Thursday, February 28, 2013

Biography - Georgia's Indian Leader Mary Musgrove c 1700-1763 & Her Unfortunate Choice of Husbands

Mary Musgrove (c 1700-1763), Indian leader in colonial Georgia, was the child of a Creek mother & an English trader. Originally named Coosaponakeesa, she was born at Coweta town, then on the Ocmulgee River but later moved to the Chattahoochee River. Her father, whose name is unknown, was an English trader; her mother is said to have been the sister of Old Brim, the so-called “Emperor of the Creeks.” When she was about seven, Mary was taken to Ponpon, South Carolina, by her father about 1710. In her own words, she was "there baptized, educated, and bred up in the principles of Christianity." Mary returned to Coweta in 1715, after the Yamasees revolt was put down. At the end of the Yamassee War in 1716, she returned to the Indian country west of the Savannah River.

Shortly, John Musgrove, a prominent South Carolinian, was sent by his government to deal with the Creeks. His son John Musgrove II, who accompanied him, met the young Indian girl & married her. She now assumed the name Mary Musgrove; & although she was married twice afterward, she is best known throughout history under that name.

John Musgrove & his wife Mary were among several traders who lived to the south & west of the Savannah River before 1733

The couple returned to South Carolina about 1722; but by 1732, they were back among the Creeks, running a trading station near a Yamacraw village on the western bluffs of the Savannah River. Mary & John established their trading post at Yamacraw Bluff in 1732, and Savannah was founded on this site a year later. Here they distributed merchandise primarily secured through the imported goods of Charleston merchants & received from the Indians some 1200 pounds of deerskins annually. They also had “a very good cow-pen & plantation,” where they raised their food crops.

When James Oglethorpe landed in 1733, to found the colony of Georgia, Mary Musgrove was among the first to greet him. Her personality, her facility in English, & her key position as a trader all recommended her to Oglethorpe as an aid in his Indian diplomacy. The Yamacraws were less than pleased with the founding of Savannah much less Georgia. The ink was not yet dry on the treaty establishing the Savannah River as the limit of white expansion to the south and west.

Oglethorpe made Mary his interpreter & emissary to the Creeks, treating her with “great Esteem.” It was largely owing to Mary Musgrove’s influence that the Creeks remained friendly to the English, serving throughout the imperial wars of the 18th-century as a buffer between the Southern English colonies & the Spanish in Florida. She became one of the most important figures in Georgia’s colonial history.

James Oglethorpe depicted with Yamacraw Chief Tomochichi. Mary appears between them.

Her husband John Musgrove served as interpreter for John Wesley and Tomo-Chichi. John Wesley was a frequent visitor to Mary's plantation on the Savannah. Mary owned the fairest and broadest acres in Georgia and supplied the struggling colonists with meat, bread & liquor.

At Oglethorpe’s request, the Musgroves set up Mount Venture, a trading station at the forks of the Altamaha River, to serve a a listening post for threats from Spanish Florida. Unfortunately Mary's beloved husband John Musgrove died there in 1739, & his widow promptly married one Jacob Matthews, captain of the 20 rangers stationed at the post, a “lusty fellow,” quarrelsome, & given to drink, who had formerly been her indentured servant.

Public opinion of Matthews was mixed. William Stephens migrated from England to Savannah in 1737, to serve as secretary of Trustee Georgia. Stephens wrote of Jacob Matthews: "On his Master's Death he found Means to get into the Saddle in his Stead, fitly qualified to verify the old Proverb of a Beggar on Horseback; soon learning to dress in gay Cloaths, which intitled him to be a Companion with other fine Folks of those Days, . . . . He was flattered to believe himself a Man of great Significance, and told, that he would be to blame not to exert himself, and let the World know what his Power was with the Indians; wherefore he might expect the Trust would have a singular Regard to that, and be careful to oblige him in all he should expect. Thus prepared, what may we not expect from him? To pass over many of his late Exploits a few of which I have touch'd on in some of my preceding Notes; he seems now to be grown ripe for exemplifying to what Uses he means to employ that Influence he thinks he has over those neighboring Indians, who by half Dozens or more at a Time, have daily of late been flocking about his House in Town, where they continually get drunk with Rum, and go roaring and yelling about the Streets, as well at Nights as Days, to the Terror of some, but the Disturbance and common Annoyance of everybody."

However, a neighbor, Robert Williams later testified: "I was an Inhabitant in this Province and lived at the next Plantation to Mr. Jacob Mathews on the River Savannah . . . he had cleared and planted a large Tract of Land with English Wheat, Indian Corn, Pease, and Potatoes; and very believe he had a larger Crop than any Planter raised by the Labour of White Hands within the said County And I further declare that I have often heard the said Mathews say, that he never received from the Trustees, or Persons in Power at Savannah on their Behalf, Any Bounty or Reward for the said produce. . . ."

From Mount Venture, Mary rallied the Creeks to aid the Georgians in their was with Spain-the War of Jenkins’ Ear 1739-44. Bands of Creek warriors accompanied Oglethorpe in his unsuccessful attack on St. Augustine in 1740, & her brother was killed in that attempt. She returned to Savannah in 1742, because of her husband’s ill health. Upon her departure, Spanish Indians destroyed Mount Venture & the settlement that had grown up around it.

Apparently Jacob worked hard but he also set himself up as the leader of the malcontents in Georgia and chief critic of the authorities to the annoyance of William Stephens. Stephens declared in his Journal for 1740 that it was useless "to foul more Paper in tracing Jacob Matthews through his notorious Debauches; and after his spending whole Nights in that Way, reeling home by the Light of the Morning, with his Banditti about him." Jacob Matthews died on May 8, 1742

Oglethorpe left the colony of Georgia in 1743, upon his departure giving Mary 200 pounds & a diamond ring from his finger. She continued her services to the colony, working successfully during the War of the Austrian Succession to counter French influence among the Creeks. Mrs Musgrove also persuaded her native relatives to retain their English allegiance, after their brief flirtation with Spain during the Creek-Cherokee war in 1747-48.

About 3 years after the death of her 2nd husband, Mary remarried. Her new husband would come to foment a scheme which took advantage both of the Creeks & of the colony government. Her new husband was an opportunistic fortune seeker named Thomas Bosomworth.

Bosomworth had an "Ambition of being an Author" of essays on religion. According to Stephens, "his sprightly Temper, added to a little Share of classical Learning, makes him soar" high. Bosomworth wrote a long essay on the "Glory & Lustre" of charity, to the Georgia Trustees in 1742, attempting to show that the Bethesda Orphans Asylum was being perverted. Bosomworth also wrote poems & lyrics but took offense at the accusation of having "Ambitions to be an Author." He wrote the Trustees, "I am sorry to find that my good intentions are so far perverted as to be imputed to an Ambition of appearing as an Author."

Failing as a religious essayist, Bosomworth next felt a call to preach sailing to England for Holy Orders in March 1743. He was appointed minister to Georgia for a term of 3 years on July 4th, and returned to Georgia on December 2nd. However, Bosomworth soon tired of preaching & apparently of Mary. He sailed back to England in 1745, without notice or providing for the church in Savannah declaring that he would not return. The Georgia Trustees ignored the complaints he attempted to bring to their attention, but Bosomworth decided to return to Georgia the following year.

He was, however, no longer the minister. One report was that he cast "aside his Sacredotals;" but another had it that the Trustees had torn them from him. His successor, the Reverend Mr. Zouberbuhler, discovered that Bosomworth had stripped the parsonage of all furniture, & he was forced to live in an unfurnished house for some time.

Dissatisfied with past unsuccessful financial ventures, Bosomworth laid plans for an ambitious venture into the cattle business. Mary first secured from the Creeks a grant of the 3 coastal islands of St. Catherines, Ossabaw, & Sapelo, together with a tract of land near Savannah which had been reserved to the Creeks, by treaty with the English, for hunting grounds. Chief Malatchee entered into this agreement on the "4th day of ye Windy Moon called ye month of January by ye English" in 1747, in return for promises of cloth, ammunition, & cattle.

After Bosomworth had stocked St. Catherines with cattle bought on credit in South Carolina, Mary made large claims to the colonial & English government for her past services. Mary & her husband came to Savannah on July 24, 1749, accompanied by Malatchee & 2 other chiefs. Malatchee announced that he was "the present and only reigning Emperor" & that all Creeks were his loyal followers. Malatchee also announced that 200 more chiefs & their warriors would be in Savannah within 8 days. And so Mary produced a large body of Indian warriors into Savannah in the summer of 1749, terrorizing the town for nearly a month. In 1754, she & her husband sailed for England to press her claims.

Not until 1759, was a settlement reached, the English government finally agreeing to give her St. Catherines Island & 1,200 pounds for her services to Georgia. Back on St. Catherines, she & her husband built a manor house & developed a cattle ranch, but Mary died not live long to enjoy it. Sometime in the early 1760s, she died & was buried on the island. Her only children, by her 1st husband, had all died in infancy.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Quaker Inventor Sybilla Righton Masters (died in 1720) & Patents for Women

Sybilla Masters (d. Aug. 23, 1720), inventor, sometimes called Sybella, was the 2nd daughter & 2nd of 7 children of William & Sara Murrell Righton, Quakers, of Burlington in the colony of West New Jersey. William, the son of William Righton & Sybella Strike, married Sarah Murrell, the daughter of Thomas Murrell, in Bermuda. The date & place of their daughter Sybilla's birth are unknown. She may have been born in Bermuda, before her parents sailed to the banks of the Delaware River. Her name first appeared in court records as a witness on behalf of her father, a mariner & merchant. Of her early life nothing is known; probably she spent it on her father’s plantation called Bermuda in Burlington Township on the banks of the Delaware.

At some time between 1693 & 1696, she was married to Thomas Masters (d. 1723), a prosperous Quaker merchant who had come to Philadelphia in 1685, or earlier from Bermuda. In 1702, Masters built a “stately” house on the Philadelphia riverfront, described by James Logan as “the most substantial fabric in the town.” He invested the profits of his overseas trade in lands in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia & had a “plantation,” or country house, there called Green Spring. A prominent figure in political as well as economic life, he was successively alderman of Philadelphia, mayor (1707-08), & provincial councilor (1720-23). Meanwhile Sybilla reared 4 children, Sarah, Mary (Mercy?), Thomas & William, & exercised her special talent for mechanical invention.

On June 24, 1712, she notified her Quaker meeting, that she intended to go to London & obtained a certificate of good standing to carry with her. Her object was to secure patents for two of her inventions. At that time, the process for grinding corn employed two large stones, called millstones. But Masters had seen American Indian women pounding corn with wooden mallets. So she invented a mill that used hammers to make cornmeal. That was much easier than finding, and hauling, and using huge millstones.

Masters wanted a patent for her invention, so that she alone would have the sole authority to make or sell her invention. But patents were not issued in Pennsylvania. So, in 1712, Masters set sail for Great Britain to obtain a patent. In London, Masters discovered that the British government did not have a regular governmental process for giving patents. So Masters applied for a patent from King George I.

King George took his own good time responding to her request. In the meantime, the practical Masters worked on another idea. She used straw & palmetto leaves to weave into hats, bonnets, & chair covers. She opened a shop in London to sell the goods. She then applied for a patent for her weaving method.

After 3 years, King George finally awarded a patent for milling corn. But he didn’t give the patent to Sybilla. Patents were not given to women. Instead, the king gave it to her husband, Thomas, for “a new invention found out by Sybilla, his wife.” Later, King George gave Thomas a patent for Sybilla’s weaving method.

On Nov. 25, 1715, letters patent (No. 401) were granted under the Privy Seal to Thomas Masters for “the sole use & benefit of ‘a new invention found out by Sybilla, his wife, for cleaning & curing the Indian Corn growing in the several colonies in America.’” As illustrated in the patent, this was a device for pulverizing maize by a stamping, rather than the usual grinding, process. It consisted of a long wooden cylinder with projections designed to trip two series of stamps or heavy pestles, which dropped into two continuous rows of mortars, whereby kernel corn was reduced to meal. Power could be supplied either by a water wheel or by horses. There was also a series of inclined trays, or shallow bins, presumably for curing, or drying, the meal.

Under the name of “Tuscarora Rice,” the corn meal so produced & prepared was offered for sale in Philadelphia as a cure for consumption. It has been called “the first American patent medicine,” but actually it was simply a food product, not unlike hominy. It was presumably for the purpose of producing this meal on a large scale by Sybilla’s patented method that Tomas Masters in 1714 acquired “the Governor’s mill,” a hitherto unprofitable mill built for William Penn in 1701 on Cohocksink Creek, not far from Green Spring. Sales, however, proved disappointing, & the mill was later converted to other purposes.

The Masters had hoped to export their newly processed cornmeal to England. But it didn’t sell. The British did not like the taste. However, folks in the colonies did like the taste. In fact, to this day, many people still like that cornmeal. They call it grits.

While in England, on Feb. 18, 1716, Sybilla Masters secured -again in her husband’s name- a second patent (No. 403), this one for “a new way of working & staining in straw, & the plat & leaf of the palmetto tree, & covering & adorning hats & bonnets in such a manner as was never before done or practiced in England or any of our plantations.” Unfortunately, neither drawing nor explanation accompanied this patent. Having been granted a monopoly on the importation of the palmetto leaf from the West Indies, she opened a shop in London at the sign of “the West India Hat & Bonnet, against Catherine-Street in the Strand.” Here, according to the London Gazette for Mar. 18, 1716, she sold hats & bonnets at prices from one shilling upwards, as well as “dressing & child-bed baskets, & matting made of the same West India for chairs, stools, & other beautiful furniture for the apartments of persons of quality, etc.”

By May 25, 1716, the determined inventor was back in Philadelphia. On July 15, 1717, the provincial council, on Thomas Masters’ petition, granted permission for the recording & publishing of her patents in Pennsylvania. She died, presumably in Philadelphia, in 1720. Whether or not she was , as she may have been, the first female American inventor, the bare facts of her ingenuity & enterprise in devising & patenting her two inventions & marketing their products entitle her to a place in American industrial & economic history & warrant Deborah Logan's accolade, inscribed on Sybilla Masters’ sole surviving letter: “A notable American woman.”

Sybilla Masters was a woman out of her time and far from typical. She was the first person from the American colonies to receive a patent from the King of England. She was not only the first American woman to receive a patent; she was also the last until 1793 -- until America had its own patent office. In 1793 a Mrs. Samuel Slater patented a new way of spinning cotton thread. Her husband built the famous Slater's Mill in Rhode Island. We still remember the mill, but we've largely forgotten the inventor and her patent, which served the mill so well.

If female ingenuity was anonymous in 18th-century America, it did only a little better in the 19th century. Mary Kies earned a patent--in her own name--in 1809 for a way of weaving straw that was put to use in the New England hat manufacturing trade. Martha Coston perfected her husband's idea for colored signal flares after his early death. Coston not only patented the flare system, used by the navy in the Civil War, but also sold the rights to the government for $20,000 & earned a contract to manufacture the flares. Margaret Knight's many inventions included a machine for making square-bottomed paper bags; her original patent is dated November 15, 1870. Still, by 1910, inventions by women accounted for less than 1% of all patents issued in the United States.

In 1888, the patent office listed every woman's patent it'd issued. The list showed only 52 before 1860. From then until the report was issued, that number grew to nearly 3000. That was a sure sign women were seeing themselves in new terms, but it was still a small fraction of the total patents.

Extracts From:
Scientific American, v 65 (ns), no 5, p 71-2, 1 August 1891
Fossil Patents By T. Graham Gribble
A much later but very quaint patent is that of Dame Sybilla Masters, of Philadelphia, for corn shelling and preserving. She writes in German text, hard to decipher and very antiquated for that period.  It is granted by King George the 1st, and the official entry in Roman text is as follows: "Letters patent to Thomas Masters, of Pennsylvania, Planter, his Execrs., Amrs. and Assignees, of the sole Vse and Benefit of 'A new Invention found out by Sybilla, his wife, for cleaning and curing the Indian Corn, growing in the several Colonies of America, within England, Wales, and Town of Berwick upon Tweed, and the Colonies of America.'"
The two upper illustrations [refers to patent drawing] show the cleaning and the lower the curing. The top view represents the sheller, worked by animal power, probably a donkey (Asinus vulgaris). The gearing and shaft are of wood, and a reciprocating motion is produced by a series of detents upon a revolving cylinder something after the manner of a musical box.
It is to be feared that Dame Sybilla's invention did not attain to as wide a field of application as was covered by the letters patent. It is more than probable that the obtuse agriculturist continued to shell corn sitting on a pine plank with a spade edge to scrape them off by, in spite of the "paines and industrie" of the dame.
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, February 26, 2013

Biography - Madame Montour c 1684-c 1752 Interpreter & Indian Agent for New York & Pennsylvania

Madame Montour (c. 1684-c. 1752), interpreter & Indian agent for the colonies of New York & Pennsylvania, spent most of her life among the Indians & was presumably of French & Indian descent. She had an air of distinction that led contemporaries to credit her with a genteel background. One observer (Witham Marshe) described her in 1844 as “a handsome woman, genteel, & of polite address” & reported that she had been well received by Philadelphia gentlewomen while on a treaty mission to that city. Conrad Weiser, the Pennsylvania Indian agent, referred to her in 1737 as “a French woman by birth, of a good family” (Journal, Mar. 22), & Cadwallader Colden of New York asserted that she had had “a good education in Canada before she went among the Indians” (New York Historical Society, Collections, I, 1868, p. 200).

She herself said in 1744, according to Marshe, “that she was born in Canada, whereof her father (who was a French gentleman) had been Governor”; & tradition would have her the daughter of Count Frontenac by an Indian woman. Forntenac, however, was recalled from Canada in 1682 & did not return until 1689, whereas Madame Montour must have been born about 1684, for she said in 1744 that it was then “nearly fifty years” since, at about the age of ten, she had been taken prisoner & carried away by Iroquois warriors. There is, moreover, some evidence that she was brought up from earliest childhood (before her presumed Iroquois captivity) in the family of half-breed “Louise Couc surnomme Montour,” son of Pierre Couc of Cognac, France, & his wife, an Algonquin named Mitewamagwakwe. Louis was a coureur de bois, a trapper & hunter, who lived at Three Rivers, Quebec, with his Indian wife of the Sokoki tribe, listed in local records as Madeline Sakokie. Madam Montour’s first husband, to further complicate the story, was reportedly a Seneca named Roland Montour (Hewitt, p. 937). But his surname may have been merely a coincidence, or he may possibly have taken the Montour name from her, rather than she from him; the evidence on this, as on her relationship with Lois Couc Montour, in inconclusive. Her husband Roland is thought to have been the Montour who was killed by French agents in April 1709. Though her first name is sometimes given as Catherine or Madeleine, in contemporary records she is simply Mrs. Or Madame Montour.

Whatever her background, she was a woman of great force of character. She first entered the service of the English colonies on Aug. 25, 1711, when she acted as interpreter at a conference in Albany between Gov. Robert Hunter & chiefs of the Iroquois, or Five Nations. She was at this time married to Carandowana, or Big Tree, an Oneida chief who, in compliment to the governor, subsequently took the name Robert Hunter. In 1712 Madame Montour & her husband accompanied Col. Peter Schuyler of Albany on a mission to Onondaga (Syracuse, N.Y.), capital of the Iroquois Confederacy, seeking to dissuade the Five Nations from joining the Tuscaroras in the war against North Carolina. For her services it was arranged that she should thereafter receive a man’s pay from each of “the four independt. Companies posted in this Province [New York].” So important did the French regard Madame Montour’s influence in preserving the entente between the English colonies & the Iroquois that the governor of Canada repeatedly sought to draw her over to the French side, offering her higher compensation; in 1719 he reportedly sent her sister as a special emissary.

In 1727 & again in 1728 Madame Montour was “Interpretress” at a conference in Philadelphia between the Iroquois & Gov. Patrick Gordon of Pennsylvania, she & her husband being paid 5 pounds. She attended a similar conference at Philadelphia in 1734 & was present unofficially at another in Lancaster in 1744. Meanwhile her husband had been killed in the Catawba War in 1729. After 1727 she made her home in Pennsylvania, on the West Branch of t he Susquehanna River at Otstonwakin (later Montoursville). She subsequently (about 1743) moved to an island in the Susquehanna at Shamokin (Sunbury) & thence to western Pennsylvania. Although late in life she became blind, she retained enough vigor to make the sixty-mile journey from Logs town (near present-day Pittsburgh) to Venango (Franklin) -her son Andrew on foot leading her horse- in two days. She died about 1752.

There has been confusion about her children, partly because Indian & European kinship terms do not agree, the Indians, for example, calling the children of an Indian woman’s sister, as well as her own, her sons & daughters. It is certain, however, that Madame Montour bore at least two sons, Andrew (sometimes called Henry) & Louis, & one or two daughters. “French Margaret,” sometimes called her daughter, was probably so only in the Indian sense; but the latter’s children (by her Mohawk husband, Katerionecha, commonly known as Peter Quebec) preserved the French traits of the Montour connection. Margaret’s daughter Catharine, “Queen” of Catharine’s Town at the head of Seneca Lake, & her presumed daughter “Queen Esther” (identified, on uncertain evidence. As the Indian woman who killed prisoners taken in the Battle of Wyoming in 1778) have been called granddaughters of Madame Montour.

Andrew Montour (Sattelihu), her son, for a time lived with his mother, but after serving the Pennsylvania authorities for some years as an interpreter, often in company with Conrad Weiser, he requested permission to settle near the whites & was granted a large tract of land near Carlisle. During the French & Indian War he commanded a company of Indians in the English service, rising to the rank of major. Pennsylvania has honored Madame Montour & her son by naming a county after them, & a town & a mountain also bear their name.

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

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Biography - Writer, Preacher, & Mantua Maker Bethsheba Bowers 1672-1718

Quaker author and preacher Bathsheba Bowers was born in 1672, in Massachusettes, and died at age 46 in 1718, in South Carolina. She was one of 12 children born to Benanuel Bowers and his wife Elizabeth Dunster.

Her mother Elizabeth was a young orphan sent from England to live with her uncle Henry Dunster, who was the president of Harvard College between 1640 and 1654, and spent the last few years of his life as a pastor in Scituate, Massachusettes.

Her father, Benanuel Bowers, was a determined Quaker who fled England to settle in Charlestown, near Boston, Massachusettes, only to find a flurry of Puritan persecution. Seven of their children grew to adulthood amid the threats and violence which surrounded their family.

Benanuel Bowers was a militant Quaker defender and suffered much for his religion by fine, whip, and prison. Like his daughter Bathsheba, he enjoyed writing. Some of his letters are preserved in the Middlesex County Courthouse. One addressed to Thomas Danforth the magistrate, is dated March 3, 1677, when little Bathsheba was only five.

Bathsheba's father owned 20 acres in Charlestown. He suffered fines repeatedly and imprisonment for various offences, such as absenting himself from meeting, and giving a cup of milk to a poor Quaker woman who had been whipped and imprisoned two days and nights without food or water.

As personal animosities and community hatred of Quakers began to increase, the Bowers decided to send 4 of their daughters to Philadelphia, which had a large and welcoming Quaker community.

Much of what we know about Bathsheba Bowers comes from the letter journal of her niece, Ann Curtis Clay Bolton, the daughter of Bathsheba's sister Elizabeth Anna who married Wenlock Curtis of Philadelphia. This diary is in the form of letters addressed to her physician, Dr. Anderson, of Maryland, the first of which was written in 1739.

Ann Bolton, wrote of her aunt's description of her immigrant grandfather, "My Grandfather, Benanuel Bowers was born in England of honest Parents, but his father, being a man of stern temper, and a rigid Oliverian, obliged my Grandfather (who out of a pious zeal, turned to the religion of the Quakers) to flee for succour into New England...

"He purchased a farm near Boston and then married. Both were Quakers. The Zealots of the Presbyterian party ousted them. They escaped with their lives, though not without whippings, and imprisonments, and the loss of a great part of their worldly substance...

"When my Grandfather was grown old, he sent, with his wife's consent, four of his eldest daughters to Philadelphia, hearing a great character of Friends in this city. Their eldest daughter married Timothy Hanson and settled on a plantation near Frankford. Their youngest daughter was married to George Lownes of Springfield, Chester Co."

But Bathsheba Bowers remained single. Anna wrote that she was of "middle stature" and "beautiful when young," but singularly stern and morose. "She was crossed in love when she was about eighteen...

"She seemed to have little regard for riches, but her thirst for knowledge being boundless after she had finished her house and Garden, and they were as beautiful as her hands cou'd make them, or heart could wish, she retired herself in them free from Society as if she had lived in a Cave under Ground or on the top of a high mountain, but as nothing ever satisfied her so about half a mile distant under Society Hill She built a Small (country) house close by the best Spring of Water perhaps as was in our City.

"This house she furnished with books a Table a Cup in which she or any that visited her (but they were few, and seldom drank of that Spring). What name she gave her new house I know not but some People gave it the name of Bathsheba's Bower (for you must know her Name was Bathsheba Bowers) but some a little ill Natured called it Bathsheba's folly.

"As for the place it has ever since bore the name of Bathsheba's Spring or Well—for like Absalom I suppose she was willing to have something to bear up her Name, and being too Strict a virtuoso could not expect fame and favour here by any methods than such of her own raising and spreading.

"Those motives I suppose led her about the same time to write the History of her Life (in which she freely declared her failings) with her own hand which was no sooner finished than Printed and distributed about the world Gratis."

Ann described her aunt as a hard taskmaster, with whom she lived as a young girl until she was 13. Aunt Bathsheba was a gardener and a vegetarian for the last 20 years of her life. She was also a fine seamstress and made her living in Philadelphia making mantuas. A mantua (from the French Manteuil ) is an article of women's clothing worn in the late seventeenth century and early eighteenth century. Originally it was a loose gown, the later mantua was an overgown or robe typically worn over an underdress or stomacher and petticoat.

Although Bathsheba Bowers was a Quaker by profession, Ann reported that she was, "so Wild in her Notions it was hard to find out of what religion she really was of. She read her Bible much but I think sometimes to no better purpose than to afford matter for dispute in w[hich] she was always positive."

In New York in 1709, Philadelphia Quaker William Bradford published a 23 page booklet by Bathsheba Bowers entitled "An Alarm Sounded to Prepare the Inhabitants of the World to Meet the Lord in the Way of His Judgment" along with a history of her life and other writings. In the same year, Bathsheba Bowers became a Quaker preacher, taking her ministry to South Carolina, where she would live for nearly 10 years. Because she made her living as a mantua maker, she could pick up that trade in her new homeplace.

Ann wrote of one of her aunt's experiences in South Carolina. "She had a belief she could never die. She removed to South Carolina where the Indians Early one morning surprised the place—killed and took Prisoners several in the house adjoining to her. Yet she moved not out of her Bed, but when two Men offered their assistance to carry her away, she said Providence would protect her, and indeed so it proved at that time, for those two men no doubt by the Direction of providence took her in her Bed for she could not rise, conveyed her into their Boat and carried her away in Safety tho' the Indians pursued and shot after them."

Bathsheba Bowers lives on through her autobiography. She used the conventions of the established New England spiritual autobiography to trace her journey through life as a series of fears to be overcome and to set an example that others might follow. She compared herself to Job outlining a progression of divinely predestined tests which eventually placed her in a personal relationship with God. Bathsheba Bowers overcame fears of nudity, death, hell, pride, and even preaching, writing, and publishing to attain her spiritual self-control.

She claimed that her most difficult struggle was with her own ambition. While she saw publication of her spiritual autobiography as a triumph over her personal fears, she worried about the potential scorn it might bring on her, "...tis best known to my self how long I labored under a reluctancy, and how very unwilling I was to appear in print at all; for it was, indeed, a secret terror to...hear my Reputation called in question, without being stung to the heart." Perhaps this is why she moved from Philadelphia to South Carolina just as her autobiography was published.

Although Bathsheba Bowers's work joined the spiritual autobiographies written by women in New England as a means of joining a congregation, Bathsheba's booklet added a Quaker perspective to the intensely personal genre. Her writings also included poetry just as American Anne Bradstreet had published before her. English Quakers, men and women, published their spiritual struggles in journals, but early 18th century American Quaker women rarely published their writings.

Bethsheba's diary is in the form of letters addressed to her physician, Dr. Anderson, of Maryland, the first of which was written in 1739. It begins:

"For some reason perhaps Dr. not unknown to you I step out of the common Road and first Mention my family on my Mother's side.

"My Grandffather Benanuel Bowers was Born in England of honest Parents but his father being a Man of a Stern temper, and a rigid Oliverian Obliged my Grandfather (who out of a Pious zeal turned to the religion of the Quakers) to flee for succor into New England.

"My Grandmother's name was Elizabeth Dunster; She was Born in Lancashire in Old England, but her Parents dying when she was young her Unkle Dunster, who was himself at that time President of the College in New England, sent for her thither and discharged his Duty to her not only in that of a kind Unkle but a good Christian and tender father. By all reports he was a man of great Wisdom, exemplary Piety, and peculiar sweetness of temper.

"My Grandfather not long after his coming to New England purchased a farm near Boston, and then married my Grandmother, tho they had but a small beginning yet God So blest them that they increased in substance, were both Devout Quakers and famous for their Christian Charity and Liberality to people of all perswasions on religion who to Escape the Stormy Wind and tempest that raged horribly in England flocked thither."

The writer also speaking of her grandparents..."the outrage and violence of fiery zealots of the Presbyterian Party who then had the ruling power in their own hands, however they slept with their lives tho' not without Cruel whippings and imprisonment and the loss of part of their worldly substance."

See: The Life of Mrs. Robert Clay, afterwards Mrs. Robert Bolton Author: Ann Bolton and the Rev. Jehu Curtis Bolton Publication: Philadelphia, 1928. Copy at the Universtiy of Maryland.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Biography - Sarah Updike Goddard (c. 1701-1770) Printer & Mother of a Rather Spoiled Son & a Fine Daughter

Sarah Updike Goddard (c. 1701-Jan. 5, 1770), printer, was born at Cocumscussuc, one mile north of the village of Wickford, R.I., to Lodowick & Abigail (Newton) Updike. Her grandfather, Gysbert op Dyck, had emigrated from Wesel, Germany, to Lloyd’s Neck, Long Island, in 1635. In 1643 he was married to Katherine Smith, daughter of an early Rhode Island settler, Richard Smith. Their son, Lodowick (1646-1737), moved in 1664 from New Amsterdam to Kingston, R.I., where he anglicized his surname to Updike, became a substantial landowner, & held several public offices. He had one son & five daughters, Sarah among them; the son, Daniel, served for several years as attorney general of the colony of Rhode Island.

Sarah’s education included not only the subjects usual to the day but also French & Latin from a French tutor in the Updike household. On Dec. 11, 1735, she was married to Dr. Giles Goddard of Groton, Conn., like herself a member of the Church of England, & he practiced medicine & was for many years postmaster. Of their four children, only two, Mary Katherine & William, lived to adulthood. Presumably Mrs. Goddard taught the two children herself, though William later mentioned having in a school as a child. On Jan. 31, 1757, Giles Goddard died, leaving an estate valued at 780 pounds. When William Goddard in 1762 started Providence’s first printing shop & newspaper, the Providence Gazette, the money (300 pounds) too set up the business came from his mother, who in the same year moved from New London to Providence. Both Mrs. Goddard & her daughter doubtless worked in the shop, since both became accomplished printers.

Lacking enough subscribers, William Goddard temporarily ceased publication of the Providence Gazette on May 11, 1765, & moved to New York, but the Providence printing office continued to function under the supervision of his mother. During the rest of 1765 the shop issued the annual West’s Almanack & various pamphlets under the imprint “S. & W. Goddard.” When, on Aug. 9, 1766, the Providence Gazette was revived, it was under the auspices of “Sarah Goddard & Company,” Sarah thereby becoming Providence’s second printer. She continued to print the weekly newspaper & run a bookstore & bookbindery until Nov. 5, 1768, when the business was sold to a partner, John Carter, for $550. Her bluestocking inclinations are revealed by her printing in 1766 the first American edition of the Letters of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

After the sale of her Providence business Sarah Goddard joined her son in Philadelphia, where he was printing the Pennsylvania Chronicle; her financial assistance aided him in his struggle with his silent partners, Joseph Galloway & Thomas Wharton. In Philadelphia, Sarah Goddard remained mostly in the background, though she occasionally supervised the shop during William’s frequent trips to New England in 1769.

She died in Philadelphia & was buried in the Christ Church burial ground. An obituary in New-York Gazette of Jan. 22, 1770, eulogized “her uncommon attainments in literature,” “sincere piety,” “unaffected humility,” “easy agreeable chearfulness & affability,” & “sensible & edifying conversation.” In spite of her restless & selfish son, her daughter, Mary Katherine Goddard, carried on the family tradition. For more on both Sarah's good daughter & her spoiled son, go here.

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. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Biography - Henrietta Benigna Justine Zinzendorf von Watteville (1725-1789) Moravian Educator

Henrietta Benigna Justine Zinzendorf von Watteville (1725-1789) Moravian educator, a key figure in the beginnings of Moravian Seminary & College for Women, Bethlehem, Pa., was born in Berthelsdorf, Saxony. She was the 1st daughter & 2nd of 12 children, of whom only 4 reached maturity, of Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf by his wife, Countess Erdmuthe Dorothea von Reuss. Her father, founder of the Renewed Moravian Church, was of an old family of the Austrian nobility that had migrated to Germany. Her mother was of the nobility of Thuringia. Reared in the 18th-century Moravian Church, Benigna lived & achieved as a devout Pietist.

Her father’s banishment from Saxony, when she was 11, marked the beginning for her of a much-traveled life. With him she came to America for the first time in December 1741, for a stay of 14 months, chiefly in the newly established Moravian communities of Pennsylvania.

On May 4, 1742, at her father’s suggestion, the 16-year-old countess, with 2 assistants, opened a girls’ school in the Ashmead house in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Here 25 pupils were instructed in reading, writing, religion, & the household arts in what was probably the first boarding school for girls in the 13 British American colonies. Seven weeks later the school moved to Bethlehem; & in 1745, to nearby Nazareth, returning permanently in 1749, to Bethlehem, the center of the Moravian Church in America.

Moravian Young Ladie's Seminary and Church, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

On July 27, 1742, Count von Zinzendorf and his fellowship crossed the Blue Mountain into Cherry Valley, and on July 28 they finally emerged from the endless forests at Meniolágoméka -- "The Fat Land Among the Barren" -- present-day Kunkletown. Von Zinzendorf's 16-year-old daughter, Benigna, upon meeting the Indian children at the settlement, decided that the girls should have the opportunity to go to school just like white boys.

The same year she founded Moravian Seminary in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter it was moved to Bell House in Bethlehem, and Lady Benigna invited all the Indian girls to come. Moravian Seminary was the first boarding school for girls in the New World, and over time it gained a superb reputation -- so much so that 50 years later, while he was President, George Washington personally petitioned for admission of his great-nieces. Eventually the school's charter was expanded, and it became Moravian College and Moravian Academy, both of which remain to this day.

In the summer of 1742, Benigna Zinzendorf interrupted her teaching to accompany her father on 2 of his 3 trips among the Indians of Pennsylvania & New York, preparatory to establishing missions among them. The Zinzendorfs returned to Europe the following winter.

In 1746 Benigna was married to Baron Johann von Waterville (de Watteville), a Moravian clergyman & her father’s secretary, in a ceremony performed by Zinzendorf at the new Moravian settlement in Zeist, Holland. Consecrated a bishop the following year, Watteville, aided by his capable wife, became out outstanding leader of his church.

The couple came to America on church business in September 1748 & remained a year. On this visit Benigna de Watteville had a hand in the return of the girls’ school to Bethlehem, its consideration with schools in the outlying Moravian congregations, & the enlargement of its curriculum.

Thirty-five years later, en route to America a 3rd time, she was shipwrecked with her husband on the rocks off the Leeward Islands in February 1784. Reaching Bethlehem in June, they remained for 3 years. Again Countess Benigna was on hand to help direct a reorganization of the girls’ seminary, which in 1785, now opened to pupils from outside the Moravian Church, became a largely new institution, known for many years as the Bethlehem Female Seminary.

The Moravian philosophy of education was the rearing of children in a controlled Christian environment under consecrated teachers. Because of the worldwide mission commitments of the Church, many parents were abroad, with their children left behind in the care of the home community. Moravian teachers, therefore, tried as nearly as possible to serve as substitute parents. Both as a parent & as a devout church member, Benigna de Watteville kept this ideal in mind.

She had four children of her own: Johann Ludwig (born 1752), Anna Dorothea Elizabeth (1754), Maria Justine (1762), & Johann Christian Frederick (1766). The older son died while a missionary in Tranquebar, India, in 1780, & the younger son died at nineteen as a student at Herrnhut, the church headquarters on his grandfather’s Berthelsdorf estate. The younger daughter, who never married, served as a worker in the church. The older daughter married Hans Christian Alexander von Schweinitz (later changed to de Schweinitz) in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1779. One of their children was the distinguished American botanist Louis David de Schweinitz, & de Schweinitz descendants have for four generations been prominent in American educational & professional life.

Benigna de Watteville died in the place of her birth at the age of sixty-three, a year after her husband. The Bethlehem seminary, incorporated in 1863 as the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, became in 1913, Moravian Seminary & College for Women & in 1953, a part of the coeducational Moravian College at Bethlehem.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Biography - Sophia Wigington Hume (1702-1774) South Carolina Quaker Minister & Religious Writer

Sophia Wigington Hume (1702-1774), Quaker minister & religious writer, was born in Charleston, SC., one of the children of Henry Wigington (Wiginton), a prosperous landowner & colony official, & Susanna (Bayley) Wigington. Henry Wigington was an Anglican; his wife had been brought up as a Quaker by her mother, Mary Fisher, who had been a minister in England before settling with her second husband in Charleston. Sophia Wigington was reared an Anglican & given an education fit for a young lady of fashion. She was married in 1721, to Robert Hume, a lawyer, landowner, & public official. Two of their children lived to adulthood: Susanna Wigington, born in 1722, & Alexander Wigington, 1729.

Though her mother returned to Quakerism before 1719, & tried to lead her children in that direction, Sophia Wigington Hume for a time remained a faithful Anglican. By her own account she practiced “the art of japanning with Prints,” lived books & music, delighted in plays & balls, passionately enjoyed fine clothes & jewelry, & walked aristocratically “with mincing Steps & outstretched Neck.” During two illnesses, however, she came to believe that these frivolities endangered her soul. The second crisis, which took place about 1740, three years after her husband’s death, led to a conversion that preoccupied her mind for the rest of her life. Believing that God would spare her only if she would forsake vanity for Quaker simplicity, she burned “the most vile” of her finery, but being a widow in reduced circumstances could not resist the temptation to sell her “Watch & Equipage chased with Heathenish Devices, as also Diamond ornament etc.” Shortly after her recovery she moved to England, where she lived in London near her daughter & finally joined the Society of Friends.

Sophia Hume became a public figure reluctantly in 1747, when she felt a divine call to return to Charleston to reprove the self-indulgences of the inhabitants & call them to repentance. She obeyed the call, even though it meant humiliating herself on the scene of her former elegance. Arriving near the end of the year, she carried out he mission at public meetings in spite of some rude interruptions. She also inspired the city’s small Quaker group to reviver regular worship. To spread her message farther, she wrote An Exhortation to the Inhabitants of the Province of South-Carolina &, to get it printed quickly, took the manuscript to Philadelphia. She spent several happy months in that city & in travel to attend nearby religious meetings & was entertained by leading Friends, who also raised money to publish her book. It was printed before the end of 1748 (& in five later editions in England & America); the author arrived home in London in December or January.

Though she preached publicly in South Carolina & Pennsylvania, Sophia Hume did not receive recognition as a minister from her monthly meeting in London until later, possibly not until 1763. As early as 1752, though, her utterances settled on two topics: decrying luxury & warning its devotees of their dangers; & exhorting Friends to renew sectarian strictness, a theme which probably explains the increasing respect for her ministry as zeal for this goal spread during the 1760’s. Her writings, while always frankly advocating Quaker principles, for the most part developed the first of these topics & were addressed to Christians at large. The Exhortation, with its parade of long quotations from the learned & its extensive examinations of Scripture, actually conveyed a fairly simple appeal for repentance & reformation, its strength derived from Sophia Hume’s lifelong gift for strong phrases & intense, incantation prose.

A Caution to Such as Observe Days & Times (published in its final form c. 1763) was briefer & better organized; though first written to denounce religious festivals, in the later editions it proceeded to offer incisive remarks on a number of theological & social topics. The social ethics were largely traditional, but she expounded a Quaker view of conversion with an unusual emphasis on the "rational pleasure & divine delight” produced by the irradiation of the believer by Christ’s light & the benevolence to all mankind that resulted from true love of God.

Among Quaker women of her day, Sophia Hume had an extraordinary knowledge of the arts, literature, & theology-to some extent the product of her years as an Anglican. Although conversion curbed & guided her intellectual pursuits within limits approved by Quakers, she yet found it hard to justify erudition in a woman-& harder to justify her public life-by her own principles. The result was a paradoxical career: as minister & write she upheld the traditional view that woman should lead a secluded life devoted to home & church; as a Quaker bluestocking she expounded Scripture & culled quotations from ancient & modern Christian writers to defend her sect & its tenet that the indwelling spirit of Christ is the most reliable source of religious truth.

She felt a divine call to service in Charleston again in 1767. The situation was dire: the fellowship of Friends there had dwindled to one, the old wooden meetinghouse was dilapidated, & a backslider claimed to own the land on which it stood. Though often compelled to rest her slight & ailing body, Sophia Hume managed to revive interest in Quakerism by preaching to large public meetings, & tried to persuade London & Philadelphia Friends to replace the old structure with a brick meetinghouse that would stand until God might gather a church to use it. Unable to win support for this plan, she embarked for England in April 1768. She died in 1774, presumably in London, of a seizure described as apoplexy. Her body was interred in Friends’ Burial Ground near Bunhill Fields.

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Biography - Marylander Ann Teresa Mathews 1732-1800 Founder of the 1st US Roman Catholic Convent

Marylander Ann Teresa Mathews (1732-1800), founder with Frances Dickinson (1755-1830), of the 1st Roman Catholic convent for women in the United States, was born in Charles County, one of 3 children of Joseph & Susannah (Craycroft) Mathews. Her father, who was descended from a Catholic family prominent in 17th-century Maryland, died when she was 2, leaving the family a 345-acre farm, a sparsely furnished house, & 2 slaves. Her widowed mother kept a deeply religious household, for her daughter, Ann, her son Ignatius, & 3 of her son William’s children entered religious life.

Although Maryland was originally settled as a refuge for Roman Catholics, since the 18th-century in Maryland, Roman Catholics were not permitted to hold public mass, & those who wished to train for a life in the church necessarily went abroad. Thus in 1754, Ann Mathews sailed to Hoogstraeten, Belgium, to enter the English monastery of the Discalced Carmelites, a contemplative order springing from the works & influence of the mystic St. Teresa of Spain. Its severe rules included a ban on shoes, hence the name Discalced. On Sept. 30 of that year she took the habit of the order & the name Bernardina Teresa Xavier of St. Joseph, & on Nov. 24, 1755, at age 23, she made her profession. Staying on at the convent, she served as mistress of novices before being elected prioress in 1774.

The Original Residence at Carmel Monestary & Chapel in Charles County, Maryland

Mother Bernardina began to think of founding an American carmel, as the Revolution had removed the disabilities of Roman Catholics in Maryland. Encouraged by some of the prominent Catholics in her state, as well as by her brother Ignatius, a Jesuit priest, she made plans for such a move with a former Charles County neighbor, Mary Brent, who as Mother Mary Margaret of the Angels had become prioress of the English carmel at Antwerp. Unfortunately Mother Margaret died in 1784, but Mother Bernardina’s nieces, Ann Teresa & Susanna Mathews, arrived that year at Hoogstraeten to make their professions & to join in the venture. Indispensable support came from the Rev. Charles Neale, a relative of Mother Bernardina & confessor to the Antwerp carmel. It was 1790, however, before sufficient money & the necessary authorizations were gathered for the founding of an American carmel. On April 19, 1790, 4 nuns, accompanied by Father Neale, left Hoogstraeten for the Maryland. They included Mother Bernardina, now 58, her two nieces, & Frances Dickinson.

Frances Dickinson, born in London, had assumed the Carmelite habit at Antwerp on May 1, 1772, when only 16, & with it the name Clare Joseph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her letters & a diary show that she possessed self-awareness & a sense of humor. By July 20, 1790, the nuns were at Chandler’s Hope, Father Neale’s childhood home in Charles County, on a hill overlooking the Port Tobacco River. Here, resuming their religious habit & practices, they established the first convent within the United States. As Chandler’s Hope quickly proved too small for their purposes, Baker Brooke, a Maryland Catholic offered them 886 acres & a newly built house a little farther up the Port Tobacco Valley. On Oct. 15, 1790, the 4 nuns moved to their new quarters, which they dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph.

At the outset the nuns faced a critical decision, Maryland’s Bishop John Carroll had hoped that they would be willing to modify the rules of their order enough to allow them to teach. He gained a dispensation from Rome in 1793, but they asked not to make use of it & set themselves instead to the task of training newcomers to a life of prayer & contemplation. By 1794, a 2nd building was ready & four novices were admitted; by 1800 there were 14 nuns; & by 1818 the number had jumped to 23. The new arrivals brought family slaves & other property which, becoming part of the convent’s resources, made it nearly self-sufficient. In the Maryland countryside, there was less time for contemplation than in Belgium, but the nuns kept the Psalter before them, as they spun yarn from the wool of their own sheep to weave into cloth for their habits.

When Mother Bernardina died 1800, Bishop Carroll made Clare Joseph temporary prioress until her death 30 years later. For many years the little community flourished. In a letter to England in 1807, Mother Clare Joseph spoke of plentiful crops, of the pleasant & healthy situation, & of the advantages of its isolation “suitable to our eremitical Order.” In 1818, Archbishop Ambrose Marechal wrote with pride to Rome of the piety of the nuns.

A long & expensive lawsuit over their land (1818-29), however, brought financial difficulties; & the death in 1823, of Father Neale, was more than a spiritual loss, for the plantation began to be insufficient for the support of the convent. Mother Clare Joseph died there in 1830; & in 1831, the carmel moved to Baltimore.

Most of the later carmels in the United States have sprung from this convent or its branches, so that Ann Mathews & Frances Dickinson established the Carmelite order in the United States. Although in Baltimore the nuns were finally obliged for a time to teach in order to maintain themselves, Carmelite traditions & training in the contemplative life had been well established during previous 4 decades.

As they left in 1831, according to an almanac published by the nuns, there was a tradition in southern Maryland, that the faithful would pray for the return of the nuns. In 1933, the people of Charles County began to restore the original monastery residence, and the nuns did return in 1976. The monastery in Charles County, Maryland, is still the active home of the discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Carmel of Port Tobacco, who do not teach or have contact with the public.

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

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Jane Franklin Mecom 1712-1794 - Sister to Benjamin Franklin

Jane Franklin Mecom (1712-1794), favorite sister of Benjamin Franklin, was born in Boston, the youngest of the 17 children of Josiah Franklin, tallow chandler, and of the 10 children of his second wife, Abiah Folger.

Her father had moved to Boston from Northamptonshire, England in 1683; her mother was born in Nantucket, the youngest child of one of the island’s first settlers.

Nothing is known of Jane’s schooling, but it must have been limited at best. Six years younger than Benjamin (1706-1790), she was 11, when he ran away to Philadelphia. Although they saw each other only occasionally during the rest of their lives, their mutual affection transcended time and distance. Their surviving correspondence is more extensive than that between Franklin and almost any other private person.

On July 27, 1727, at the age of fifteen, Jane was married to Edward Mecom (1704-1765), a Boston saddler. He was a colorless individual, poor in heath and in pocket. His major contribution to the family was the fathering of 12 children: Josiah, born in 1729, Edward, (1731), Benjamin (1732), Ebenezer (1735), Sarah (1737), Peter (1739), John (1741), a second Josiah (1743), Jane (1745), James (1746), Mary (1748), and Abiah (1751).

Until the outbreak of the Revolution, Jane Mecom’s life was almost wholly that of a housewife in a tradesman’s family of low income, preoccupied with the births, marriages, and deaths of children and grandchildren, with the struggle to provide food and clothing, and with her sons’ efforts to find careers.

The family lived with or close to her parents, who owned a group of houses at Hanover and Union streets. Here she cared for her father and mother until they died, and here she continued to live for several years, taking in boarders to eke out her husband’s slender income.

Three of her children died in infancy and others seem to have inherited, apparently from their father, physical and mental defects that brought their mother deep distress. Only 3 lived beyond their 33rd birthdays and 2 of these died insane. None of her sons was really successful in his trade, and her daughters were not much luckier in the men they married. “Sorrows roll upon me like the waves of the sea,” she wrote after the death of a daughter in 1767, but “God is sovereign, and I submit.”

When the siege of Boston began in the spring of 1775, Jane Mecom, for 10 years a widow, managed to leave the city with a few clothes and household effects and took refuge with friends in Rhode Island.

That autumn her brother, returning from a mission to Washington’s army at Cambridge, escorted her to Philadelphia, where she remained in his home until the British advanced on the city in September 1777. Then she returned to Rhode Island and lived with a married granddaughter.

In 1784, she reestablished her home in Boston. There, until her death, she lived in a house her brother owned, sharing it with her one surviving daughter, Jane, and the latter’s husband, Peter Collas, a rather inept ship’s captain.

Through all these troubled years Benjamin Franklin had helped her financially, sometimes with money, sometimes with goods she and her daughters could turn into profit,. In her later years he settled on her an annual income, and in his will be bequeathed to her the Boston house and a life income of 50 pounds.

She adored her brother, but stood a little in awe of him and of his fame. She never tried to understand all his scientific or political activities, but liked to read anything he had published. Like some other members of her family, she was sensitive to slights and criticisms -and sometimes was hurt at what he said about he behavior toward other relatives. Yet his conversation when they were together, his letters when they were apart, and his constant affection appeared to be the great joys in her life.

And she in turn was the one member of his family to whom he could talk and write without restraint. Judging by their surviving letters, more than his mother, his wife Deborah Reed Franklin, or his daughter Sarah Franklin Bache, his sister Jane gave him the feminine intimacy and understanding of a family member, that his nature seemed to crave.

Franklin's 1st known letter to his sister was upon her marriage...

Philadelphia, January 6, 1727
Dear Sister,
I am highly pleased with the account captain Freeman gives me of you. I always judged by your behavior when a child that you would make a good, agreeable woman, and you know you were ever my peculiar favorite.

I have been thinking what would be a suitable present for me to make, and for you to receive, as I hear you are grown a celebrated beauty. I had almost determined on a tea table, but when I considered that the character of a good housewife was far preferable to that of being only a pretty gentlewoman, I concluded to send you a spinning wheel, which I hope you will accept as a small token of my sincere love and affection.

Sister, farewell, and remember that modesty, as it makes the most homely virgin amiable and charming, so the want of it infallibly renders the most perfect beauty disagreeable and odious. But when that brightest of female virtues shines among other perfections of body and mind in the same person, it makes the woman more lovely than an angel. Excuse this freedom, and use the same with me.

I am, dear Jenny, your loving brother, B. Franklin

A few months after her brother's death, Jane wrote to his daughter Sarah Franklin Bache,

Dear Niece,

He while living was to me every enjoyment. Whatever other pleasures were, as they mostly took their rise from him, they passed like little streams from a beautiful fountain… To make society agreeable there must be a similarity of circumstances and sentiments, as well as age. I have no such near me; my dear brother supplied all...

This posting based 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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Benjamin Franklin's Sister Jane Franklin Mecom

The New York Times Opinion Pages,
Poor Jane’s Almanac
By JILL LEPORE, Op-Ed Contributor
Published: April 23, 2011

Poor Jane's Almanac

THE House Budget Committee chairman, Paul D. Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, announced his party’s new economic plan this month. It’s called “The Path to Prosperity,” a nod to an essay Benjamin Franklin once wrote, called “The Way to Wealth.”

Franklin, who’s on the $100 bill, was the youngest of 10 sons. Nowhere on any legal tender is his sister Jane, the youngest of seven daughters; she never traveled the way to wealth. He was born in 1706, she in 1712. Their father was a Boston candle-maker, scraping by. Massachusetts’ Poor Law required teaching boys to write; the mandate for girls ended at reading. Benny went to school for just two years; Jenny never went at all.

Their lives tell an 18th-century tale of two Americas. Against poverty and ignorance, Franklin prevailed; his sister did not.

At 17, he ran away from home. At 15, she married: she was probably pregnant, as were, at the time, a third of all brides. She and her brother wrote to each other all their lives: they were each other’s dearest friends. (He wrote more letters to her than to anyone.) His letters are learned, warm, funny, delightful; hers are misspelled, fretful and full of sorrow. “Nothing but troble can you her from me,” she warned. It’s extraordinary that she could write at all.

“I have such a Poor Fackulty at making Leters,” she confessed.

He would have none of it. “Is there not a little Affectation in your Apology for the Incorrectness of your Writing?” he teased. “Perhaps it is rather fishing for commendation. You write better, in my Opinion, than most American Women.” He was, sadly, right.

She had one child after another; her husband, a saddler named Edward Mecom, grew ill, and may have lost his mind, as, most certainly, did two of her sons. She struggled, and failed, to keep them out of debtors’ prison, the almshouse, asylums. She took in boarders; she sewed bonnets. She had not a moment’s rest.

And still, she thirsted for knowledge. “I Read as much as I Dare,” she confided to her brother. She once asked him for a copy of “all the Political pieces” he had ever written. “I could as easily make a collection for you of all the past parings of my nails,” he joked. He sent her what he could; she read it all. But there was no way out.

They left very different paper trails. He wrote the story of his life, stirring and wry — the most important autobiography ever written. She wrote 14 pages of what she called her “Book of Ages.” It isn’t an autobiography; it is, instead, a litany of grief, a history, in brief, of a life lived rags to rags.

It begins: “Josiah Mecom their first Born on Wednesday June the 4: 1729 and Died May the 18-1730.” Each page records another heartbreak. “Died my Dear & Beloved Daughter Polly Mecom,” she wrote one dreadful day, adding, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away oh may I never be so Rebelious as to Refuse Acquesing & saying from my hart Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

Jane Mecom had 12 children; she buried 11. And then, she put down her pen.

Today, two and a half centuries later, the nation’s bookshelves sag with doorstop biographies of the founders; Tea Partiers dressed as Benjamin Franklin call for an end to social services for the poor; and the “Path to Prosperity” urges a return to “America’s founding ideals of liberty, limited government and equality under the rule of law.” But the story of Jane Mecom is a reminder that, especially for women, escaping poverty has always depended on the opportunity for an education and the ability to control the size of their families.

The latest budget reduces financing for Planned Parenthood, for public education and even for the study of history. At one point in the budget discussion, all money for Teaching American History, a federal program offering training to K-12 history teachers, was eliminated. Are we never to study the book of ages?

On July 4, 1786, when Jane Mecom was 74, she thought about the path to prosperity. It was the nation’s 10th birthday. She had been reading a book by the Englishman Richard Price. “Dr Price,” she wrote to her brother, “thinks Thousands of Boyles Clarks and Newtons have Probably been lost to the world, and lived and died in Ignorance and meanness, merely for want of being Placed in favourable Situations, and Injoying Proper Advantages.” And then she reminded her brother, gently, of something that he knew, and she knew, about the world in which they lived: “Very few is able to beat thro all Impedements and Arive to any Grat Degre of superiority in Understanding.”

That world was changing. In 1789, Boston for the first time, allowed girls to attend public schools. The fertility rate began declining. The American Revolution made possible a new world, a world of fewer obstacles, a world with a promise of equality. That required — and still requires — sympathy.

Benjamin Franklin died in Philadelphia in 1790, at the age of 84. In his will, he left Jane the house in which she lived. And then he made another bequest, more lasting: he gave one hundred pounds to the public schools of Boston.

Jane Mecom died in that house in 1794. Later, during a political moment much like this one, when American politics was animated by self-serving invocations of the founders, her house was demolished to make room for a memorial to Paul Revere.

Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard, is the author of “The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

New York Business Woman Mary Alexander 1693-1760

The Alexander Papers at the New-York Historical Society Library contain the records of the mercantile business of Mary Alexander and provide a glimpse into the life of a colonial NYC businesswoman

From the New-York Historical Society Library
Mary Alexander’s mercantile business specialized in “haberdashery,” or what today is called notions. Records from this firm include samples of fabrics that Mary Alexander had requested or purchased. According to the records, Mary ordered expensive silks and worsteds as well as plain, utilitarian materials. The sample above is from the 1730’s and includes swatches of silver lace and crepe. The fabric samples are still vibrantly colored and are beautiful to examine.

Mary Alexander was born in New York City in 1693. In 1711, she married Samuel Prevoost, an importer. The couple had three children and together ran their mercantile business. Mary contributed much of her inheritance to the business and generally acted as a business partner with her husband. After Prevoost’s death around 1720, Mary married James Alexander, a notable attorney and politician. She had seven more children in her second marriage (only five lived to adulthood) and continued to run the Prevoost mercantile business. She sold goods in her store in front of their mansion on Broad Street and soon became one of the leading merchants in New York City. With her social connections and her successful business, Mary was a prominent member of colonial society and is reputed to have served as an informal advisor to many New York politicians. Mary Alexander died in 1760 and was buried with her husband at Trinity Church.

From the New-York Historical Society Library
All information and images in this posting are from the blog of the New-York Historical Society Library. This article written by library Curator of Manuscirpts Maurita Baldock. Click here for more from the N-YHS.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Elizabeth Becker Curson

1757 Thomas McIlworth (fl 1757-67). Elizabeth Becker (Mrs. Richard Curzon or Curson) 1731-1787. Baltimore Museum of Art. (This depiction is from a lecture slide. Do not copy or reproduce. Contact the BMA for an accurate image.)

Elizabeth Rebecca Becker was born into a family of strong women, but she certainly was not born into elite colonial society. Elizabeth Becker was born in New York City in 1731, the daughter of Frederick Becker and his wife, Anna Catharina Zenger.

Elizabeth Becker's mother Anna Catharina Zenger had sailed to New York City from Germany with her family in 1710. The Zengers hailed from the Rhine section of Germany called the Palatinate, which had been impoverished by a succession of wars and extravagant local rulers.

In 1710, England's Queen Anne sent 3,000 Palatinate refugees to the colonies to establish naval stores in New York. In return for 7 years of labor, the emigrants were promised grants of land. Unfortunately 25 % died during the 2 month voyage. Among the dead was the father of Anna Catharina Zenger. She survived the voyage with her newly widowed mother, older brother 13-year-old John Peter; and her younger brother Johannes.

Anna Catharina's 33-year-old mother Johannah arrived in the new world a widow with 3 children to shelter and feed. In 1711, the widow Zenger apprenticed her 14 year-old son John Peter to New York's only printer, William Bradford (1663-1752).

Completing his indenture in 1718, young Zenger moved to Chestertown, Maryland, to make his living as a printer. Though he was named to print the session laws of the Maryland state legislature, he did not prosper there; and in 1722, he returned to New York. The industrious young Zenger entered into a partnership with his old master Bradford in 1725, leaving just the next year to start his own print shop, only the second in the city of New York.

For several years, Zenger was active printing mostly German religious tracts until, in 1733, he was approached by James Alexander with the opportunity to print America's first political party newspaper, the New York Weekly Journal. James Alexander, a native of Scotland, had emigrated to New York, where he practiced law and became a leading member of the popular party.

A few years earlier, John Peter Zenger's younger sister Anna Catharina had married Frederick Becker in 1727, and their baby Elizabeth Becker would live through turbulent events that seemed to swirl about her throughout her life from the moment she was born.

The same year that Elizabeth Becker was born, the English appointed William Cosby as Governor of New York after removing him from a similar post in the Leeward Islands amid serious controversies. New York was faction-ridden. A brief period of peace ended in 1732, with the arrival of the tainted new governor, who intended to use the post to enhance his own fortunes.

Shortly after arriving in New York, the new English Governor fired the Chief Justice, Lewis Morris, for having the grit to decide against him in a lawsuit. After the new governor removed the Chief Justice, attempted to fix an election, and accepted questionable honorariums, John Peter Zenger agreed to print anonymously James Alexander's attacks on Cosby's administration.

These newspaper revelations so enraged the colonial governor, that he had Zenger imprisoned. Zenger was formally accused of libeling the Governor. Zenger endured nearly 9 harrowing months in New York City's jail refusing to identify Alexander or any of his sources for the offending articles.

Elizabeth Becker's aunt, Zenger's wife Anna, took over. With her husband in jail and young children underfoot, Anna Zenger somehow managed to keep the New York Weekly Journal publishing, missing only one issue.

Because of her stubborn determination, the uninterrupted publication of the newspaper helped build public support for Zenger's plight. In 1735, Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, argued that the newspaper articles could not be libelous, because the accusations against Governor Cosby were true.
Zenger's attorney Hamilton challenged the constitutionality of the crimes for which his client was being prosecuted. It was one of the first times in American history in which a lawyer challenged the laws rather than the innocence of his clients.

The jury found Zenger not guilty, and the acquittal set an important precedent for American freedom of the press. Released from jail, Zenger immediately wrote A BRIEF NARRATIVE OF THE CASE AND TRYAL OF JOHN PETER ZENGER telling the story of the court case.

When Zenger's neice, Elizabeth Becker turned 16, she met an exciting young Londoner Richard Curson (1726-1805) soon after he immigrated to New York City in 1747. Curson was 21; and after a whirlwind romance, they married in December of 1747.

Newlyweds Richard and Elizabeth sailed back to England, so that the new bride could meet his family. His father, Samuel Curson III, was a successful London wine merchant with extensive business contacts in Italy and Spain.

While young Elizabeth was in England with her new groom, she survived a vicious attack of smallpox leaving her severely permanently disfigured. Longing for the comfort of her family in the American colonies, Elizabeth and Richard returned to New York City in 1756, where Richard used his family's extensive contacts throughout England, Europe, and the Atlantic region to became a prominent merchant and banker.

By 1763, when Elizabeth was 32, she had given birth to 4 children who lived to adulthood: Rebecca, Samuel, Anna Maria, and Richard. Her husband's mercantile career was flourishing by the early 1770s. One of his companies had offices in both New York City and St. Eustatius in the Dutch West Indies. He was trading silks, flour, corn, gunpowder, fish, wines, slaves, tobacco, and rice in ships he was having built as far away as India.

But the war and the arrival of the British interrupted Elizabeth and Richard's success in New York City. The Curson's took their youngest son Richard Jr. and fled New York City in June of 1776, to avoid possible capture by the British; because of their open sympathy for the revolution. By June, 1777, they had settled in the safer port of Baltimore, Maryland, where Richard established a new mercantile firm operating from 1777-1803.

While importing goods and wines from the Carribean, Italy, and Spain, Richard, Sr., also used 8 of his ships as privateers to run the British blockade and attack the enemy vessels during the American Revolution. Elizabeth Becker and Richard Curson thrived in Baltimore, becoming friends with Thomas Jefferson, Light Horse Harry Lee, General Horatio Gates, and Daniel Dulany.

Elizabeth Becker Curson did not fret about finances, she worried about her children.

Because of his sympathy for the revolution, the family's oldest son Samuel had moved to St. Eustatius in the Dutch West Indies by March, 1776, establishing a mercantile company there. When it was safe in 1780, the young Corson returned to New York City.

In 1784, an uncle in England, left 3,000 pounds to his grandnephew Samuel Curson of New York City, who used his windfall inheritance to travel extensively throughout Europe and England. By July, 1785, Samuel had established his own business in New York. His American future looked bright; but in 1785, young Samuel Curson unexpectedly applied to the U.S. Congress for the position of U.S. Consul in London.

Apparently during his travels in England in 1784, he had fathered an illegitimate son with Betsy Burling who soon after married Richard John Whittell of England, a 1st cousin of Samuel Curson. Betsy's new husband tried to blackmail the wealthy American Curson family from England. Betsy's brother (or possibly her new husband posing as her brother) Walter Burling determined that he needed to be much closer to the situation, and he actually moved to Baltimore.

Walter Burling persistently continued to seek monetary satisfaction for the illegitimate child from young Samuel and from his parents Elizabeth Becker and Richard Courson. He physically pursued Samuel Curson from the West Indies to London and finally back to America. In New York, on April 21, 1786, Burling challenged Curson to a duel, in which Samuel received a fatal wound dying 3 days later.

By 1786, Elizabeth Becker Curson had 13 grandchildren in America; one of her sons had been shot to death; one of her grown daughters died from childbearing; and the remaining daughter was married and raising both her own 7 children plus the 6 children of her deceased sister. Daughter Rebecca Curson had married William Seton (1746-1798) in 1767 in New York; and when she died in 1775, the newly widowed William Seton married her sister Anna Maria Curson in 1776.

Elizabeth Becker's grandson, her deceased daughter Rebecca Courson Seton's firstborn son William Seton (1768-1803), married another strong, determined woman, Elizabeth Ann Baley (1774-1821). She converted to Roman Catholicism; founded the American Sisters of Charity (the first sisterhood native to the United States); and was a wife, mother, widow, single parent, and educator. Elizabeth Bayley Seton was the first person born in the United States to become a canonized saint.
Elizabeth Becker's final living son, Richard Curson, Jr., was born on 1763 in New York, and fled to Baltimore, in 1777, with his parents. In 1784, he married Elizabeth Moale, had 3 children who lived to maturity, and lived at his parents' home until 1803. Elizabeth had worried about this son Richard for years. He was in ailing health and suffered from a spinal disease since early childhood.

In 1787, Elizabeth Becker Curson died and was buried at Old Saint Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery in Baltimore. In 1805, Richard Curson Sr. died and was buried next to his wife.

The following year, their son Richard was declared a lunatic by the Chancery Court of Maryland. The custody of his person & property were given to Samuel Vincent, who had administered the estate for the elder Curson and his wife, Elizabeth Becker Curson. Richard Jr. died on June 14, 1808, and was buried next to his parents in Baltimore.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Shakers under Lucy Wright 1760-1821

Lucy Wright (1760-1821), a Shaker leader & the dominant figure during the period of the society’s greatest growth, was a female successor to its founder, Ann Lee.

She was born in Pittsfield, Mass., the daughter of John & Mary (Robbins) Wright. Her mother died when she was about 18 years old. The following year she was married to Elizur Goodrich, a young merchant in the neighboring town of Richmond, just before his conversion to Shakerism, which demanded celibacy of it members. This did not bode well for their new marriage.

Elizur Goodrich accepted the gospel which the Shakers were beginning to preach at Watervliet, N.Y. Lucy was sympathetic but did not immediately join the group. In August 1780, when Ann Lee was confined to the Poughkeepsie jail, Lucy sent her presents "for her comfort & convenience.”
Lucy soon became a Shaker, & she & Goodrich quitted their “fleshly relations” & lived in separate men’s & women’s orders. After that, Lucy was renamed Lucy Faith in 1785, & lived at Watervliet. Her husband became an itinerant preacher & finally settled at New Lebanon, N.Y. After her husband left, she often used her maiden name.

In 1787, after the deaths of Mother Ann & Father James Whittaker, Father Joseph Meacham (their successor) selected Lucy Wright as the “first leading character in the female line.”

Under the joint administration of Father Joseph & Mother Lucy, the Believers were gathered together at the mother church in New Lebanon, forming a common-propertied, socio-religious organization which was copied by the 10 other Shaker communities in New York & New England. By this decision the Shakers were transformed from a loosely organized body of followers into an association of monasticlike self-supporting communities.

On Meacham’s death in 1796, Mother Lucy assumed the leadership of the central ministry assisted by one or two “elder brothers.” Under her administration the decision was made, in 1804, to send out the mission which eventually led to the establishment of 7 Shaker societies in Kentucky, Ohio, & Indiana.

She also authorized the publication of the basic theological work of the sect. Benjamin S. Youngs’ The Testimony of Christ’s Second Appearing (1808). Lucy brought more songs into the worship & more lively dances to keep the Shaker meetings animated, & she improved the schools.

She died at Watervliet, at the age of 61 & was buried there beside the grave of Ann Lee.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Determined Widow Elizabeth Peck Perkins


Elizabeth Peck Perkins (1736-1807), was a Boston widow, businesswoman, & philanthropist. She was the oldest child of English immigrants Elizabeth & Thomas Handasyd Peck. Her father became a successful fur trader & hatter; an outspoken Whig; & a friend of John Murray, the founder of Universalism in America.

When she was 18, Elizabeth married James Perkins (1733-1773), an employee of her father’s countinghouse who later became a general-store merchant. Unfortunately, after less than 20 years of marriage, Perkins died leaving his wife with 8 children to feed & clothe & educate, a 9th having died as an infant.

Elizabeth Perkins resolved to establish her own business. She opened a variety store, where she told chinaware, glass, wine, & a wide range of other imported items.

But the American Revolution interrupted both her family & her business. Shortly before the battle of Bunker Hill, she decided it would be safer for her children, if they all moved to Barnstable, Massachusettes, where the family lived temporarily with an old family friend.

Following the British evacuation the next spring, she returned to Boston to reopen her business. But the years of the Revolution not only brought business upheavals, but personal tragedies as well. Her father died in 1777, & her mother a little over a year later.

Now Elizabeth was alone with her children. She was the sole surviving child of her parents; however, and she came into a respectable inheritance in Boston real estate but continured to have only a modest income.

By 1780, with her children growing toward adulthood, she began her civic involvment by donating $1,000 to support the Continental Army. Her 3 sons went to work at an early age and became leading maritime merchants in the 1790s. The two eldest, James (b 1761) & Thomas Handasyd (b 1764), formed the firm of J. & T.H. Perkins; the youngest, Samuel (b 1767), joined in business with his father-in-law, Stephen Higginson.

Following their mother's lead, all 3 became well known for their extensive philanthropy & civic interest. Thomas, perhaps the most famous of the great China trade merchants of the 19th century, was a benefactor of the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Boston Athenaeum, and the Perkins School for the Blind (which bears his name).

Her five daughters married; & with her children financially independent, Elizabeth Perkins turned her energy to civic & philanthropic endeavors. As her father had taught her, she was sympathetic to Universalist doctrines, rufusing to believe in damnation. She was accepting of a variety of religions including that of Jean de Cheverus, the first Roman Catholic bishop in Boston, to whom she offered a building she owned on School Street in which he could conduct services, as she contributed to his work among the poor.

She was deeply concerned with the mental illness she saw about her. In 1800, she helped found the Boston Female Asylum, the 1st charitable institution in Boston established by women. She served the asylum as a director & supported it financially both during her lifetime & in her will.

Elizabeth Peck Perkins continued to own considerable real estate in the Boston business district throughout her life. Until her death in 1807, she lived with the simplicity she had adopted during the years she was a single mother raising 8 children. She did most of her own housework wearing plain dresses of brown calico in the morning & changing to brown silk in the afternoon, when civic leaders & visitors might call requesting her financial assistance with another charitable endeavor.

A granddaughter remembered her as a stern, reserved woman of impressive dignity & strength of character, honored & respected by her children & somewhat feared by her grandchildren.