Archive for the ‘London’ Category

“a mere chit chat letter”

The engraving of Benjamin Franklin is by Edward Fisher after Mason Chamberlin’s 1762 portrait; it was created while Franklin was living in London. (National Portrait Gallery NPG.70.66.) In November 1762 Benjamin Franklin left England for America. Scientist that he was, pondering why the journey east across the Atlantic was shorter than the journey west, he charted the Gulf Stream on the voyage.

MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (HEWSON to be) wrote to Franklin in March of 1763:

It was with great pleasure I h[eard of] your safe and happy arrival at Philadelphia; and [hearti]ly congratulate you and the dear Partakers of y[our Socie]ty, but you must all forgive me if I repine [that] you are oblig’d to enjoy it at so great a d[istance] from me.

Franklin replied:

Your pleasing Favour of Nov. 11 [missing] is now before me. It found me as you suppos’d it would, happy with my American Friends and Family about me; and it made me more happy in showing me that I am not yet forgotten by the dear Friends I left in England….

Benjamin Franklin returned to England in 1764 as an agent to Parliament and again took up residence at Craven Street. Still loyal to Britain, he proposed an alternate way of raising money when Britain found itself in great debt after the Seven Years War but Parliament decided on the Stamp Act (1765) which was mightily resisted by the American Colonies. Franklin testified before Parliament the following year urging its repeal.* He became a staunch supporter of the rebel cause and relocated to Paris where he helped negotiate a treaty (1778) with the French whose support enabled the United States to successfully prosecute the war.
* See Franklin’s testimony before Parliament here.

Meanwhile Polly Stevenson and Benjamin Franklin kept up their relationship. Polly wrote him in July of 1765:

I stole away from company, for I have a pleasure in holding an imaginary conversation with you tho I have nothing in my head worth imparting. Perhaps were I to set about it I could ask you some questions, for that is easily done, but I know you have not leisure to answer them, therefore a mere chit chat letter will suit you best at present.

Benjamin Franklin sent Polly a verse he had composed for her 28th birthday. More on their relationship in the next post.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 11 March 1763,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-10-02-0116. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 10, January 1, 1762, through December 31, 1763, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1959, pp. 216–217.]“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 25 March 1763,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-10-02-0123. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 10, January 1, 1762, through December 31, 1763, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1959, pp. 231–235.]

posted March 2nd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Friendship,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,London,Stamp Act

“the Improvement of my Mind”

MARY “POLLY” STEVENSON (later HEWSON) and Benjamin Franklin continued to correspond with each other when time and circumstances allowed, she at Wanstead and he at Craven Street or abroad. Many of the topics discussed had to do with science, the distillation of sea water for example, or the contents of a book or manuscript Franklin had lent Polly. In a letter of 8 March 1762 Franklin says he cannot complain about not having received a letter from her …

being conscious that by not writing my self I have forfeited all Claim to such Favour; tho’ no Letters give me more Pleasure, and I often wish to hear from you, but Indolence grows upon me with Years, and Writing grows more and more irksome to me. Have you finish’d your Course of Philosophy? No more Doubts, to be resolv’d; no more Questions to ask? If so, you may now be at full Leisure to improve your self in Cards. Adieu my dear Child, and believe me ever Your affectionate Friend

Polly replied:

Wanstead March 10, 1762Dear Sir
. . . . I have not finish’d my Course of Philosophy, nor do I desire to be at full Leisure to improve myself in Cards. I confess you have just Reason to complain of me, and my Indolence merits your severe Rebuke. Your Letter fill’d me with Confusion, and I assure you it will be a Spur to my Industry. The Season is advancing that will admit of my rising early to have some Hours free from Interruption which I shall devote to the Improvement of my Mind. At present, tho’ we live more retir’d, I have less Time to myself: Yet I have not been idle. I have read the Letters you favour’d me with,* and think I understand them. The Clearness of my Preceptor’s Demonstration and Expression appear tho his Words are put into a foreign Language.

* The second edition of Dalibard’s translation of Benjamin Franklin’s Experiments and Observations, published in 1756.

When Franklin learned that Polly was looking for a house nearer to London he forwarded this information to her.

Are you provided with a House? If not, look into Tomorrow’s Daily Advertiser where you will find one to be let at Ealing, which I know and think I could recommend as to the Pleasantness of the Neighbourhood, Roads, &c. if the Description appears such as may make the rest agreable. I know there is a good deal of Garden, and abundance of Room in and about the House.

Here is the ad Franklin refers to:

The Daily Advertiser, May 27, 1762, advertised a “neat convenient House” for lease at Great Ealing in Middlesex Co. The house contained three parlors, four bedrooms, four servants’ rooms, stabling for four horses, and a “Garden wall’d and planted with the best Fruit-Trees, and full cropp’d.”

“From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Stevenson, 8 March 1762,” “To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, 10 March 1762,”Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-10-02-0029. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 10, January 1, 1762, through December 31, 1763, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1959, pp. 64–66, 84-85.] The photograph is of 36 Craven Street now a museum.

posted February 20th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Education,Franklin, Benjamin,Friendship,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,London

“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

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