Tuesday, July 15, 2014

British loyalist businesswoman Abigail Stoneman


Abigail Stoneman (fl. 1760-1777-84) was a feisty loyalist businesswoman active in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, & New York. It is difficult to construct a biography of her early years, because there is no known record of her maiden name or birth.

During the 1760-70s, coffee & tea houses had become popular meeting places in the British American colonies.  John Potter Overmantle at the Newport Historical Society in Rhode Island

In 1760, Abigail Stoneman was listed alone as a member of “Mr. Vinal’s [First Congressional] Meeting” (Ezra Stiles, Literary Diary, 1901, I, 44).  While occupying “a large & commodious dwelling house” on Marlborough Street, Newport, in 1766, she was robbed of “about one hundred [Spanish] dollars, & some pieces of China belonging to Mrs Stoneman” (Newport Mercury, Nov. 17, 1766).  By 1772, the house was noted as having a “Garden, Large Stable, a Chaise-House, and a Summer House…neatly fitted up, painted and papered…is used as a Coffee House” in the September 21, 1772, Newport Mercury.

The “Black Horse” was a popular coffee-house in Newport on Thames Street, kept by Thomas Webber prior to May, 1767, at which time it was taken by Abigail Stoneman , and it then became known as the Merchants’ Coffee-House, at the sign of the “King’s Arms.”  She also noted in her June 1, 1767, opening announcement in the Newport Mercury announcement of the opening of her coffee house, that she also would sell there “West India goods cheap for Cash.”

Mrs. Stoneman added “an elegant ballroom” to her establishment in 1769, & advertised to “furnish Entertainment for large & small companies in the genteelest manner”  By October, however, she had moved over to Whitehall, which she renamed Vauxhall after the popular London outdoor public pleasure garden.

Boston's Royal Exchange Tavern is the all white building.

On December 24, 1770, she advertised in the Boston Gazette, “The Royal Exchange Tavern in King Street (only six months after “the Bloody Massacre” had taken place before the door)…being now repaired and fitted for the Reception of Company, will be opened this day as a coffee house by Abigail Stoneman from Rhode Island…she keeps ready furnished Lodgings, constant or occasional Boarders.”  She had placed an ad 2 weeks earlier in the December 10, 1770, Boston Evening-Post, announcing her intentions of converting the tavern into a coffee house.


The King's Arms Tavern in Newport, RI, is a sizeable, two-and-a-half-story building with a large central chimney. Built c.1720, the house stands on its original site.  Records from 1721 indicate that Thomas Walker sold a "Dwelling House, Tan Falls, and other buildings" to Captain Edmund Thurston. In 1773, Abigail Stoneman opened the building as a coffee house "at the sign of the King's Arms."

Abigail was not content with one coffeehouse; for in the November 29, 1773, Newport Mercury, she announced that she had opened the “King’s Arms,” on the Point Bridge, where she had also a “very good dancing-room, any civil and polite person could have, with music and lights, at a quarter of a dollar for each gentleman to dance in from 6 to 9 o‘clock in the evening during the winter, except on Thursday nights when the assembly will be held in it.” The same year she made it known that she kept the “British Coffee-House” on Thames Street, “near the New Lane “ Mary Street—and 4 miles away, in Middletown, on the west road, she had a tea house.

The next year she invested 1,400 pounds (Rhode Island currency) in a house & land in Middletown, about 4 miles from Newport.  She improved this property for the entertainment of the summer visitors, who already consisted of gentry families of merchants & planters from Pennsylvania & South Carolina.

Abigail Stoneman seemed to operate tit-for-tat in the male business world in Newport.  Court records show that her landlord Thomas Bannister sued her for 70 Spanish dollars’ worth of unpaid rent in the early 1770s.  She replied by suing him for broken dishes, food, drinks, lighting, and other incidentals between 1768-1773 for a total of nearly 20 pounds.  She extended credit to and received credit from a variety of Newport merchants, craftspeople, and laborers.  She was a consistent client of Timothy Waterhouse, Jr, from whom she purchased cloth, wine, and other dry goods to both use in her businesses and to resell.

By June 1772, she was advertising her country seat, a “tea house” in Middletown, offering to the summer colonial vacationers,  “Large entertainment …on the shortest notice.”  After the season ended she offered her property for rent & moved to Newport to open the British Coffee House on New Lane.  She was the only woman of Newport to receive a license to keep a tavern & sell spirituous liquors in 1772 & 1773.  When the summer colony began arriving again, she returned to “her Seat” in Middletown.

Upon the departure of the summering gentry in November 1774, the bustling innkeeper re-opened the King’s Arm in Newport near the Point-bridge.  There she fitted out a good dancing room, for which she supplied music for gentlemen & their ladies to dance in the winter evenings from six to nine, save on Thursdays, when the Newport Assembly was being held.  Mrs. Stoneman also advertised in the May 30, 1774, Newport Mercury, “Board & lodging for gentlemen.”

On Aug, 28, 1774, at Hampton, NH, the Newport Mercury announced, “was married…The Hon.  Sir John Treville, Knight of Malta, Capt. of cavalry in the service of his most Christian Majesty, to Mrs. Abigail Stoneman of this Town.”  The marriage was also announced in the September 9, 1774, New York Gazette Mercury.  At the time of her 2nd marriage she was a widow, the Newport Mercury (Sept. 5, 1774) described her as “a lady descended from a respectable family, of a good genius, a very polite & genteel address, & extremely well accomplished to every branch of family economy.”

Apparently in an effort to accrue some cash, soon after her marriage, the bride announced in the September 12, 1774, Newport Mercury  “a private sale” of her house & land in Middletown, a billiard table, & two pews (one in Mr. Hopkins’ Congregational Meetinghouse & one in Trinity Church).

Within 3 years, Abigail resumed her old business in 1777.  Sir John seems to have dropped out of the picture by then.  Rivington’s New  York Loyal Gazette announced on October 25, 1777: “The London Coffee-House is this day opened next door to Mr. Francis’s, at the lower end of Broad-Street, by Mrs. Treville, who formerly kept a Coffee -House in Boston, & Rhode-Island-As she has sustained considerable losses during the present rebellion, & put herself to great expence in providing every thing necessary for the accommodation of gentlemen, she flatters herself she will meet the suitable encouragement.”

Apparently successful, on Nov. 29, 1777, she advertised that she had conducted “the Assembly at Newport…to the general satisfaction of the polite & gay,” she would open one for the gentlemen of the army & navy each Wednesday from 6 to 10 P.M. for a change of one dollar a ticket for a couple.  She courteously acknowledged her indebtedness to the “politeness & humanity” of the British military gentry.

By 1776, coffee houses had become the scene of some contentious disagreements in the British American colonies.

These 1777 entries are the last records of her presence in the rebellious colonies, although, there seems to be no record of her death here.  What could be the final report of her comes from Kingston, Jamaica.  Abigail Treville, living in Kingston, Jamaica, died in 1784, was reported by the Saturday, July 31, 1784, South Carolina Weekly Gazette in Charleston, SC.


Women, Coffee Houses, & the American Revolution



Alvan Fisher (1792-1863) Coffee Clap

The gentle "ladies" of Boston, staged a "Coffee Party" in 1777, reminiscent of the earlier Boston Tea Party of 1773. The town's women confronted a profiteering hoarder of foodstuffs confiscating some of his stock of coffee, according to a letter from Abigail Adams to her husband, who would become the 2nd president of the United States.

Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blyth (American artist, 1740-1787) 1766.

Writing from Boston, on July 31, 1777, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, away attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia,

"There is a great scarcity of sugar and coffee, articles which the female part of the state is very loath to give up, especially whilst they consider the great scarcity occasioned by the merchants having secreted a large quantity. It is rumored that an eminent stingy merchant, who is a bachelor, had a hogshead of coffee in his store, which he refused to sell under 6 shillings per pound.

"A number of females—some say a hundred, some say more—assembled with a cart and trunk, marched down to the warehouse, and demanded the keys.

"Upon his finding no quarter, he delivered the keys, and they then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into a trunk, and drove off. A large concourse of men stood amazed, silent spectators of the whole transaction."

1674 London Coffee House

It seems that the first to bring a knowledge of coffee to the settlers of colonial British North America was Captain John Smith, who founded the Colony of Virginia at Jamestown in 1607. Captain Smith became familiar with coffee in his travels in Turkey.

New York's First Coffee House

Although the Dutch also had early knowledge of coffee, there is no written evidence that the Dutch West India Company brought any of it to the first permanent settlement on Manhattan Island (1624). Nor is there any record of coffee in the cargo of the Mayflower (1620), although it included a wooden mortar & pestle, later used to make "coffee powder."


Depiction of a 1600s London coffee house with women at the table

The earliest reference to coffee in America is 1668, at which time a beverage made from the roasted beans, & flavored with sugar or honey, & cinnamon, was being drunk in New York.  Coffee first appears in the official records of the New England colony in 1670. In 1683, the year following William Penn's settlement on the Delaware, he is buying supplies of coffee in the New York market & paying for them at the rate of 18 shillings & 9 pence per pound

Some researchers of New York's early days are confident that the 1st coffee house in America was opened in New York; but the earliest authenticated record they have presented is that on November 1, 1696, John Hutchins bought a lot on Broadway, between Trinity churchyard & what is now Cedar Street, & there built a house he used as a coffee house, which would come to be called King's Arms.

Later dubbed The King's Arms, this house was built of wood, & had a front of yellow brick, said to have been brought from Holland. The King's Arms building was two stories high, & on the roof was an "observatory," arranged with seats, & commanding a fine view of the bay, the river, & the city. Here the King's Arms coffee-house visitors frequently sat in the afternoons.  It stood for many years on Broadway, opposite Bowling Green, in the old De Lancey House, becoming known in 1763 as the King's Arms, & later the Atlantic Garden House.


17C London Coffee House

The sides of the main room on the lower floor were lined with booths, which, for the sake of greater privacy, were screened with green curtains. There a patron could sip his coffee, or a more stimulating drink, meet with others to discuss news, or just relax & read his mail.  The rooms on the second floor were used for special meetings of merchants, colonial magistrates & overseers, or similar public & private business.  These meeting rooms seem to have been one of the chief features distinguishing a coffee house from a tavern. Although both types of houses had rooms for guests, & served meals, the coffee house was used for business purposes by permanent customers, while the tavern was patronized more by transients. Men met at the coffee house daily to carry on business, & went to the tavern for convivial purposes or lodgings. Before the front door hung the sign of "the lion & the unicorn fighting for the crown."

For many years the King's Arms seems to have been the only coffee house in New York City; or at least no other seems of sufficient importance to have been mentioned in colonial records. For this reason it was frequently designated as "the" coffee house.

Coffee Houses in 18C New York

On September 22, 1709, the Journal of the General Assembly of the Colony of New York refers to a conference held in the "New Coffee House." About this date the business section of the city had begun to drift eastward from Broadway to the waterfront; & from this fact it is assumed that the name "New Coffee House" indicates that the King's Arms may have been superseded in popularity by a newer coffee house. The Journal does not give the location of the "New" coffee house. Whatever the case may be, the name of the King's Arms does not again appear in the records until 1763, & then it had more the character of a tavern, or roadhouse.

The Exchange Coffee House is thought to have been located at the foot of Broad Street, abutting the sea-wall & near the Long Bridge of that day. At that time this section was the business center of the city, & here was a trading exchange.  The Exchange Coffee House may have been the only one of its kind in New York at the time.  In 1732,  an announcement of a meeting of the conference committee of the Council & Assembly "at the Coffee House."  And an advertisement in 1733 in the New York Gazette requesting the return of "lost sleeve buttons to Mr. Todd, next door to the Coffee House."  Robert Todd kept the famous Black Horse tavern which was located in this part of the city.

Daniel Bloom, a mariner, in 1737 bought the Jamaica Pilot Boat tavern from John Dunks & named it the Merchants Coffee House. The building was situated on the northwest corner of the present Wall Street & Water (then Queen) Street; & Bloom was its landlord until his death, soon after the year 1750. He was succeeded by Captain James Ackland, who shortly sold it to Luke Roome. The latter disposed of the building in 1758 to Dr. Charles Arding.

The doctor leased it to Mrs. Mary Ferrari, who continued as its proprietor until she moved, in 1772, to the newer building diagonally across the street on the southeast corner of Wall & Water Streets. Mrs. Ferrari took with her the patronage & the name of the Merchants Coffee House, & the old building was not used again as a coffee house.  The original coffee house which was opened on the northwest corner of Wall & Water Streets about 1737, moved to the southeast corner in 1772.

The building housing the original Merchants Coffee House was a two-story structure, with a balcony on the roof, which was typical of the middle 18C architecture in New York. On the first floor were the coffee bar & booths described in connection with the King's Arms coffee house. The 2nd floor had the typical long room for public assembly.   During Bloom's proprietorship the Merchants Coffee House had a long, hard struggle to win the patronage away from the Exchange Coffee House, which was flourishing at that time. But, being located near the Meal Market, where the merchants were wont to gather for trading purposes, it gradually became the meeting place of the city, at the expense of the Exchange coffee house, farther down the waterfront.


Merchants Coffee House at Wall and Water Sts NYC 1804

Widow Ferrari presided over the original Merchants Coffee House for 14 years, until she moved across the street. She was a keen business woman. Just before she was ready to open the new coffee house she announced to her old patrons that she would give a house-warming, at which arrack, punch, wine, cold ham, tongue, & other delicacies of the day would be served. The event was duly noted in the newspapers, one stating that "the agreeable situation & the elegance of the new house had occasioned a great resort of company to it."

Mrs. Ferrari continued in charge until May 1, 1776, when Cornelius Bradford became proprietor & sought to build up the patronage, which had dwindled somewhat during the stirring days immediately preceding the Revolution. In his announcement of the change of ownership, he said, "Interesting intelligence will be carefully collected & the greatest attention will be given to the arrival of vessels, when trade & navigation shall resume their former channels." He referred to the complete embargo of trade to Europe which the colonists were enduring. When the American troops withdrew from the city during the Revolution, Bradford went also, to Rhinebeck on the Hudson.

During the British occupation, the Merchants Coffee House was a place of great activity. As before, it was the center of trading, & under the British régime it became also the place where the prize ships were sold. The Chamber of Commerce resumed its sessions in the upper long room in 1779, having been suspended since 1775. The Chamber paid fifty pounds rent per annum for the use of the room to Mrs. Smith, the landlady at the time.

In 1781, John Stachan, then proprietor of the Queen's Head tavern, became landlord of the Merchants Coffee House, & he promised in a public announcement "to pay attention not only as a Coffee House, but as a tavern, in the truest; & to distinguish the same as the City Tavern & Coffee House, with constant & best attendance. Breakfast from seven to eleven; soups & relishes from eleven to half-past one. Tea, coffee, etc., in the afternoon, as in England." But when he began charging sixpence for receiving & dispatching letters by man-o'-war to England, he brought a storm about his ears, & was forced to give up the practise. He continued in charge until peace came, & Cornelius Bradford came with it to resume proprietorship of the Merchants Coffee House.

Bradford attempted to change the name to the New York Coffee House, but the public continued to call it by its original name, & the landlord soon gave in. He kept a marine list, giving the names of vessels arriving & departing, recording their ports of sailing. He also opened a register of returning citizens, "where any gentleman now resident in the city," his advertisement stated, "may insert their names & place of residence." This seems to have been the first attempt at a city directory. By his energy Bradford soon made the Merchants Coffee House again the business center of the city. When he died, in 1786, he was mourned as one of the leading citizens. His funeral was held at the coffee house over which he had presided so well.

The Merchants Coffee House continued to be the principal public gathering place until it was destroyed by fire in 1804. During its existence it had figured prominently in many of the local & national historic events:  the reading of the order to the citizens, in 1765, warning them to stop rioting against the Stamp Act; the debates on the subject of not accepting consignments of goods from Great Britain; the general meeting of citizens on May 19, 1774, suggesting a congress of deputies from the colonies & calling for a "virtuous & spirited Union;" the mass meeting of citizens following the battles at Concord & Lexington in Massachusetts; & the forming of the Committee of One Hundred to administer the public business.  The Merchants coffee house was the site 1784, where the Bank of New York was formed, the first financial institution in the city.  In 1790, the 1st public sale of stocks by sworn brokers was held there.

When the American Army held the city in 1776, the Merchants Coffee House became the resort of army & navy officers. On April 23, 1789, when Washington, the recently elected first president of the United States, was officially greeted at the coffee house by the governor of the State, the mayor of the city, & the lesser municipal officers.

The Whitehall Coffee House, was opened briefly by 2 gentlemen, named Rogers & Humphreys,  in 1762, with the announcement that "a correspondence is settled in London & Bristol to remit by every opportunity all the public prints & pamphlets as soon as published; & there will be a weekly supply of New York, Boston & other American newspapers."

The early records of the city occasionally mention the "Burns coffee house," sometimes calling it a tavern. It is likely that the place was more an inn & tavern than a coffee house. It was kept for a number of years by George Burns, near the Battery, & was located in the historic old De Lancey house, which afterward became the City hotel.  Burns remained the proprietor until 1762, when it was taken over by a Mrs. Steele. Edward Barden became the landlord in 1768. In later years it became known as the Atlantic Garden House. Traitor Benedict Arnold is said to have lodged in the old tavern after deserting to the enemy.

In 1791, 150 merchants organized the Tontine Coffee House. This enterprise was based on the plan introduced into France in 1653 by Lorenzo Tonti, with slight variations. According to the New York Tontine plan, each holder's share reverted automatically to the surviving shareholders in the association, instead of to his heirs. There were 157 original shareholders, & 203 shares of stock valued at £200 each. The directors bought the house & lot on the northwest corner of Wall & Water Streets, where the original Merchants Coffee House stood. The cornerstone of the new Tontine Coffee House was laid June 5, 1792; & a year later to the day, 120 gentlemen sat down to a banquet in the completed coffee house to celebrate the event of the year before.  The Tontine Coffee House had cost $43,000.

A contemporary account of the Tontine Coffee House in 1794 is supplied by an Englishman visiting New York at the time: "The Tontine tavern & coffee house is a handsome large brick building; you ascend six or eight steps under a portico, into a large public room, which is the Stock Exchange of New York, where all bargains are made. Here are two books kept, as at Lloyd's [in London] of every ship's arrival & clearance. This house was built for the accommodation of the merchants by Tontine shares of two hundred pounds each. It is kept by Mr. Hyde, formerly a woolen draper in London. You can lodge & board there at a common table, & you pay ten shillings currency a day, whether you dine out or not."

 Coffee Houses in Early Boston

Coffee had been popular in Boston for over a century, when the Revolutionary women of the town became patriotically incensed. Many women owned coffee houses, which traditionally had been frequented by men.  Dorothy Jones had been issued a license to sell coffee in Boston in 1670. “Mrs. Dorothy Jones, the wife of Mr. Morgan Jones, is approved of to keepe a house of publique Entertainment for the selling of Coffee & Chochaletto.” The last renewal of Mrs. Jones's license was in April 1674, at which time she was accorded the additional privilege of selling "cider & wine." Her husband Morgan Jones was a minister & schoolmaster who moved from colony to colony frequently, leaving Dorothy Jones to make her own way financially for herself and their family.


Ned Ward, The Coffee House Mob, frontispiece to Part IV of Vulgus Britannicus, or the British Hudibras (London, 1710)

After the Welsh gentlewoman Dorothy Jones opened her 1670 Boston coffee & chocolate establishment, the next colonial coffee house may have been in Maryland. In St. Mary's City, Maryland, the 1698 will of Garrett Van Sweringen, bequeaths to his son, Joseph, "ye Council Rooms and Coffee House and land thereto belonging," which Van Sweringen had opened in 1677.

Coffee houses patterned after English & Continental prototypes were established in the colonies, quickly becoming centers of social, political & business interactions. Among the earlist were London Coffee House in Boston, in 1689; the King's Arms in New York in 1696; and Coffee House in Philadelphia in 1700.


1664 wood cut of English coffee house

The name coffee house did not come into use in New England, until late in the 17. The London Coffee House and the Gutteridge Coffee House were among the first opened in Boston. The latter stood on the north side of State Street, between Exchange and Washington Streets, and was named after Robert Gutteridge, who took out an innkeeper's license in 1691. Twenty-seven years later, his widow, Mary Gutteridge, petitioned the town for a renewal of her late husband's permit to keep a public coffee house.

Boston's British Coffee House, whose named changed during the pre-Revolutionary period, also appeared about the time Gutteridge took out his license. It stood on the site that is now 66 State Street, and became one of the most widely known coffee houses in colonial New England.

The Crown Coffee House opened in 1711 and burned down in 1780. There were inns and taverns in existence in Boston long before coffee & coffee houses. Many of these taverns added coffee for patrons who did not care for the stronger spirits.

In the last quarter of the 17, quite a number of taverns and inns sprang up in Boston. Among the most notable were the King's Head (1691), at the corner of Fleet and North Streets; the Indian Queen (1673), on a passageway leading from Washington Street to Hawley Street; the Sun (1690-1902), in Faneuil Hall Square; and the Green Dragon, which became one of the most celebrated coffee house & taverns, serving ale, beer, coffee, tea, and more ardent spirits. In the colonies, there was not always a clear distinction between a coffee house and a tavern.

Boston's Green Dragon

The Green Dragon stood on Union Street, in the heart of the town's business center, for 135 years, from 1697 to 1832, and figured in practically all important local and national events during its long career. In the words of Daniel Webster (1782-1852), this famous coffee-house tavern was dubbed the "headquarters of the Revolution." John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere met there to discuss securing freedom for the American colonies. The old tavern was a two-storied brick structure with a sharply pitched roof. Over its entrance hung a sign bearing the figure of a green dragon.

The Bunch of Grapes, that Francis Holmes presided over as early as 1712, was another hot-bed of politicians. This coffee house became the center of a rowsing celebration in 1776, when a delegate from Philadelphia read the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the inn to the crowd assembled below. In the excitement that followed, the inn was nearly destroyed, when one celebrant built a bonfire too close to its walls.

By the beginning of the 18, the title of coffee house was applied to a number of new establishments in Boston. One of these was the Crown, which was opened in the "first house on Long Wharf" in 1711 by Jonathan Belcher, who later became governor of Massachusetts, and then New Jersey. The first landlord of the Crown was Thomas Selby, who also used it as an auction room. The Crown stood until 1780, when it was destroyed in a fire that swept the Long Wharf.

Another early Boston coffee house on State Street was the Royal Exchange. It occupied a two-story building, and was kept in 1711, by Benjamin Johns. This coffee house became the starting place for stage coaches running between Boston and New York, in 1772. In the Columbian Centinel of January 1, 1800, appeared an advertisement in which it was said: "New York and Providence Mail Stage leaves Major Hatches' Royal Exchange Coffee House in State Street every morning at 8 o'clock."

In the latter half of the 18, the North-End coffee house in a 3 storey 1740 brick mansion, stood on the west side of North Street, between Sun Court and Fleet Street. One contemporary noted that it had forty-five windows and was valued at $4,500. During the Revolution, it featured "dinners and suppers—small and retired rooms for small company—oyster suppers in the nicest manner."

Early Coffee Houses in Philadelphia

William Penn is generally credited with the introduction of coffee into the Quaker colony which he founded on the Delaware in 1682.  The first public house designated as a coffee house was built about 1700 by Samuel Carpenter, on the east side of Front Street, probably above Walnut Street, and was referred to as Ye Coffee House at Walnut & Chestnut Streets.  Ye Coffee House also did duty as the post-office for a time. Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, in an issue published in 1734, has this advertisement:  All persons who are indebted to Henry Flower, late postmaster of Pennsylvania, for Postage of Letters or otherwise, are desir'd to pay the same to him at the old Coffee House in Philadelphia.  Franklin also seems to have been in the coffee business, for in several issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette around the year 1740 he advertised: "Very good coffee sold by the Printer."


Unknown artist of the English School. The Coffee House Politicians

Opened about 1702, the 1st London Coffee House was the gathering place of the followers of Penn and the Proprietary party, while their opponents, the political cohorts of Colonel Quarry, frequented Ye Coffee House.  The first London Coffee House resembled a fashionable club house in its later years, suitable for the "genteel" entertainments of the well-to-do Philadelphians. Ye Coffee House was more of a commercial or public exchange. Evidence of the gentility of the London is given by John William Wallace: The appointments of the London Coffee House, if we may infer what they were from the will of Mrs. Shubert [Shewbert] dated November 27, 1751, were genteel. By that instrument she makes bequest of two silver quart tankards; a silver cup; a silver porringer; a silver pepper pot; two sets of silver castors; a silver soup spoon; a silver sauce spoon, and numerous silver tablespoons and tea spoons, with a silver tea-pot.

Roberts' Coffee House stood in Front Street near the first London house believed to have come into existence about 1740. In 1744, a British army officer recruiting troops for service in Jamaica advertised, that he could be seen at the Widow Roberts' Coffee House. During the French & Indian War, when Philadelphia was in grave danger of attack by French & Spanish privateers, the citizens felt so great relief when the British ship Otter came to the rescue, that they proposed a public banquet in honor of the Otter's captain to be held at Roberts' Coffee House. Widow Roberts retired in 1754.

Contemporary with Roberts' Coffee House was the resort run first by Widow James, and later by her son, James James. The James Coffee House was established in 1744, occupying a large wooden building on the northwest corner of Front and Walnut Streets. The James Coffee House was patronized by Governor Thomas & many of his political followers.


The London Coffee House, Philadelphia

The 2nd London Coffee House, on the southwest corner of Second and Market Streets, was opened in 1754, by William Bradford printer of the Pennsylvania Journal. It quickly was more frequented than any other tavern in the Quaker city and was famous throughout the colonies.  It was "Having been advised to keep a Coffee House for the benefit of merchants and traders, and as some people may at times be desirous to be furnished with other liquors besides coffee, your petitioner apprehends it is necessary to have the Governor's license."


The London Coffee House, Philadelphia

The London Coffee House was "the pulsating heart of excitement, enterprise, and patriotism" of the early city. The most active citizens congregated there—merchants, shipmasters, travelers from other colonies and countries, crown and provincial officers. The governor and persons of equal note went there at certain hours "to sip their coffee from the hissing urn, and some of those stately visitors had their own stalls." It had also the character of a mercantile exchange—carriages, horses, foodstuffs, and the like being sold there at auction. It is further related that the early slave-holding Philadelphians sold negro men, women, and children at vendue, exhibiting the slaves on a platform set up in the street before the coffee house.


The London Coffee House, Philadelphia

The London Coffee House building was a three-story wooden structure, with an attic that some historians count as the fourth story. There was a wooden awning one-story high extending out to cover the sidewalk before the coffee house. The entrance was on Market (then known as High) Street. Bradford gave up the coffee house when he joined the newly formed Revolutionary army as major, later becoming a colonel. When the British entered the city in September, 1777, the officers resorted to the London Coffee House, which was much frequented by Tory sympathizers.

The last of the celebrated coffee houses in Philadelphia was built in 1773 under the name of the City Tavern , which later became known as the Merchants coffee house, possibly after the house of the same name that was then famous in New York. It stood in Second Street near Walnut Street.  The City Tavern was patterned after the best London coffee houses; and when opened, it was looked upon as the finest and largest of its kind in America. City Tavern was 3 stories high, built of brick, and had several large club rooms, two of which were connected by a wide doorway that, when open, made a large dining room 50 feet long.

The gentlefolk of the city resorted to the City Tavern  after the Revolution as they had to Bradford's coffee house before. However, before reaching this high estate, it once was near destruction at the hands of the Tories, who threatened to tear it down. That was when it was proposed to hold a banquet there in honor of Mrs. George Washington, who had stopped in the city in 1776 while on the way to meet her distinguished husband, then at Cambridge in Massachusetts, taking over command of the American army. Trouble was averted by Mrs. Washington tactfully declining to appear at the tavern.  After peace came, the City Tavern was the scene of many of the fashionable entertainments of the period.


See also William Harrison Ukers (1873-1945) All About Coffee published by The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1922


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Alexander Hamilton's Adultery & Apology


From the Smithsonian Magazine July 25, 2013


Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804) by John Trumbull  1806

In the summer of 1791, Alexander Hamilton received a visitor.


Maria Reynolds, a 23-year-old blonde, came to Hamilton’s Philadelphia residence to ask for help. Her husband, James Reynolds, had abandoned her—not that it was a significant loss, for Reynolds had grossly mistreated her before absconding. Hamilton, just 34, was serving as secretary of the United States treasury and was himself a New Yorker; she thought he would surely be able to help her return to that city, where she could resettle among friends and relatives.

Hamilton was eager to be of service, but, he recounted later, it was not possible at the moment of her visit, so he arranged to visit her that evening, money in hand.  When he arrived at the Reynolds home, Maria led him into an upstairs bedroom. A conversation followed, at which point Hamilton felt certain that “other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable” to Maria Reynolds.

And thus began an affair that would put Alexander Hamilton at the front of a long line of American politicians forced to apologize publicly for their private behavior.


1787 Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Mrs. Alexander Hamilton. Elizabeth Schuyler

Hamilton (whose wife and children were vacationing with relatives in Albany) and Maria Reynolds saw each other regularly throughout the summer and fall of 1791—until James Reynolds returned to the scene and instantly saw the profit potential in the situation. December 15, Hamilton received an urgent note from his mistress: I have not tim to tell you the cause of my present troubles only that Mr. has rote you this morning and I know not wether you have got the letter or not and he has swore that If you do not answer It or If he dose not se or hear from you to day he will write Mrs. Hamilton he has just Gone oute and I am a Lone I think you had better come here one moment that you May know the Cause then you will the better know how to act Oh my God I feel more for you than myself and wish I had never been born to give you so mutch unhappiness do not rite to him no not a Line but come here soon do not send or leave any thing in his power.

Two days later, Hamilton received a letter from James Reynolds that accused him of destroying a happy home and proposed a solution: Its true its in your power to do a great deal for me, but its out of your power to do any thing that will Restore to me my Happiness again for if you should give me all you possess would not do it. god knowes I love the woman and wish every blessing may attend her, you have bin the Cause of Winning her love, and I Dont think I Can be Reconciled to live with Her, when I know I hant her love. now Sir I have Considered on the matter Serously. I have this preposial to make to you. give me the Sum Of thousand dollars and I will leve the town and take my daughter with me and go where my Friend Shant here from me and leve her to Yourself to do for her as you thing proper. I hope you wont think my request is in a view of making Me Satisfaction for the injury done me. for there is nothing that you Can do will compensate for it.

Rather than leave town (and his new mark), James Reynolds allowed the relationship to continue. A pattern was established in which Maria Reynolds (by this time likely complicit in her husband’s scheme) would write to Hamilton, entreating him to visit when her husband was out of the house: I have kept my bed those two days past but find my self much better at presant though yet full distreesed and shall till I see you fretting was the Cause of my Illness I thought you had been told to stay away from our house and yesterday with tears I my Eyes I begged Mr. once more to permit your visits and he told upon his honour that he had not said anything to you and that It was your own fault believe me I scarce knew how to believe my senses and if my seturation was insupportable before I heard this It was now more so fear prevents my saing more only that I shal be miserable till I se you and if my dear freend has the Least Esteeme for the unhappy Maria whos greateest fault Is Loveing him he will come as soon as he shall get this and till that time My breast will be the seate of pain and woe  P. S. If you cannot come this Evening to stay just come only for one moment as I shal be Lone Mr. is going to sup with a friend from New York.

After such trysts occurred, James Reynolds would dispatch a request for funds—rather than demand sums comparable to his initial request of $1,000 dollars (which Hamilton paid), he would request $30 or $40, never explicitly mentioning Hamilton’s relationship with Maria but referring often to Hamilton’s promise to be a friend to him.

James Reynolds, who had become increasingly involved in a dubious plan to purchase on the cheap the pension and back-pay claims of Revolutionary War soldiers, found himself on the wrong side of the law in November 1792, and was imprisoned for committing forgery. Naturally, he called upon his old friend Hamilton, but the latter refused to help. Reynolds, enraged, got word to Hamilton’s Republican rivals that he had information of a sort that could bring down the Federalist hero.

James Monroe, accompanied by fellow Congressmen Frederick Muhlenberg and Abraham Venable, visited Reynolds in jail and his wife at their home and heard the tale of Alexander Hamilton, seducer and homewrecker, a cad who had practically ordered Reynolds to share his wife’s favors. What’s more, Reynolds claimed, the speculation scheme in which he’d been implicated also involved the treasury secretary. (Omitted were Reynolds’ regular requests for money from Hamilton.)  Political enemy he might have been, but Hamilton was still a respected government official, and so Monroe and Muhlenberg, in December 1792, approached him with the Reynolds’ story, bearing letters Maria Reynolds claimed he had sent her.

Aware of what being implicated in a nefarious financial plot could do to his career (and the fledgling nation’s economy), Hamilton admitted that he’d had an affair with Maria Reynolds, and that he’d been a fool to allow it (and the extortion) to continue. Satisfied that Hamilton was innocent of any wrongdoing beyond adultery, Monroe and Muhlenberg agreed to keep what they’d learned private. And that, Hamilton thought, was that.

James Monroe had a secret of his own, though.  While he kept Hamilton’s affair from the public, he did make a copy of the letters Maria Reynolds had given him and sent them to Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s chief adversary and a man whose own sexual conduct was hardly above reproach. The Republican clerk of the House of Representatives, John Beckley, may also have surreptitiously copied them.

In a 1796 essay, Hamilton (who had ceded his secretaryship of the treasury to Oliver Wolcott in 1795 and was acting as an adviser to Federalist politicians) impugned Jefferson’s private life, writing that the Virginian’s “simplicity and humility afford but a flimsy veil to the internal evidences of aristocratic splendor, sensuality, and epicureanism.” He would get his comeuppance in June 1797, when James Callender’s The History of the United States for 1796 was published.

Callender, a Republican and a proto-muckraker, had become privy to the contents of Hamilton’s letters to Reynolds (Hamilton would blame Monroe and Jefferson, though it is more likely Beckley was the source, though he had left his clerk’s position). Callender’s pamphlet alleged that Hamilton had been guilty of involvement in the speculation scheme and was more licentious than any moral person could imagine. “In the secretary’s bucket of chastity,” Callender asserted, “a drop more or less was not to be perceived.”

Callender’s accusations and his access to materials related to the affair left Hamilton in a tight spot—to deny all the charges would be an easily proven falsehood. The affair with Maria Reynolds could destroy his marriage, not to mention his hard-won social standing (he had married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of one of New York’s most prominent families, and a match many thought advantageous to Hamilton). But to be implicated in a financial scandal was, to Hamilton, simply unthinkable. As Secretary of the Treasury, he’d been the architect of early American fiscal policy. To be branded as corrupt would not only end his career, but also threaten the future of the Federalist Party.

Left with few other options, Hamilton decided to confess to his indiscretions with Maria Reynolds and use that confession as proof that on all other fronts, he had nothing to hide. But his admission of guilt would be far more revealing than anyone could have guessed.

Hamilton’s pamphlet Observations on Certain Documents had a simple purpose: in telling his side of the story and offering letters from James and Maria Reynolds for public review, he would argue that he had been the victim of an elaborate scam, and that his only real crime had been an “irregular and indelicate amour.” To do this, Hamilton started from the beginning, recounting his original meeting with Maria Reynolds and the trysts that followed. The pamphlet included revelations sure to humiliate Elizabeth Hamilton—that he and Maria had brought their affair into the Hamilton family home, and that Hamilton had encouraged his wife to remain in Albany; so that he could see Maria without explanation.

Letters from Maria to Hamilton were breathless and full of errors (“I once take up the pen to solicit The favor of seing again oh Col hamilton what have I done that you should thus Neglect me”). How would Elizabeth Hamilton react to being betrayed by her husband with such a woman?

Still, Hamilton pressed on in his pamphlet, presenting a series of letters from both Reynoldses that made Hamilton, renowned for his cleverness, seem positively simple. On May 2, 1792, James Reynolds forbade Hamilton from seeing Maria ever again; on June 2, Maria wrote to beg Hamilton to return to her; a week after that, James Reynolds asked to borrow $300, more than double the amount he usually asked for. (Hamilton obliged.)

Hamilton, for his part, threw himself at the mercy of the reading public:This confession is not made without a blush. I cannot be the apologist of any vice because the ardor of passion may have made it mine. I can never cease to condemn myself for the pang which it may inflict in a bosom eminently entitled to all my gratitude, fidelity, and love. But that bosom will approve, that, even at so great an expense, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness. The public, too, will, I trust, excuse the confession. The necessity of it to my defence against a more heinous charge could alone have extorted from me so painful an indecorum.

While the airing of his dirty laundry was surely humiliating to Hamilton (and his wife, whom the Aurora, a Republican newspaper, asserted must have been just as wicked to have such a husband), it worked—the blackmail letters from Reynolds dispelled any suggestion of Hamilton’s involvement in the speculation scheme.

Still, Hamilton’s reputation was in tatters. Talk of further political office effectively ceased. He blamed Monroe, whom he halfheartedly tried to bait into challenging him to a duel. (Monroe refused.) This grudge would be carried by Elizabeth Hamilton, who, upon meeting Monroe before his death in 1831, treated him coolly on her late husband’s behalf. She had, by all accounts, forgiven her husband, and would spend the next 50 years trying to undo the damage of Hamilton’s last decade of life.


Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) and Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Hamilton’s fate, of course, is well-known, though in a way the Reynolds affair followed him to his last day. Some time before the publication of his pamphlet, Hamilton’s former mistress Maria Reynolds sued her husband for divorce. The attorney that guided her through that process was Aaron Burr.


Aaron Burr 1756-1836 by John Vanderlyn (1775-1852) 1802

Sources:
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton, Penguin Books, 2005; Hamilton, Alexander. Observations on Certain Documents, 1797; Callender, James. History of the United States in 1796, 1796; Brodie, Fawn McKay. Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, W.W. Norton & Co., 1975; Collins, Paul. Duel With the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery, Crown, 2013; McCraw, Thomas K., The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy, Belknap Press, 2012, Rosenfeld, Richard M. American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.

From the Smithsonian Magazine July 25, 2013


New Hampshire's Abigail Abbot Bailey's abusive husband had fought in the Revolutionary War


Abigail Abbot (1746-1815) & Asa Bailey (1745-1815-25) of New Hampshire had been married in 1767; farmed; & produced 14 children over their 25 years of marriage.


The Pleasures of Matrimony by Thomas Colley 1773

During that time, Asa also fought in the Revolution; had an affair; raped a servant; beat his wife; & had incest with his 17 year-old daughter. They finally divorced in 1793.  Her own words--

One result of all my examinations and prayers was, a settled conviction, that I ought to seek a separation from my wicked husband, and never to settle with him any more for his most vile conduct. But as sufficient evidence, for his legal conviction, had not yet offered itself, (though I as much believed his guilt, as I believed my own existence,) I thought God’s time to bring Mr. B.'s conduct to public view had not yet arrived. But I was confident that such a time would arrive; that God would bring his crimes to light; and afford me opportunity to be freed from him.

Several months had passed, after Mr. B’s last wicked conduct before mentioned, and nothing special took place. The following events then occurred. One of our young daughters, (too young to be a legal witness, but old enough to tell the truth,) informed one of her sisters, older than herself, what she saw and heard, more than a year before, on a certain sabbath. This sister being filled with grief and astonishment at what she had heard, informed her oldest sister. When this oldest sister had heard the account, and was prepared to believe it, (after all the strange things which she herself had seen and heard,) she was so shocked, that she fainted. She was then at our house, I administered camphire, and such things as were suitable in her case. She soon revived. She then informed me of the occasion of her fainting. I had long before had full evidence to my mind of Mr. B’s great wickedness in this matter; and I thought I was prepared to hear the worst. But verily the worst was dreadful! The last great day will unfold it. I truly at this time had a new lesson added, to all that ever I before heard, or conceived, of human depravity.

I was now determined to go and see the daughter, who had suffered such things. Mr. B. perceiving my design to go where she was, set himself to prevent it. But kind Providence soon afforded me an opportunity to go. She was living at the house of her uncle, a very amiable man, and one whom Mr. B. in his better days, esteemed most highly; but of whom he became very shy, after he abandoned himself to wickedness. Mr. B. now could not endure the thought of my going to his house. No doubt his guilty conscience feared what information I might there obtain, and filled him with terror.

With much difficulty, and by the help of her aunt, I obtained ample information. I now found that none of my dreadful apprehensions concerning Mr. B’s conduct had been too high. And I thought the case of this daughter was the most to be pitied of any person I ever knew. I wondered how the author of her calamities could tarry in this part of the world. I thought that his guilty conscience must make him flee; and that shame must give him wings, to fly with the utmost speed.

My query now was, what I ought to do? I had no doubt relative to my living any longer with the author of our family miseries. This point was fully settled. But whether it would be consistent with faithfulness to suffer him to flee, and not be made a monument of civil justice, was my query. The latter looked to me inexpressibly painful. And I persuaded myself, that if he would do what was right, relative to our property, and would go to some distant place, where we should be afflicted with him no more, it might be sufficient; and I might be spared the dreadful scene of prosecuting my husband.

I returned home, I told Mr. B. I had heard an awful account relative to some man. I mentioned some particulars, without intimating who the man was; or what family was affected by it. I immediately perceived he was deeply troubled! He turned pale, and trembled, as if he had been struck with death. It was with difficulty he could speak. He asked nothing, who the man was, that had done this great wickedness; but after a while said, I know you believe it to be true; and that all our children believe it; but it is not true! Much more he said in way of denying. But he said he did not blame me for thinking as I did.

He asked me, what I intended to do? I replied, that one thing was settled: I would never live with him any more! He soon appeared in great anguish; and asked what I could advise him to do? Such was his appearance, that the pity of my heart was greatly moved. He had been my dear husband; and had destroyed himself. And now he felt something of his wretchedness.

I now felt my need of christian fortitude, to be firm in pursuing my duty. I was determined to put on firmness, and go through with the most interesting and undesirable business, to which God, in his providence, had called me, and which I had undertaken. I told him his case to me looked truly dreadful and desperate. That though I had long and greatly labored for his reformation and good, yet he had rejected all my advice. He had felt sufficient to be his own counsellor; and now he felt something of the result of his own counsels.

Relative to his question, what he now should do? I told Mr. B. he knew something of my mind, from an interview upon the subject sometime since, when he proposed retiring to some distant region, and forever leaving me and his family. I informed him, I now could see no better way for him than this; that I had rather see him gone forever, than to see him brought to trial, and have the law executed upon him, to the torture of myself and family; as it would be, unless he prevented it by flight.

He was then full of his consultations, relative to the mode of his going;—whether to ride, or go on foot? what property to take? and similar queries. I let him know that I was willing he should ride, and not only take a horse, but take property enough to make him comfortable. I proposed he should turn a one hundred acre lot, which we could well spare, and take the avails of it.

Source: Abigail Abbot Bailey, Memoirs of Mrs. Abigail Bailey, Who Had Been the Wife of Major Asa Bailey, Formerly of Landaff, (N.H.) Written by Herself Ed. Ethan Smith. (Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1815)



Rebecca Austin Sherman's messy divorce from her Revolutionary War husband & family portraits from the Sherman Limner

1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795). Rebecca Austin Mrs John Sherman & son Henry (1789-1817).

Rebecca Austin (1753-1830) married John Sherman (1750-1802) on August 28, 1771. He seemed to be a young man of great promise. They both came from good families. He was 21, she was 18.
John Sherman was born in New Milford, New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Roger Sherman, a respected attorney at the Continental Congress who helped draft the Articles of Confederation. Thomas Jefferson referred to young John Sherman's father as "Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, who never said a foolish thing in his life;" and John Adams called the elder Sherman, "an old Puritan, as honest as an angel." Roger Sherman was the only American to sign four signficant historical documents: The Continental Association of 1774; the Declaration of Independence; The Articles of Confederation; and The Federal Constitution.

Rebecca's father David Austin was also prominent in the New Haven community. He was named the first president of the New Haven Bank on Dec 22, 1795. He served as deacon of the North Church for 43 years and an alderman under Mayor Roger Sherman. From 1793 to 1801 he was the Collector of Customs.

Rebecca Austin and John Sherman had children John, born 1772; Maria, born 1774; Harriet, born 1776 died 1795; Elizabeth, born 1778; David Austin, born 1781; Charles Sherman born 1783; and Henry Sherman was born in 1785. Although John Sherman served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, he apparently returned home occasionally.

John Sherman was not a foot soldier, he was assigned to headquarters. He enlisted in 1776; and by January 1, 1777, he was Paymaster for the 6th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel Butler. On October 7, 1777, he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant; and on May 10, 1780, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. On June 1, 17781, he was transferred to the 4th Connecticut Regiment under the command of Colonel Samuel Whiting. He served in "Booth's Company" under Captain James Booth, until he was detached to the 11th Connecticut Regiment (by order of Brigader General Sillick Silliman) as part of the "Short Levy" of 1782. On January 1, 1783, he was again transferred to the 2nd Connecticut Regiment, where he served until June of 1783; when he left the army at the rank of Captain in Colonel Gideon Burt's Massachusetts Regiment. He received his Captain's commission by brevet at the close of the war.

When he returned home in the summer of 1783, John Sherman tried his hand at business in New Haven for several years; but by 1788, he decided it was time to move on.


In 1788, John Sherman determined to leave his wife and family, wrote to his father on December 8, "Most respected Parent, My departure from this is absolutely necessary on Account of my entering into business; the Trade of this City at present is not an Object of Importance, & and scarcely of Support, I am now in the prime of life, I hope my Friends will not think me lost, my determinations are Just, that is to pay all their dues and owe no one anything, in consequence of which I shall advise you & Esq Austin, likewise Mrs. Sherman the place of my residence, the Settlement of my Public Accounts will be attended to by me as soon as the Public are ready to make me payment for my Services, otherwise I should have left the United States for a few years, & this is only what prevents. I most probably shall fix my residence at Charles Town, or Savannah, unhappy it is tho past. I did not take your advice, it would not have obliged me to take the present measure (I think the most unfeeling Heart would not wish to distress Mrs. Sherman & the Children in my absence) (I leave them to your care you will please to assert their rights & be their Just protector, & may the most Cordial Friendship ever subsist betwixt you & Esq. Austin. I wish each of you the length of days & that your usefulness may be preserved to the last & and that each of your Families may be happy (my own unhappiness is proceeds from myself only.) I am with every respect, Your son John Sherman."
(Baldwin Family Papers, #55, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.)


Just a year before John Sherman decided to leave the family, he had portraits of the family painted in 1787, by the Sherman Limner, whose name derives from these portraits. The portraits are of John Sherman; his wife Rebecca holding baby Henry; John's daughter Maria (1774-1857); his son John II; and his son, David Austin (1781-1843), whose portrait is signed on the reverse Jany 2d 1787.
Rebecca filed for divorce in 1792 claiming he drank excessively and became violent when drinking and that he was adulterous. In 1792, there was a motion for the continuance in the plea for divorce of Rebecca Austin Sherman vs John Sherman, New Haven 1792. The family portraits apparently became a focus of John's anger with the dissolution of his marriage. (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)


On December 10, 1792, son David Austin wrote to his grandfather Roger Sherman that his father, "then catched down any likenesses and Swore it should not be in the house and that he woyld throw it into the street, I told him if he did not like to see it, I would take it away but he must not throw it into the street and ruin it as I was at the expense of the drawing and I did not choose it should not be destroyed." (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)

A fragment of a letter from the husband John Sherman to Simeon Baldwin exists from December 19, 1792. John Sherman wrote about his wife, "she means to bring in her cut portrait as an Evidence the whole of them were made at my Expense to flatter her Vanity & if the original had been present I should not have done it." The portrait of Rebecca Sherman and her son Henry was slashed. (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)

On January 21, 1793, John Sherman's daughter Maria and her two sisters wrote a letter to their grandfather Roger Sherman. Honored and much respected Grandfather, We sincerely lament the unhappy necessity, which had seperated our Parents. We hope it will not be the means of depriving us of your parental regard and protection. We shall ever retain a grateful remembrance of your past kindness, and hope you will ever continue it to us. The mortifiyig and disagreeable situation we are in, we hope will apologize for the freedom we have taken in addressing you. Our father not satisfied with heaping disgrace and sorrow upon his children, has stripped us of all the Furniture he ever purchased, not even excepting out Portraits, and the arms of the Family from which we are descended, which we would wish to retain. as a remembrance of the family from which we are descended. The Carpet Mama thinks she ought to have, as he made a present of it to her, on his return from the Army before Evidences, as a reward for her faithfulness and Industry. He has likewise taken the Desk, Tea Urn, Silver Handled Knives & Forks, best Bed and Bedding, Chairs, Tables &c., which Mama is very willing he should have. He has been here, & with Roger taken account of all the Provisions, & Stores we have in the House, which are very considerable, and threatened taking them away. He has also given orders to Mr. Baldwin, to receive all the Money due to us from our Boarders, when they return at the end of Vacation. We intreat you Sir, to interpose in our affair, & not suffer him to add affliction, to his already afflicted Children. We shall do everything in our power to assist Mama in the maintenance of the Family , and endeavor to be as little burden to our Friends as possible. We rejoice dear Sir, in the prospect of your speedy return, and hope to find in you an indulgent Father, & unfailing Friend. We hope our future conduct will be such as to merit your approbation and esteem. With the greatest respect Dear Sir, we subscribe ourselves your dutiful & Affectionate Grandchildren, Maria Sherman Betsey Sherman Harriet Sherman (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)

In 1793, Sherman wrote that if "A bill of divorce is granted to Mrs. Sherman & and all connections on my part with the Family ceases forever...I am disposed to render them every assistance so far as it respects the children that Humanity & and reason can demand." (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)


Apparently the court determined that Rebecca Austin Sherman's allegations were true, and the divorce was finalized in January 1794. Rebecca Austin Sherman raised her children by running a boarding house, until she died in 1830.

John Sherman remarried Anna Tucker, ten years younger than Rebecca, in September 4, 1794, at Canton, Massachusettes. John Sherman had two more children with his new wife. Sherman supported his new family as a shopkeeper in Canton. He died 8 years later, his widow lived until 1858.


1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795), John Sherman (1750-1802) Christies NY 2006


1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795) Maria Sherman (Mrs. Ira Hart) 1774-1857. Christies NY 2006.


1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795) David Austin Sherman (1781-1843) Christies NY 2006.

1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795). John Sherman II. Christies 2006.

On Divorce in the American Colonies & Early Republic


In colonial New England, the legal aspects of marriage differed from mother England, where marriage was an indissoluble religious sacrament. Anglican church courts could order separations of unhappy spouses without right of remarriage; and, by the 18th century, rich men in England could buy private legislative acts authorizing their divorces, if they could prove, in one way or another, their wives' adultery.

The first American couple obtained a divorce in a Massachusettes Puritan court in 1639. In 18th century New England, marriage was a civil contract, and divorces were granted after a judicial proceeding, when a wife's or husband's misconduct was proved. Divorces were occasionally granted elsewhere in colonial North America, but other colonial legislatures did not pass laws allowing divorce before the American Revolution. Because the colonies were more open than the mother country and in a state of constant flux, many unhappy spouses just ended their unbearable marriages by disappearing and marrying again elsewhere.

By the early 19C, each new American state, except South Carolina, enacted laws authorizing divorce under limited circumstances. A full divorce with right of remarriage for the "innocent" party could be granted if adultery of the "guilty" spouse were proved. In some states, such as New Hampshire, a variety of other grounds, including incest, bigamy, abandonment for 3 years, and extreme cruelty, would also justify a divorce decree. In many states, only the innocent party was set free from the "bonds of matrimony," leaving the guilty party unable to remarry during the lifetime of the innocent spouse who retained the right to inherit land or other property from the guilty one. In most of the new states, courts heard divorce cases; but in Maryland a divorce required a private bill of divorce by the state legislature.


18C Masschusetts women seeks a Divorce from husband who decided to take a new wife

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From the Boston Evening-Post, published as Boston Evening Post; February 9, 1756.

"Eleanor Stickney, the Wife of James Stickney of Hampstead in the Province aforesaid, having complained to the General Assenbly of said Province, that her said Husband had long neglected her and his Family, that he had cohabited with another Woman in a criminal Manner, and fearing a Prosecution, had travelled from said Hampstead, as the Complainant had been informed, to the Town of Srpingfield, in the Province of Massachusetts- Bay; and carried with him the said Woman, with whom he lived as with a Wife, and had entirely absented himself from this Complainant;

Wherefore the said Eleanor pray'd the Interposition of the General Assembly, that the Marriage Covenant between the said James and said Eleanor might be dissolved, &c. Upon which Petition 'twas ordered, that the said Petitioner be heard on the third Day of the sitting of the General Assembly next after the first Day of March next ensuing, and that the Petitioner cause the Order, with the Substance of said Petition, to be advertized in a publick Print three Weeks, thereby notifying the said James Stickney to appear and shew Cause why the Prayer of the said Petition should not be granted. Attest. Theaodore Atkinson."


The following short bibliography explores the history of divorce in America.

Basch, Norma. Framing American Divorce: From the Revolutionary Generation to the Victorians. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Chused, Richard H. Private Acts in Public Places: A Social History of Divorce in the Formative Years of American Family Law. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Cott, Nancy. Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Degler, Carl N. At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Hartog, Henrick. Man and Wife in America: A History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Jones, Mary Somerville. “An Historical Geography of the Changing Divorce Law in the United States,” PhD Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1987.

Riley, Glenda. Divorce: an American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.


He says, she says - Early 18C English opposing views on the institution of marriage

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Lady Mary Chudleigh (1656-1710) was a woman ahead of her time, churning out feminist rhetoric, even as she lived her life within the rigid confines of 17C England.

To The Ladies


Wife and servant are the same,

But only differ in the name:
For when that fatal knot is ty’d,
Which nothing, nothing can divide:
When she the word obey has said,
And man by law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but state and pride:
Fierce as an eastern prince he grows
And all his innate rigor shows:
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the nuptual contract break.
Like mutes, she signs alone must make,
And never any freedom take:
But still be govern’d by a nod,
And fear her husband as a God:
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty lord thinks fit,
Who with the power, has all the wit.
Then shun, oh! shun that wretched state,
And all the fawning flatt’rers hate:
Value yourselves, and Men despise:
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise. -Lady Mary Chudleigh

Mary Chudleigh was part of an intellectual circle that included Mary Astell, Elizabeth Thomas, Judith Drake, Elizabeth Elstob, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, & John Norris. In her later years, she published a book of poetry (1703) & 2 books of essays, all dealing with feminist themes; 2 of her books went through 4 editions. Her poetry on human relationships has been anthologized & reprinted ever since.


Mary, the daughter of Richard Lee, was born in August of 1656, at Winslade in Devon, England. While she, like most women of her time, received little in the way of formal education, she read widely & educated herself in theology, science, & philosophy. Despite her strong feelings about women & marriage, she married Sir George Chudleigh of Ashton in Devon. They had at least 3 children: Eliza Maria, George (the next Sir George), Thomas. Little else is known about her life, except for the fact that her daughter must have died young, as her grief is mentioned in her letters & some poetry. Mary Chudleigh died in 1710.



About 23 years after Chudleigh's death, a watchmaker, overjoyed with the death of his "disagreeable" wife, rated an article in the London Derby Mercury, Thursday 22 March 1733,  "Some Days ago a Watch-maker on Holbourn-Hill, gave an Entertainment to a great Number of Neighbours at the Globe-Alehouse, on the said Hill, upon the following merry Occasion, viz. He happened to have a Wife endowed with some Qualities, that were disagreeable to him; (which is many a poor Man’s Case) some time before this, his Wife happened to be taken ill, and he, upon talking of it with some of his Neighbours, had declared, that should it please God to take her from him, he would entertain them all very handsomely; and it coming to pass that she died of that Malady, he was as good as hid Word, and made all his Neighbours and Friends Partakers of his Joy, to the great Vexation of all the troublesome Wives in Town, who are afraid it may become a Custom for unfortunate Husbands to celebrate the Day of their Deliverance: And I cannot but say, that the Custom would be both just and convenient, providing it were made mutual, and that a good Wife, who is delivered from a bad Husband, be allowed to keep Festival upon the Day of her Deliverance, as well as a good Husband when he is set free from an unfit Yoke-fellow. Such a custom would make both Spouses more careful of their Conduct, and more Complaisant to each other, at least to all outward Appearance; and it would destroy that stupid Dissimulation, or rather Simulation (if I may be allowed to make use of the Word) which has been long used upon such Occasions."
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For a contemporary English view of divorce in 1700 from a woman's perspective see, Some Reflections Upon Marriage, Occasioned by the Duke and Dutchess of Mazarine's Case; Which is Also Considered. by Mary Astell, Published by John Nutt, Stationers-Hall, London, 1700.