Archive for the ‘Philadelphia’ Category

“there had died 10 of a day”

Given the times we are living in—a pandemic suffocating the entire world—with those of us who can, confined to our homes, it seems useful to recall the scourges that regularly attacked the population of the American colonies, including the Native Americans, as well as the citizens of the new nation. Here, at random, are excerpts from previous posts on the subject.

The marriage of SARAH LOGAN to Thomas Fisher in 1772 united two of the most important and wealthy families in Philadelphia. Sarah, a Quaker, kept a diary that contains her observations on the Revolution and is an important source of information about life in Philadelphia under the control of Pennsylvania officials anticipating a British attack and later during the British occupation.

December 19, 1776— Morning at home at work ….met with John Foulke, who told us that the disorder among the poor sick soldiers was better, that not above 3 or 4 died of a day, but that there had died 10 of a day, & that the smallpox was broken out among them, which he expected would make a great destruction, as not above one in 50 of the Maryland soldiers had had it, many of them not having a bed to lie on or a blanket to cover them ….

December 29, 1776— …. Dr. Bond called here after Meeting & gave us a very melancholy account of the sick soldiers, & says they have the true camp fever which is near akin to the plague. He says 15 or 20 frequently die of a day, that they bury 8 or 10 in a grave, & not above a foot underground. He thinks the disorder will spread & that the inhabitants are in great danger….

December 30, 1776—This morning my Tommy [Sarah’s husband] conversed with the man who has the care of burying the sick soldiers. He says it is not true that the graves are so shallow, but that they die so fast that he cannot dig graves for them all, & so digs a large hole 15 feet square & 10 feet deep for them all, & so buries them two tier, & that the highest coffin is about five feet underground….

Wainwright, Nicholas B., and Sarah Logan Fisher. “”A Diary of Trifling Occurrences”: Philadelphia, 1776-1778.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 82, no. 4 (1958): 414-21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20089127.

posted April 5th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fisher, Sarah Logan,Philadelphia,Smallpox

“Happy mortals are we, that we cannot dive into futurity!”

Following are some of the last entries from the journal of SARAH EVE, a young woman in Philadelphia in 1774.

March 27th. — A fine day, but still windy. In the morning I went over to Mrs. Stainforth’s and staid with her until dinner time. We had the pleasure of Mr. Clifford’s company to dine with us. In the afternoon Mr. & Mrs. Garriguse, Hannah Mitchell, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Rush (bless me, what a girl, Mr. Rush should have been set down first, I am sure, but now it is too late), and Mr. J. Giles drank Tea with us.

March 30th.— “Warm and cloudy. In the morning I went to Mrs. Rush’s where I spent the day and night. . . . About ten o’clock I went to bed and left Miss Bets up. Query, which was the happier, that lady sitting up with her, or myself lying in a fine soft bed, reading the ” Adventures of the renowned Don Quixote,” and in a most excellent humour to enjoy it?

May 1st. — A May morning indeed!. . . .This day is five years since my dear father left us; I am persuaded that had we known that morning we parted with him, that he was to have been absent so long, we should
have thought it impossible to have existed for one half the time ; nay, I know not at that time whether we should have wished it. Happy mortals are we, that we cannot dive into futurity! if we could, how pleasure would be anticipated until it became tasteless, and the knowledge of distant evil would render us utterly insensible to the joys of present good.

May 2nd. — In the evening I went to church and heard Mr. Stringer for the first time since his return from England. I dined at Mr. Rush’s. Betsey & myself in the afternoon went to Christ Church.

May 18th. — Mama and myself went to town in the morning, called at Mr. Rush’s. . . .

June 24th. — This morning I went to town, staid a little while at Mrs. Clifford’s, from there I went to Smith’s and spent the day. In the evening called at Mr. Rush’s. . . .

June 27th. — In the afternoon Mr. Cummings came here. In the evening the two Mr. Rushes called to see us.

July 3rd.— This day I spent at Mr. Rush’s. . . .

July 12th.— In the evening B. Rush, P. Dunn, K. Vaughan and myself carried Mr. Ash’s child to be buried . . . .

It was the custom at one time for friends and relatives of the deceased, including women, to carry the coffin to its resting place.

August 3rd. — This day I spent at Mr. Clifford’s . . . . In the evening called at Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Rush’s, then went to my sister’s where I met Mama and the Boys to go home with me.

August 13th. — About four o’clock we went to Town. I drank Tea at Mr. Rush’s, afterwards went down to see Mrs. Smith . . . .

September 4th. — To-day very unwell with a chill and fever. In the afternoon Mr. Rush and Betsey Rush were here.

September 5th. — In the morning I found myself much better and came down stairs and expected to have had no more of the fever, but about eleven o’clock found myself colder than December, and in the afternoon warmer than the inhabitants of Mercury — what a contrast in a few hours! In the afternoon my sister and Peggy Campbell and in the evening the two Betsey Rushes and Capt. Bethel.

September 21st. — Hearing that little Bets was unwell, I went to see her, and then to Mr. Smith’s to spend the day. Mr. Clifford read a paragraph in the York paper that mentions that my brother was to leave the Bay the 3rd of Sept.for Georgia, with some of the principal inhabitants and a hundred negroes on board, and that there were but two Vessels in the Bay, so that whether or not my Father has sailed we cannot tell. What doubt and anxiety attend absence — Oh! that our present uneasy apprehensions could but sleep ! Came home exceedingly unwell.

September 26th. — Last night Mama was extremely ill, Isabel very poorly and I not much better. . . . In the evening Mr. Rush came to see us, he did not know we were sick until he came here; he seemed so distresst that he did not know how to leave us, ” You should, why did you not let us know how you were, that we might have been up before.” Are we not blest with the best of friends.

September 27th. — Mama still bad, this morning we sent for Dr. Rush who gave Mama some powders and me some elixir, which we think have been of service to both. In the afternoon Mr. & Betsey Rush and Peggy Campbell came out here, and in the evening Mr. Rush.

September 29th. — Mrs. Clifford came out, although the weather extremely hot and sultry. About twelve we had a gust and it turned cold, so great a change in the weather gave me a chill instantly. Mrs. Rush and Betsey walked out here, but did not stay long as it looked like rain.

September 30th. — To-day cold, blowing and raining, so great an alteration in the weather in so short a time, I believe never has been. But notwithstanding Mr. Rush came through it all to ask how we did.

October 7th. — This morning we had the infinite pleasure of seeing my dear brother Jackey after an absence of twelve months. . . . To-day I went down stairs for the first time in eight days. . . .

October 9th. — A pleasant day, Mr. Rush, in the afternoon drank Tea with us.

Sarah Eve’s journal ends in mid December. Her father did come home before the end of the year. If you have been paying attention you will have noticed that the name of Dr. Benjamin Rush (and his mother and sister) is mentioned often in the preceding excerpts. He had been courting Sarah Eve and they were to have been married at the end of 1774. However, Sarah died three weeks before their wedding. As Sarah wrote: “Happy mortals are we, that we cannot dive into futurity!” Rush, in his autobiography, does not mention her.

EXTRACTS FROM THE JOURNAL OF MISS SARAH EYE (concluded), The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 5, No. 2 (1881),, pages 194-96, 198-200. Image from the National Library of Medicine (pp 28, 29, 30, 36).

posted February 8th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,Eve, Sarah,Illness,Philadelphia,Rush, Dr. Benjamin,Weather

“One hates to be always kissed”

Visits to and from friends seems to have occupied the time of many young women like SARAH EVE in Philadelphia in 1773. In this entry she identifies one of the customs she dislikes.

February 26th. — As fine a day as in April. In the morning Dr. [William] Shippen came to see us. What a pity it is that the Doctor is so fond of kissing; he really would be much more agreeable if he were less fond. One hates to be always kissed, especially as it is attended with so many inconveniences; it decomposes the economy of one’s hankerchief [fabric worn to fit in the neckline] it disorders one’s high Roll [hair dress], and it ruffles the serenity of one’s countenance; in short the Doctor’s, or a sociable kiss is many times worse than a formal salute with bowing and curtseying, to ” this is Mr. Such-an-one, and this Miss What-do-you-call her.” ‘Tis true this confuses one no little, but one gets the better of that sooner than to readjust one’s dress. . . .

Dr. William Shippen, Jr. was a co-founder, with Dr. John Morgan, of America’s first medical school in 1765, the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and a supporter of male midwifery.

The excerpt can be found on pages 222-223 of In the Words of Women, edited by Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011). Original source: Extracts from the Journals of Miss Sarah Eve, p 25. Portrait is from Wikipedia.

posted January 13th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Eve, Sarah,Medicine,Midwives,Philadelphia,Shippen, Dr. William Jr.,Social customs

“a thought came over me to write a few lines every night”

Like many other young women of her time, SARAH EVE (1749/50-1774) decided to keep a journal. She was one of thirteen children born to Oswell Eve and Anne Moore, seven of whom died in infancy. Her father, a sea captain, suffered a series of financial setbacks and in 1768 took two of Sarah’s brothers with him to set up a business abroad, it is thought in the West Indies. During his absence of five years, Sarah and her mother lived in a house near Philadelphia in fairly comfortable circumstances. The red-headed Sarah, always fashionably dressed, spent a good deal of time visiting friends. In the excerpt below she gives her reasons for beginning a journal. She has the charming habit of writing as if she were speaking to herself.

December 13th, 1772. — Sitting before the fire this evening, a thought came over me to write a few lines every night, of what sort of weather we have, whether we go out or not, who comes to see us, and how we spend our time summer and winter. I flatter myself that this will be the last winter that we shall spend here; and I think that from this Journal, altho’ unentertaining as it will be, my dear Father may form a pretty just idea of the melancholy winters that we have had since he went away. I wish I had thought of this sooner, or at least on the first of this month, but as that was not the case, think it would be ingratitude not to remark the extreme pleasant weather we have had since the month began. Not a cloudy day, every morning a fine white frost, so that one might say . . . it is so warm that if the calendar did not call it winter, one would be ready to swear it was the opening of spring. This morning I went to the opening of the New Meeting House, heard Mr. Sprout preach, the house much crowded — Query, the motive? — Novelty or Religion?

On December 23 Sarah wrote “The weather still fine.” After spending the day with friends, “Returned in the evening, and wrote a letter to my father by Capt. Gilbert. Read the ‘Fashionable Lover,’ a prodigious fine comedy wrote by Cumberland.”

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 5.

posted January 5th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Eve, Sarah,Philadelphia

” . . . in some points I am very obstinate”

Although MARY “POLLY” HEWSON lost her husband in 1774 and was left to raise her three children on her own (see previous post), in that same year Polly’s aunt died leaving her a small inheritance that eventually when it was settled enabled her to live in relative comfort. “I shall be rich enough to indulge myself and my children in any occasional expences that will essentially gratify me or benefit them.”
With all hope of reconciliation between Britain and her American colonies abandoned, Polly’s friend and mentor Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1775. The United States, at war with Britain, sent Franklin to Paris in 1777 to seek French aid and negotiate a treaty. Polly and Franklin continued to correspond as best they could during wartime, Polly forwarding news about Franklin’s friends in England.

My letters are a kind of private newspaper, I give the articles just as they happen to occur without regard to order or connection. I fancy this kind will be most pleasing to you, as it will not require an answer, and will make you feel somewhat like having your English friends about you.

Of course Polly described her children’s progress. She had a mind of her own and did not hesitate to go against custom when it seemed sensible to do so. She refused to dress her daughter in stays for example.

Contrary to fashion, and consequently to the opinion of most people (you know in some points I am very obstinate) I keep her without stays, by which means her shape retains its natural grace; being unconfined, and her motions free, her health too is preserved.

In January 1783, Benjamin Franklin wrote to Polly about the end of the war:

At length we are in Peace, God be praised; & long, very long may it continue. All Wars are Follies, very expensive & very mischievous ones. When will Mankind be convinc’d of this, and agree to settle their Differences by Arbitration? Were they to do it even by the Cast of a Dye, it would be better than by Fighting & destroying each other.

Franklin invited Polly and her children to spend the winter of 1784-85 with him in his residence in Passy. Much to his delight she accepted. Franklin loved small children and enjoyed their company. He wrote to her after she and the children had departed:

…My love to William and Thomas and Eliza, and tell them I miss their cheerful prattle. . . . I have found it very triste breakfasting alone, and sitting alone, and without any tea in the evening.

Polly was uncertain about where her children would be most likley to meet with success. Franklin offered this advice.

With regard to the future Establishment of your Children, which you say you want to consult me about, I am still of Opinion that America will afford you more Chances of doing it well than England. All the means of good Education are plenty there, the general Manners more simple & pure, Temptations to Vice and Folly fewer, the Profits of Industry in Business as great and sure as in England; and there is one Advantage more which your Command of Money will give you there, I mean the laying out a Part of your Fortune in new Land, now to be had extreamly cheap, but which must be increas’d immensely in Value before your Children come of Age, by the rapid Population of the Country. If you should arrive there while I live, you know you may depend on every Assistance in my Power to afford you, and I think my Children will have a Pleasure too in serving their Father’s Friend. I do not offer it as a Motive that you will be much esteem’d and respected there, for that you are & must be every where; but give me leave to flatter myself that my being made happier in my last Years by your Neighbourhood and Society, may be some Inducement to you.

Hewson did relocate to America with her children and lived in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin lent her some money, $185.30, in January of 1787 to help her get settled. During Franklin’s last illness, when his pain eased, Polly read to him from Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. Franklin died in 1790, age 84.

Polly’s children did indeed do well in the United States. William Jr. obtained some land and became a farmer, Thomas became a medical doctor, and Elizabeth married an American. Franklin’s “surrogate daughter” Polly died the 14th of October 1795 aged 56.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Hewson, 8 September 1776,” “To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Hewson, 23 December 1781,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson, 27 January 1783,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson, 7 September 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0355. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 22, March 23, 1775, through October 27, 1776, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London:: Yale University Press, 1982, pp. 287-289, 594–596, 67–68, 588–590.]
Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York: Viking Press, 1938), 638, 738, 776.
Autograph letter signed (“B. Franklin”) to Mary “Polly” Hewson, Passy, 13 April 1782.

posted April 15th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,England,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,London,Paris,Philadelphia

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