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.
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