyalist attendees, for whom elaborate tickets were designed by André. (Howe’s crest is shown along with a motto; cannons, swords, drums, flags, and other military equipment decorate the borders.)

The celebration included a flotilla of decorated barges, cannon salutes, a military parade, fireworks displays, testimonials, a mock Medieval jousting tournament, a lavish banquet, and a fancy-dress ball. Events were staged in the mansion Walnut Grove and its grounds, an estate abandoned by Patriot Joseph Wharton. The ball was held in a large canvas tent whose interior walls André adorned with mirrors and scenery. For the contest between Knights of the Blended Rose and Knights of the Burning Mountain he designed the costumes of the participants as well as those of the young ladies (Peggy Shippen among them) over whose beauty the knights were competing. André wrote and illustrated a commemo-rative program dedicated to Peggy Chew, one of Philadelphia’s belles who had taken his fancy. Her great-granddaughter described the manuscript:

Faded and yellow with age, the little parchment vividly calls up before us the gallant young English officer, eager and full of keen interest, throwing himself with youthful ardor, with light-hearted seriousness, into this bit of superb frivolity. On the cover he has outlined a wreath of leaves around the initials ‘P.C’, and he has made a water color sketch to show the design and colors of his costume as a knight of the ‘Blended Rose,’ and that of his brother . . . who acted as his esquire and bore his shield, with its quaint motto, ‘No rival.’

See an earlier post about the British occupation of Philadelphia HERE.

For the quotation see Old Time Belles and Cavaliers by Edith Tunis Sale, p 141, accessed HERE.
For a description of the Meschianza see Social Life During the British Occupation by Darlene Emmert Fisher HERE on page 251.
The ticket shown is held by The Library Company of Philadelphia, a gift of Mrs. John Meredith Read, 1900.
The print of Major John André is based on one of his self portraits. For additional information see the publication Quarto of the Clements Library Associates, pages 6 and 7, HERE.
Also David S. Shields and Fredrika J. Teute. “The Meschianza: Sum of All Fêtes.” Journal of the Early Republic 35, no. 2 (2015): 185-214. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 30, 2018).

posted November 30th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: André, Major John,Burgoyne, Gerneral John,Chew, Peggy,Entertainments,Fisher, Sarah Logan,Howe, General Sir William,Meschianza,Philadelphia,Shippen, Peggy

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