Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Paintings of 18th-Century American Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


1795 Unknown Artist. The Cheney Family.


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


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


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


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


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


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


1800 Joshua Johnson (American artist, c.1763–1832). Family Group.
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Saturday, June 22, 2013

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Wright (1756-1793) Liberty Cap

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 21, 2013

American Wax Figure Sculptor Patience Lovell Wright 1725-1786


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

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

Unknown artist, Patience Lovell Wright 1782

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

1754 A Picnic in Annapolis, Maryland


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



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

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



Sunday, June 16, 2013

1756 Baltimore Indentured Servant Elizabeth Sprigs' letter home

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Elizabeth Sprigs, a servant in a Maryland household, financed her passage to the colonies from England in exchange for a term as an indentured servant.  She served in a Maryland household and wrote home to her father, complaining of the terrible treatment, begging her family to send her a blanket.

Maryland, Sept’r 22’d 1756

Honored Father

My being for ever banished from your sight, will I hope pardon the Boldness I now take of troubling you with these, my long silence has been purely owning to my undutifullness to you, and well knowing I had offended in the highest Degree, put a tie to my tongue and pen, for fear I should be extinct from your good Graces and add a further Trouble to you, but too well knowing your care and tenderness for me so long as I retain’d my Duty to you, induced me once again to endeavor if possible, to kindle up that flame again.

O Dear Father, believe what I am going to relate the words of truth and sincerity, and Balance my former bad Conduct my sufferings here, and then I am sure you’ll pity your Destress Daughter, What we unfortunate English People suffer here is beyond the probability of you in England to Conceive, let it suffice that I one of the unhappy Number, am toiling almost Day and Night, and very often in the Horses drudgery, with only this comfort that you Bitch you do not halfe enough, and then tied up and whipp’d to that Degree that you’d not serve an Animal, scarce any thing but Indian Corn and Salt to eat and that even begrudged nay many Negroes are better used, almost naked no shoes nor stockings to wear, and the comfort after slaving during Masters pleasure, what rest we can get is to rap ourselves up in a Blanket and ly upon the Ground, this is the deplorable Condition your poor Betty endures, and now I beg if you have any Bowels of Compassion left show it by sending me some Relief, Clothing is the principal thing wanting, which if you should condiscend to, may easily send them to me by any of the ships bound to Baltimore Town Patapsco River Maryland, and give me leave to conclude in Duty to you and Uncles and Aunts, and Respect to all Friends

Honored Father
Your undutifull and Disobedient Child      Elizabeth Sprigs

Source: Elizabeth Sprigs, “Letter to Mr. John Sprigs in White Cross Street near Cripple Gate, London, September 22, 1756,” in Isabel Calder, ed., Colonial Captivities, Marches, and Journeys (New York: Macmillan Company, 1935.)
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Friday, June 14, 2013

1754 Indentured Servants - Germans in Pennsylvania


From Gottlieb Mittelberger's Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750 and Return to Germany in the Year 1754 (Philadelphia, 1898).

Gottlieb Mittelberger traveled to Pennsylvania from Germany in 1750, on a ship primarily filled with poorer immigrants who would become indentured servants upon arriving in Philadelphia. Mittelberger was not a servant, and worked as a school master and organist for 3 years before returning to Germany in 1754.

19th-century engraving  Female indentured servants arriving in New World

In the 17th & 18th centuries, many immigrants to the British American colonies entered as indentured servants bound to serve a term of service, usually 7 years, before receiving freedom. Between 1749 & 1754 over 30,000 Germans came to Pennsylvania, about 1/3 of the colony's population. Mittelberger observed the working conditions for Geman immigrant, indentured servants in Pennsylvania and wrote of them upon his return to his homeland.

Immigrants came to America for varies reasons and also left their original country for many reasons. There were many religious, political, and economic reasons involved such as not having religious freedom, political upheavals, and economic downfalls leading to the emigration of many people. Some indentured servants were forced to leave with their "master" to work in another country. People who couldn't afford the voyage over to America, signed a contract agreeing to be a servant for a certain amount of years in exchange for a free ride so many were left with this option.

Indentured servants performed much of the labor during the early years of colonization and were mainly of English, Irish, or German heritage. These servants got their name from the indenture or contract they signed, binding themselves to work for a number of years (usually four to seven) to pay for their transportation to the New World. Voluntary indentured servitude accounted for half of the white settlers living in the colonies outside New England.

After serving their years of indenture, the servant was free to go & to acquire land on their own. Some of these former servants did well for themselves, many became political leaders or plantation owners, although most remained part of the poorer classes. Until the latter half of the 1600s, white indentured servants comprised the dominant source of labor in the Americas and it was not until the 1680s and 1690s that slave labor began to surpass the use of white indentured servants. Although African slaves cost more initially than indentured servants, they served for life and quickly became the labor force of choice on large plantations.

When a serf has an opportunity to marry in this country, he or she must pay for each year which he or she would have yet to serve, 5 to 6 pounds. But many a one who has thus purchased and paid for his bride, has subsequently repented his bargain, so that he would gladly have returned his exorbitantly dear ware, and lost the money besides.

If some one in this country runs away from his master, who has treated him harshly, he cannot get far. Good provision has been made for such cases, so that a runaway is soon recovered. He who detains or returns a deserter receives a good reward.

If such a runaway has been away from his master one day, he must serve for it as a punishment a week, for a week a month, and for a month half a year. But if the master will not keep the runaway after he has got him back, he may sell him for so many years as he would have to serve him yet.

Work and labor in this new and wild land are very hard and manifold, and many a one who came there in his old age must work very hard to his end for his bread. I will not speak of young people.

Work mostly consists in cutting wood, felling oak-trees, rooting out, or as they say there, clearing large tracts of forest. Such forests, being cleared, are then laid out for fields and meadows. From the best hewn wood, fences are made around the new fields; for there all meadows, orchards and fruit-fields, are surrounded and fenced in with planks made of thickly-split wood, laid one above the other, as in zigzag lines, and within such enclosures, horses, cattle, and sheep, are permitted to graze.

Our Europeans, who are purchased, must always work hard, for new fields are constantly laid out; and so they learn that stumps of oak-trees are in America certainly as hard as in Germany. In this hot land they fully experience in their own persons what God has imposed on man for his sin and disobedience; for in Genesis we read the words: In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread. Who therefore wishes to earn his bread in a Christian and honest way, and cannot earn it in his fatherland otherwise than by the work of his hands, let him do so in his own country, and not in America; for he will not fare better in America. However hard he may be compelled to work in his fatherland, he will surely find it quite as hard, if not harder, in the new country.

Besides, there is not only the long and arduous journey lasting half a year, during which he has to suffer, more than with the hardest work; he has also spent about 200 florins which no one will refund to him. If he has so much money, it will slip out of his hands; if he has it not, he must work his debt off as a slave and poor serf.

Therefore let every one stay in his own country and support himself and his family honestly. Besides I say that those who suffer themselves to be persuaded and enticed away by the man-thieves, are very foolish if they believe that roasted pigeons will fly into their mouths in America or Pennsylvania without their working for them.

How miserably and wretchedly so many thousand German families have fared, 1) since they lost all their cash means in consequence of the long and tedious journey; 2) because many of them died miserably and were thrown into the water; 3) because, on account of their great poverty, most of these families after reaching the land are separated from each other and sold far away from each other, the young and the old.

And the saddest of all this is that parents must generally give away their minor children without receiving a compensation for them; in as much as such children never see or meet their fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters again, and as many of them are not raised in any Christian faith by the people to whom they are given.

Thursday, June 13, 2013