Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ever think about where the description 'Bigwig' comes from?

John FitzGibbon by Gilbert Stuart 1789-90
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio

This portrait of John FitzGibbon was painted by Stuart during his Dublin period. To refresh your memory our Gibby had been invited to Dublin in 1787 for a commission; he thought this invitation in fact a good idea in order to escape mounting debts in London. However he did not escape this cycle of pernicious debt even after taking partial payments at the first sittings. It was during this time that he was sent to Debtor’s prison where he raised eyebrows by continuing to paint the rich and mighty who visited him there. When he left Dublin in 1793, hoping to finally make his fortune painting Washington, Stuart left a number of canvases unfinished (and dreams dashed?), remarking, "The artists of Dublin will get employed in finishing them."

However, Stuart did manage to paint this portrait of the newly appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland, “a position of supremacy that FitzGibbon took to mean the deployment of high intelligence, vitriolic arrogance, and a reinvigorated desire to accumulate the lavish trappings of status.” (Barratt & Miles p 79) The very definition of a BIGWIG !

The haughty chancellor, draped in his majestic robes, peers out from beneath his incredibly huge wig.

Note the background accents which Stuart also preserved for his later, more moderate portraits (ie Meeker), the reddish-toned drapery, blue skies with clouds.



Monday, March 15, 2010

The transcript of Samuel Meeker's letter to Gen James Winchester; Philadelphia 1804

Philadelphia 27 December 1804
Cragfont, Tennessee
Gen James Winchester


Enclosed I send you a list of the article of slaves & heading with their value here

I would think they would sell well in Orleans.
They leave for Domingo in stowing depots and to file up where other freight cannot be had and answer to export to most of the ports in Europe as well as the West Indies. If you can deliver them at Orleans at 1/3d less than they are worth here I should consider this always safe. Cotton continues about the same as stated in my former advice

Your obed[ient] Serv[ant]
Samuel Meeker

[Letter pictured at bottom, I have transcribed it here to the best of my ability! Corrections accepted. "List of slaves" is no longer existent.]

NO typewriter, no house address, no envelope, with a Philadelphia hand stamp, the letter is addressed only to “General James Winchester, Cragfont, Tennessee”. While daily mail delivery to the home is taken for granted today, it was a different matter in the early 1800s. During the 1700s and 1800s postal carriers traveled long distances on rough roads to scattered post offices, from Philadelphia a letter took 32 days to reach Kentucky and 44 days to reach Tennessee. Mail runs would normally be made once a week and follow a route of selected towns that were established by bids; Cragfont was not a town but simply the name of Winchester’s house. It can be assumed that everyone in the nearby region knew of James Winchester and his brother George.... “Both moved to the Tennessee country by 1785 and immediately became active in frontier government and military service. George was ambushed and killed by Chickasaw Indians in 1794, but James prospered. He added to his land holdings, built mills, and established trade in tobacco and other products with merchants in New Orleans and several eastern cities. In 1802 he built a spacious home, "Cragfont," which was described by a contemporary as "the most elegant house west of the Appalachians." American National Biography Online

The land of Chickasaw Bluffs in Tn was bought by Andrew Jackson, John Overton and James Winchester and a land company was formed. Thereby was Winchester a co-founder of the City of Memphis.

"Cragfont," described as "the most elegant house west of the Appalachians."
The question arises, just how deeply was Meeker involved in the slave trade, or was this just one transaction among many, involving a variety of products including cotton, tobacco, lumber, etc smoothed by trade information/funds provided by Meeker to Winchester in this instance?
I will be taking a look at Samuel Meeker’s career.....what provided his start in the world of finance in Philadelphia at this time?
Click on the letter for an incredible, close-up view of this historic document postulating "how well they will sell." How do I feel, that my ancestor should write such words? Sad. It is troubling. But I believe that he was not involved in the trade. The letter is important in that it shows the depth of the rot, how even the most respectable of citizens spoke of these men and women as if they were chattel...
For those of you who are interested in German, note the form of the double 's' in the word 'less' ["If you can deliver them at Orleans at 1/3d less than they are worth" & in "Tennessee"]. This form of double 's', called Eszett or ß, is still used in the German language, and it is very interesting to see it being used here in English. (ß ...gesprochen Eszett oder scharfes S)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

An original letter from Samuel Meeker; Philadelphia, December 27,1804


courtesy Hargrett Library Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Georgia
more details to follow
click on the letter for a lusciously larger view of an historic document

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Random monthly pick: a Stuart portrait illuminates aristocratic peculiarities of Old England

Portrait of Edward Parker by Gilbert Stuart
England c 1787

from Lawrence Park:
Edward Parker

Of Browsholme, County York, England. He was a student at St. John’s College, Cambridge; Lord of the Manor at Ingleton; bowbearer of the Forest of Bowland. He married Barbara (d. 1873), daughter of Sir William Fleming, third Baronet of Rydal, County Westmoreland, by whom he had one son who only survived him three years.


The gentleman portrayed here is of interest not only because he is the spitting image of Washington (lack of teeth, or similar dentures?), but primarily because he is associated with a magnficent ancestral estate ~the ultimate symbol of weath, tradition, and class in old England~ Browsholme Hall, (pronounced 'Brewsom'), built in 1507 in Lancashire, in the North West of England. Edward was a ‘relatively’ recent scion from the Parker family, tracing its origins to the 1300s, when they gained the title of 'park-keeper' to John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, Duke of Aquitaine (1340 –1399).

Edward Parker’s interest in commissioning Stuart to do his portrait stemmed surely from a wish to add his accurate likeness to the many ancestral portraits already adorning the silk-covered walls of his historic home. The Parker family has lived in this historic house since it was built, and as is typical of these huge, old, magnficent edifices requiring large sums of money for upkeep, the house was opened to the public in 1957, and today the estate’s architecture, fine art collections and furnishings, extensive landscaped gardens and lake, are advertised as an ideal location for film, TV and advertising; ‘an excellent backdrop for a variety of periods.’ “The present day owners Robert and Amanda Parker invite guests into the family home for small conferences, corporate hospitality, musical events, craft fairs and open days throughout the year.... and continue the work of administering and restoring the estate.” []

Unfortunately it seems the family did not have the means to keep Edward’s portrait, for according to Park “The picture was purchased from the family by M. Knoedler & Co., New York, and sold in 1923 to Albert R. Jones, Esq. of Kansas City, Missouri.”

Lovely day, lovely house isn't it?

If you are a reader unversed in old English traditions (like me), you might ask what is a ‘bow-bearer of the Forest of Bowland’? from Wiki : The name Bowland of ‘Forest of Bowland’ has nothing to do with archery or with mediaeval cattle farms or dairies (Old Norse, buu-, cow), but derives from the Old Norse boga-/bogi-, meaning a “bend in a river”. It is a tenth-century coinage used to describe the topography of the Hodder basin, with its characteristic meandering river and streams.

map image

Bowbearers of the Forest of Bowland have been appointed since the twelfth century. A Bowbearer was originally a noble who acted as ceremonial attendant to the Lord of Bowland, latterly the King, by bearing (carrying) his hunting bow, but over the centuries the Bowbearer's role underwent many changes. At an early date, the Bowbearer was a “forester in fee” who was the official in overall charge of the Forest ('a royal hunting ground'), normally paying rent for the position and having particular privileges such as cablish (the right to take dead or wind blown wood from the Forest). He was a paid official responsible to the King. []

Wikipedia states []: "as the last remnants of the ancient forest vanished, the office of Bowbearer was reduced to little more than an honorific. The Parker family of Browsholme Hall today claim to be "hereditary Bowbearers of Bowland" but this claim cannot be supported by the historical evidence. While the Parkers certainly served as Bowbearers over a number of generations up until 1858, they were always subject to grants made by the Lord of Bowland and hold no hereditary right.”

The Arms of the Parkers of Browsholme Hall
"Unmoved by either wave or wind"
"Keepers of the deer in the Royal Forest of Bowland"

more on Browsholme Hall
In 1975 when the current owner, Robert Parker inherited the Hall from a distant cousin, the gardens where very overgrown, the front lawn was grazed by sheep and the ponds and rockeries colonised by trees. Yet underneath lay a landscape and garden that had continually changed in the hands of generations of the family since the house was built in 1507. After the 17thC, the grounds have been managed in the style of Capability Brown perhaps reflecting the difficulty of maintaining a garden in high rainfall (80 inches per annum), 600ft above sea level and the unforgiving bolder clay on which is situated.
With only a single gardener the garden is maintained as time and nature allows: it is a slow and patient process. Many projects take years to come to fruition, but this year they hope to restore and enlarge the ornamental pond next to the ‘box’ garden.
The Yew Walk which was planted over 300 years ago as a hedge now almost forms a tunnel and a sheltered path even during windy weather.
The Chestnut Avenue by comparison is barely 100 years old, but the white ‘candles’ make a superb display in May, a prelude to a crop of conkers later in the year.
The Lake, originally created about 1740 now extends to 3 acres and was one of the first restoration projects undertaken by the family in the 1970s and is stocked with trout. There is a pleasant walk around the lake.The Front Lodge built in the early 17thC with the Arch from Ingleton Hall is the best place to admire the magnificent setting of Browsholme. []
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