Thursday, December 30, 2010

A notable Philadelphian socialite Mrs. Samuel Blodget, distinguished by sprightliness and wit, is painted by Stuart

Being interested in the time period of Samuel Meeker, I bought a book which was ‘discarded’ from the “Abraham Lincoln Junior High School Library” in Lancaster Pennsylvania. I must have found it online. The book is entitled “Social Life in the Early Republic” (Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, first published 1902) and I suppose I understand why it was eventually discarded, not offering exactly an intensive in-depth analysis of those times, but offering simple anecdotes of various noted families, their connections, and descriptions of dignified and charming individuals. Who married whom, who was renown and why, and inbetween interesting and worthy stories for example on the choice of the site of the new capital after it moved from Philadelphia, the architect and who owned the land etc. Lots of names. So, in the course of reading this book, on the topic of ‘homes and hostelries’, my interest was piqued with the following paragraph (and one can glean an idea of the writing style of the author): “Blodget’s Hotel occupied the site of a portion of the Post-office Department. A house on Sixteenth Street, near what is now Scott Circle, was marked as that of Samuel Blodget in the early plans of Washington; but there is no record of the Blodget family having lived in the new city. Mrs. Blodget, daughter of the Rev. William Smith, first provost of the University of Pennsylvania, was a noted beauty, which reputation her portrait of Gilbert Stuart fully establishes. An independent, original woman Mrs. Blodget seems to have been, not hesitating to express her opinions freely about people and places, and very much amusing a recent acquaintance by announcing that her children “all resembled Mr. Blodget, having small eyes and a comical look.” One of her daughters she classified as “a beauty, but a vixen,” while another, she said, was “not pretty, but a sweet creature.”
I determined to find an image of this exotic bird!

from Lawrence Park
Mrs. Samuel Blodget 1772-1837
Rebecca, daughter of the Reverend William and Rebecca (Moore) Smith of Philadelphia. It is said that she was one of the most admired beauties that ever adorned the drawing room of Philadelphia and as much distinguished by sprightliness and wit as by personal comeliness. In 1792 she married Samuel Blodget, Jr (1755-1814) of Woburn, Ma, Washington, District of Columbia, and afterwards Philadelphia, Pa.


Stuart also painted Rebecca's father the Reverend William Smith, whom he knew well. The stately gentleman has a big nose, similar to his daughter's. Perhaps I will show him next! Stuart "lived in a house owned by Smith's son William Moore Smith in Philadelphia, where at least one sitting with George Washington took place..." (Gilbert Stuart by Barratt and Miles p 227) Rebecca's portrait is unfinished, one has to wonder why in this case.
Husband Samuel Blodget Jr was an architect and assisted Stuart in the design of the backgrounds of his Landsdowne portrait of Washington and that of his father-in-law.

Mrs. Samuel Blodget
Philadelphia c.1798 by Gilbert Stuart
collection Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Robert Morris writes a check, Philadelphia 1785.

Click on the image for a bigger and better view!

See the entry previous to this for more on Robert Morris (1734-1806), American Rebel & Financier who played a major role in arranging the funding of the American Revolution, and setting up our fledgling financial system! Meeker was also involved in banking, getting together with other rich young men to start up and fight for the charter of
The Philadelphia National Bank
[Similarly to Gilbert Stuart, Morris spent time in debtors prison. Fortune smiled on Samuel Meeker and he did not go to debtors prison, however, he was excluded from the board of the bank in 1807 for exceeding limits of his loans too often.]
Image courtesy of Albert and Ethel Herzstein Library, San Jacinto Museum of History (Houston) and sent to me by a descendent of Mr. Wister, friend and aficionado of this time period, D. McCann

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The mercantile world of Samuel Meeker comes alive in a new biography of Robert Morris; & his portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Robert Morris 1734-1806

There is a new biography out on the American rebel/financier; Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye. The following excerpts are from “This Rebel Came Armed with a Balance Sheet”, article from the Wall St Journal Nov 27-28 2010 by John Steele Gordon.

When most people think about the American Revolution, they think about the remarkable ideals that lay behind it and that guide the country still, or they think of the war itself, with Gen. Washington’s men freezing and half-starved at Valley Forge.
What doesn’t come to mind very often is how the Revolution was paid for. “Wars are fought with silver bullets,” according to a Chinese saying, meaning that the side with the most money usually wins. But in the case of the revolution, Great Britain--the richest country in Europe and the possessor of the most advanced financial system--lost despite its silver bullets. And it lost to a ragtag bunch of former colonies that didn’t have a regular money supply, let alone a financial system. Nor did the rebels have the capacity to manufacture arms or gunpowder in any quantity.
Morris, who was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, never fought in battle. But it’s doubtful that the US could have won its independence without him. Born in Liverpool, England, he was the son of a man employed as a tobacco factor handling the British side of the vast trade with the Chesapeake colonies. Morris’s father left for America when Robert was still a toddler. At age 13, the boy followed his father to this country and was soon sent to Philadelphia to study.
Mr. Rappleye has a gift for explaining the complicated financial and mercantile world of the late 18th century, the milieu in which Robert Morris grew up, thrived and, eventually, went broke.
...a great story, told with narrative skill and scholarly authority....
I think, in order to better understand the mercantile world that Meeker thrived in, this book is a must for me! I will post relevant followups.
ROBERT MORRIS by Gilbert Stuart Philadelphia, 1795
from Lawrence Park: Robert Morris 1734-1806

A son of Robert Morris, a merchant of Liverpool, England, who immigrated to Maryland in 1747. The son, Robert, married in 1769 Mary White. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1776-1778; prime mover in establishing the Pennsylvania Bank in 1780; founder of the Bank of North America in 1781; United States Senator from Pennsylvania from 1789 to 1795; and was imprisoned for debt from 1798 to 1801. He was known as the great financier of the Revolution.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thomas Jefferson, Goethe, & Weltschmerz

Thomas Jefferson by Gilbert Stuart

At the moment I am reading "Thomas Jefferson", a bio of Jefferson by Fawn Brodie. I don't have to remind you that Jefferson became President of the United States in 1801. Now, one of the main reasons I, as opposed to other family members, was interested in the Samuel Meeker portrait was because he was a peer of Goethe. As was Jefferson.

Here is a tale of a lovesick Jefferson taken from Brodie's biography: "In April [1764] he barely missed seeing the new Mrs. Ambler [a passion of Jefferson, she married another fellow] at a party at the home of Frances Burwell..., to which he had been invited. "What I high figure I should have cut had I gone!" he wrote to Page. "When I heard who visited you there I thought I had met with the narrowest escape in the world. I wonder how I should have behaved? I am sure I should have been at a great loss." The deprivation for Jefferson in losing Rebecca Burwell was more anguishing than has been acknowledged by some of his biographers. Malone holds that 'Jefferson carried on this rather absurd affair mostly in his imagination.' Nathan Schachner believes 'his passion could not have been too unmanageable, for he made no move to journey down to see her,' and labels his melancholy 'sentimental Weltschmerz.' "

Sentimental Weltschmerz can be roughly translated into an emotional 'ennuie and sadness with the world'~ This feeling and expression of emotion, by men, was increasingly common in the mid 1700s to the early 1800s, culminating in the novel "Die Leiden des jungen Werther" (The Sorrows of Young Werther) by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in 1775, when he was 25. In this fiction told in letter-form, Goethe capitalized on the fad of men expressing suffering, emotion, ennuie [this was the time of Sturm und Drang]~ and with the publication of this story of male suffering, Goethe enjoyed huge success as his book became the main topic of the salons, and he became a worldwide celebrity.

"Die Leiden des jungen Werther" gelten den meisten nur als gefühlvoller Liebesroman, und das Werk ist in der Tat einer der schoensten and leidenschaftlichsten Liebesromane der Weltliteratur.

Jefferson was devastated at the death of his wife Martha, he never married again, but his long term relationship with Sally Hemmings raised eyebrows, for she was a slave. Goethe would have approved, or lets say, he would not have disapproved. He knew very well what it was like to transgress social norms.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When I saw this statue in the garden of the villa Mount Pleasant on the Schuylkill, I wondered if it was once in...the villa garden of Fountain Green!

Below is the William Birch illustration of the country seat of Samuel Meeker on the Schuylkill River Philadelphia (courtesy of the River Print Department & Digital Collections Library Company of Philadelphia), the famed estate called Fountain Green. The estate, oringially comprising over 300 acres when first deeded to the Mifflin family by British royalty, was by now only about 25 acres but still maintaining substantial financial worth, considering its proximity to the river, and amid sizable increases in the price of real estate post revolution. (The canal was new and was not finished at the time. I have yet to understand the reason why this canal was built in the first place, and then taken away.) Just below the full depiction of Fountain Green is, in detail, the statue adorning the garden grounds. Look at it closely. Does it not look eerily similar to the statue I photographed in the garden of the neighboring villa Mount Pleasant, this summer? Here is my theory. When the villa Fountain Green burned, sometime in the 1870s, the owners of neighboring Mount Pleasant either bought at auction, or salvaged, the statue and put it in their garden. Is it an original piece from Samuel Meeker's days? I think it would be very difficult to find out... I will try! But, I think it is.

statue presently in the front garden of Mount Pleasant...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On the south side of Fountain Green was The Cliffs, an unbelievably sad story of a once stately country villa!

“Fountain Green, the seat next beyond the Cliffs, originally belonged to Samuel Mifflin.... The grounds ran over to what was called Mifflin’s Lane. Mr. Mifflin died in 1781, and Samuel Meeker became the owner” (... from History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884 by T Scharf, T Westcott pub L.H. Everts & Co. Philadelphia 1884). ...this was the first ever info I found that my guy, Samuel Meeker merchant of Philadelphia and my ancestor, owned a country estate near Philadelphia. Wowsie! According to this (amazing) description, for a long time I thought Fountain Green was located high on some cliffs overlooking the Schuylkill River (I thought these cliffs provided the caves for Engel & Wolf lager beer brewery, all very logical!). Later I was astounded, and totally exhilarated, to find Samuel’s house Fountain Green illustrated by William Birch! But one thing, it seemed so close, level to the water, and not on some cliffs. Most likely an artist’s twist on the reality.... hmmmm. A few years later, and I discovered that the Cliffs was actually a house!

In the last entry I established that on the north side of Fountain Green was the neighboring estate called Mount Pleasant built by sea captain John Macpherson in 1763. On the other side of where Fountain Green used to be, is the house called the Cliffs. The Cliffs was built in 1753 by Philadelphia merchant Joshua Fisher, a Quaker (1707-1783). Like Mount Pleasant and Fountain Green, the estate surrounding the house included a farm, although in general, life in this region was not an agrarian economy. Many farmed and sold their crops, but capital stemmed mainly from trade, shipping, law, banking and real estate (Meeker excelled at a number of these!)

Joshua Fisher was the grandson of John Fisher who came to America on board the "Welcome" with William Penn. He married Sarah Rowland, and as a young man started a hat-making business using the locally plentiful animal skins (click here for the portrait of Mr. Sturgis who became rich from the hat (& opium!) business). The trade in animal pelts flourished and eventually Joshua started a business with his sons called "Joshua Fisher & Sons". Customers were able to order items from a catalogue such as porcelain, silverware, brass pulls for dressers, and every other imaginable type of merchandise. The business prospered because customers could receive reasonably priced goods within weeks. Joshua became wealthy, and started the first packet line of ships to sail regularly between Philadelphia andLondon.
Moving his family to downtown Philadelphia in 1746, Joshua built the Cliffs as a country getaway for the summers (for fun and to get away from the fever epidemics which would sweep through the city). It signaled his socioeconomic “arrival” and showcased his newfound wealth.
The house remained in the Fisher family for more than 100 years until the Fairmount Park Commission purchased it (and all the other villas in the confines of the ‘new’ park, an early example of eminent domain?) in 1868. The house was rented and maintained until the 1960s when it became vacant. The house had a substantial amount of woodwork and paneling. It was taken over and repaired in the 1960s by the Shackamaxon Society, a local civic group.
Incredibly, the Cliffs was vandalized in the 1970s & 80s, possibly due to publicity that the Fairmount Park Commission allowed city officials to live in the park's 45 historic houses rent-free. As a result of the news stories, the Park Commission decided to charge rent, but renters could not be found for some of the houses. Those that were occupied were thereby protected and maintained. The Cliffs was unoccupied from 1970, and due to a lack of funds, neither the Park Commission nor the Shackamaxon Society could maintain it.
The Cliffs burned on February 22, 1986, due to vandalism and arson. Firefighters were unable to extinguish the fire because their heavy trucks sank in the clay earth surrounding the house. The clay had been trucked into the site in order to cover an area near the house used as a dump for refuse from various municipal construction projects. (info courtesy of wiki, as is the photo of the ruin)
What a terribly sad fate! Fountain Green burned too, to the ground.

Satellite image of The Cliffs by googleearth, this is how it is today!

I knew I only had 3 days in Philadelphia, to explore and to research, but one of the things I really wanted to do was find this burnt out shell, so close to Fountain Green, which would have meant slashing my way through brush and bramble! In the satellite image, the road is below the railroad tracks, and the tracks are set up high. With limited time and no one to join me in such an excursion, I did the less adventurous route, and took an appropriate tour of Mount Pleasant. In the next entry, I will show the satellite view of all three properties.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mount Pleasant, the neighboring country estate to Fountain Green, on the Schuylkill River

Mount Pleasant, splendid villa about a 10 min walk from where Fountain Green used to be.


In August I visited Philadelphia and was able to further my sleuthing of Meeker, and in particular I found out more about his country estate Fountain Green on the Schuylkill River, which he was able to purchase from the Mifflin family through a bank auction in 1799. There seems to be some confusion about the location of Fountain Green because with time, Governor Mifflin is alleged to have live there (more on this topic later.) The location of Fountain Green is now pinned down. If one looks at the map of Fairmount Park along the banks of the Schuylkill River, running through the center of Philly, Fountain Green was between Mount Pleasant (pictured above) and a country home called the Cliffs, both of which still exist; however the Cliffs is in ruins and can not be seen. But at least I was able to visit Mount Pleasant, just slightly past where Fountain Green was once located, and up a small hill. The road running up this hill leading to Mount Pleasant is now called Fountain Green Drive.

The home was closed, but was graciously opened up for me and my friend Susan (see Susan's blog on Philly beauty Rebecca Gratz). In 1761 this land was aquired by a sea captain named Capt. John Macpherson who made a fortune in a short amount of time in the French and Indian War. When the war ended in 1763 Macpherson was ready to make an appropriate display of his wealth and social prestige, and built Mount Pleasant which was described by John Adams as “the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania.” He developed his estate with fields for sheep and cows, orchards, and a large, Scottish-style walled garden in which he grew such luxuries as asparagus, strawberries, and artichokes. Here he lived with wife and children for a while (becoming estranged from his wife, a son died in the Am Rev), renting it during periods of financial difficulty, and finally sold it in 1779. After changing hands several times, in 1791 it was sold to General Jonathan Williams (1751-1815). He was a great nephew of Benjamin Franklin, was chief of the Corps of Engineers, United States Army, and first superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He directed the fortification of New York Harbor, and was active in the defense of the Delaware in the War of 1812. In his absence, his wife Mariamne was left in charge of Mount Pleasant and the farm. The Williams family lived there until the City of Philadelphia bought the property in 1869 and it became part of Fairmount Park.

As Meeker bought Fountain Green in 1799, eight years after Mount Pleasant was bought by Gen Williams, these two families would have been neighbors. Fountain Green at this time comprised 2 parcels; a smaller part along the river, and a much larger part which neighbored the Williams estate, extending away from the river.

This statue is in the garden of Mount Pleasant. I noticed it right away.
The reason why.........stay tuned!


Sunday, September 26, 2010

James Madison finishes the Constitution in September 1787, an early Republican and a father of American Politics

James Madison by Gibert Stuart:
the portrait was painted for the Honorable James Bowdoin and presented by him to Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution, reflecting his role in planning, writing and ratifying the nation's fundamental law. This should be his month: The Constitutional Convention, where he starred, finished the document in September 1787. And Congress sent the amendments that became the Bill of Rights—which Madison also played a major role in shaping—to the states in September 1789.
But Madison has another claim on our attention. He is the father of American politics as we know it.
Madison helped establish America's first political party, the Republicans. In 1791, as a representative from Virginia, he joined Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson on a trip through upstate NY and New England, supposedly collecting biological specimens for the American Philosophical Society but actually collecting political allies for themselves. The politician they wished to combat, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, already wielded great power through his office, and hence he was somewhat slower to organize a party; when he did, it took the name Federalists.
Madison and Jefferson built better than Hamilton: the Federalists disappeared as a national party in 1816, while the old Republicans march on today as the Democrats. (The modern GOP is an unrelated organization established in 1854.)
Madison helped found the first party newspaper, the National Gazette. He recruited the paper’s first editor, Philip Freneau, a versifier and college chum. Jefferson gave Freneau a nominal job as a translator in the State Dept and in his free time Freneau smacked Hamilton in prose. Madison’s interest in newspapers flowed from his interest in the power of public opinion. “Whatever facilitates a general intercourse of sentiments,” he wrote in a December 1791 National Gazette essay, “...a circulation of newspapers throughout the entire body of the favorable to liberty.” Then “every good citizen will be...a sentinel over the rights of the people.”

Drowning in both media and poll data today, we understand the importance of regularly measuring public opinion. But in the early republic consulting public opinion was a new concept.
The Federalists had little use for it. They thought the people should rule at the polls, then let the victors do their best until the next election. Madison foresaw, and applauded, our world of 24/7 news, comment and pulse-taking before it existed.
Madison belonged to an early form of the political machine, the dynasty. America had revolted against George III and the House of Hanover, but the dynastic temptation lingered on. Federalist John Adams, our second president, saw his eldest son, John Quincy Adams, become the sixth president. But the Adamses were unpopular one-termers. Between them stretched the Virginia Dynasty—two terms of Jefferson, two terms of Madison, two terms of James Monroe—24 years of government by friends and neighbors.The Adams—and the Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons in our day—had dynasties of blood and marriage. Jefferson, Madison and Monroe made a dynasty of ideological brotherhood.

Not that Madison ignored the political importance of marriage. After an unhappy courtship in his early 30s, he left romance alone until he was 43, when he married a pretty widow, Dolley Payne Todd (click here for more). When Madison took office as Secretary of State (1801) and as president in 1809, Dolley Madison became more than a hostess. She was a political wife, America’s first: half a campaign tag-team, and often the better half. Gregarious and outgoing, she completed her husband’s personality, which was shy and stiff except with intimates.
Martha Washington, the first First Lady, was beloved but domestic; Abigail Adams, the second, was political but abrasive. Thomas Jefferson, the third president, was a widower. As one US senator put it, only Madison had “a wife to aid in his pretensions.”
Madison succeeded as a politial innovator because he was good at politics. He did what came naturally to him: agenda-setting, committee work, parliamentary maneuvering. He grew up in a family as large as an oyster bed—six siblings who survived childhood, numerous nieces, nephews and cousins—good training for a future legislator.
He worked at what didn’t come naturally; public speaking and campaigning. His voice was weak; time and again, note takers at debates he participated in left blanks in his remarks or simply gave up, becuase Mr. Madison “could not be distinctly heard.” Yet when circumstances required it, he took on the flamboyant Patrick Henry and once tangled with his friend Monroe in the open air of a snow storm so bitter he got frost bite on his nose. He won both debates.
Madison played well with others. He worked with George Washington, profiting from his charisma and judgment, and before they fell out with Hamilton, profiting from his exuberance. (Hamilton tapped Madison to contribute to the Federalists papers, which was initially Hamilton’s project; Madison wrote 29 of the 85 essays.) As President, he learned something about money and the world from his Treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin. He was a great man who was not afraid of assisting or deferring to other great men (another legacy of his tight family life.) He also worked with the less-than-great; hatchet-men, gossips, wire-pullers. They do the work of politics too. They are part of the game. James Madison helped build a republic. He was also an ambitious party activist who counted votes, stumped, spoke, scratched backs and (when necessary) stabbed them. He would not be afraid of the contrast, for his deepest thinking told him that the architects of liberty had to understand and sometimes use the ordinary political materials of ambition and self-advancement to ensure that this republic would endure.
an article by Richard Brookhiser

Monday, August 9, 2010

travelling back to my roots

Thats MY ROOM!!!

On Aug 22 I will arrive in Philadelphia, for the first time in my life. So much to do, so little time! Only 3 days in the city, for really the trip is a highschool reunion taking place in Virginia Beach (my highschool, International School Bangkok, meets every two years for all those that attended the school.) So I am fitting in this little side trip. Hope to find "Fountain Green" in Fairmount Park although it is long gone, but the ruins of the "Cliffs" still remain, the "house next door". Will I have to cut my way through bush and bramble? And to think Fountain Green, the 300 acre estate owned for so many generations by the Mifflin family, was once so famous! and now gone to dust, ...and forgotton. I wonder what happened to the natural spring fountain, for which the house was named! Will be looking for documents on my ancestor, Samuel Meeker.
Well hey, yes, the room with a view is expensive! But worth it, don't you think?!!!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The semblance slays me. Pops and Samuel.

My grandfather Benjamin Hyde Cory (1896-1983). Born in Fresno, Ca.
Here he is as a young man, most likely during his undergrad years at Princeton. He later graduated from Harvard Law and returned to California. Add about 20 years, turn his face in the same direction as Meeker.
The lips, the nose, the forehead, the sleepy lidded eyes. Bit of a wave to the hair. His great great grandmother was Phoebe Meeker, twin sister of Samuel.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 4th, 1811: "The first regiment of the Pennsylvania Cavalry--always ready in the defence of their country's rights!"

In my everongoing sleuthing on my ancestor Samuel Meeker, I have discovered that most likely he left the family home of the Westfields NJ for residence in Philadelphia as early as 1787, when he was 24. Why? Possibly to join the army! I now know that in that year he was a private in the 'First Company, Second City Battalion, Colonel James Read.' Within 6 years he started his own business (surely with the help of family money, his father [aka Captain Samuel Meeker] could be considered wealthy as he owned a travelling chair--no easy bank lending back then!), a partnership with Alexander Cochran who was the husband of Samuel's twin sister (my gt gt gt gt grandmother) Phebe.
Phebe was married to Mr. Alexander Cochran on Feb. 26, 1792 in the prominent “Second Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.”
Notably the marriage, as many marriages of well-to-do citizens in Philadelphia at this time, was recorded in the “Centinel.”
Who knows which came first, Phebe's divorce or the breakup of this partnership, but in September of 1797 the Meeker Cochran business was dissolved. (I am descended from Phebe's second marriage to Brookfield). A new business partnership Meeker, Denman & Co was formed and located at No. 20 South Front St, Philadelphia.

Yet during all of these busy and tumultuous years, Meeker rose through the ranks to finally become captain of the Third City Troop, or "Volunteer Greens"--part of a voluntary cavalry consisting of nearly three hundred men, and a proud remnant of the revolutionary army. By the summer of 1811, with war against the mother country looming on the horizon (War of 1812, recall that Stuart's portrait of Washington was saved from being burned by the British by Dolly Madison!), the air was electrified with a military spirit. On the 4th of July, 1811, Captain Samuel Meeker proudly proclaimed in a toast in front of the troops:

"The first regiment of the Pennsylvania Cavalry--always ready in the defence of their country's rights!"

The Second Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry W. A. Newman Dorland
The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 54, No. 2 (1930), pp. 175-185


Friday, July 16, 2010

Mrs. Andrew Sigourney (the random monthly pick)

Mrs. Andrew Sigourney
Gilbert Stuart, Boston c.1820
copied from Lawrence Park volume IV

from Lawrence Park:
Mrs. Andrew Sigourney

She was Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Howell Williams (q.v.) of Roxbury and Noddle’s Island, Massachusetts, by his wife, Elizabeth Bell. She married in 1797 Andrew Sigourney (1766-1820) of Boston.

Boston, c. 1820. She is shown nearly half-length, seated, slightly turned to the left, with her gray-blue eyes gazing at the spectator, in an Empire armchair upholstered in a figured stuff of brownish-green tones. Upon her head, which is tipped slightly forward, is a large turban of white dotted muslin, beneath which is a mass of tight curls of dark brown hair covering her temples and the sides of her forehead. Her face is thin, with delicate features and high cheek bones, and her complexion is pink and fair. The right ear does not show, but in her left is an earring of two carnelians, one hung above the other, and both encircled with small pearls. Her black silk, long-sleeved dress is open at the throat, and edged with black silk ruffles, while the neck opening is filled in with a white starched ruffled fichu. A red shawl, fallen from her shoulders, surrounds her. The hands are not shown. The background is plain and of amber-tones.

In full color!

I was not able to find much about this self-confident looking lady. Her husband seems to have been active as a Freemason, and involved with the Boston theatre. Note that this portrait was done some 17 years after Meeker's, Stuart has simplified the background (no drapery, sky) and dropped the hands. Makes (dollars &) sense, since I don't think he liked to paint hands.

Most widely held works by Andrew Sigourney
Constitution of the Grand Lodge of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. : Adopted anno lucis by Freemasons( Book )1 edition published in 1811 in English and held by 1 library worldwide
Receipt book of Andrew Sigourney, 1803-1811
by Andrew Sigourney in English and held by 1 library worldwide Account book with hand written notices dated and signed by Andrew, Daniel or Elisha Sigourney stating that they received the rent for the lobby of the Boston Theatre. The rent by paid by Stephen North from 1803 to 1809 and by Eben Oliver from 1809 to 1811.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Who commissioned the Lansdown portrait of George Washington? Why, the belle of Philly, Anne Willing Bingham! & the meaning of "Landsdown"

Anne Willing Bingham 1797 by Gilbert Stuart in private collection

wearing a pendant portrait of her husband and acclaimed by Abigail Adams as "taken altogether... the finest woman I ever saw."

The Landsdown portrait of George Washington

by Gilbert Stuart

In the post-Revolutionary period, Anne Willing Bingham became the arbiter of fashion and intellectual conversation at her home in Philadelphia. “....the house [not Landsdown] along with its formal gardens ocupied most of the ground west to Fourth Street and north to Willing’s Alley. Its marble stairs among similar features gave the house the “Roman air” now in fashion. [Note; recall the Roman statues in the garden of Fountain Green, country estate of Meeker?] ‘The chairs in the drawing-room were from Seddon’s in London of the newest taste, the back in the form of a lyre, with festoons, of yellow and crimson silk. The curtains of the room a festoon of the same. The carpet, one of Moore’s most expensive patterns. The room papered in the French taste, after the style of the Vatican in Rome’ The mirrors lining the parlors reflected social gatherings rivaling in prestige those of the president’s mansion itself.” {quote from “Houses and Early Life in Philadelphia” by Grant Miles Simon}

(con.) The lady of the house, Anne Willing Bingham, had married in 1780, when she was sixteen and her husband twenty-eight. From 1783-1786 the Binghams had traveled in England and on the continent, where Anne captivated and was captivated by the courts of St. Jame’s, Versailles, and the Hague. Rich, attractive, intelligent, shrewd, witty, and elegantly dressed, Mrs. Bingham was welcomed to the fashionable salons of the European capitals and began to form the notion of presiding over a salon of her own in Philadelphia." (from “Philadelphia a 300-year history” W.W. Norton & Co. N.Y. 1982)

Landsdown country estate

Lansdown (from “Country seats of the United States” William Russell Birch) “Lies upon the bank of the Pastoral Schuylkill, a stream of peculiar beauty, deservedly the delight and boast of the shores it fertilizes. The house was built upon a handsome and correct plan by the former governor Penn. .... William Bingham and wife, Anne (nee Willing) rented Landsdown as their country house in the summers. The Binghams were among the wealthiest citizens of the new republic and central figures in the “Federalist Court” of George Washington’s tenure in office in Philadelphia. They purchased the property in 1797 at a sheriff’s sale [Note; Meeker also bought Fountain Green on the banks of the Schuylkill at auction in 1799 upon financial distress of the previous owner] after speculator James Greenleaf had to liquidate assets to meet his creditor’s demands. ......The house was largely destroyed by fire in the middle of the nineteenth century and was demolished completely before the Centennial.”

Saturday, June 19, 2010

an AHA moment. (no sunscreen, etc)

Yesterday was nothing special or out of the ordinary, as usual watching the news on a Fri. eve (love the Shields-Brooks match up on the PBS Nightly report) when my brother Paul's girlfriend gave me a call. She wanted to drop by to show me some photoportraits of herself she had done in celebration of her 50ieth. Very nice! A lady after my heart for besides being fit (yet still brought over MaryAnn's ice cream), we ended up talking about loving things of the past and soon enough were talking about Meeker who hangs on my livingroom wall. She says, "There are two different colors in the face." and I am thinking of my response which would have been something along the lines of well yes Stuart was known for his ability to achieve translucence of the skin...............when she adds "Like, he was wearing a hat!".

I had never thought of it before, as obvious a point as it is!!! Yes, so many of Stuart's male sitters have the ruddy cheeks and whitish forehead; exactly, men were outside so much of the time, on horseback when going from one place to another thereby their hat was most likely a daily necessity (and no sun screen!), the women were inside, or when outside with hats/parasols so their faces are uniformly pale (or with the delicate blush).... and Stuart depicted the exact reality as was his norm....


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mrs. TIMOTHY PICKERING (the random monthly pick)

Rebecca White, aka Mrs. Timothy Pickering, was born in England and came over to this country in 1765 at age 11. Eleven years later (1776) she married Col. Timothy Pickering~a graduate of Harvard in 1763, admitted to the bar in 1768, & joined Washington's army in 1777. This prominent gentleman was Secretary of War in 1795, and was a Massachusetts state senator from 1803-1811.

The couple had 10 children, 8 sons and the two youngest were daughters.

"THERE is no more beautiful example of Stuart's skill than this portrait of Mrs. Timothy Pickering, painted between 1816 and 1818. Mrs. Pickering is represented seated in so natural an attitude that there is no suggestion of being "posed." Her black silk gown with folds of soft muslin about the throat, her cap of the same sheer material, trimmed with lace, and the ermine-bordered mantle of a delicious shade of old rose color which has fallen from her shoulders, are all painted with a care and finish seldom bestowed by Stuart upon the accessories of his portraits, while on the finely modeled face with its delicate flesh-tones his brush has evidently lingered with loving touch."

Masters in Art; a series of illustrated monographs. Bates and Guild Co, Boston 1906. p 37

From Lawrence Park:
Boston. Begun in 1816 and finished in 1818. Half-length, seated slightly to the right, in a carved gilded Empire chair, with her brown eyes to the spectator. Her hair is completely hidden by a white lace-trimmed handkerchief worn as a turban. She wears a black silk dress with a white muslin kerchief open at the throat, showing a necklace of pearls, and fastened with a lozenge-shaped ruby pin; an old rose velvet cloak trimmed with ermine surrounds her body and lies in folds on her lap, where it is held by her right hand, on the third finger of which is a gold ring. The backgound is plain, of greenish-brown and gray tones, with a narrow pilaster showing at the right.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Master Clarke, a special Stuart, sells at auction; how much?

Master Clarke
By Gilbert Stuart, England 1783-4,
originally in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Ferragamo, sold on May 19 to new owners

On May 19 a very special Stuart portrait was up for auction at Sotheby's spring sale of American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture. -- Stuart's earlier English paintings were not as swiftly and monotonely produced as they were in later years in America, when Stuart's intent was to streamline income. Those days in England ie when he was studying under Benjamin West, was the time in which he wished to impress the general public/art world/aristocracy with his extraordinary talent. So the portraits are more detailed, expansive and original; this particular portrait is of the son of Richard Hall Clarke of Bridwell, Halberton and his wife, a celebrated beauty. The young boy is posed among the trees in the park of his family home, holding a long bow and arrow, the sport of archery being de rigeur in the upper-class at the time. It is not clear whether he knows what to do with the gear.

So how much did it sell for?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

If you need more money, get together with cronies and create a bank.

Finance, Then and Now

by Elizabeth Ahrens-Kley
The recent economic rescue plans undertaken by the U.S. government to stave off fiscal calamity, including a $787 billion stimulus in September '08, followed less than two years later by an eye-popping $955 billion from the Europeans and IMF to prop up indebted Euro nations, makes one believe that governments around the world are not hesitating in treating tax dollars as gambling chips, seemingly without much monetary value. Losing the poker game simply means the chips are lost! Winning simply means buying time to allow debt-plagued countries to recover enough to build some fiscal and monetary credibility. George Washington, whose image by American portrait artist Gilbert Stuart is on the one dollar bill, surely would be turning as green as the color of the bill at these vast and fearsome sums. Lest history be not forgotton, a brief glimpse back at the state of banking in Philadelphia, the bustling port and capital city of America at the turn of the 19th century, will shed light into the vast gulf existing between the banking institutions of then, and now. In particular, the story of Samuel Meeker’s “overborrowing” is of interest.

Complex collateralized debt obligations did not exist, nor did savings banks, or trust and loan companies. Nor commercial banks. The Fed was not established until 1913.
In the 1780s the first American banks were small state banks (at this time there were three: Philadelphia, New York, and Boston), and there was no central banking system. With the adoption of the new constitution, the financial system was substantially reformed beginning 1788, culminating in the establishment of the First Bank of the United States in 1791 endowed with the role of aiding federal finanacial operations and leading the way to development of a US banking system. The bank was capitalized at a then whopping $10 million, the state banks at that time were only capitalized at $1 million or less. Only the First Bank of the United States was nationwide and while servicing the large government debt, the smaller state banks commonly lent capital for local and regional business, trade, and infrastructure—from the three existing state banks in 1790, the number grew to 28 by 1800, all in New England and the Middle Atlantic states.

1803 was a year in which not only Philadelphia experienced an accelerating prosperity, it was also a momentous year in the life of Samuel Meeker (1763-1831), scion of a well-known prominent family from New Jersey. Transplanted to Philadelphia in the early 1790s in search of opportunity, he was one of a group of lesser known but ambitious young men willing to challenge the restrictive lending practices of the small group of old established families which controlled the field of finance at this time in the capital. The general complaint was that money was chiefly locked into the hands of these relatively few conservative individuals, who were mainly beholden to investors in England, who lent too little locally and most often to only a favored few, substantially restricting growth of commerce; and private lenders charged much too exorbitant rates of interest. Meeker was one of these progressive-minded citizens, this group of enthusiastic amateurs inexperienced in the profession of banking, but willing to make their own gamble that the time was ripe to exploit economic potential; by establishing a new line of credit, at reasonable rates of interest, to supplement the three other banks then dominating the commercial activity of the city. These individuals, leaders responding with creative energy to the current business climate in Philadelphia (still the country’s largest and busiest port) gathered together to draw up a plan for a new Bank.

Handsome, energetic and athletic (upstanding member of the Gloucester Fox-Hunting Club!) & understanding that new avenues of capital would help lubricate the wheels of commerce and prosperity in the capital, while also benefitting his own trading business Meeker, Denman & Co., Meeker was one of sixteen directors elected to the board of the new “Philadelphia National Bank” in the summer of 1803. A subscription book was opened for the sale of stock, the total amount of the Bank’s stock was subscribed and was placed at one million dollars. Organization of the bank proceeded rapidly, the board (including Meeker) met daily, the collected money was deposited in a box at the Bank of Pennsylvania. “A proper set of books, stationery, scales, weights, shovels and other materials” were ordered and steps were taken toward the drafting of rules and regulations. A few months later in the fall, Meeker’s own business received the first loan from the Philadelphia National Bank. Not only did Meeker receive the first loan from the new bank in 1803, he and his twin sister Phebe turned 40, both these circumstances surely providing the inspiration for what transpired next. Signalling acheivement at joining the ranks of the top social and financial elite, Meeker commissioned his portrait to be done by the premier portrait artist of the day, Gilbert Stuart, to be given as a gift to his beloved sister. Since the twins’ birthday was in the summer, surely a lavish and extravagent party was thrown to celebrate the event at Meeker’s well-known country estate on the banks of the Schuylkill River, Fountain Green. Here at this two-story stone house with commodious wings built to each side the guests would arrive by horse, dine on steak butchered from cows fed in the stalls on the property, and treated to the finest fruits and vegetables grown in the highly cultivated gardens. What a fabulous excuse to leave the hot and humid city in the summer (and to escape the periodic fevers), to mingle with many of the finest citizens of the city, and view the unveiling of a new Stuart portrait!

Epilogue: it is ironic to note that only by special vote of the board could a loan by the Philadelphia National Bank be made of more than thirty thousand dollars, and that this vote was only accorded to the directors. Meeker apparently found it impossible to limit his own loans from the bank on numerous occasions, leading to his exclusion from the board in 1807. Possibly Meeker’s financial dealings were too much like gambling.
(© All rights reserved.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Wall St" is divided from "Main Street" version 1829

President Jackson declares war on the Bank of the United States
After Jackson’s first annual message to Congress in 1829, claiming that the Bank of the United States had failed in its requirement to “establish a sound and uniform currency”, the directors of The Philadelphia Bank feared disastrous results to the banking community if the Bank of the United States was forced to wind up its affairs.
Jackson was reflecting an overal populist view which was antagonistic to banks, informing Mr. Biddle (President of the Bank of the United States since 1823); “I do not dislike your Bank any more than all banks. But ever since I read the history of the South Sea bubble, I have been afraid of banks.”

The Philadelphia National Bank (for Meeker's role in the establishment of this bank click here) is against these actions by the federal government:
“The advantages which have resulted to the country from the establishment of an institution which has aided the fiscal operations of the Government in the collection and distribution of the public funds, furnished a sound circulating medium which may be considered at par in all parts of the Union, facilitated the general operations of trade and commerce, and which has by the diffusion of its capital advanced the prosperity of the people, are so obvious to all who have witnessed its operations, as to render it unnecessary to urge them in detail upon your consideration.” p64

Threat of closure by the federal government, and the actions by Jackson of removal of the federal deposits from the Bank of the United States, caused a tightening of credit in the economy and precipitated an overall panic, and by 1833 these actions were proving ruinous to commerce. The overall ensuing recession however caused other banks to extend their loan portfolios to relieve the pressure. Despite the panic,the thirties were years of great activity in the Philadelphia money market. New organizations had come on the scene; savings banks, trust companies, and loan companies. Bank capital proved insufficient, and most institutions attempted to borrow additional 1836 the Philadelphia bank tried to borrow half a million dollars in London with the assurance that ‘the business of the Bank is increasing and its affairs are properous,’ ...p66 (This did not succeed).

Ensuing inflation & the monetary system is impaired
After the loss of the government deposits in 1833, the Bank of the United States no longer had the means of regulating credit extension by the state banks, and inflation proceeded apace. It was an ominous fact that by spring, 1834, the notes of banks situated in the surrounding communities were circulating in Philadelphia at a discount. Once again, the monetary system of the United States had been wrecked, and a uniform currency had been replaced by a medley of “bank rags.” p67

quotes are from The Philadelphia National Bank 1803-1953 by Nicholas B. Wainwright, Wm F. Fell Co, Philadelphia 1953

..."In 1823, the Biddles were prosperous, having made money in real estate (a Biddle ancestor had been a member of the Proprietors), and influential, having been Free Quakers who sided with the Revolution. So, Nicholas Biddle became the president of the Second [US] Bank at 4th and Chestnut. Like all banks, he was given the ability to create money through taking deposits and loaning them out. Since in this process, two people (the depositor and the borrower) think they have the same money, there is effectively twice as much of it -- unless both actually demand it at the same time. If a bank has Federal revenues on deposit, as Biddle did, it is fairly easy for a politically active banker to predict whether that large depositor is likely to withdraw it. Political deposits seemingly make a bank stronger and safer, unless the banker has a fight with a politician. That's banking, but Biddle also became a central banker.... ......"

Monday, May 3, 2010

Stuart's "Astor" is demoted to "Gentleman" ! (trickery in the world of art?)


On May 9 2009 I posted an entry on Stuart's portrait of John Jacob Astor, about to be autioned at Soetheby's, with an estimated fetching price of only $75,000-$100,000 ("For a trifling sum of money)".

It turns out that the identification of this particular sitter as an "Astor" was done without the blessings of the professionals. The above portrait was identifed as John Jacob Astor "based only" on its similarity to another existant portrait of Mr. Astor! It seems to me that Soetheby's is supposed to check out the authenticity of each piece that comes under its hammer, and in fact perhaps that is what happened in this case. This "Portrait of a Gentleman", which the above portrait is now more humbly termed, is now once again up for grabs at auction, but at a much more modest price.

Explanation courtesy of Soetheby's;


This portrait by Gilbert Stuart had been previously identified as a portrait of John Jacob Astor, the first multimillionaire in American history. Gilbert Stuart was commissioned to paint Astor's portrait and according to Lawrence Park, the Gilbert Stuart scholar who published the 1926 four volume catalogue raisonné, he painted two versions (numbers 37 and 38 in Park's catalogue). Mr. Park identifies number 37 as the portrait that was purchased in 1909 through Charles Henry Hart for the collection of The Brook, a prominent men's club in New York City. Number 38 in Park is listed as the 2nd portrait of Astor, and the likeness Astor himself enjoyed. This portrait still remains in the Astor family today and was the subject of several lithographs after the painting. The present portrait was identified as a portrait of Astor based on its similarity to the portrait at The Brook. Further research at the Frick Art Library suggests that this portrait, and another portrait in the collection of the Van Cortlandt family, are both of a Mr. Badcock. The present work was formerly in the collection of a General Brigadier Badcock so it is possible that it descended in the family of the sitter.

Now, this portrait is currently only estimated to bring 40,000 - 60,000 USD.

Gee, too bad for the owners. Please NOTE here the importance of establishing a failsafe providence, or ownership history, of a Stuart portrait. This would have aided a quick determination of who the sitter is.

It should be added that a current expert on Gilbert Stuart, Ellen Miles (National Portrait Gallery), helped to rectify this minor misunderstanding.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A new, handsome young Banker!

This is getting a bit ahead in the story, for Meeker began to amass his wealth well before having a hand in the establishment of The Philadelphia National Bank (more on that later). But I would like to focus on this part of his career, because banking (now so much in the news where "Wall St" is divided from "Main Street") is ..... such a vastly different beast now compared to banking in those days, in the young America.....
Meeker was among the first directors, I imagine this group of lesser known young men formed as they had money to lend, and new lines of credit were very much in demand. At this time there were only three banks in Philadelphia, and these three banks, run primarily by old established families, dominated Philadelphia's commerce. The new America was flourishing, capital was available and the Lousiana Purchase had opened up vast new opportunities. The entrenched barriers errected by the old Philadelphia aristocracy were about to be torn down...
The year is 1803. The year that Stuart painted Samuel Meeker. Boom times!
“There were other directors who served on the Bank’s first boards whose services were also vital. Matthew Lawler...was a former privateersman of Revolutionary experience, and, as previously noted, was mayor of Philadelphia in 1803. A leader in the Bank’s fight for a charter was Israel Israel, sheriff of Philadelphia. Another who assisted in that task and who remained for some years a most active member was Samuel Meeker, a leading merchant and owner of a renowned country estate called Fountain Green.” p 18
The Philadelphia Bank
a print published in 1828 by William Birch

"The banking room, handsomely divided into various compartments, was twenty feet high, its ceiling embellished with moldings and tracery, 'ornaments of the 14th century.' Above the door to the money vault was carved the head of a dog (emblem of fidelity) in the act of guarding a pile of dollars, upon which the head rested. Four great windows with pointed arches rich with tracery lighted the room. " p 24

excerpts from The Philadelphia National Bank 1803-1953;
by Nicholas B. Wainright
Wm, F. Fell Co. Printers Philadelphia 1953

Thursday, April 22, 2010

more on Rachel: "Count Germond ... raved all night about her beauty ..."

Mrs. Solomon Moses (Rachel Gratz) (detail from the original portrait by GS)

In the post previous to this, I briefly described Rachel and her sister Rebecca, both known as beauties in their time in the city of Philadelphia. Her husband, Solomon Moses, surely played an appropriate role in the wooing and winning of this beautiful young lady. While investigating this young couple, I came across a blog by Susan, who has studied the family from original documents. Original documentation stemming from the sitters of Stuart are outside of the realm of this blog (except for my Samuel Meeker & co.), but Susan has kindly granted permission to quote a bit from her most recent post. Hopefully more detail on Solomon and his wife Rachel will come to light in Susan's blog.

The following excerpt below is shown here with permission taken from the blog "Rebecca Gratz & 19th-Century America", click here to be taken to the full post on Rachel, and leisurely enjoy the story of this Philadelphian family and life in the CITY in much much more detail!

"Rachel was the youngest of the three Gratz sisters still at home at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and with her mass of red-gold hair and hazel eyes, she was considered the beauty of the family. Visiting in New York in 1800, she was seen at the theater by a Count Germond who raved all night about her beauty and spent the next two days wangling an introduction (the acquaintance went no further). Rebecca received compliments from those who had met her, but only Rachel caused flutters from across the room.

Unlike her older sisters Sarah and Rebecca who were "sensible" women, Rachel was under the rule of what the age called "sensibility," a term which would translate today to "emotions and affections." Her disposition served to enhance her physical beauty........... "

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Gratz beauties of Philadelphia and the Stuart portrait of their mother

My last monthly pick (as usual a completely random opening of the Lawrence Park volumes and picking the individual upon whom my gaze happens to fall) was a man by the name of Solomon Moses. Every sitter thus far has had a tale to tell, and Solomon was no exception, although the story is less about himself (how unusual!) and more about the stunning woman he married, and her family. Her name was Rachel. Her mother was the daughter of a preeminent Jewish merchant of Lancaster and her father Michael Gratz was descended from a long line of respected rabbis. Rachel was one of TWELVE children, 7 boys and 5 girls. Rachel was the 8th child, born in 1783, she died at the early age of 40, but not before she bore Solomon 9 children. (Park describes her life as "short and unevetful.") The Gratz daughters were known for their beauty. Rachel’s sister Rebecca was famed not only for her stunning looks and thwarted love affair with a non-Jew, but for her good works during her life-time which included founding the first Hebrew Sunday School in America.
Below are the portraits of Rachel, wife of Solomon Moses, painted about the time of her wedding, her sister Rebecca painted by Thomas Sully, and her mother Miriam by GS.
Mrs. Solomon Moses (Rachel Gratz)
Boston, 1806 Gilbert Stuart
The original painting by Gilbert Stuart is on loan at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia


Stunning Sully (her portrait was not done by Stuart) portrait of sister Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869).
Rebecca never married.

"When at last Sully was offered the opportunity to paint his patroness he depicted her as a regal lady of fashion gazing pensively into the middle distance. In doing so he caught for posterity the thoughtful woman who developed and managed good works as well as the wealthy woman who loved clothes and knew how to use them to enhance her good looks."

Mrs. Michael Gratz (mother of Rachel and Rebecca)
Philadelphia 1802, Gilbert Stuart

from Rebecca Gratz & 19th-Century America: " 'In 1802 Miriam Gratz, Rebecca's mother, acceded to the requests of her children that she have her portrait painted. Rebecca went with her for her first sitting and wrote to her friend Maria Fenno about the experience. From a position "behind Stewart's chair" (that would be Gilbert Stuart she's talking about) she marveled "to see a countenance so dear to my heart appear on a board which but a few minutes before was a...piece of mahogany." She was struck by the resemblance and animation she saw in the work.

Miriam Gratz died suddenly in 1808, leaving her family in profound grief. Her husband Michael had suffered from depression for years, then sustained a stroke in 1800 from which he made a very partial recovery. He was as dependent on her as any of her children. Rebecca wrote to Maria in 1809: "We have indeed shut up our greatest treasure, the portrait of our beloved Mother, but we often visit it to weep over features too deeply graven on our hearts to require even the painter's skill to preserve. When first we were deprived of this best of parents I daily visited her picture, and felt that my only consolation was to gaze on it. But one day my father went into the room and was so overcome by looking at it, that we determined to sacrifice our wishes of having it constantly before us and close the room where it hangs.' "

from Lawrence Park:

Mrs Michael Gratz 1750-1808

Miriam, daughter of Joseph and Rosa (Bunn) Simon. She married in 1769 Michael Gratz (1740-1811), a Philadelphia merchant. Her daughter Rachel (1782-1823), Mrs. Solomon Moses, was painted by Stuart, and her husband and well-known daughter Rebecca were painted by Sully.

(I don't normally continue with the Park description of the portrait but do so here.)

Philadelphia, 1802. She is shown half-length, seated, three-quarters right, in a high, square-backed upholstered chair, studded with brass-headed nails, with her brown eyes directed to the spectator. A white lace ruffled cap with a white satin bow in front, gives only a glimpse of her hair. She wears a low-necked black dress, with a white muslin tucker, exposing the throat, and with loose sleeves reaching half-way between her elbows and wrists. About her neck is a short necklace. Her hands are brought together on her lap. In the background, a strip of light walnut panelled wall shows at the right, draped with a crimson curtain.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gilbert Stuart Spring Fair

photo courtesy of the homesite

Gilbert Stuart Spring Fair !
April 25, 2010
1 - 4 p.m.

... at the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace. Fish on the Run Program, corn grinding, Jonnycakes by Carpenter's Grist Mill, demonstrations, exhibits and sale. Gilbert Stuart Birthplace and Museum, 815 Gilbert Stuart Road, Saunderstown RI. For information call 401-294-3001 or visit


Friday, April 2, 2010

Random monthly pick: Solomon Moses 1774-1857; & ..."a cargo of beaux" !

I always look forward, somehow, to doing my Random Monthly Pick, with some minor fear and trepidation (in addition to the anticipation!) ... What if the person is entirely boring? What if he or she is a null, with a life from which no narrative unfolds! But, I think, somehow every person in some way, shape or form, can tell a story. Jewish merchant of New York, Solomon Moses, in his own special way, comes to us with an INTERESTING TWIST !

I read the entry from Park, and thought: oh oh.

from Lawrence Park;
Solomon Moses 1774-1857

A merchant in New York. In 1806 he married Rachel, daughter of Michael and Miriam (Simon) Gratz of Philadelphia.
Lawrence Park also indicates there was a bridal portrait of Rachel, wife of Solomon and says: “She was noted for her blond beauty. ...She brought up a large family of children, but her life, compared with that of her better-known sister Rebecca (1781-1869), was short and uneventful.” Then there is a brief description of the painting (shown above), and no more detail regarding the individual or portrait.

But...., I wondered....

WHO was Rebecca Gratz?

and hereupon I came across one of those specialized, wonderful blogs that have sprung up like wild flowers in the internet landscape....
"Rebecca Gratz (1781-1869), a Philadelphia philanthropist, founded the first Hebrew Sunday School in America and participated as a founding member in several other nonsectarian and Jewish charitable organizations which were among the first to be organized and run by women. Besides her good works, she is remembered today for her beauty, her thwarted love affair with a non-Jew and the persistent story that she was the inspiration for the character of Rebecca in Scott's novel Ivanhoe."

The following is an excerpt from the Rebecca Gratz blog

Sleigh Bells Ring

An unscientific survey of the weather information in Rebecca Gratz's letters shows that Philadelphia winters were as variable in the nineteenth century as they have been in more recent years. One December she is gathering roses in her garden; in another she is housebound by rain and ice. But when snow came, and it seems to have come more frequently than in the 21st century, people of Rebecca's time had one thing that added greatly to the season's charm: travel by sleigh.

On a November evening in 1800, after a snowstorm, Rebecca's friend Maria Fenno in New York wrote that there was "no other noise but the jingling of sleighs" in the street outside her house.
Lovely as the sleigh bells were, Maria's words point up their reason for being: sleighs moved silently, the horses' hoofs muffled by the snow -- the bells alerted the unwary to their approach.

In January 1805 Eliza Fenno, Maria's little sister, recorded another evening made magical by sleigh bells. A friend of Eliza's had planned to give a dance at her house, but on the day of the event there was a heavy snowstorm, and by 8 p.m. no one had come. "We were in despair when the sound of sleigh bells coming down the lane made our hearts leap...." The sleigh brought "a cargo of beaux," and more sleighs soon followed. It was "a most delightful dance," Eliza wrote Rebecca, and the party did not break up until 3 a.m.
Another pleasure the sleigh afforded was to old people whose joints could no longer take the bouncing of carriages and wagons on the truly terrible roads which existed in most parts of the country in the early nineteenth century. A sleigh, however, could give them a smooth ride to those they could no longer visit at most times of the year -- and then whisk them home again before the snow melted.
Finally, there were sleighing parties similar to the one pictured in a detail from the painting above by John Lewis Krimmel. Here a sleigh full of merrymakers is probably making a tour of inns in the area where they can stop, warm up, drink, then go on to the next hostelry. As they are pictured here, the partiers are feeling no pain, probably noisy and a menace to other traffic. Sleighs, it seems, for all their charm, could be used recklessly.

"I discovered Rebecca Gratz when I became a docent at the Rosenbach Museum & Library which has a lovely portrait of her by Thomas Sully. To learn more, I began to read the hundreds of Gratz family letters which survive in libraries around the country and found wonderful stories about Rebecca as well as information about customs, events and technological changes of her time."

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