Sunday, June 30, 2013

Timeline 1750-1759


Over a million people live in colonial America.

The British Parliament passes The Iron Act, limiting the growth of the iron industry in the American Colonies

The word "bluestocking," is used as a put-down for learned women.

Neoclassicism as a reaction against baroque and rococo styles spreads over Europe.

The first American coal mine opens on the James River in Virginia.

The river flatboat and the Conestoga wagon first appear in Pennsylvania.

The first playhouse opens in New York City.

The first Great Awakening ends when Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is forced to resign from his church in Northampton, MA because of his emphasis on the sinful nature of man. He rejects the liberal "halfway covenant." He becomes pastor of a church in the frontier settlement of Stockbridge, in western Massachusetts.

The Currency Act is passed by the English Parliament, banning the issuing of paper money by the New England colonies.

Charlotte Ramsay Lennox (1720-1804) writes the first novel by an Ameican-born writer, The Life of Harriet Stuart. Lennox, born in New York and sent to England at the age of fifteen for schooling, remained there for the rest of her life. It is also the first novel with American settings, such as the Hudson River, Albany, and the Mohawk Valley.


Britain passes the British Calendar Act, which places England and its colonies on the Gregorian Calendar beginning in 1752.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1791) publishes "Experiments and Observations on Electricity," using the terms positive and negative for the first time. And he helps found the first “English Academy” in Philadelphia.

James Madison (1751-1836), fourth President of the U.S., is born in Port Conway, Virginia

The Ohio Company actively colonizes in the Ohio Valley.

Sugar cane grown in America is introduced in Louisiana by Catholic missionaries; it is used to make a kind of rum.

The minuet becomes Europe’s fashionable dance.

George II repeals the 1705 act, making slaves real estate in Virginia.

James Davis begins publishing the North Carolina Gazette, the colony’s first newspaper, in New Bern. He also prints North Carolina’s first book.

The first cricket match is held in New York City.


French and Indian: The French begin building forts across Pennsylvania and into Ohio to stop British invasion of their territory.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) performs his famous kite experiment, proving that lightning is electricity.

Thomas Bond (1712-1784) establishes the first general hospital in the colonies in Philadelphia, treating all except those with incurable or infectious diseases.

Martha Daniell Logan (1704-1779) writes a "Gardener's Kalendar." The Charleston, South Carolina, widow, plantation owner, schoolteacher, and horticulturist's publishes it in the South Carolina Almanack, published by John Tobler. Her work is significant as the first American treatise on gardening.

Charlotte Ramsay Lennox writes The Female Quixote; or, The Adventures of Arabella satirizing the idealized conventions of French romances. Ramsay would dramatize the novel as Angelica; or Quixote in Petticoats in 1758.


Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) and William Hunter are appointed as postmasters general for the American Colonies.

George Washington undertakes a difficult and ineffectual journey to persuade the French to withdraw from the Ohio valley

French troops from Canada seize the Ohio Valley in action leading up to the French and Indian War.

Moravians from Pennsylvania purchase a 100,000-acre tract in present-day Forsyth County in North Carolina from Earl Granville. They name the area Wachovia, which means “peaceful valley.” They establish the settlement of Bethabara in November.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) publishes "Species Plantarum," establishing the names of plant species.

Elizabeth Sampson Ashbridge (1713-1755) writes an autobiography of her spiritual development Some Account of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge. An ordained Quaker minister, she hints that the ability to free herself from male authority depends on her ability to accept God's authority. The work would be first published in 1774.


George Washington kills ten French troops at Fort Duquesne, in the first violent clash of the French and Indian war. Washington leads a small group of American colonists to victory over the French, then builds Fort Necessity in the Ohio territory. In July, after being attacked by numerically superior French forces, Washington surrenders the fort and retreats.

The French and Indian War begins. France and Britain fight for seven years over the territory from Canada down the west side of the Mississippi River to New Orleans. In Europe, the conflict is called the Seven Years' War. Albany Plan of Union; June

King’s College in New York City is founded; it becomes Columbia University in 1784.

Benjamin Franklin's chopped-up snake, urging union of the colonies with the caption 'Join or Die', is the first American political cartoon. And he proposes to the Albany Congress that the colonies should unite to form a colonial government.

Esther Edwards Burr (1732-1758) begins writing her Journal. Burr chronicles daily life from 1754 to 1757, giving information on topics such as the founding of Princeton College, religious revivals, childbearing practices, the French and Indian War, and women's roles during the period. It would be published in several editions by Jeremiah Eames Rankin (1828-1904) as Esther Burr's Journal.An account of the kidnapping by Indians of Elizabeth Hanson (1648-1737), wife of John Hanson of Dover, New Hampshire was published posthumously in Philadelphia as God's mercy surmounting man's cruelty, exemplified in the captivity and redemption of Elizabeth Hanson, wife of John Hanson, of Knoxmarsh at Kecheachy, in Dover township, who was taken captive with her children, and maid-servant, by the Indians in New-England, in the year 1724.


British General Edward Braddock (c.1695-1755) takes command of all English forces in America during the French and Indian War. In April, Gen. Braddock and Lt. Col. George Washington set out with nearly 2000 men to battle the French in the Ohio territory. In July, a force of about 900 French and Indians defeat those English forces in an ambush near Ft. Duquesne in Western Pennsylvania. Braddock is mortally wounded. Massachusetts Governor William Shirley then becomes the new commander in chief.

The first Conestoga wagons are acquired by George Washington for an expedition through the Alleghenies.

Sarah Haggar Osborn (1714-1796) writes a series of emotional letters on her spiritual awakening The Nature, Certainty, and Evidence of True Christianity. This work begins as a series of letters to a friend and represents a look back on Osborn's spiritual awakening. In 1799, Osborn would expand her letters into Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Sarah Osborn.


French under General Louis Montcalm (1712-1759) capture and destroy British colonial Fort Oswego in New York.

England declares war on France, as the French and Indian War in the colonies now spreads to Europe.

The governor of Pennsylvania, in response to Indian attacks, offers a bounty for Indian scalps. This act of war forces those remaining Quakers to resign from the Assembly, as it goes against the pacifist beliefs . This marks the true onset of the Age of Quietism within the Quaker community.


William Pitt becomes England's Secretary of State and escalates the French and Indian War in the colonies by establishing a policy of unlimited warfare.

The first street lights—whale-oil lamps designed by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)—are used on a few streets in Philadelphia.

The first public concert is held in Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is sent to London as a representative of the Pennsylvania legislature to negotiate for the heirs of William Penn and remains there for 5 years.

Martha Wadsworth Brewster (fl. 1725-1757) of Lebanon, Connecticut, writes Poems on Divers Subjects, containing poems, letters, & some prose works. Brewster tackles radical subject matter for an 18th century woman, including military events & the brutality of war. When the book first appears, Brewster has to demonstrate her authorship to a public skeptical that a woman could write poetry by publicly paraphrasing a psalm into verse.


James Monroe (1758-1831) 5th President of the U.S., is born on April 28, in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

English forces at Lake George, New York, lose nearly two thousand men during a frontal attach against well-entrenched French forces at Fort Ticonderoga; French losses are 377. General Montcalm and his French troops are defeated and colonials begin settling there.

George Washington (1732-1799) and General John Forbes (1710-1759) take Fort Duquesne, later renamed Pittsburgh.

A school for Negroes is established in Philadelphia by the Anglican missionary group.

Molly (Mary) Brant (c.1736-1796), a Mohawk woman, becomes the partner of Sir William Johnson. She is largely responsible for the alliance between the Iroquois and the British.

A raiding party consisting of French and Shawnee warriors takes Mary Jemison (1743-1833) captive. She adopts Native American customs, which she retains all her adult life.

Jonathan Edwards becomes president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University.

The first North American Indian reservation is established on 3,000 acres in New Jersey.

Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker (1734-1807) begins writing her diary, which later becomes an in-depth portrait of an elite urban woman from Philadelphia in the late eighteenth century. Excerpts of the diary would be first published in 1889.

Charlotte Ramsay Lennox writes Henrietta, a novel concerning an orphaned French girl's adventures. It would be adapted by the author as the drama The Sister in 1769.

Annis Boudinot Stockton (1735-1801) writes "Epistle to Mr. S." This is one of Stockton's earliest poems and possibly the first poetry published by a New Jersey woman. The poem originally appeared in the New York Mercury and reveals a period of great sadness in Stockton's life--the time of her husband's extended and final illness. Stockton would become one of the most published American women poets of the century, with at least twenty-one of her poems appearing in prestigious newspapers and magazines.

Martha Brewster publishes Poems on divers subjects…A word of advice reserv'd for my two grand-sons, being yet babes. By Martha Brewster, of Lebanon.

Pennsylvania Quakers forbid their members from owning slaves or participating in the slave trade.


The French surrender to the British at Quebec. Ft. Niagara is captured by the British.

A measles epidemic breaks out all over North America, wherever white people live.

Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802) marries George Washington (1732-1799).

Abigail Smith (1744-1818) is received into her father’s Congregational Church in Weymouth on June 24. Later that summer, she meets John Adams (1735-1826) in her father’s parsonage.

Colonial shipbuilders are producing nearly 400 vessels each year.

Thomas Penn (1702-1775) and Richard Penn establish the first recorded life insurance company, the Presbyterian Ministers fund, in Philadelphia.

Peter Harrison (1716-1775) designs the first U.S. synagugue, the Touro synagogue in Newport, RI.

War erupts between Cherokee Indians and southern colonists.

Yale Law School, The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History, and Diplomacy. New Haven, CT.Burt, Daniel S., editor. THE CHRONOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE: AMERICA'S LITERARY ACHIEVEMENTS FROM THE COLONIAL ERA TO MODERN TIMES. Houghton Mifflin Internet.

HISTORY MATTERS. American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY) and the Center for History and New Media (George Mason University). Internet.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

1776 America's first female lighthouse keeper

The Gurnet, a 27 acre peninsula forming the northern boundary of Plymouth Bay, is located a few miles northeast of Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims knew the land as “the gurnett’s nose,” apparently naming the area for similar headlands in the English Channel, where the gurnet fish flourished along Devonshire’s shores. When Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1606 to map the Gurnet and Clark’s Island, he found thick pine forests & Native Americans fishing for cod using lines made of tree bark with wooden fish hooks to which a spear-shaped bone was attached.

Lighthouse at Plymouth (Gurnet), now Saquish Beach, MA

The Gurnet became part of Plymouth on January 7, 1638. By the 1770s, 75 fishing vessels were based in the area, and at one point, Duxbury was one of the world’s leading shipbuilding centers.

Under the direction of the Massachusetts Legislature, the first Plymouth Lighthouse, a wooden keeper’s dwelling measuring 15 by 30 feet, equipped with a lantern at each end of its roof, was completed in September 1768 at a cost of £660. The twin lights, exhibited at a height of 86 feet above the sea, distinguished the station from the single light used at Boston.

The lighthouse was built on land rented for 5 shillings a year from John & Hannah Thomas. John, a surgeon, was hired as the 1st keeper serving until he joined the Continental Army. He recruited a regiment of volunteers from Plymouth County to help repel the British in the Siege of Boston, & then served as a major general led troops in Quebec, where he died of small pox on June 2, 1776. Along with raising their 3 children, Hannah took over John’s lighthouse post, making her the first woman lighthouse keeper in America.

It is said that in 1776, after Fort Andrew was erected at Gurnet Point, the H.M.S. Niger reportedly sailed around the Gurnet toward Plymouth Harbor, exchanging fire with the fort’s six-cannon battery and, many believe, destroying one of the lighthouse beacons in the process.

Plymouth’s worst shipwreck occurred in 1778, when the American privateer General Arnold was trapped in a blizzard less than a mile from Plymouth Light. Choosing to forego the risk of entering Plymouth’s inner harbor without a pilot, the captain dropped anchor hoping to ride out the storm. As the gale rose to hurricane force, the vessel drug anchor running aground on White Flats. Before residents of the Gurnet could construct a causeway over the ice to reach the stranded vessel, 72 of the its crew of just over 100 froze to death in view of the light.

After the war, the lighthouse was refurbished & put back in service with Hannah Thomas as keeper. Hannah hired Nathaniel Burgess (or Burges) to serve as keeper in 1786, and that same year a coasting sloop traveling from Boston to Plymouth struck a sand bar near the Gurnet. Two of the seamen from the vessel trudged 7 miles through a bitter snowstorm to reach Gurnet Lighthouse. Keeper Burgess fed & warmed them beside the fire, dispatching his assistant, possibly Hannah’s son John, to bring in the rest of the crew.

In 1790, the light was ceded to the U.S. government, & John Thomas took over as keeper. His salary of $200 per annum was lower than at other lighthouses, because the Gurnet was deemed an acceptable place to live with ample fishing & land with good soil to garden. Keepers at less hospitable locations, such as Thatcher Island or Boston Light, earned $266.67.

1843 photo of the twin Plymouth Lights. Photo from US Navy
After the lighthouse was completely destroyed in a fire on July 2, 1801, the merchants of Plymouth and Duxbury funded the construction of a temporary beacon. On April 6, 1802, Congress voted to repay them $270 and appropriated $2,500 to rebuild the lighthouse on the Gurnet. The Thomas family was paid $120 for the land on which twin, 22' tall lighthouses, spaced 30 feet apart, were built in 1803.

See Lighthouse Friends here for more intriguing stories.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Paintings of 18th-Century American Families

1729 John Smibert (American colonial era artist, 1688-1751). The Bermuda Group

Family portraits are rare in early 18th century British colonial America, perhaps because they were expensive & usually so large, that they required a sizable public parlor for display. Most 18th-century colonial American houses were not spacious. Family portraits are also much more complicated for the artist, and there were few artists available in colonial America early in the century. But the incidence of family portraits grew, as the number of painters & spaces in homes also grew.

1741 Robert Feke (American colonial era artist, 1707-1751). Family of Isaac Royall.

Some gentlemen had family portraits painted as a sign of wealth & as a factor in gaining respect & power in the new world. The painting announced that they were important, entitled to be the natural leader in the new society. Other family paintings commemorated a specific event. Most were not painted to be tucked away for private family contemplation, but to act as a public icon or an emblematic memory for an audience larger than the immediate family. The composition of family paintings was changing throughout the 18th-century as well.

1747 John Greenwood (American colonial era artist, 1727-1792). The Greenwood-Lee Family

The concept of family was evolving as emerging Enlightenment ideas began to impact everyday domestic life & family values in colonial America. Slowly throughout the century, the strict partriarchal family concept was beginning to change. English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) implied that women should have greater authority in the family & the home. In portraits, artists began to display the woman on nearly the same level as the husband.

1750 John Wollaston (American colonial era artist, 1710-1775). Family Group

Artists began to feel that they could portray married couples as congenial companions. Painters began to portray men participating more in the rearing of their children, they were no longer just expected to be distant strict disciplinarians. Americans were beginning to believe that children needed to be loved & to play. The individual was also becoming more important in 18th-century America. Artists often used props to signify something about the talents, skills, & identities of individuals within these families. In one way or another, each of the following portraits reflects changing patriarchial values, gender relations, attitudes towards women & children, and the growing democratization of American society. But we still remember that women did not receive the right to vote in the United States until 1920.

1755 Joseph Blackburn (American colonial era artist, fl 1753-1763). Isaac Winslow and His Family

NB For this posting I have excluded portraits of children only. Smibert's Bermuda Group and Copley's family portrait were executed immediately before or after the artist entered or exited the American colonial experience. They are so good, I just couldn't resist stretching the boundries to include them.

1763-65 Henry Benbridge (American colonial era artist, 1743-1812). Gordon Family (Including his stepfather & mother Mary Clark Benbridge Gordon)

1770 Henry Benbridge (American colonial era artist, 1743-1812). The Tannatt Family

1771 Charles Willson Peale (American colonial era artist, 1741-1827). Edward Lloyd Family with wife Elizabeth Tayloe and daughter Anne.

1771 William Williams (American colonial era artist, 1727-1791). The Wiley Family.

1771-73 Charles Willson Peale (American colonial era artist, 1741-1827). The Peale Family.

1772 William Williams (American colonial era artist, 1727-1791). The William Denning Family

1775 Henry Benbridge (American colonial era artist, 1743-1812). The Archibald Bulloch Family.

1776 John Singleton Copley (American-born artist, 1738-1815). The Copley Family.

1779 Edward Savage (American artist, 1761-1817). The Savage Family.

1779 Henry Benbridge (American artist, 1743-1812). The Enoch Edwards Family.

1785 Robert Edge Pine (American artist, 1720-30-1788). Alexander Contee Hanson, Sr. and Family.

1787 Henry Benbridge (American artist, 1743-1812). The Hartley Family.

1788 Johannes Eckstein (American artist, 1736-1817) The Samels Family

1789 Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827). Robert Goldsborough & Family.

1789 Edward Savage (American artist, 1761-1817). The George Washington Family.

1790 John Brewster Jr. (American painter, 1766-1854) Morgan Family Portrait

1793 Joseph Wright (American artist, 1756-1793). The Wright Family (Joseph & Sarah with children Harriet, Sarah, & Joseph).

1795 James Peale (American artist, 1749-1831). The Artist & His Family.

c 1795 John Brewster Jr. (American painter, 1766-1854) Deacon Eliphaz Thayer and His Wife, Deliverance

1795 Unknown Artist. The Cheney Family.

1790s Josè Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza (Mexican-born Louisiana artist, 1750–1802) Family of Don Antonio Mendez (1750-1829)

1796 Jonathan Budington (American artist, 1766-1854). Portrait of George Eliot and Family.

1796 Ralph Earl (American artist, 1751-1801) The Nickerson Family

1798 John Ritto Penniman (American painter, 1782–1841) Family Group

1798 Ralph Earl (American artist, 1751-1801). Mrs. Noah Smith and Her Children.

1790s Josè Francisco Xavier de Salazar y Mendoza (Mexican-born Louisiana artist, 1750–1802) Family of Dr. Joseph Montegut

1800 Joshua Johnson (American artist, c.1763–1832). Family Group.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

From Wax Figure sculptor to portrait artist & 1st US Mint engraver Joseph Wright 1756-1793)

Joseph Wright (1756-1793), was born in Bordentown, New Jersey. He probably received his first art training from his mother, wax sculptor Patience Lovell Wright (1725–86).

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) Benjamin Franklin 1782 from observation + the 1778 pastel by Joseph Siffred Duplessis (1725–1802)

After his father's death in 1769, Joseph, Jr. was probably taken by guardians, Manuel Eyre & his wife, who lived in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. In that year, Joseph began studies at The College, Academy & Charitable School of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania.

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) George Washington, 1783-1785 In August 1783, Congress authorized funding for an equestrian statue of George Washington in "Roman dress…his head encircled with a laurel wreath." They commissioned American painter Joseph Wright for a bust of the victorious Commander in Chief. Wright executed this cast bas-relief portrait as an offshoot of that project. Bust-length, profile portraits were extremely popular in the late eighteenth century. Based on ancient Greek and Roman examples, they appealed to neoclassical tastes. They also embodied the individualism and rationalism of the Enlightenment era by demanding close, objective observation for an accurate depiction.

His mother opened a waxworks in New York City. In 1772, she moved to London to open a studio & waxworks there. Six years later, in 1775, Joseph, Jr. joined his mother in England; & became the first American-born student to matriculate in the Royal Academy of Arts at Somerset House in London, where he studied for 6 years, until 1781. He won a silver medal for "the best model of an Academy figure" in December 1778. In 1780, he caused a scandal at the Royal Academy by exhibiting a portrait of his mother sculpting a wax head of King Charles II, while busts of King George III & Queen Charlotte looked on.

Joseph Wright (American artist, 1756-1793) Hannah Bloomfield Giles 1784

In 1781, Joseph, & his mother, traveled to Paris; & while there, he painted several portraits of Benjamin Franklin. After 7 years in Europe, Wright returned to America in 1782, where he became the first of just 2 artists to make a plaster mold of George Washington.

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) George Washington Drypoint 1790. Wright’s delicate & intimate drypoint profile of Washington was much copied by contemporary artists in a variety of media, magazines, prints, & medals. There is a popular, though not necessarily truthful, story that Wright secretly sketched the president, while he sat in his pew in Saint Paul’s Chapel in New York. Washington posed for Wright in 1783, for a painting & a sculpture. It is conceivable, that the artist drew upon that experience for this little print.

In 1783, George Washington described the experience as Wright executed his plaster mask, "He oiled my features over, and, placing me flat upon my back upon a cot, proceeded to daub my face with the plaster. While in this ludicrous attitude, Mrs. Washington entered the room, and seeing my face thus overspread with plaster, involuntarily exclaimed. Her cry excited in me a disposition to smile, which gave my mouth a slight twist or compression of the lips that is now observable in the busts which Wright afterwards made."

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) G. Washington, engraved by James Manly after Joseph Wright, ca. 1790.

Thomas Jefferson judged a portrait of George Washington by Joseph Wright very highly. "I have no hesitation in pronouncing Wright's drawing to be a better likeness of the General than Peale's," he wrote in 1795. Wright painted a portrait of Washington for Jefferson in 1784, & planned to have a drawing, which was made at the same time, engraved in London by his mother Parience Wright.

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg (1750-1801) First Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

In January 1786, the engraving still had not been made. Jefferson wrote: "before the painter would agree to draw it for me, he made me promise not to permit any copy of it to be taken till his mother in London should have time to have an engraving from one which he drew out at the same time, & also to dispose of the engravings. Twenty months have now elapsed, & I can neither learn that they have made any engraving from the picture, nor get an answer from the painter." Wright's mother died in London in 1786.

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) John Jay (1745–1829) was a patriot statesman & the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court (1789–95).

Wright made a small drypoint etching of Washington in New York in 1790, & Jefferson acquired two of them. He purchased the first on 10 June, noting in his Memorandum Book, "pd for print of the President by Wright 8/." & the second on June 23, "pd. for another engraving of General Washington by Wright 8/." On June 27, he sent one to his daughter Martha: "I now inclose you an engraving of the President done by Wright who drew the picture of him which I have at Paris."

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) Coin designed with Liberty Cap

Wright stayed in New York City in 1785, before moving back to Philadelphia. On December 5, 1789, Wright married Sarah Vandervoordt in Philadelphia.

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) worked at the first U. S. Mint taken in 1854 by Frederick DeBourg

Meanwhile, President, George Washington & Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, diligently sought after talented European engravers to design the first United States coins. However, they failed in this endeavor. They finally decided that Joseph Wright, would become the "unofficial" Mint Engraver in 1792.

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) Liberty Cap

He began working there at the nascent U. S. Mint in the second half of 1792. In August, 1793, Joseph was designated as the Mint's "First Draughtsman & Diesinker." Wright was responsible for the design of the Liberty Cap half & large cents. These designs were based upon the obverse of the Libertas Americana medal on which Wright is believed to have been the designer. Large Cent varieties of 1793 are his creations.

The first U.S. Mint (c.1910) built in 1792. The last-standing (main) building was destroyed in 1911

It was a a time of turmoil, confusion, & delay, during the building of the first US Mint. This mint was attempting to issue a new coinage that would take a while to be accepted. Most mint records were not being recorded. It was a time when creating & issuing US coinage was an urgent matter, just to gain a start, with an independent coinage for circulation in the newly independent nation the United States of America.

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) Family portrait of Artist's Family. Joseph Wright & Sarah Vandervoordt-Wright, in an unfinished 1793 painting, with their children; Sarah (on floor), Joseph & baby Harriet. Joseph, Jr. & Sarah are believe to be twins. Wright's painting was left unfinished, when both he & Sarah died from yellow fever during the 1793 Philadelphia epidemic. It has been postulated that Wright used Sarah's likeness when creating the Liberty Cap design.

It was a short lived post at the United States Mint, as Wright contracted Yellow Fever, less than a year into his new post, in 1793. The Yellow Fever epidemic struck Philadelphia hard that year & prompted, all who could, to leave the city. It shut-down mint operations for a time. Wright, contracted yellow fever & died on September 13, 1793. His wife Sarah also died from the fever.

Friday, June 21, 2013

American Wax Figure Sculptor Patience Lovell Wright 1725-1786

Patience Lovell Wright (1725-1786), sculptor in wax, was born in Bordentown, N.J., the 5th daughter of John & Patience (Townsend) Lovell. Her father’s family, originally from Massachusetts, had long been settled at Oyster Bay, Long Island (where the painter Robert Feke was a distant cousin), but had moved early in the 18th-century to New Jersey. John Lovell was a prosperous farmer & a Quaker of firm an individualistic principles, whose singular mode of life, Patience later claimed, included not only strict vegetarianism, but also the insistence that his whole family, including a son & 6 daughters, dress in pure white from head to foot.

This regimen perhaps had a part in inclining his children to mix colors, paint pictures, & model figures in dough or clay. It may also have hastened Patience’s flight to Philadelphia in her early twenties. There, on Mar. 20, 1748, she was married to Joseph Wright, a cooper whose family had similarly migrated from Oyster Bay to Bordentown. Little is know of her life for the next 21 years, but her husband’s death on May 7, 1769, left her with 5 children, of whom the eldest, Mary (Mrs. Benjamin Van Cleef), & the youngest, Sarah, born in her widowhood, died a few years later. There remained Elizabeth, Joseph (born in 1756), & Phoebe (born in 1761).  She said of her husband that he had “nothing but age and money to recommend himself to her,” but she bore him 5 children, one of them born after her husband Joseph died. She then discovered that husband Joseph had left her (and the 5th child of whom he had no knowledge) virtually nothing in his will.

Unknown artist, Patience Lovell Wright 1782

Thrown on her own resources & with the help of her sister Rachel Lovell Wells (1735-1796), Patience Wright began a career as a modeler in wax, a medium in which she soon displayed considerable talent. Both sisters had amused themselves & their children by molding faces out of putty, bread dough, and wax. Rachel had continued her childhood hobby of modelling in wax and showed Patricia how to make life-sized sculptures in wax. These they exhibited in a traveling show, earning commissions to sculpt likenesses along the way.

The Virginia Gazette announced on October 3, 1771, that wax figures were being shown in Boston by Rachel Lovell Wells and Patience Lovell Wright. ("Daughters of the celebrated Mr. John Lovell of Long Island, who between the Years of thirty and forty engaged in the Formation of Figures in Wax Work, which they readily brought here such Perfection as has amazed Spectators of all Ranks in the respective Capitals where they have been exhibited. The Figures they have brought here show the Return of the prodigal Son, the celebrated Mr. Whitefield, and the beloved Farmer of Philadelphia. Gentlemen acquainted with those admired Personages confess their Obligations to the Skill and Industry of those Ladies, for reviving the former from the Grave, and presenting his numberless Friends in Boston with the living Image of John Dickinson, Esquire."

By 1771, aided by her sister Rachel (Mrs. James Wells), she had created a traveling waxwork exhibit or a sort previously unknown. Other workers in wax usually had attempted mostly criminal, historical, & allegorical characters, but Mrs.Wright chose living & well-known personages. Her skill in reproducing their features accurately & rapidly, together with her colorful & forceful personality, won the friendship & patronage of many of her subjects, & her was show attracted favorable comment in Charleston, Philadelphia, & New York.

The sisters had opened a wax works in Philadelphia, but in June of 1771, a fire depleted and damaged many of their works of art. On June 10, 1771, The New-York Gazette or the Weekly Post-Boy noted, "On Monday Evening about 8 o'Clock, a Fire was discover'd in the House of Mrs. Wright, the ingenious Artist in Wax-Work, and Proprietor of Figures so nearly resembling the Life, which have for some Time past been exhibited in this City to general Satisfaction...tho' most of the Wax-Work was destroyed, together with some New Pieces which Mrs. Wells (Sister of Mrs. Wright) had lately brought from Charlestown: the whole amounting it is said to the Value of several Hundred Pounds; yet she was so fortunate as to save the curious Piece of the Rev. Mr. Whitefield, the Pennsylvania-Farmer and some others, which she continues to exhibit, and we hear that she proposes to repair the loss sustained by this Fire, as soon as possible, by making some new and curious Pieces."

The sisters re-stocked and opened in Boston, where they met Jane Mecom, who was the sister of Benjamin Franklin. Jane gave Patricia a letter of introduction to her brother, and Patricia sailed to England intending to use the connection as an entree into London society so that she could meet and sculpt prominent figures of the town.

With letters of reference from important Americans, she sailed in February 1772, her children followed sometime later. In London, her new friend Benjamin Franklin introduced her to various eminent persons, including the historian Catherine Macaulay, the political leader John Sawbridge, & the painter Benjamin West. She was soon ensconced in rooms in Pall Mall surrounded by was likenesses of these persons & of assorted dukes, scholars, actors, & radicals. Her technique far outshone that of her only London competitor, a Mrs. Salmon, & the novelty of her art was matched by her amusing & incessant conversation.  When Wright moved to England in 1772, she opened a waxworks in London. One newspaper reported on "the ingenious Mrs. Wright, whose Skill in taking Likeness, expressing the Passions, and many curious Devices in Wax Work, has deservedly recommended her to public Notice."

The May 26th, 1772, issue of the Virginia Gazette reported on an article about Patience Lovell Wright in the London Magazine. TO Chudley court I next bent my steps, to visit the dead alive, and the living dead, at Mrs. Wright's; a Lady with the most piercing eye, and the foundest understanding, who, with an art peculiar to herself, makes men and women as natural as nature...The pencil and chissel were designed for the artists of Rome and Athens, and they, in the early hour of the world, brought them rapidly to perfection, but this peculiar excellence of forming men and women in wax was reserved by the goddess of nature for the superiour genius of America; and when we consider to what an amazing perfection she has brought this art, it rather perplexes our understanding to see compositions so immediately like ourselves. I mixed with a variety of fashionable people, who frequent this repository of curiosities, and I could not help smiling to bear and see her at work; for while the head lies upon her knee it hath so strongly a human appearance, that, at the first sight, it looks like a fresh head severed from the body. But the manner of her working up the features is wonderful; she always covers the wax with a cloth, and while the wax is warm and soft, and equal to any impression, she raises or depresses it at pleasure, and some of the strongest likenesses she hath done from memory only...

"The time I did myself the pleasure to attend her, it was whimsical to hear her call for her ingredients. She was then upon a warriour's face, which was rather weather-beaten, and every minute she was asking for tobacco spittle to darken the complexion, or for vermilion for the checks; then calling to the servant for an eye, or inquiring for the last shoulders and ears she made. It was so extraordinary to see this new Promethean compose , that I was lost in admiration and amazement. I often lamented that she had not the gift of giving senses to her figures , for then she would be a patriot in the true sense of the word; for she might retain the likeness of the King, Lords, and Parliament, and yet send them all new and better heads, in exchange for those which are the wrong heads of these wrong times. The most striking likenesses which I observed in the room, and they were perfect as life, were the King, Queen, Lord Chatham, Mrs. Macaulay, Col. Barre, Lord North, Capt Edward Thompson, Mr. Sharp, Governour Pownal, Mr. Hanway, Mr. Dingley, and she had Wilkes's head on her lap."

As her letters make plain, she lacked formal education, but this was offset by her ebullient, intuitive vigor of mind. Cultivating her reputation as a bohemian eccentric, she used profanity with gusto; she struck the proper Abigail Adams as unladylike in appearance & over familiar in manner. English society, however, was delighted with the “American Sibyl.” Even the King & Queen, it is said, enjoyed receiving her advice, addressed to them bluntly as “George” & “Charlotte.”

A letter to the printer in The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, November 9, 1772, reported "We hear from England, that the ingenious Mrs. Wright, whose surprising Imitations of Nature, in Wax Work, have been so much admired in America, by a diligent Application and Improvement in the same Employment, has recommended herself to the general Notice and Encouragement of Persons of the first Distinction in England, who have honoured her with peculiar Marks of their Favour; and as several eminent Personages, and even his Majesty himself, have condescended to sit several Times, for her to take their Likeness; it is probable that she will enrich her Collection, and oblige her Friends in America, with a View of the most remarkable Persons of the present Age, among which will be the immortal, inimitable Garrick, whom she had began; she has already compleated, and sent over to her House in this City, where they may be seen, the most striking Likeness of the celebrated Doctor Benjamin Franklin, of Philadelphia, now in London, and of Mrs. Catharine M'Cauley, so much admired for her great Learning, Writing and amiable Character."

A similar announcement appeared in as a news item from London, in the December 1, 1772, New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, February 15, 1773. "We hear the ingenious Mrs. Wright from America, at No. 30, Great Suffolk-street, Strand, has lately sent over to New-York, two of her inimitable Wax Figures, representing Dr. Franklin and Mrs. Mackauley; and that she is now making, (to go by Capt. All for Philadelphia), another of a well known character in America, as a present to the America Philosophical Society."

Patience Wright was fascinated by politics, & she made good use of her friendships with British & colonial leaders. Though a firm American patriot, she enjoyed intrigue for its own sake. In the deepening American crisis of 1773-74 she passed along to William Pitt (Lord Chatham) political gossip, which he seems to have valued, though it was somewhat incoherently mingled with her adulation of him as America’s “Guardian Angel.”

With the outbreak of war she came to view Benjamin Franklin in this exalted role, but her letters to Franklin in Paris do not substantiate the claim, that they contained strategic intelligence picked up in London among the ladies of her acquaintance. She is said to have sent secret communications to members of Congress & an anonymous letter of 1785 in the Franklin Papers quotes John Hancock as having commented her efforts. One unsubstantiated but credible legend is that these communications were concealed in the fax effigies of Lord North & others which she sent to her sister Mrs. Wells, then operating a wax museum in Philadelphia.

It is , in any case, well established that she opened her London house to American prisoners of war, one of whom, Ebenezer Platt, married her daughter Elizabeth in 1777; both died a few years later while traveling in America with a waxwork exhibition.

In 1780, her remaining daughter, Phoebe, became the wife of the portraitist John Hoppner, & in that same year her son Joseph made his own artistic debut at the Royal Academy with a portrait of his mother modeling a wax head.  Joseph Wright (1756-1793), was born in Bordentown, New Jersey, where he received his first art training from his mother.  Only when his portrait was hung did shocked spectators note that the head was that of Charles I, & that 2 onlookers upon whom Mrs. Wright was casting a significant glance were George III & Queen Charlotte.

To escape the stir her son had created with his portrait, in 1781, she left England for Paris, where she modeled a bust of Franklin. Wright was longing to return to America & embark on a profile of George Washington. In 1783, she wrote a letter to Washington, inquiring if she would be granted an opportunity to model a sculpture of his likeness. He courteously replied he would be honored to sit for her. Unfortunately, Wright died in England in 1786, before she was able to have Washington pose for her.

Here she met the young American merchant Elkanah Watson, who has left a description of her as she hailed him, a stranger but a fellow American, from her hotel window: “In two minutes, she came blustering down stairs, with the familiarity of an old acquaintance. We were soon on the most excellent terms…She was a tall & athletic figure; & walked with a firm, bold step; as erect as an Indian. Her complexion was somewhat sallow; her cheekbones, high; her face, furrowed; & her olives eyes keen, piercing & expressive. Her sharp glance was appalling; it had almost the wildness of a maniac’s. The vigor & originality of her conversation corresponded with her manners & appearance. She would utter language, in her incessant volubility, as if unconscious to whom directed, that would put her hearers to the blush. She apparently possessed the utmost simplicity of heart & character” (Men & Times of the Revolution, p. 137).

Unable to open a wax figure exhibition in Paris, where Philippe Curtius (uncle of the famous Madame Tussaud) had preempted the market, Mrs. Wright returned to England in 1781, consoled for the failure of her revolutionary schemes by the victorious conclusion of the war. One of her last major efforts was a reproduction in wax of the meeting of the peace commissioners.

The last notice of Mrs Wright appeared in New York City newspapers on October 20, 1785, when the New-York Packet advertised "Wax Works. To Be Seen at No. 100, the upper end of Queen-Street, at the House formerly occupied by Mrs. Wright, the Story of Bell and the Dragon, as large as life, with several other curious Figures. Admittance from nine in the Morning till nine at Night. Money received at the door, price, three shillings."

She fell out of favor with the royals during the American Revolution due to her fervent support of the colonies.  Her popularity in London having waned, she yearned again for her native land, stating that she could not be “content to have her bones Laid in London.” Laid in London they were, however, following her sudden death there in 1786, after a fall. Her sister Rachel, living in semi-retirement at Bordentown with a company of 33 wax figures, survived her by 10 years.

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, June 18, 2013

1754 A Picnic in Annapolis, Maryland

Fishing in the British American colonies was a social sport, & the outcome was as unpredictable then as it is nowadays. This poem appeared in the 1754 Maryland Gazette about preparing a list of items to take on a picnic & fishing trip on the Severn River in Annapolis.

Six bottle of wine, right old, good and clear;
a dozen at least, of English strong Beer:
Six quarts of good Rum, to make Punch and Grogg
(the latter a Drink that’s now much vogue)
some Cyder, if sweet, would not be amiss:
Of Butter Six pounds, we can’t do with less.

A tea Kettle, Tea, and all the Tea Geer,
To treat the Ladies and also small Beer.
Sugar, Lemons, a Strainer, likewise a Spoon;
Two China Bowls to drink out of at Noon:
A large piece of Cheese, a Table Cloth too,
A sauce-pan, two Dishes, and a Corkscrew:
Some Plates, Knives and Forks, Fish Kettle or pot,
And pipes and Tobacco must not be forgot:
A frying pan, Bacon or Lard for to Fry:
a tumbler and Glass to use when we’re dry
A hatchet, some Matches, a Steel and a Flint,
Some touch-wood, or Box with good tinder in’t.
some vinegar, Salt, some Parsley and Bread
or else Loaves of Pone to eat in it’s stead:
and for fear of bad Luck at catching of Fish
Suppose we should carry- A READY DRESSED DISH