“markets. , . . Good shops, but very dear”

REBECCA STODDERT, the wife of Benjamin Stoddert, Preisdent John Adams’s secretary of the navy, wrote again to her niece Eliza on January 23, 1799. She didn’t like Philadelphia very much.

By the time you receive this, the wonder of all the family at Graden that I should have gone to the President’s ball will be at an end. I shall set you all a-wondering again on another account, when I tell you that I have not bought an article of dress except a calico gown and a Dunstable bonnet*, which latter I soon quarreled with and gave to Betsy [her daughter Elizabeth], whom it suits much better than myself; in its stead I bought a blue satin slouch; and yet I go out every now and then to dinner. The satin is the only thing that I have appeared in on such occasions; and before I dined at the President’s it underwent a little reform. But next week I shall add considerable to my wardrobe; and I must get a smart dress bonnet. Old, as well as young, have their hair dressed. I am not sure that I shall not; but I hardly think is possible that I shall, especially as the great ball is over.

I have only been three times to church since I came here, and must own I was rather disappointed. The singing is not as great as I expected; and still the congregation behaved very well. A delightful organ too; but yet there was something, I don’t know what, wanting to make it answer the idea I had formed of the church in Philadelphia. I intend to try another soon. . . .

Nancy is more troublesome, if possible, than ever; pretends to be very fond of learning music. which is the only thing she has been taught since she came here. Neither she, Harriet [10], nor Richard [6] have been to school yet, because I haven’t been able to find one near our house; but as the spring approaches I shall look out for one, and shall not care if they do have a long walk. Mr. Stoddert has lately given twenty dollars for a hobby horse,—a delightful amusement for them all, you may be sure. . . .

Mrs. Weems stayed a week with me. . . . I took her advice, and opened the holes in my ears. You may remember, perhaps, to have heard me say they were bored formerly. I now have lead in them, but intend to get a pair of plain rings. . . .

I cannot imagine what has put it in your head that I am so delighted with Philadelphia. Upon my word and honor, I am not; nor have I by any means that preference for it which you suppose. It has some advantages over small towns, and to mention a few, I will begin with the churches. The markets, too, are a thing of no little consequence. Good shops, but very dear. . . .

I was at Christ Church this morning, and am very much pleased with it. I am fortunate enough to have the use of a pew there, too. Bishop White read the service, but unluckily, a man that I am not partial to preached.

The yellow fever is certainly in the city. Indeed, I understand that Dr. Rush says it has never been clear of it since ninety-three. I am not uneasy yet, even for Mr. Stoddert’s safety. As for my own, I shall never bestow a thought on it.
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* Straw bonnets imported from Dunstable, England, were becoming popular in the late eighteenth century.

Kate Mason Rowland, “Philadelphia a Century Ago, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, 1898, 807-809. Charles Willson Peale painted the portrait of three Stoddert children in 1789. Elizabeth the oldest is on the left, baby Harriet is one year old, Benjamin, Jr. is on the right. The painting is owned by National Society of the Colonial Dames of America and is at Dumbarton House Washington D.C.


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