I am not sure why author Alberts designated the image (seen on left) as that of a portrait by Stuart! In any case, the article is a very interesting epilogue to William and Anne Willing Bingham, who were at the lofty top of the prominent political and social elite of Philadelphia during the time that this city was the capital of our nation (1790s). In one of my recent entries were the words “As glamorous as the 1790s were for Bingham, they came to a crashing end.”
A commentator wrote... It would be nice to know why it all came "crashing down." Did they have economic, health and political reversals all in the space of a couple of years? Why? Did William break a mirror or walk under a ladder or something?
William for most of his relatively short life (died age 52) knew only success; vast riches and immense political success, all of which was gold-plated by the fortuitous choice of his wife, Anne Willing. From “These Fiery Frenchified Dames” by Susan Branson (University of Pennsylvania Press Philadelphia 2001); “Anne Bingham is well remembered in the various memoirs and reminiscences of Philadelphia society in the late eighteenth century. Her ability to facilitate political sociability by bringing together a wide variety of individuals at her balls, dinners, and theater parties, as well as her patronage of rising authors such as Susanna Rowson, marked her success as a true salonniere. The most remarkable thing about Bingham’s achievement is that she elevated social occasions to a new level. The combination of her well-learned lessons at home and abroad, with her presence at the center of the national political community, provided Bingham the opportunity to help create a public political space for women which had not previously existed in America.” p.140
The second serious blow for William Bingham, occurring shortly after that 'devastating' event, was the removal of the federal government to Washington in the summer of 1800. The decision to not leave Philadelphia was surely difficult and heart-rending for William, but was made all the more easier by the pregnancy of Anne with her 3rd child, age 37.
The pregnancy went well, a boy was born in late December 1800.
It seems she caught pneumonia. Within a few weeks, she was dead, leaving William and their two daughters, and a baby son behind. It was the spring of 1801. Politics gone, beloved wife and mother gone, rocked by scandal—the family left for England. William left his infant son to the care of Thomas Willing (Anne’s brother).
In 1803 he became ill and died. It is suggested he never recovered from his wife’s death; clinical evidence indicates a stroke.
(from the article above; The New York Times Nov. 15, 1964)
Mr. Bingham also had extensive property holdings in New York and Pennsylvania, including huge tracts of wilderness in Potter, McKean, Elk and Tioga counties on this state’s northern border.
Some of the land was held jointly with his father-in-law, Thomas Willing, a former Mayor of Pennsylvania and an Associate Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court before and after the Revolutionary War. R. Sturgis Ingersoll, one of the trustees of the estate terminated by Judge Alfred L. Taxis Jr. of the Montgomery County Orphans Court, said today that “nobody has the faintest idea” what the estate was orginally worth.
“He owned most of the state of Maine,” he continued. “He owned all of Mount Desert Island where the Northeast Harbor and Bar Harbor are located. He owned tens of thousands of acres of land in Western Pennsylvania.”
Judge Taxis said the assets-- $699,228 in principal and $138,009 in income—would be distributed in shares ranging from $25. to $55,000.
Mr. Ingersoll said the trustees disposed of the last of the real estate in July, mainly oil properties in western Pa that brought over $800,000. “The oil properties were producing less and less income,’ Mr Ingersoll said. ‘With the multiplication of beneficiaries and with the expenses of handling the estate running up, we thought it wise to sell and terminate the trust.”
Judge Taxis explained that under the terms of the trust it had no termination date and could therefore run indefinitely. He said that the rule of law against perpetuity did not apply in this instance.
Throughout the years, the income from the property or proceeds from the sale of the land was distributed to heirs, who were the beneficiaries of the trust. He said the trustees had “broad powers,” and could invest, buy or sell, being charged only with “prudent adminstration” of the estate. The estate at the time of Mr. Bingham’s death was worth much more than it was today, because much of it has been sold in the intervening years. He said that after the last land was sold, the trustees argued that there was no longer a need for a manager of the estate, and “I agreed with them,” and approved the liquidation. Mr. Bingham was born in Philadelphia in 1752. His two daughters married into the Baring banking family in England. One of his descendants was Lord Ashburton who, in 1842, negotiated the Webster-Ashburton treaty that settled the US-Canada boundary dispute.
William Bingham was an aristocratic entrepreneur who exploited his social and political connections and an intimate knowledge of the lucrative West Indian trade to become the richest man in Revolutionary American at the age of 28. He was born in 1752 of a wealthy Philadelphia family that had been prominent in England before some of its members emigrated to Pa in the early 18th century.
After his graduation from the College of Pennsylvania, the forefunner of the University of Pennsylvania, in 1768, he quickly established a reputation as a brilliant businessman and was made British Consul at St. Pierre on Martinique in 1770. Bingham’s duties were as much commercial as diplomatic and he used his position to begin amassing a fortune through private speculations in trade. The West Indies trade at the time was a tricornered business that consisted of shipping slaves from Africa to the Indies, where they were traded for sugar, shipping the sugar to New England, where it was made into rum, and then selling the rum in America, or exporting it to England, or using it to purchase more slaves in Africa.
After the Revolutionary War broke out, Bingham resigned his position as a British Consul and in 1776 became the West Indies commerical agent for the Continental Congress for four years. He continued his personal speculation in trade, however, and supplemented this by profitably investing in privateering vessels that preyed on British merchant shipping during the Revolution. Privateers were privately owned warships that obtained authorization, or letters of marque, from a government giving them the privilege of seizing enemy ships in wartime. The seized vessels and their cargoes were then sold and the profits divided amongst the government owners of the ship and the crew. The letters of marque distinguished privateering from ordinary piracy.
By 1780, when Bingham returned to Philadelphia, he was a millionaire and the wealthiest man in America.
That same year he married Anne Willing, a beautiful Philadelphia aristocrat. Miss Willing’s father was Thomas Willing, a wealthy merchant and the business partner of Robert Morris [click here for his Stuart portrait], a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the second-ranking American millionaire of the period.
Bingham and Thomas Willing became business associates and founded The Bank of North American, in 1781.
Anne Bingham also became the leading hostess in the city, at that time the country’s capital.
The Bingham mansion on Third street, with its marble stairways and liveried footmen, became an important social and political center for the Federalist party. General Washington was entertained there often and in one of his letters mentions that he had promised Anne Bingham to sit for a portrait by Gilbert Stuart. [the Lansdown portrait, click here]
The Binghams preserved the pre-Revolutionary custom of having footmen announce guests as they arrived for social occasions, however, this was said to have offended egalitarian moralists of the period.
Bingham made his purchases of more than 2 million acres of land in Maine in the late 1780s and early 90s for a reputed $250,000.00. Maine was at that time a province of the Commonwealth of Ma. Most of the first tract of approximately a million acres of timberland east of the Penobscot River was bought from the Commonwealth of Ma. The other tract of similar size along the Kennebec River was bought from General Henry Knox, President Washington’s Secretary of War.
There are no available estimates of what the land would be worth in terms of present real estate prices.
Bingham served in the United States Senate from 1795 to 1801 and was elected Senate president pro tempore in 1797.
He retired from public life in 1801 to manage his fortune. He was in Bath, England, when he died in 1804. He is buried in the parish church there.