Archive for the ‘Entertainments’ Category

“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

“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

“fine riding-parties and musical frolics”

SARAH “SALLY” MCKEAN, a belle of Philadelphia particularly enjoyed the company of members of the Spanish delegation to the United States in the 1790s.Writing again to her friend Anna Payne, Dolley Madison’s younger sister, she described the activities they enjoyed. Anna married Richard Cutts, a congressman from the Maine section of Massachusetts; her portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1804. Her hair and clothing reflect the popularity of French fashions in the United States at that time.

Philadelphia, September 3, 1796MY DEAR Anna, I received yours by Mr. Taylor and duly delivered its inclosure. You can have no idea, my dear girl, what pleasant times I have; there is the charming Chevalier, the divine Santana, the jolly Viar, the witty and agreeable Fatio, the black-eyed Lord Henry, the soft, love-making Count, the giggling, foolish, and sometimes the modest, good Meclare, who are at our house every day. We have fine riding-parties and musical frolics. However, I will refer you to my letter to your sister Madison, as I am tired of writing, this being my third letter to-day.
Mr. and Mrs. Jandenes set sail about the middle of July, with the two dear little children in good health and remarkably fine spirits. I am to have a large packet of papers from them as soon as they arrive in Spain, telling me all the news, and also a very elegant Spanish guitar, on which I intend to learn to play. Signor Don Carlos has given me a few lessons on that instrument. I have one at present, lent me by Santana, and we have a famous Italian singer, who came with the Minister, who can play on any instrument, and is moreover the drollest creature you ever saw. He sings divinely, and is the leader of our fine concerts. I am serenaded every night with divine music. I must say divine, for it is so much above the common music.
I long with the greatest impatience for the month of October, that I may have the pleasure of embracing my dear Anna ; for Heaven’s sake make as much haste to town as you can, for we are to have one of the most charming winters imaginable. Santana and Fatio send their compliments to you, and Meclare told me to be sure to give his best and most sincere love to you; he looks quite handsome, and is smarter than ever. God bless you, my dearest, and believe me to be your sincere friend and admirer,
SALLY McKEAN

Two years later Sally McKean married the Don Carlos, (Marques Don Carlos Maria Martinez de Casa Yrujo y Tacon) mentioned in the letter who was the Spanish ambassador, and became Marquesa de Casa Yrujo. Samuel H. Wandell, in his biography of Aaron Burr described Don Carlos:

He was an obstinate, impetuous and rather vain little person with reddish hair; enormously wealthy, endlessly touchy, extremely intelligent and vastly attractive … he liked America, he understood it and enjoyed it; he was tremendously popular at Philadelphia, and at Washington when he condescended to appear there; he was on intimate terms at the President’s House. If he lost his temper from time to time, and thought nothing of haranguing the country through the newspapers, he served his King with energetic loyalty; he went about his business with dignity and shrewdness; he never forgot the respect due to his official person, however much he might indulge his democratic tendencies in private intercourse; he was the only Minister of the first rank in America, and consequently the leading figure in the diplomatic corps; he contributed to American society the brilliant qualities of his elegant and felicitous personality; he was a very great gentleman.

After the birth of their third child, Sally and Don Carlos left for Spain. Her husband lost favor with the American government by his disapproval of the Jay Treaty and the Louisiana Purchase and his opposition to the ceding of Florida to the United States. Sally returned to America with him on several occasions and continued to carry on a correspondence with her friends.

The text of the letter can be found here.The portrait of Don Carlos can be found here. For more information about Sally McKean see this site.

posted January 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Cutts, Anna Payne,d'Yrujo McKean, Sarah (Sally),Don Carlos, Marques de Casa d'Yrujo,Entertainments,Madison, Dolley,Philadelphia

Fanny Burney’s “Evelina”

Literate upper class American women often occupied their time in the latter part of the eighteenth century in reading romantic novels. See previous post on this subject. One popular novel making the rounds was Evelina by the Englishwoman Frances “Fanny” Burney. An epistolary novel, it tells the story of a young lady’s entrance into the world through a series of letters. In the original preface the author describes her purpose and method.

To draw characters from nature, though not from life, and to mark the manners of the times, is the attempted plan of the following letters. For this purpose, a young female, educated in the most secluded retirement, makes, at the age of seventeen, her first appearance upon the great and busy stage of life; with a virtuous mind, a cultivated understanding, and a feeling heart, her ignorance of the forms, and inexperience in the manners of the world, occasion all the little incidents which these volumes record, and which form the natural progression of the life of a young woman of obscure birth, but conspicuous beauty, for the first six months after her Entrance into the world.

Burney goes on to defend her own and other novels that had become so popular with young women.

Perhaps, were it possible to effect the total extirpation of novels, our young ladies in general, and boarding-school damsels in particular, might profit from their annihilation; but since the distemper they have spread seems incurable, since their contagion bids defiance to the medicine of advice or reprehension, and since they are found to baffle all the mental art of physic, save what is prescribed by the slow regimen of Time, and bitter diet of Experience; surely all attempts to contribute to the number of those which may be read, if not with advantage, at least without injury, ought rather to be encouraged than contemned.

Let me, therefore, prepare for disappointment those who, in the perusal of these sheets, entertain the gentle expectation of being transported to the fantastic regions of Romance, where Fiction is coloured by all the gay tints of luxurious Imagination, where Reason is an outcast, and where the sublimity of the Marvellous rejects all aid from sober Probability. The heroine of these memoirs, young, artless, and inexperienced, is “No faultless Monster that the world ne’er saw; but the offspring of Nature, and of Nature in her simplest attire.”

In the preface to The Journals and Letters of Francis Burney Burney describes what she tried to do (pages 2-3).

Perhaps this may seem rather a bold attempt and title, for a female whose knowledge of the world is very confined, and whose inclinations, as well as situation, incline her to a private and domestic life. All I can urge is, that I have only presumed to trace the accidents and adventures to which a “young woman” is liable; I have not pretended to show the world what it actually is, but what it appears to a girl of seventeen; and so far as that, surely any girl who is past seventeen may safely do.

Why not click on this link to Evelina and sample what so interested women readers of the time. Burney’s portrait ca. 1784-84 is at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

posted November 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat,Burney, Frances "Fanny",Entertainments

“The tremendous majesty of her tete . . . “

Molly Tilghman of Maryland wrote to her cousin Polly Pearce in January of 1789 describing the hat of one of woman and the hair of another at a ball she attended. Other tidbits of gossip too. Wicked and amusing.

Fain wou’d I dissect Miss [Anna] Garnett for your edification in the important point of fashion but a regular discription of so complicated a piece of work is more than I am equal to. Did you never of a rainy day, empty all your Drawers on the Bed, in order to set them to rights? If you can recollect the confus’d mixture of Ribbon, Gauze, flowers, Beads, Persian feathers and Lace, black and white, you will have the best idea I can give you of Miss Garnetts Hatt, such a Hoop and Handkerchief too was never seen on mortal Woman before. Upon my Life she was as complete a Carricature as any in our Hall. Mrs. Bordleys Head, without a Hat, was quite equal to the other. The tremendous majesty of her tete, will never leave my memory, which with the fabric which was erected on it made her almost as tall as myself. As her situation prevented her dancing I had a great deal of sweet converse with her. . . .
Can you imagine my dear Polly that I want to be reminded of my promis’d visit to Poplar Neck. Surely you know me better. If it depended on my inclination, soon wou’d you see me, but alas how few of our pursuits are directed by inclination. If I wanted an additional inducement to visit you, the alteration you tell me of wou’d be a great one. A succession of Beaux is pretty enough amusement in this dreary season and it wou’d be doubly agreeable to me from the powerful charm of novelty. If it were possible to exchange some of our Belles for some of your Beaux, the Circles of both wou’d be much improv’d by it. Could not your ingenuity contrive it ?
On new years day Miss Nevitt was married to Mr Steele after a three years Courtship. Her reign has been brilliant, and she has clos’d it in very good time, while her train was undiminish’d. It is a nice point for a Belle to know when to marry, and one in which they are very apt. She understood the matter.
Pray what kind of being is this Jones you mention ? Not much I fancy from your manner of passing him over. I dare say it is near morning, so I will creep up to bed as silently as possible. See what I suffer for your sake. Indeed you must write to me oftener. I will make the best returns in my power, both in quantity and quality. I am not sleepy, but exceedingly dim sighted. My best Love to all from
ever yours
M. T.

The letter can be found in the Maryland Historical Magazine Vol. 21, No. 3, 234-35.

posted September 7th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Courtship,Entertainments,Fashion,Marriage,Maryland,Pearce, Polly,Tilghman, Molly

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