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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