Archive for the ‘Entertainments’ Category

“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

“too good a joke to lose”

In 1794, President George Washington sent John Jay to England to negotiate a treaty dealing with issues that had arisen relating to the Peace Treaty of 1783. Concluded in November of 1794, the Jay Treaty, as it was called, did not resolve all of the problems in a satisfactory manner, but it prevented another war between Britain and the United States that had seemed imminent. John Jay, his son, Peter Augustus, who served as his private secretary, and his official secretary John Trumbull remained in London until the spring of 1795.

About this time John Quincy Adams, with his brother Thomas Boylston, arrived in London en route to a diplomatic assignment in the Hague. The Adams brothers and the Jays met at the Johnsons several times. Louisa described details of a particular visit to her children in “Record of a Life”.

Mr. Jay . . . came to England and while he was there Mr. Adams [JQA] and his Brother Tom arrived in London on their way to Holland. . . . Mr. Jay and your father and Uncle were invited to dine with us . . . they were asked on account of the former acquaintance of the two families when your Grandfather [John Adams] was Minister in England—Your father was engaged; but your Uncle dined with us and so far were we from dreaming of a future connection in the family that from some strange fancy my Sister Nancy nick named your Uncle Abel and of course the brother whom we had never seen was called Cain. I mention this merely to show how little idea or desire there was in the family to plot or plan a marriage between the families—I also had a nick name in consequence of my habit of warning my Sisters if any thing was likely to go wrong; they called me Cassandra because they seldom listened to me until the mischief was done. . . .

Colonel John Trumbull visited the Johnsons frequently and his favorite among the sisters was Louisa. She remarked that “he said he wished he was a young man for then he should certainly pay his addresses to me; and this was the utmost that ever passed between us that could be tortured into love or what we fashionably term a belle Passion.” Louisa goes on to describe an amusing incident that took place at a friend’s house.

In consequence of our being at Mrs. Church’s the first Evening that Mr. Jay and his son and the Col was introduced he also bore another name among us Girls—The Servant a frenchman announcing them as Mr Pétéràjay and Col Terrible—you may suppose this was too good a joke to lose and it attached itself to them as long as they remained in England.

The information and quoted passages are from A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), pages 21-22. The portrait of John Jay is by an unknown artist after a painting by Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site. Gilbert Stuart painted the portrait of John Trumbull in 1818. It is at the Yale University Art Gallery.

posted October 9th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, John Quincy,Adams, Louisa Catherine,Americans Abroad,Entertainments,London,Trumbull, John

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