Archive for the ‘London’ Category

“Your kind Remembrance of me . . . “

Benjamin Franklin, that amazing polymath—printer, author, publisher, inventor, scientist, philosopher, and diplomat—was sent to London in 1757 by the Pennsylvania Assembly to protest the influence of the Penn family in the state. Subsequently he represented American interests in England until 1775. During his many lengthy missions Franklin took lodgings in London at 36 Craven Street, just off the Strand. (I visited the site, marked with a Blue Plaque, when I lived in London. It was not yet the Benjamin Franklin House Museum it became in 2006.) His landlady was Mary Stevenson with whom he became friends. He took an interest in her daughter MARY STEVENSON called “POLLY”, and in her education to which he contributed. She expresses her gratitude for his friendship in the following letter.

Wanstead, Janr 14. 1760Dear Sir
Permit me to address you with the Compliment of the Season; not merely as a Compliment, but with a fervent sincerity. May this Year give you a happy sight of your Native Country, and of those dear Relations you left in it; and if there is anything else wanting to compleat your Felicity, May that be added! May you enjoy a long succession of Years, fraught with all the Blessings you desire!
I thank you, dear Sir, for the present you intend me. Your kind Remembrance of me upon every occasion demands my utmost Gratitude. I am extremely happy in finding I am still so much the object of your Regard; and I hope I shall continue to be so, for I shall never cease to be with the highest Esteem your grateful and affectionate Humble Servant
M Stevenson

The gift Polly speaks of was possibly a silver inkstand, according to a footnote to the letter on the Founders Archive, made by Edward Aldridge and John Stamper of London in 1758 or 1759 and inscribed: “The Gift of Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson.” In 1936 it was in the possession of Mrs. Mary Hewson Bradford Laning. It is described and illustrated in R. T. H. Halsey, comp., Benjamin Franklin and His Circle a Catalogue of an Exhibition (Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y., 1936), pp. 140, 141. The painting is of Franklin in London 1767 by David Martin; it hangs in the White House. The citation for the letter follows: “To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 14 January 1760,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 13, 2018, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-09-02-0008. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 9, January 1, 1760, through December 31, 1761, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966, pp. 19–20.]

posted January 5th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Franklin, Benjamin,Friendship,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,London

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

The Adamses: “quite out of their element”

MARY HILL LAMAR wrote again from London to her brother Henry Hill in Philadelphia this time including a couple of catty remarks about John and Abigail Adams as well as Ann Willing Bingham and her husband, said to be the wealthiest man in America.

London, March 18, 1786. . . . Please make my affectionate compliments to my sister Mrs. Hill, with my thanks for the nice cranberries. Before this gets to hand you will probably see Mr. and Mrs. Bingham, whom I have not seen since their return from France, although I called twice after I heard of their being in London. I am told the extreme of the French fashion, or her own taste, has made great alteration, while on the continent, in her manners, &c. When I mentioned her own taste, it was because she appeared at the opera in a hat unlike anything that ever made its appearance there before or since; fond as they are here of the French fashions. She has been introduced to their majesties, by Mr. and Mrs. Adams, our American plenipo [plenipotentiary], who, by the by, the girls have been to wait on several times, with myself. We have had them to a party of cards and tea, and she has been asked a second time, but as they have not returned the compliment, I think it unnecessary to pay them any farther attention.

They seem sensible people, one and all, but quite out of their element. Mrs. Adams has been very handsome, but an indifferent figure, being very short and fat. Miss [the Adams’s daughter Nabby], by some, reckoned handsome. . . .

Excuse haste, and believe me, my dear brother,
Your sincerely affectionate sister,
MARY LAMAR

John Jay Smith, ed., Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and His Children 1798-1881 (Philadelphia: 1854), 260-61. Anne Willing Bingham (above) was the model for an early coin design. More than 23 million non-gold coins of Bingham were introduced into circulation from 1795 to 1808.

posted February 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,Hill, Henry,Lamar, Mary Hill,London,Paris,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

“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

“a tour of about six hundred miles”

When John and ABIGAIL ADAMS were in London—John being the American minister to England from 1785 to 1788—they lived at 9 Grosvenor Square. As an expat in London I visited the site which is on the northeast corner at the intersection of Duke Street and Brook Street. A plaque, placed by the Colonial Dames of America in 1933, includes the information that the Adams’s daughter Abigail (Nabby) was married there to William Stevens Smith.
In 1787 Abigail and John decided to see some of England outside London before they departed. They set out on a journey to the West Country; Abigail recounted some of her observations and experiences in a letter to her sister Mary Cranch.

Grosvenor Square [London], 15 September, 1787My Dear Sister,
When I wrote you last, I was just going to set out on a journey to the West of England. I promised you to visit Mr. Cranch’s friends and relatives. This we did, as I shall relate to you. We were absent a month, and made a tour of about six hundred miles. The first place we made any stay at was Winchester. There was formerly an Earl of Winchester, by the name of Saer de Quincy. He was created Earl of Winchester by King John, in 1224, and signed Magna Charta, which I have seen; the original being now in the British Museum, with his handwriting to it.

After conveying some information to her sister about the Cranch ancestry Abigail expressed curiosity about her family, the Quincys.

I have a perfect remembrance of a parchment in our grandmother’s possession, which, when quite a child, I used to amuse myself with. This was a genealogical table, which gave the descent of the family from the time of William the Conqueror. This parchment Mr. Edmund Quincy borrowed, on some occasion, and I have often heard our grandmother say, with some anger, that she could never recover it. As the old gentleman is still living, I wish Mr. Cranch would question him about it, and know what hands it went into, and whether there is any probability of its ever being recovered; and be so good as to ask uncle Quincy how our grandfather came by it, and from whence our great-grandfather came, where he first settled, and take down in writing all you can learn from him and Mr. Edmund Quincy respecting the family. You will smile at my zeal, perhaps, on this occasion; but can it be wondered at that I should wish to trace an ancestor amongst the signers of Magna Charta? Amongst those who voted against receiving an explanatory charter in the Massachusetts, stands the name of our venerable grandfather, accompanied with only one other; this the journals of the House will show, to his immortal honor. I do not expect either titles or estate from the recovery of the genealogical table, were there any probability of obtaining it. Yet, if I was in possession of it, money should not purchase it from me.

But to return to Winchester. It is a very ancient place, and was formerly the residence of the Saxon and Norman kings. There still remains a very famous cathedral church, in the true Gothic architecture, being partly built in the year 1079. I attended divine service there, but was much more entertained with the venerable and majestic appearance of the ancient pile, than with the modern, flimsy discourse of the preacher. A meaner performance I do not recollect to have heard; but, in a church which would hold several thousands, it might truly be said, two or three were met together, and those appeared to be the lower order of the people.

More to follow.

Abigail’s letter is from the volume Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840. The illustration of the Adams’s Grosvenor Square House is taken from this SITE. The engraving of Winchester Cathedral can be found HERE.

posted August 4th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Americans Abroad,Britain,Cranch, Mary,London,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Smith, William Stevens,Travel

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