Archive for the ‘Britain’ Category

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

“he was . . . taken . . . by the Algerines”

During the Revolutionary War there were only a few ships, nationalized privateers, that together could be called a navy, and they had no real bearing on the outcome of the conflict. After the War there was more concern about land attacks on the western frontier of the United States than threats on the seas therefore an army was more important than a navy.

This deficiency became a problem when Barbary Pirates began to attack American ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Privateers operating from the northern shoreline of Africa known as the Barbary Coast preyed on merchant ships in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast for their cargo but also for their seamen who were sold as slaves. American shipping before the Revolution had been protected by the British government which made treaties, paid tribute and, with the help of private sources and relatives, provided ransom for seamen who were captured. That shield was gone after the United States became independent.

The first American ship to be captured, in this case by Moroccan pirates, was the Betsy in October of 1784. Negotiations, with the help of Spain, were successful; the crew was released and trade resumed. But the new nation had neither the fleet nor the money to ensure the safety of American ships in the Mediterranean. In 1785 two more ships were seized, by Algerian pirates, the Dauphine out of Philadelphia and the Maria of Boston, their cargoes confiscated and their crews enslaved. The captain of the Dauphine sent several petitions to Congress describing the suffering of the crew and asking for relief. The amount of money that Congress authorized for payment to the pirates was far below what was demanded. Furthermore the United States was involved in devising a new constitution in 1787 and establishing a government under it in 1789. The plight of the captives fell from public consciousness.

Interest was revived when additional petitions were submitted to the new Congress. In December of 1791, HANNAH STEPHENS of Concord, Massachusetts sent a petition describing what befell her, as the wife of Isaac Stephens, the captain of the Maria, and their children as a result of his lengthy imprisonment.

To the President, Senate, and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled.

The memorial of Hannah Stephens of Concord in the County of Middlesex and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, wife of Isaac Stephens now a prisoner in Algiers: Humbly sheweth that her husband sailed from the Port of Boston in said Commonwealth on the twenty fourth day of June Anno Domini 1725, in the Schooner Nancy of which he was Commander bound to Cadiz, and was taken on the twenty fourth day of July in the same year by the Algerines, and has ever since remained a prisoner among them, deprived of his liberty & of every means of providing for himself, his wife or Children, said Stephens left these children the eldest of which is a daughter fourteen years old, sickly and not able to support herself and the other two still remain a great expense to their mother. Said Stephens several years previous to his last sailing from Boston, bought a house and a small piece of land in said Concord for his wife and family, that they might have a certain home, whilst he pursued the Business of a Mariner, and paid part of the purchase money; but by means of his great misfortune in being made a prisoner, he has been unable to complete the purchase, and the money that has been paid is lost by reason of the failure of the payment of the Remainder: therefore your Memorialist has been turned out of Doors and driven to the cruel necessity of doing the lowest duties of a servant to prevent herself, and her helpless children from suffering hunger, and nakedness. The sufferings of your Memorialist and of her Children become insupportable when added to the Distress she feels for her husband, who is continually representing by his Letters his melancholy situation, and praying for the interposition of the United States in his behalf. Your Memorialist in this her destitute and forsaken condition, humbly begs the interposition of the United States for her husband, that they would derive some way by which he may be freed from his present state of captivity, that she and her helpless children may once more enjoy the great pleasure of seeing their long lost friend, at liberty and in his native land. Your Memorialist is likewise under the necessity of entreating, and she now does in the most humble manner, entreats that the Legislature of the United States would also take her necessitous circumstances into their wise consideration, and make some provision for the subsistence of herself and her children, in order that she may have some alleviation of her accumulated load of human woe.

as in Duty bound shall ever pray

Hannah Stephens

Negotiations continued, some ransom demands were met, and attempts were made to secure peace treaties. Isaac Stephens was finally freed in 1797. His subsequent petition for monetary compensation, however, was refused. Meanwhile it had become clear that diplomacy was not going to solve the problem. Force was needed. Money was appropriated for a navy and ultimately the United States waged an undeclared war against the North African states of Morocco, Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis from 1801 to 1815 (recall “to the shores of Tripoli” in the Marine hymn). While it did not completely end acts of piracy it did show that the United States could and would wage a war far from its shores.

Stephens’ petition can be found HERE.
Additional background material: Documents to the People Vol 36, No 1 (2008), pp 32-36.

posted July 12th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Barbary Pirates,Britain,Stephens, Hannah

“that retiring grace, which awes whilst it enchants”

ABIGAIL ADAMS finishes her long letter to her sister Mary Cranch in which she described their experiences and the impressions she had of the places they stopped at and the people they met. The map of Devon shows these towns they visited: Axbridge, Exeter, Plymouth, and Kingsbridge. I have included Abigail’s description of members of the Cranch family because of the comments she makes about their place in British society and because she compares the class system in England to social status in the United States. Note Abigail’s comments on women: she was very critical of the behavior of upper class women in England and thought it appropriate that women affect a “retiring grace.”

Our next movement was to Kingsbridge. . . . the chief resort of the Cranch family. We arrived at the inn about six o’clock on Saturday evening. About eight, we were saluted with a ringing of bells, a circumstance we little expected. Very soon we were visited by the various branches of the Cranch family, both male and female, amounting to fifteen persons ; but, as they made a strange jumble in my head, I persuaded my fellow traveller to make me out a genealogical table, which I send you. Mr. and Mrs. Burnell, and Mr. and Mrs. Trathan, both offered us beds and accommodations at their houses; but we were too numerous to accept their kind invitations, though we engaged ourselves to dine with Mr. Burnell, and to drink tea with Mr. Trathan, the next dav. Mrs. Burnell has a strong resemblance to Mrs. Palmer. She is a genteel woman, and easy and polite. We dined at a very pretty dinner, and after meeting drank tea at the other house, Mr. Trathan’s. Their houses are very small, but every thing neat and comfortable. Mr. Burnell is a shoemaker, worth five thousand pounds; and Mr. Trathan a grocer, in good circumstances. The rest of the families joined us at the two houses. They are all serious, industrious, good people, amongst whom the greatest family harmony appears to subsist.

The people of this county appear more like our New England people than any I have met with in this country before; but the distinction between tradesmen and gentry, as they are termed, is widely different from that distinction in our country. With us, in point of education and manners, the learned professions, and many merchants, farmers and tradesmen, are upon an equality with the gentry of this country. It would be degrading to compare them with many of the nobility here.

As to the ladies of this country, their manners appear to be totally depraved. It is in the middle ranks of society, that virtue and morality are yet to be found. Nothing does more injury to the female character than frequenting public places; and the rage which prevails now for the watering-places, and the increased number of them, are become a national evil, as they promote and encourage dissipation, mix all characters promiscuously, and are the resort of the most unprincipled female characters, who are not ashamed to show their faces wherever men dare to go. Modesty and diffidence are called ill-breeding and ignorance of the world; an impudent stare is substituted in lieu of that modest deportment, and that retiring grace, which awes whilst it enchants. I have never seen a female model here of such unaffected, modest, and sweetly amiable manners as Mrs. Guild, Mrs. Russell, and many other American females exhibit.
Having filled eight pages, I think it is near time to hasten to a close. Cushing and Folger are both arrived; by each I have received letters from you. A new sheet of paper must contain a reply to them. This little space shall assure you of what is not confined to time or place, the ardent affection of your sister,
A. A.

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.

posted August 15th, 2016 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Britain,Cranch, Mary,Travel

Axminster

ABIGAIL ADAMS continued to describe the trip she and John took to the West Country of England in a letter to her sister Mary Cranch in 1787. Their tour took them next to Axminster, noted for beautiful carpets. The “manufactory” there was started by John Whitty in 1755 and the quality, colors, and designs of his woolen carpets made them popular with the rich and famous everywhere. The illustration is a detail from a carpet dated 1791; it is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

From Wevmouth, our next excursion was to Axminster, the first town in the county of Devonshire. It is a small place, but has two manufactures of note: one of carpets, and one of tapes; both of which we visited. The manufactory of the carpets is wholly performed by women and children. You would have been surprised to see in how ordinary a building this rich manufactory was carried on. A few glass windows in some of our barns would be equal to it. They have but two prices for their carpets woven here; the one is eighteen shillings, and the other twenty-four, a square yard. They are woven of any dimensions you please, and without a seam. The colors are most beautiful, and the carpets very durable.

The next section of the letter is concerned with meeting relatives of Mr. Cranch. Afterwards:

[Mr. J. Cranch] accompanied us in our journey to Exeter, Plymouth, and Kingsbridge. At Exeter, we tarried from Saturday till Monday afternoon. . . . From Exeter, we went to Plymouth ; there we tarried several davs, and visited the fortifications and Plymouth dock . . . . The natural advantages of this place are superior to any I have before seen, commanding a wide and extensive view of the ocean, the whole town of Plymouth, and the adjacent country, with the mountains of Cornwall. I have not much to say with respect to the improvements of art. There is a large park, well stocked with deer, and some shady walks ; but there are no grottos, statuary, sculpture, or temples. At Plymouth, we were visited by a Mr. and Mrs. Sawry*, with whom we drank tea one afternoon. Mr. Sawry is well known to many Americans, who were prisoners in Plymouth jail during the late war. The money which was raised for their relief passed through his hands, and he was very kind to them, assisting many in their escape. . . .

* Miles Saurey, a linen draper of Plymouth, England, assisted American prisoners at Mill Prison during the Revolution by providing them with food, clothing, newspapers, and cash.

Read the conclusion of Abigail Adams’s letter in the next post.

Source: Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840.

posted August 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Axminster carpets,Britain

“for the first time in my life, I tried the experiment”

ABIGAIL ADAMS continues her letter to her sister Mary Cranch describing the trip she and her husband took to the West Country of England in 1787. In Southampton Abigail took a dip. During the 1780s bathing in the sea began to be considered healthful.

“Machines,” such as the one illustrated, allowed a woman to change into her bathing costume and slip into the sea in a protected environment away from prying eyes. It is not clear whether Abigail used one of these but it does sound like it. The woman who assisted the bather was called a “dipper.”

Proceeding to Weymouth, Abigail was distressed by the poverty she witnessed and the inability of the ordinary folk to better themselves given the circumstances in which they lived. She was proud that in America, in addition to its other advantages, it was relatively easy to acquire property.

From Winchester we proceeded to Southampton, which is a very pretty seaport town, and much frequented during the summer months as a bathingplace; and here, for the first time in my life, I tried the experiment. It would be delightful in our warm weather, as well as very salubrious, if such conveniences were erected in Boston, Braintree, and Weymouth, which they might be, with little expense. The places are under cover. You have a woman for a guide, a small dressing-room to yourself, an oil-cloth cap, a flannel gown, and socks for the feet.

We tarried only two days at Southampton, and went ten miles out of our way in order to visit Weymouth, merely for its name. This, like my native town, is a hilly country, a small seaport, with very little business, and wholly supported by the resort of company during the summer months. For those persons, who have not country-houses of their own, resort to the watering-places, as they are called, during the summer months, it being too vulgar and unfashionable to remain in London. But where the object of one is health, that of fifty is pleasure, however far they fall short of the object.

This whole town is the property of a widow lady. Houses are built by the tenants, and taken at liferents, which, upon the decease of the lessees, revert back again to the owner of the soil. Thus is the landed property of this country vested in lordships and in the hands of the rich altogether. The peasantry are but slaves to the lord, notwithstanding the mighty boast they make of liberty. Sixpence and sevenpence per day is the usual wages given to laborers, who are to feed themselves out of the pittance. In travelling through a country, fertile as the garden of Eden, loaded with a golden harvest, plenty smiling on every side, one would imagine that the voice of Poverty was rarely heard, and that she was seldom seen, but in the abodes of indolence or vice. But it is far otherwise. The money earned by the sweat of the brow must go to feed the pampered lord and fatten the greedy bishop, whilst the miserable, shattered, thatched-roof cottage crumbles to the dust for want of repair. To hundreds and hundreds of these abodes have I been a witness in my late journey. The cheering rays of the sun are totally excluded, unless they find admittance through the decayed roof, equally exposed to cold and the inclement season. A few rags for a bed and a jointstool comprise the chief of their furniture, whilst their own appearance is more wretched than one can well conceive. During the season of hay and harvest, men, women, and children are to be seen laboring in the fields: but, as this is a very small part of the year, the little they then acquire is soon expended; and how they keep soul and body together the remainder of the year is very hard to tell. It must be owing to this very unequal distribution of property, that the poor-rate is become such an intolerable burden. The inhabitants are very thinly scattered through the country, though large towns are well peopled.

To reside in and near London, and to judge of the country from what one sees here, would be forming a very erroneous opinion. How little cause of complaint have the inhabitants of the United States, when they compare their situation, not with despotic monarchies, but with this land of freedom ! The ease with which honest industry may acquire property in America, the equal distribution of justice to the poor as well as the rich, and the personal liberty they enjoy, all, all call upon them to support their government and laws, to respect their rulers, and gratefully acknowledge their superior blessings. . . .

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 image of the bathing machine was taken from this SITE.

posted August 8th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Amusements,Britain,Health

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