Archive for the ‘London’ Category

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

“too much dissipation and frivolity of amusement”

An article by Margaret L. Brown on Mr. and Mrs. William Bingham in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography includes several impressions of ANNE WILLING BINGHAM by women that give a good idea of what she was like. Anna Rawle wrote to her mother shortly after the Bingham wedding in 1780:

Speaking of handsome women brings Nancy [a nickname for Anne] Willing to my mind. She might set for the Queen of Beauty, and is lately married to Bingham, who returned from the West Indies with an immense fortune. They have set out in highest style; nobody here will be able to make the figure they do; equipage, house, cloathes, are all the newest taste,—and yet some people wonder at the match. She but sixteen and such a perfect form. His appearance is less amiable.

The Binghams traveled to London in 1783 and Anne had her second child there. When the family went to Paris in 1784 the Adamses—Abigail, John, and daughter Abigail called Nabby, were often in their company. Mrs. Adams described Anne in a letter to her friend Mercy Otis Warren as “a very young lady, not more than twenty, very agreeable, and very handsome. . . .” Nabby noted in her journal after a dinner party her parents gave which included the Binghams:

Mrs. Bingham . . . is pretty, a good figure, but rather still. She has not been long enough in this country to have gained that ease of air and manner which is peculiar to the women here; and when it does not exceed the bounds of delicacy, is very pleasing. . . . I admire her that she is not in the smallest degree tinctured with indelicacy. She has, from the little acquaintance I have had with her, genuine principles; she is very sprightly and very pleasing.

The Adams family were invited to dinner at the Binghams some time later after which Nabby wrote:

{Mrs. Bingham] is possessed of more ease and politeness in her behaviour, than any person I have seen. She joins in every conversation in company; and when engaged herself in conversing with you, she will, by joining directly in another chitchat with another party, convince you that she was all attention to everyone. She has a taste for show, but not above her circumstances.

The Adamses did not regard William Bingham so highly and became rather critical of the lavish life style of the Binghams in Paris. Mrs. Adams was quite shocked when Anne confessed that she was so delighted with Paris that she preferred to stay there rather than return home. In a letter to her niece Mrs. Adams wrote that Mrs. Bingham “was too young to come abroad without a pilot, [and] gives too much into the follies of this country. . . . ” In the following year she wrote to her sister:

The intelligence of her countenance, or rather, I ought to say animation, the elegance of her form, and the affability of her manners, convert you into admiration; and one has only to lament too much dissipation and frivolity of amusement, which have weaned her from her native country, and given her a passion and thirst after all the luxuries of Europe.

The Binghams returned to Philadelphia in 1786 and Anne brought with her clothing in the latest Paris styles. Molly Tilghman remarked on her appearance at a party given by Mary White Morris and her husband Robert. Mrs. Bingham appeared

in a dress which eclips’d any that has yet been seen. A Robe a la Turke of black Velvet, Rich White sattin Petticoat, body and sleeves, the whole trim’d with Ermine. A large Bouquet of natural flowers supported by a knot of Diamonds, Large Buckles, Necklace and Earrings of Diamonds, Her Head ornamented with Diamond Sprigs interspersed with artificial flowers, above all, wav’d a towering plume of snow white feathers.

The Binghams in Philadelphia wanted to impress and entertain in style. To do so they had built a large, and some said, pretentious home. In the next post read what a visitor had to say about it.

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), 286, 290, 291, 293, 294. Sources include William Brooke Rawle, “Laurel Hill,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (1911), XXXV. 398, Anna Rawle to Mrs. Samuel Shoemaker, November 4, 1780; Charles Francis Adams (ed.), Letters of Mrs. Adams, the Wife of John Adams (Boston, 1848, 4th ed.), 203, September 5, 1784; C. A. S. DeWindt (ed.), Journal and Correspondence of Abigail Adams Smith (N.Y. 1841), I. 19, September 25, 1784 and I. 28-29, October 26, 1784; Letters of Mrs. Adams, 207-208, December 3, 1784 and September 30, 1785; “Letters of Molly and Hetty Tilghman,” Maryland Historical Magazine (1926), XXI. 145-46, Molly Tilghman to Polly Pearce, February 18, 1787.

posted April 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Bingham, Anne Willing,Bingham, William,Fashion,France,London,Morris, Mary White,Paris,Philadelphia,Rawle, Anna,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Tilghman, Molly,Warren, Mercy Otis

“disorder in this part of the world”

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act, the British Parliament’s attempt to impose on its American colonies a tax on such items as newsprint, bills of lading, legal documents, playing cards, indeed on every piece of printed paper. Britain was in need of money to defray the costs of the French and Indian War which it incurred in defending its possessions in America and fighting the French abroad in what is known as the Seven Years War. Americans resented this tax: it was not a duty on imported goods but a direct tax on items used internally in the various colonies and imposed without their consent. There were many protests which often turned violent. On September 22, 1765, Deborah Read Rogers Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s wife, wrote from Philadelphia to him in London where he was representing the interests of several colonies.

I am so very poor a writer that I dont undertake to say anything about the disorder in this part of the world. But to me it seems we are very wicked and so is the people in London and other places on your side the water. I pray god mend us all.
You will see by the papers what work has happened in other places and something has been said relating to raising a mob in this place.

In October Deborah again wrote to her husband, addressing him as “My Dear Child.”

I have been to see Mr. Hughes [the designated stamp distributor] who I found a little better and able to stir himself which I know will give you pleasure and the more so as you will hear no doubt how he has been used and by men that better things might be expected from. First to have the bells muffled and send two Drums about the town to raise the mob, and send them under Mr. Hughes’ window; then send messengers to tell him that they was a Coming and would be there in a minute and almost terrify his wife and Children to death; and after this, the man who was at the head of their affair to Complement himself with the merit of preventing the mob from falling on and destroying Mr. Hughes and his whole family. . . . O how I despise such men. . . .
As ever yours till Death
D Franklin

The fact of the matter is that Franklin, out of touch with sentiment in the colonies, had at first been accepting of the Stamp Act, and had in fact sought to have some of his friends named as stamp distributors. But when he realized the anger the Act had provoked in America he changed his mind, indeed testified against the Stamp Act before Parliament in 1766, helping to secure its repeal.

The above passages can be found on page 5 of In the Words of Women. Portrait by Matthew Pratt, circa 1759.

posted November 12th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin,Franklin, Deborah Read Rogers,London,Philadelphia,Stamp Act

next page

   Copyright © 2017 In the Words of Women.