1758 John Singleton Copley 1738-1815 Portrait of Ann Fairchild Bowler
This is the perfect time to look at paintings of 18C Americans with their birds, both in the wild & captured in aviaries & cages. We know that native North American birds fascinated men & women alike in 18C British American colonies. Colonials kept cages for their birds. Some even kept larger bird-keeping areas called aviaries.
1718 Nehemiah Partridge (American artist, 1683-1737) Portrait of Catherine Ten Broeck with Bird.
Between 1739 and 1762, South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney (c 1722-1793) kept a letterbook in which she wrote, "Airry Chorristers pour forth their melody...the mocking bird...inchanted me with his harmony." By this time, enterprising Southerners caged red birds and even exported extra cages of mockingbirds to England.
An aviary is an enclosed area, often in a garden & larger than a traditional birdcage, meant for keeping, feeding, and hopefully breeding birds. Aviaries in South Carolina sometimes contained two-story bird houses.
1725 Charles Bridges (American artist, 1670-1747). Detail of William Byrd II & Lucy Parke daughter Evelyn Byrd and a bird in the tree.
Mark Catesby (1682-1749) sailed to Virginia in 1712, and stayed in the British Atlantic colonies for 7 years, sketching & compiling The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands for publication upon his return to England. In his monumental work, he described birds he had seen in the colonies in cages. Thomas Jefferson had a copy of Catesby's History in his library.
Thomas Jones. The New York Journal published a poem of a woman imagining her ideal garden entitled A Wish of a Lady in 1769.
"...Just under my window I'd fancy a lawn,
Where delicate shrubs shou'd be planted with taste,
And none of my ground be seen running to waste.
Instead of Italians, the Linnet and Thrush
Wou'd with harmony greet me from every bush;
Those gay feather'd songsters do rapture inspire!
What music so soft as the heav'nly choir..."
1733 Gerardus Duyckinck (American artist, 1695-1746). Detail David and Phila Franks with bird.
18C portrait painters in America depicted men, women, & children with birds from the beginning of the century to the end. One question is whether the birds are being used as symbols or are actually birds that they might have owned.
Birds were kept as pets around Charleston, South Carolina, when an ad in the South-Carolina Gazette in January of 1753 noted, "ANY Persons willing to try the cultivation of Flax and Hemp in this province, may have gratis a pint of Hemp Seed, and half a pint of Flax Seed, at Mr. Commissary Dart's store in Tradd-Street.—But it's hoped ladies will not send for any Hemp Seed for birds."
1755 John Wollaston (American artist, 1710-1775). Detail Elizabeth Page & Mann Page, children of Mann & Ann Corbin (Tayloe) Page of Rosewell, Gloucester County, with bird.
In February of 1768, James Drummond announced in Charleston's The South Carolina and American General Gazette that he had "just imported...from L(ondon), a large and compleat (Assortment) of GOODS, Among which are the following... men and womens white Italian gloves... corks, an sortment of watchmaker's tools...a bird cage."
James McCall advertised in the 1771 South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal the he had "just received...a great Variety of Garden Seeds, Pease and Beans; Hemp, Canary, Rape, and Moss Seed for Birds."
Baroness Von Riedesel traveling through the British American southern colonies with her officer husband during the American Revolution wrote, "I had brought two gorgeous birds with me from Virginia. The main bird was scarlet with a darker red tuft of feathers on his head, about the size of a bull-finch, and it sang magnificently. The female bird was gray with a red breast and also had a tuft of feathers on its head."
1760 Joseph Badger (American artist, 1708-1765). James Badger with bird.
The Baroness continued, "They are very tame soon after they are caught and eat out of one's hand. These birds live a long time, but if two male birds are hung in the same room they are so jealous of each other that one of them dies soon afterwards."
The Baroness related that she, "saw black birds in Virginia of the same size, which always cry 'willow.' This amused us very much because one of my husband's aides was named Willoe."
1763-65 Henry Benbridge (American artist, 1743-1812). Detail of Gordon Family with bird.
The visiting Baroness stated, "One of my servants discovered a whole nest of these red birds and fed and raised them. Knowing how much I loved them, he left Colle with two cages full on his back, but they all died before he reached me, much to our sorrow."
1766-67 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail of Mary Boylston (Mrs Benjamin Hallowell) with bird.
In America, the New-York Magazine; or, Literary Repository of 1792, was advising its readers that, "A Goldfinch must never be let loose in an aviary, for he destroys the nests and breaks the eggs of the other birds."
1766 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail of Elizabeth Ross (Mrs. William Tyng) with bird.
William Faris (1728-1804) was a silversmith & clock-maker living in Annapolis, Maryland, for over 50 years. He kept journals & a diary of his life there, on & off, during the last quarter of the 18C. On October 25, 1793, Faris noted, "Last night the 2 yallow Birds died." Earlier, he had written that his "poor Mocking Bird" had died. Although these are the only references to birds in the diary he kept during the 1790s, his 1804 inventory listed 11 bird cages.
Isaac Weld (1774-1856) noted in his 1800 Travels through the States of North America that at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia, "A large apartment is laid out for a library and museum, meant to extend the entire breadth of the house, the windows of which are to open into an extensive greenhouse and aviary."
1770-1775 James Peale (American artist, 1749-1831). Girl with bird.
Margaret Bayard Smith, who was a new bride in Washington DC in 1800, wrote in her diary, "In the window recesses were stands for the flowers and plants which it was his delight to attend and among his roses and geraniums was suspended the cage of his favorite mocking-bird, which he cherished with peculiar fondness, not only for its melodious powers, but for its uncommon intelligence and affectionate disposition, of which qualities he gave surprising instances. It was the constant companion of his solitary and studious hours. Whenever he was alone he opened the cage and let the bird fly about the room. After flitting for a while from one object to another, it would alight on his table and regale him with its sweetest notes, or perch on his shoulder and take its food from his lips. Often when he retired to his chamber it would hop up the stairs after him and while he took his siesta, would sit on his couch and pour forth its melodious strains. How he loved this bird!"1770 Daniel Hendrickson (American artist, 1723-1788). Detail of Catharine Hendrickson surrounded by birds.
William Dobbs operated a Seed & Plant Store at 315 King street. He advertised in the December 2, 1811 edition of the Charleston Times: "For sale at wholesale and retail, an extensive assortment of Choice Garden Flowers and Bird seeds, the growth of 1811...Garden Tools, Flower Pots, Hyacinth Glasses." In October 1812, Dobbs property was put up at auction through ads in the October 13 and 22 editions of the Charleston Courier. Among the items to be auctioned, “All the Personal Estate and Stock in Trade...together with his elegant collection of Singing Birds; consisting of Canary and Mocking Birds; a Glass Case, containing stuffed Birds; empty Bird Cages...” Unfortunately, Dobbs died in the fall of 1812. His inventory of December 3, 1812, gives a glimpse of the property owned by the seedsman: “Rose Apple Trees, Rosemary, Squills, Double Tube Roses, Amaryths, Peach Trees, 40 Canary Birds, Seeds, Bird Seed, shovels, spades, bird cages, pees, 2 green Houses and glasses, garden tools, Glasses for Roots, Shelves of Jars with Seeds in them...”
In 1748, visitor to the British American colonies, Peter Kalm noted that turkeys, wild geese, pigeons and partridges were often tamed to the extent that “when they were let out in the morning they returned in the evening.”
In 1772, the South-Carolina Gazette carried an ad for a plantation to be rented "on the Ashley River near Charleston" with "two well-contrived aviaries." A year later, the same paper noted a lot in Charlestown which contained, "a very good Two-Story Birds House."
1790s Ellen Sharples (American artist, 1769-1849). Detail of Theodosia Burr of New Jersey with bird.