Saturday, January 30, 2016

Alexander Hamilton's Wife, Girlfriend, 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

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton 1759-1846, poet, humiliated child, betrayed wife, + a dreadful John Adams

Gilbert Stuart Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp)

Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (1759-1846) was an early American poet whose published work of the 1790s, received praise of her contemporaries, who called her "the American Sappho" after the Greek lyric poetess.  But her life was anything but lyrical.  She felt humiliated as a child, when her father was accused of having Tory tendencies.  Her carefully chosen, popular, politically-correct, patriotic husband had an affair with her younger sister right in their home, resulting in the birth of a little girl.  Her sister wrote her a letter of apology just before taking her own life.  Once again, Sarah was the focus of a huge scandal in her community.  John Adams chose to defend her husband from any culpability in her sister’s suicide.  And her husband was found guiltless.  Yes, the husband had an affair with her younger sister which produced a child, before she committed suicide; but the older husband should be forgiven & all should be forgotten. It was the male dominated 18C; and after-all, men will be men.  John Adams then recommended that the family -- her husband, her father, her brother, & herself  -- restore “peace & harmony between them…again to embrace in friendship & affection.”  The clever, patriot husband went on to become a political leader in the state.  Sarah did as she was told & reunited with him until his death in 1837.


Sarah was born in Boston, Mass., the 3rd daughter of 10 children of James & Sarah (Wentworth) Apthorp.  Her father, a 3rd generation British American of Welsh ancestry, was a well-to-do Boston merchant, as was her mother’s father, Samuel Wentworth, who came to Boston from a distinguished New Hampshire family. 



Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp) c 1802,

Until age 10, Sarah lived in the Charles Apthorp mansion on King Street (later State Street) in Boston.  Her parents then moved to Braintree, MA, where she lived until her marriage.  At this time, Braintree was the home community of the prominent Adams, Quincy, & Hancock families.  Braintree provided access to the social & cultural aspects of Boston, with the addition of rural beauty, which Sarah often celebrated later in poems.  


In Braintree, the Apthorps attended the Episcopal Christ Church, which was associated with Loyalists at the beginning of the Revolution. Town records of June 1777, list her father James Apthorp among persons suspected of being "inimical" to the colonial cause.  He & his family suffered great local unpopularity because of his suspected Tory sympathies.


In 1781, Sarah Apthop married Perez Morton, a popular, young, politically-correct, Boston lawyer & patriot, whose reputation would cement Sarah’s name among the patriots.  After graduating from Harvard in 1771, Perez Morton studied law & was admitted to the Massachusetts bar as an attorney in 1774. During the Revolution, he was a leading member of the Committee of Safety & the Committee of Correspondence. He was also an active Mason.  In April 1776, he was praised for his delivery of the funeral address for General Joseph Warren, a fellow Mason killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill.  
John Adam's wife Abigail wrote at the time, "A young fellow could not have wished a finer opportunity to display his talents."  In 1778, Perez Morton served as major & aide-de-camp to General Hancock in the Continental Army. 
  
In 1784, just 3 years after her marriage, Sarah Morton became mistress & manager of her ancestral home, Apthorp House, on State Street.  Here she hoped to put the Loyalist whispers of her past behind her & regain her natural place in the fashionable, aristocratic social life of a younger generation of Bostonians.  


James Brown Marston (American artist from Salem, MA, 1775-1817)  Painting of State Street or The Old State House 1801 The Apthorp mansion was the 2nd building from the right.

The newlywed Sarah's wishes for elite acceptance seemed to be coming true.  The Mortons became members of a prominent social circle. Along with the James Swans, Harrison Gray Otises, Isaac Winslows, & others, the Mortons formed a club in the winter of 1784–85 for playing cards & dancing. Although bets were limited to 25 cents, the group’s activities quickly were criticized in the newspaper. 


The society Sarah so desperately wanted became the target of ridicule & sarcasm. The Massachusetts Centinel (Boston), January 15, 1785, declared that the club was deemed "an Assembly so totally repugnant to virtue, as in its very name (Sans Souci, or free & easy )," & it was encouraged to disband.  Later, the club was satirized in a play, “Sans Souci, alias, Free & Easy:–Or, an Evening’s Peep in a Polite Circle. An entirely new entertainment in 3Acts, printed in late January 1785.”  In the play, the newlywed Mortons, who were identified as Mr. & Madam Importance, were portrayed as pompous, snobbish, & exclusive.


Apparently, neither her elite social activities, however, nor the birth of 5 children prevented Sarah from pouring her emotions into verse, which she had begun to do as a shunned young girl in Braintree.   Sarah & Perez had 4 daughters & a son.  Sarah Apthorp Morton (1782–1844), Anna Louisa Morton (1783–1843), Frances Wentworth Morton (1785–1831), & Charlotte Morton (1787–1819) lived to adulthood.  The only son to live beyond infancy, Charles Ward Apthorp Morton was born in 1786, & died in 1809. Another baby boy, born in April 1789, lived only 18 hours.



Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp) c 1802,

In 1786, Sarah’s younger sister Frances "Fanny" Theodora Apthorp (1766–1788) had come to live with the Mortons in Boston. Fanny & the head of the house, Perez Morton, became lovers, while Sarah was expecting their 5th child in 6 years.  That child was Charlotte, born in September of 1787.  It would be their last.


Shortly after Charlotte's birth, in the autumn of 1787, Fanny also gave birth to a daughter of Perez Morton.  Fanny & Perez apparently carried on their affair for nearly another year.  The Apthorp family was in an uproar.  Sarah & Fanny's brother James wanted to challenge Perez Morton to a duel.


Fanny’s diary & letters from August 1788, include instructions to Perez Morton to take care of her child "for you know in the sight of heaven you are the Father of it." 


The day before Sarah's sister Fanny decided to take poison to end her life on August 28, 1788, instead of publicly confronting Perez Morton, as the sisters' father had requested, Fanny left a note begging forgiveness from her family, especially from her sister Sarah.  


Although Perez Morton was implicated by a jury in Fanny’s suicide, his friends John Adams (1735–1826) & James Bowdoin (1726–1790) defended him in the Massachusetts Centinel on October 7, 1788:  "...the accusations brought against a fellow citizen, in consequence of a late unhappy event, & which have been the cause of so much domestick calamity, & publick speculation, have...been...fully inquired into by their Excellencies James Bowdoin, &  John Adams, Esq’rs...the result of their inquiry is, that the said accusations are not, in any degree, supported.“  Criticism of Adams & Bowdoin’s defense & disregard of the jury’s findings appeared in the Herald of Freedom & the Federal Advertiser. 


The scandal gained strength with the announcement of the publication of one of the 1st American novels, The Power of Sympathy Or, the Triumph of Nature, in January 1789. Although the novel was set in Rhode Island, its plot was clearly the story of Fanny Apthorp & Perez Morton, whose name was only weakly disguised as "Mr. Martin."  The author clearly wanted to cash in on Sarah & her family’s tragedy.


The illicit affair & subsequent suicide seemed to have no ill effect on Perez Morton’s career as a professional politician. Morton, as a Democratic-Republican, was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in May 1794.  After he & his reunited wife Sarah moved to Dorchester, Perez was elected to the House of Representatives in 1803, & in 1806 was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  He was appointed attorney general in 1811, & held the office for 20 years.


Soon after the emotionally debilitating scandal, Sarah Morton’s 1st published poem, "Invocation to Hope," appeared in the July 1789 issue of the recently established Massachusetts Magazine under the pseudonym "Constantina." 


Her subject matter was predominately patriotic, celebrating the new nation, its ideals, & its leaders. From 1789 to 1793, she contributed to the “Seat of the Muses” in the recently established Massachusetts Magazine, 1st under the pseudonym “Constantia” & later as “Philenia,” the pen name by which many of her generation came to know her.   


The often humiliated Sarah chose to champion the plight of Native Americans & African slaves. Her 1st long poem, Ouâbi or the Virtues of Nature, An Indian Tale. In Four Cantos, published in December 1790, was even hailed in London, where it inspired a 3-act play. Though Sarah claimed to depict authentic native customs, her fictional Indians reflected the currently accepted literary view, not real life in the American forest, & the virtues her Native Americans exhibited were in the “noble savage” tradition. However, her reviewers, both English & American, were comfortable with these traditional descriptions & greeted her work favorably. In choosing a subject “wholly American” Sarah Morton hoped to tap into the patriotic urge which immediately followed the Revolution. She still longed to be identified with the patriot cause.


Sarah expressed abolitionist views about slavery in America in a few poems, including "The African Chief," which appeared in the June 9, 1792, issue of the Columbian Centinel describing a slave’s decision to die in order to escape the horrors of the Middle Passage & slavery. The last stanza reflected the poem's examination of heroic death & suicide:

Let sorrow bathe each blushing cheek,
  Bend piteous o’er the tortured slave,
Whose wrongs compassion cannot speak,
  Whose only refuge was the grave.

In November 1792, Sarah chose to become one of the founders of the Boston Library Society.  Her literary interests also extended to the theater.  Both she & her husband were involved in repealing the 1750 colonial law entitled "An Act to prevent Stage Plays, & other Theatrical Entertainments," & her husband Perez Morton was a trustee & shareholder of the resulting Federal Street Theatre.



Portrait of Perez Morton. By Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. ca.1793-1814.

In Boston, Perez Morton, an elegant figure with polished manners, became a leader of the old Jacobin Club, which held meetings at the Green Dragon Tavern, & also became a decided Democrat. A political poet of Boston thus satirizes Perez Morton:

 " Perez, thou art in earnest, though some doubt thee ! 
  In truth, the Club could never do without thee ! 
 My reasons thus I give thee in a trice, — 
 You want their votes, and they want your advice ! 

" Thy tongue, shrewd Perez, favoring ears insures, — 

  The cash elicits, and the vote secures. 
  Thus the fat oyster, as the poet tells, 
 The lawyer ate, — his clients gained the shells." 

Contemporaries, who knew Sarah's identity, reading her 1794 poems "Marie Antoinette" & "Bativia" would know, that they were a blatant statement, that she did not share her husband’s pro-French sentiments. 

The sex, betrayal, & suicide scandal had made Sarah famous. Sarah’s verses, under a variety of loosely-held pseudonyms, continued to appear regularly in the Massachusetts Magazine’s "Seat of the Muses" column through 1793, as well as in the Boston Columbian Centinel until 1794. They were also reprinted in Philadelphia, New York, & New Hampshire journals. After the turn of the century, her poems appeared occasionally in the Monthly Anthology & Boston Review until 1807.  Hailed by fellow magazine poets as the “Sappho of America” & the “Mrs. Montagu of America,” she soon found entrée to other poetry corners in newspapers & magazines of the period.  


In 1797, Sarah Morton moved from Boston to nearby Dorchester, where she lived in the 1st house which she designed; & after 1808, the family took residence in Morton’s Pavilion, built by her husband.  During these years Sarah relished making her home a gathering place for the American literati & other distinguished visitors.  


Also in 1797, she published her poem, Beacon Hill. A Local Poem, Hsitoric & Descriptive, dedicated to the “Citizen Soldiers who fought, conquered, & retired under the Banners of Freedom & Washington.”  In the introduction to Beacon Hill, Sarah Morton defended her "application to literature...It is only amid the leisure & retirement, to which the sultry season is devoted," she wrote, "that I permit myself to hold converse with the Muses; nor does their enchantment ever allure me from one personal occupation, which my station renders bligatory; but those hours, which might otherwise be lost in dissipation, or sunk in languor, are alone resigned to the unoffending charms of Poetry & Science."


Sarah intended to publish Beacon Hill as the 1st segment of an ambitious larger work. "The apprehensive feelings of the author," Sarah Morton explained, "did not permit her at present to offer more than the first book."  The poem, dedicated to the Revolutionary soldiers who fought under George Washington, looks at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the siege of Boston, & the Declaration of Independence & pays tribute to Washington & the Revolutionary leaders in each colony. 


William Bentley (1759–1819), pastor at Salem’s Second Congregational Church, wrote in his diary in November 1797, "The talk now about Mrs. Morton’s Poem, Beacon Hill, & it is said to exceed any poetic composition from a female pen. She is called the American Sappho.  Mr. Paine calls her so.  Besides Mr. Stearns is soon to publish The Lady’s Philosophy of Love, which they have begun to praise before they have seen it." 


However, The Reverend Mr. Bentley also voiced his doubts about the quality of the poetry; & it does not appear that Sarah Morton was encouraged to complete the other installments of "Beacon Hill," at least they were never found or published.  In 1799, she offered the companion piece, The Virtues of Society.  A Tale, Founded on Fact.


In 1823, Sarah Morton published a compilation of prose & poems in My Mind & Its Thoughts, in Sketches, Fragments, & Essays.   It was the 1st work to which she signed her own name.  In addition to new poems written to celebrate national & local events, the 1823 volume contained careful revisions of poems published earlier in newspapers or journals under her various pseudonyms. 


The book’s essays bounced from marriage, to physiognomy, to the sexes, to civility, & age. Sarah wrote in the introduction, "Thus occupied—with neither leisure, nor disposition, nor capacity to write a Book, there has always been opportunity to pen a thought, or to pencil a recollection." A list of subscribers at the end of the volume is topped by "John Adams, late President of the United States" & "His Excellency John Brooks, Governor of Massachusetts."  In total, 34 women & 125 men on this "subscribers" list were convinced to order copies of the book in advance of its publication. 


Many of the poems, such as "Stanzas To A Recently United Husband" or "Lamentations Of An Unfortunate Mother, Over The Tomb Of Her Only Son," are extremely personal & sad. Her "Apology" at the end of the text openly suggests that writing poetry brought her consolation from the many disappointments & grief she experienced in her life.


Perez Morton died in Dorchester on October 14, 1837, leaving all his real & personal estate to "my beloved wife Sarah Wentworth Morton."  After his death, Sarah moved from Dorcester back to the Braintree house,
 where she had lived as a child, when the family had been humiliated because of her father's Loyalist leanings.  Here she would come full circle to live out the rest of her life.

In 1846, Sarah died in Quincy, aged 86, & was buried in the Apthorp tomb in King’s Chapel, Boston.  None of her children survived her.  


Her will instructed, that she be interred in the Apthorp family vault in King’s Chapel.  She also requested that the remains of her daughter Frances Wentworth & her son, Charles, be re-interred in the family vault; so that she would have her "own remains between those of my two dearly beloved & lamented children."


By the time of her death, her fame as a poet had been mostly forgotten.  Not one of her obituaries in the Quincy Patriot, Boston Daily Mail, or Daily Evening Transcript made any mention of her literary career.  Without an ounce of compassion, they noted simply, that she was the widow of the late "Honorable" Perez Morton. The extant ledgers of the Boston Library Society attest to the numerous books she read as the years passed; & the inventory of her estate compiled at her death contains more than 250 books, including 20 volumes of Shakespeare & 9 volumes of Pope.  


During much of the 19C, she was known less for her poetry than for her supposed authorship of  The Power of Sympathy (1789). This false ascription of the book based on the domestic tragedy between her husband & her younger sister in her own home, was not understood until many years after her death.  It was was not actually proved false until 1894, when the authorship of the novel by William Hill Brown, their neighbor when the affair was taking place, was clearly established.  


Sarah Morton’s fame must rest on her poetry alone.  She was the foremost woman poet of her generation, reflecting pride in the struggles of the new American republic & melancholy about her own personal disappointments.   



This posting based in part on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Boston Slave Poet Phillis Wheatley d 1784

When a London bookseller presented the manuscript of Phillis Wheatley's 1773 Poems on Various Subjects to the Countess of Huntingdon, the anti-slavery English noblewoman was reportedly "fond of having the book dedicated to her; but one thing she desir'd [was]...to have Phillis' picture in the frontispiece." The man commissioned to draw the likeness of Wheatley was Scipio Moorhead, an enslaved African in service to Reverend John Moorhead, a neighbor and friend of the Wheatley family and pastor of the Church of the Presbyterian Strangers. Reverend Moorhead, along with fifteen other prominent Massachusetts citizens, had signed a testimonial that prefaced the manuscript. Scipio Moorhead not only painted portraits, but wrote verse as well. His artistic talents had been nurtured by the Reverend's wife, Sarah Moorhead, a teacher of art and drawing. His drawing of Phillis, said to be a fine likeness, was shipped to England to be engraved. When the book was published, it contained a poem, "To S.M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works," in which Wheatley praised the artist and voiced her hopes that their collaboration would lead to his "immortal fame"
Still may the painter's and the poet's fire 
To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire! 

I learned about Phillis Wheatley was in an American Literature class at the University of North Carolina in the mid 1960s. Her story and her poems were fairly amazing. I understood why those educated, self-absorbed "gentlemen" in the 18th century doubted that a young slave girl could produce those classical poems, or that any woman could write like that.

American poet Phillis Wheatley probably was born in Senegal, Africa in the early 1750s. Her only written memory of Africa was of her mother performing a ritual of pouring water before the sun as it rose. When she was about 7, she became a commodity. She was kidnapped from her family, marched to the coast, sold to Peter Gwinn as slave cargo, and stowed on a ship called The Phillis for an unimaginable trip through the middle passage. When the dark ship finally reached its destination in Boston, the frightened little girl was sold at John Avery's slave auction to tailor John and his wife Susanna Wheatley on July 11, 1761. The prosperous Boston family named their new acquisition after the ship she arrived in; taught her English, Latin, and Greek; and treated her as a family member. The Wheatleys and their daughter, Mary, introduced Phillis to the Bible; and to 3 English poets – Milton, Pope and Gray. Phillis used her new language skills to write her own poetry.


A rare portrait of Phillis Wheatley shows her facing forward, wearing an evening dress and jewelry. The portrait appeared in Revue des Colonies in Paris between 1834 and 1842


In 1765, when Phillis Wheatley was about eleven years old, she wrote a letter to Reverend Samson Occum, a Mohegan Indian and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Despite the difference in their ages (Occum was born in 1723), Wheatley's letter apparently led to a friendship with Occum, who was also a poet, and who later published an Indian hymnal. On February 11, 1774, Wheatley wrote Occum again, to comment on an indictment of slave-holding Christian ministers that he had written. Wheatley strongly concurred with the argument put forth by Occum, writing that she was "greatly satisfied with your Reasons representing the Negroes" and thought "highly reasonable what you offer in Vindication of their natural Rights." While she implored God's deliverance from "those whose Avarice impels them..." she hastened to add, "This I desire not for their Hurt, but to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically opposite." As she did in several of her poems, notably her ode to the Earl of Dartmouth, Wheatley used the letter to Occum as an occasion to point out the contradiction between the colonists' demands for freedom from Britain and their determination to uphold slavery. She wrote, "How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the Exercise of oppressive Power over others agree -- I humbly think it does not require the Penetration of a Philosopher to determine."

She published her first poem at the age of 14. Her poem "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin" appeared in the Newport Mercury in 1767. She was especially fond of writing in Pope's elegiac poetry style, perhaps because it also mirrored an oral tradition of her African tribal group. Both Europeans and Africans used poem and song as a lament for a deceased person. That she also was well-versed in Latin, which allowed her to write in the epyllion (short epic) style, became apparent with the publication of "Niobe in Distress."

She became a sensation in Boston in the early 1770s, when her poem elegy on the death of the extremely popular English-born evangelist George Whitefield gained wide circulation in colonial newspapers. Whitefield died September 30, 1770, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Wheatley's elegy reached Selina Hastings of England, Countess of Huntingdon, who was a great admirer of Whitefield. The countess, in turn, sent Wheatley's poem to London papers, which reprinted it many times.

Because many found it hard to believe that a slave or a woman could write such poetry, in 1772, Wheatley received an attestation of authenticity from a group of Boston luminaries including John Hancock and Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, which was printed in the preface to her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral released in London in 1773. The book was issued from London, because publishers in Boston refused to publish it. Wheatley and her master's son, Nathanial Wheatley, had traveled to London, where the Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl of Dartmouth helped finance the publication.

The 1773 publication of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects established her as a young prodigy and challenged the major justification for enslavement of Africans -- the European assumption of African inferiority. In the 18C, Europeans generally assumed that Africans were subhuman, lacking the intellectual capacity for such higher order pursuits as creative writing and mathematics; consequently, Wheatley's book was prefaced by testimonies to its authenticity from her master and from 16 of Boston's most respected citizens, thereby establishing a literary convention of sorts for works by African Americans in the 18C and 19C. Despite such testimonials, Thomas Jefferson was among those who questioned Wheatley's authorship. One of the best-known poems in the collection is dedicated "To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, Etc." Wheatley was heartened by the appointment of Dartmouth, whom she had met in London and knew to be a friend of the abolitionist Countess of Huntingdon and of the late Reverend George Whitefield, who had helped launch the Great Awakening. The poem opens with hopeful optimism that under Dartmouth's "blissful sway," the colonies will see "Freedom's charms unfold" and experience an end to the reign of "wanton Tyranny" that "meant t'enslave the land." Those lines provide a subtle yet powerful segue into the next verse, in which she proposes that her "love of Freedom" (and by implication, that of the black Patriots) springs from the anguish Africans have known as slaves.

Phillis' fame and the aging of her owners ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773, just as the British American colonies were contemplating a freedom of their own. She received a letter from General Washington, after she had written a poem to Washington, lauding his appointment as commander of the Continental Army. On February 28, 1776, Washington wrote to Wheatley, "I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be...the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents."

Though Benjamin Franklin received her, and Washington personally met with her as well, Thomas Jefferson refused to acknowledge her intelligence and skill. In Notes on the State of Virginia, he declared, "Religion, indeed, has produced a Phillis Wheatley, but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism."

Adopting classical styles, topics, neoclassical images, and scriptural allusions, allowed Wheatley to express a subtle critique of America's slaveholding colonies and emerging new republic. While she was a strong supporter of independence during the Revolutionary War, she felt slavery was the issue which kept Ameican whites, such as Jefferson, from true heroism. Wheatley wrote that whites could not "hope to find/Divine acceptance with th' Almighty mind" when "they disgrace/And hold in bondage Afric's blameless race."

In a letter which appeared on March 11, 1774, in the Connecticut Gazette, Wheatley wrote of the hipocricy of freedom-loving slaveholders, "God grant Deliberance...upon all those whose Avarice impels them to countenance and help forward the Calamities of their fellow Creatures. This I desire not for their Hurt, but to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically opposite, How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the exercise of oppressive power over others agree I humbly think it does not require the penetration of a Philosopher to determine."

On April 1, 1778, she married a free black Bostonian named John Peters. Initially this marriage produced 2 babies who died in childhood. Despite tragedy and poverty, Phillis continued to write poetry. In 1779, she advertised in the Boston Evening Post and General Advertiser, in hopes of finding a publisher for a volume of 33 poems and 13 letters. In the struggling post-revolutionary economy, this volume was never published. In September 1784, The Boston Magazine published under her married name, Phillis Peters, a poem "To Mr. and Mrs.----, on the Death of Their Infant Son;" and in December, 1784, it published "Liberty and Peace" celebrating the outcome of the Revolutionary War, once again using her married name. She may never have seen the poems published in December.

By this time, her husband had deserted her, forcing Wheatley to earn a living as a scullery maid in a Boston boarding house for destitute blacks. On December 5, 1784, she died there in poverty at the age of 31, probably from an infection or blood clot contracted while giving birth. Her third baby died only a few hours later. They were buried together in an unmarked grave. The Boston Independent Chronicle reported, "Last Lord's Day, died Mrs. Phillis Peters (formerly Phillis Wheatley), aged thirty-one, known to the world by her celebrated miscellaneous poems. Her funeral is to be this afternoon, at four o'clock, from the house lately improved by Mr. Todd...where her friends and acquaintances are desired to attend."

Before her death, she had addressed several other poems to George Washington. She sent them to him, but he never responded again. Her last known poem was written for Washington. After Phillis' death, her estranged husband, John Peters, went to the woman who had provided temporary shelter for Phillis and demanded that she hand over the manuscripts of the proposed second volume. After Peters received Phillis' manuscripts, the second volume was never seen again.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

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