Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Music & Dance - Early 19C Philadelphia by John Lewis Krimmel 1786-1821



Immigrant artist John Lewis Krimmel was one of the first painters to record early 4th of July celebrations. He was born in Ebingen, Wurtemberg, Germany, in 1787, and accidently drowned near German-town, Pennsylvania, in July of 1821. He came to Philadelphia in 1809, to engage in business with his brother but soon abandoned the business to concentrate on his art.

He began his art career painting portraits, but a copy of Wilkie's "Blind Fiddler" caught his attention; & he turned to humorous subjects and genre painting. Krimmel gathered information for his paintings in the American countryside around Philadelphia by observing local habits, rituals, & ceremonies, so even though he took most of his compositional formats from British prints made after paintings by the satirical artists William Hogarth & David Wilkie, his subject matter was familiar to his potential audience at the Pennsylvania Academy. He also painted more serious historical pictures, & at the time of his death he had received a commission to paint a large canvas on the landing of William Penn. Krimmel was president of the Society of American artists.

John Lewis Krimmel (German-born American artist, 1786-1821) Barroom Dancing 1820


John Lewis Krimmel (German-born American artist, 1786-1821) Merrymaking at a Wayside Inn


John Lewis Krimmel (German American arttist, 1786-1821) The Quilting Frolic 1813

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Shakers 18C - 19C & Founder "Mother" Ann Lee 1736-1784


Shaker Village, Canterbury, New Hampshire

Ann Lee (1736-1784), founder of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly called Shakers in the United States, was born in Manchester, England, one of 8 children of John Lees, a blacksmith living on Toad Lane, & his wife. Ann later shortened her surname to Lee. She had no schooling. Early in her teens she went to work in a textile mill, preparing cotton for the looms & cutting velvet & hatter’s fur. There she was distinguished for her “faithfulness, neatness, prudence & economy.” She was a serious girl, “not addicted to play;” she brooded often about sin & the world’s wrongs.

In her twenties 2 events occurred which changed the courser of Ann Lee’s life. In 1758, she joined a society led by James Wardley, a tailor, & his wife Jane, former Quakers, who upon coming under the influence of the French Prophets, or Camisards, had separated from the Friends. From their manner of worship, which consisted of singing, dancing, shouting, shaking, & speaking in new tongues, they became known as “Shakers.” They prophesied that the 2nd coming of Christ was at hand, but otherwise had no definite creed.

The 2nd turning point in Ann’s life was her marriage. At the urging of relatives, she reluctantly consented to wed Abraham Standerin (Stadley or Stanly), a blacksmith employed in her father’s shop. She was still a member of the Church of England, for the banns were published in the Cathedral, Ann & Abraham signing by mark only. After the marriage (Jan. 5, 1762) the couple made their home with her parents, where in the course of the next few years 4 children were born to them, all of whom died in infancy. The deliveries were difficult, & Ann was near death after the birth of the last child.

This unwanted marriage which ended in tragedy, took its toll of the young wife. Worn by hears of toil in the mills, subject to the wretched conditions of an overcrowded slum, she broke down completely. Obsessed by the fears that the deaths of her children were a punishment for her concupiscence, her “violation of God’s laws,” she mortified herself, foregoing sleep & all but the meanest food, until, weak & wasted, she felt “as helpless as an infant.”

While Ann Lee was wasting away in jail, in the summer of 1770, she claimed that "by a special manifestation of divine light the present testimony of salvation and eternal life was fully revealed to her," and by her to the society, "by whom she from that time was acknowledged as mother in Christ, and by them was called Mother Ann."

"She saw the Lord Jesus Christ in his glory, who revealed to her the great object of her prayers, and fully satisfied all the desires of her soul. The most astonishing visions and divine manifestations were presented to her view in so clear and striking a manner that the whole spiritual world seemed displayed before her. In these extraordinary manifestations she had a full and clear view of the mystery of iniquity, of the root and foundation of human depravity, and of the very act of transgression committed by the first man and woman in the garden of Eden. Here she saw whence and wherein all mankind were lost from God, and clearly realized the only possible way of recovery."

"By the immediate revelation of Christ, she henceforth bore an open testimony against the lustful gratifications of the flesh as the source and foundation of human corruption; and testified, in the most plain and pointed manner, that no soul could follow Christ in the regeneration while living in the works of natural generation, or in any of the gratifications of lust."


Returning to the Wardleys, she once again found protection from the buffetings of fate. Now she had a mission, one that elevated her, about 1770, to leadership in the society. Two years later, when the Shakers began to carry their crusade into the streets & churches, they experienced their first “persecution.” Twice, in 1772 & 1773, Ann & her companions were arrested & imprisoned for breach of the Sabbath. She was confined to the “Dungeons” & from there transferred to Bedlam, the Manchester Infirmary. In these prisons she had her “grand vision” of the transgression of the first man & woman in the garden of Eden. Here she received her divine commission to complete Christ’s work. “It is not I that speak,” she told her followers, "it is Christ who dwells in me.” This intimate presence (“I converse with Christ; I feel him present with me, as sensible as I feel my hands together”) was later interpreted by her followers as constituting the second coming of Christ.

After her release from confinement, the Shakers received a “revelation” that the opening of the gospel would occur not in old England but in America. Accordingly Ann - now called Mother, of Mother of the New Creation - sailed for America on May 19, 1774, accompanied by her brother William, her chief disciple James Whittaker, & 6 others, including, strangely enough, her husband. They landed in New York on Aug. 6 & for a time went their separate ways in search of employment. Her husband Abraham found solice in drinking & left his wife. Whittaker, William Lee, & John Hocknell, the only “wealthy” members of the sect, eventually acquired a tract of land in Niskayuna (later Watervliet), near Albany, N.Y., where the Shakers settled in the spring of 1776.

A Shaker Dwelling in Mount Lebanon, New York

Here, after 4 years of isolation, came their first opportunity to preach the gospel, as an aftermath of a New Light Baptist revival in & around New Lebanon, N.Y. Hearing of a people who proclaimed that the millennium had already begun, disillusioned subjects of the revival flocked to Niskeyuna to see “the woman clothed with the sun.” Conversions rapidly increased. The prophetess was imprisoned for several months in 1780 on false charges of aiding the British, her pacifist principles having roused suspicion among her patriot neighbors. But after her release she continued her work, carry out, in 1781-83, an arduous but successful proselyting mission into parts of eastern New York & New England. When she died, in the fall of 1784, soon after her return to Nisheyuna, the foundation had been laid for eleven communities. She was buried in the Shaker cemetery at Niskeyuna. Her immediate successor, James Whittaker, lived only three more years, but her work was carried forward & systematized by the next heads of the society, Joseph Meacham & Lucy Wright.

Shakers Dancing

Mother Ann Lee must have had a magnetic personality, for during her career she attracted individuals from every walk of life, & after her death her spirit persisted as an ever-present mother image in the order. Physically she was of medium height, with a fair complexion, blue eyes, & chestnut brown hair. Her teaching was simple: confession was the doorway to salvation, celibacy its rule & cross. She envisaged a fellowship like that of the primitive Christian church, where “all that believed were together & had all things in common.” Like the Quakers, she took a firm stand against slavery, the taking of oaths, the bearing of arms. Repeatedly she counseled neatness, economy, charity to the poor.


While she strictly enjoined celibacy on her followers & for a time seems to have condemned marriage in the outside world as well, she later modified her views, holding that marriage was permissible on the “Adamic plane,” but that there was a higher plane, one nearer perfection, a “resurrection order” that was free of all carnal lust. In this order all should have equal privileges regardless of sex, race, or temporal possessions.

Mother Ann Lee was obsessed about “lust” & her messianic pretensions, but she did inspire a movement deeply religious in aspiration & essentially democratic in practice. Her advocacy of equal rights & responsibilities for women in the Shaker society anticipated the feminist movement in America. Her belief in an equalitarian order, in the dignity of labor, & in the rights of conscience accorded with American idealism. Hers was probaby the most successful experiment in religious communitarianism in American history.

A little more about Mother Ann's theory of lust & salvation -- from a volume of "Hymns and Poems for the Use of Believers" (Watervliet, Ohio, 1833), Adam is made to confess the nature of his transgression and the cause of his fall, in a dialogue with his children:

"First Adam being dead, yet speaketh, in a dialogue with his children.

"Children. First Father Adam, where art thou?
With all thy num'rous fallen race;
We must demand an answer now,
For time hath stript our hiding-place.
Wast thou in nature made upright—
Fashion'd and plac'd in open light?

"Adam. Yea truly I was made upright:
This truth I never have deni'd,
And while I liv'd I lov'd the light,
But I transgress'd and then I died.
Ye've heard that I transgress'd and fell—
This ye have heard your fathers tell.

"Ch. Pray tell us how this sin took place—
This myst'ry we could never scan,
That sin has sunk the human race,
And all brought in by the first man.
'Tis said this is our heavy curse—
Thy sin imputed unto us.

"Ad. When I was plac'd on Eden's soil,
I liv'd by keeping God's commands—
To keep the garden all the while,
And labor, working with my hands.
I need not toil beyond my pow'r,
Yet never waste one precious hour.

"But in a careless, idle frame,
I gazed about on what was made:
And idle hands will gather shame,
And wand'ring eyes confuse the head:
I dropp'd my hoe and pruning-knife,
To view the beauties of my wife.

"An idle beast of highest rank
Came creeping up just at that time,
And show'd to Eve a curious prank,
Affirming that it was no crime:—
'Ye shall not die as God hath said—
'Tis all a sham, be not afraid.'

"All this was pleasant to the eye,
And Eve affirm'd the fruit was good;
So I gave up to gratify
The meanest passion in my blood.
O horrid guilt! I was afraid:
I was condemn'd, yea I was dead.

"Here ends the life of the first man,
Your father and his spotless bride;
God will be true, his word must stand—
The day I sinn'd that day I died:
This was my sin, this was my fall!—
This your condition, one and all.

"Ch. How can these fearful things agree
With what we read in sacred writ—
That sons and daughters sprung from thee,
Endu'd with wisdom, power, and wit;
And all the nations fondly claim
Their first existence in thy name?

"Ad. Had you the wisdom of that beast
That took my headship by deceit,
I could unfold enough at least
To prove your lineage all a cheat.
Your pedigree you do not know,
The SECOND ADAM told you so.
"When I with guile was overcome,
And fell a victim to the beast,
My station first he did assume,
Then on the spoil did richly feast.
Soon as the life had left my soul,
He took possession of the whole.

"He plunder'd all my mental pow'rs,
My visage, stature, speech, and gait;
And, in a word, in a few hours,
He was first Adam placed in state:
He took my wife, he took my name;
All but his nature was the same.

"Now see him hide, and skulk about,
Just like a beast, and even worse,
Till God in anger drove him out,
And doom'd him to an endless curse.
O hear the whole creation groan!
The Man of Sin has took the throne!

"Now in my name this beast can plead,
How God commanded him at first
To multiply his wretched seed,
Through the base medium of his lust.
O horrid cheat! O subtle plan!
A hellish beast assumes the man!

"This is your father in my name:
Your pedigree ye now may know:
He early from perdition came,
And to perdition he must go.
And all his race with him shall share
Eternal darkness and despair."

The same theory of the fall is stated in another hymn:
p. 123

"We read, when God created man,
He made him able then to stand
United to his Lord's command
That he might be protected;
But when, through Eve, he was deceiv'd,
And to his wife in lust had cleav'd,
And of forbidden fruit receiv'd,
He found himself rejected.

"And thus, we see, death did begin,
When Adam first fell into sin,
And judgment on himself did bring,
Which he could not dissemble:
Old Adam then began to plead,
And tell the cause as you may read;
But from his sin he was not freed,
Then he did fear and tremble.

"Compell'd from Eden now to go,
Bound in his sins, with shame and woe,
And there to feed on things below—
His former situation:
For he was taken from the earth,
And blest with a superior birth,
But, dead in sin, he's driven forth
From his blest habitation.

"Now his lost state continues still,
In all who do their fleshly will,
And of their lust do take their fill,
And say they are commanded:
Thus they go forth and multiply,
And so they plead to justify
Their basest crimes, and so they try
To ruin souls more candid."

The "way of regeneration" is opened in another hymn in the same collection:
p. 124

"Victory over the Man of Sin.

"Souls that hunger for salvation,
And have put their sins away,
Now may find a just relation,
If they cheerfully obey;
They may find the new creation,
And may boldly enter in
By the door of free salvation,
And subdue the Man of Sin.

"Thus made free from that relation,
Which the serpent did begin,
Trav'ling in regeneration,
Having pow'r to cease from sin;
Dead unto a carnal nature,
From that tyrant ever free,
Singing praise to our Creator,
For this blessed jubilee.

"Sav'd from passions, too inferior
To command the human soul;
Led by motives most superior,
Faith assumes entire control:
Joined in the new creation,
Living souls in union run,
Till they find a just relation
To the First-born two in one.

"But this prize cannot be gained.
Neither is salvation found,
Till the Man of Sin is chained,
And the old deceiver bound.
All mankind he has deceived,
And still binds them one and all,
Save a few who have believed,
And obey'd the Gospel call.

"By a life of self-denial,
True obedience and the cross,
We may pass the fiery trial,
Which does separate the dross. p. 125
If we bear our crosses boldly,
Watch and ev'ry evil shun,
We shall find a body holy,
And the tempter overcome.

"By a pois'nous fleshly nature,
This dark world has long been led;
There can be no passion greater—
This must be the serpent's head:
On our coast he would be cruising,
If by truth he were not bound:
But his head has had a bruising,
And he's got a deadly wound.

"And his wounds cannot be healed,
Light and truth do now forbid,
Since the Gospel has revealed
Where his filthy head was hid:
With a fig-leaf it was cover'd,
Till we brought his deeds to light;
By his works he is discover'd,
And his head is plain in sight."


Following the doctrines were put forth by Ann Lee, & elaborated by her successors:

I. That God is a dual person, male and female; that Adam was a dual person, being created in God's image; and that "the distinction of sex is eternal, inheres in the soul itself; and that no angels or spirits exist who are not male and female."

II. That Christ is a Spirit, and one of the highest, who appeared first in the person of Jesus, representing the male, and later in the person of Ann Lee, representing the female element in God.

III. That the religious history of mankind is divided into four cycles, which are represented also in the spirit world, each having its appropriate heaven and hell. The first cycle included the antediluvians—Noah and the faithful going to the first heaven, and the wicked of that age to the first hell. The second cycle included the Jews up to the appearance of Jesus; and the second heaven is called Paradise. The third cycle included all who lived until the appearance of Ann Lee; Paul being "caught up into the third heaven." The heaven of the fourth and last dispensation "is now in process of formation," and is to supersede in time all previous heavens. Jesus, they say, after his death, descended into the first hell to preach to the souls there confined; and on his way passed through the second heaven, or Paradise, where he met the thief crucified with him.

IV. They hold themselves to be the "Church of the Last Dispensation," the true Church of this age; and they believe that the day of judgment, or "beginning of Christ's kingdom on earth," dates from the establishment of their Church, and will be completed by its development.

V. They hold that the Pentecostal Church was established on right principles; that the Christian churches rapidly and fatally fell away from it; and that the Shakers have returned to this original and perfect doctrine and practice. They say: "The five most prominent practical principles of the Pentecost Church were, first, common property; second, a life of celibacy; third, non-resistance; fourth, a separate and distinct government; and, fifth, power over physical disease." To all these but the last they have attained; and the last they confidently look for, and even now urge that disease is an offense to God, and that it is in the power of men to be healthful, if they will.

VI. They reject the doctrine of the Trinity, of the bodily resurrection, and of an atonement for sins. They do not worship either Jesus or Ann Lee, holding both to be simply elders in the Church, to be respected and loved.

VII. They are Spiritualists. "We are thoroughly convinced of spirit communication and interpositions, spirit guidance and obsession. Our spiritualism has permitted us to converse, face to face, with individuals once mortals, some of whom we well knew, and with others born before the flood." * They assert that the spirits at first labored among them; but that in later times they have labored among the spirits; and that in the lower heavens there have been formed numerous Shaker churches. Moreover, "it should be distinctly understood that special inspired gifts have not ceased, but still continue among this people." It follows from what is stated above, that they believe in a "probationary state in the world of spirits."

VIII. They hold that he only is a true servant of God who lives a perfectly stainless and sinless life; and they add that to this perfection of life all their members ought to attain.

IX. Finally, they hold that their Church, the Inner or Gospel Order, as they call it, is supported by and has for its complement the world, or, as they say, the Outer Order. They do not regard marriage and property as crimes or disorders, but as the emblems of a lower order of society. And they hold that the world in general, or the Outer Order, will have the opportunity of purification in the next world as well as 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, May 29, 2020

Lucy Wright (1760-1821), Shaker leader & successor to its founder, Ann Lee


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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A 19C Shaker Community Restored in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky


Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, was a Shaker religious community from 1805 through 1910. Shakertown, as it is known by the locals, is about 25 miles southwest of Lexington, in the state's bluegrass region.


By 1800, Mother Ann Lee's (1736-1784) religious movement had already established 11 Shaker communities in New York state & throughout New England. About this time, the community sent 3 Shaker missionaries across the Cumberland Gap & through Ohio to find converts in the west. Shakers practiced celibacy & their numbers would die out without new converts.


The Pleasant Hill community was begun by 44 converts who signed a covenant of mutual support & common property ownership of the 140 acres on which they were living. It did not take long for the community to expand & the property to grow to 4,369 acres.


The Shakers chose a peaceful way of life. They were celibate and believed in equality of race & sex and in freedom from prejudice. A quest for simplicity & perfection is reflected in their fine craftsmanship.


The Shakers were skilled farmers, and over the years they expanded land holdings by acquiring adjacent farms for orchards & fields. The Shakers at Pleasant Hill became known for their excellent livestock & engineering accomplishments. Their location near the Ohio River was ideal for agricultural & economic commerce.


By 1816, they regularly traveled to larger communities to sell their wares: brooms, shoes, preserves, garden seeds, & herbs. The Shakers sold their wares in cities and towns up & down the Ohio & the Mississippi rivers, some at great distances, such as New Orleans.


The Shakers, known for their beautifully simple furniture & architecture, also invented many labor-saving processes to serve their large community. In the early 1830s, they constructed a water tower on a high plot of ground. A horse-drawn pump lifted water into the tower, and from there a system of pipes carried it downhill to kitchens, cellars, & wash houses.


In the wash houses, horse-powered washing machines were built to reduce the enormous chore of laundering the community's clothes & linens.


Music was also an important part of Shaker life, with songs, hymns, & anthems written by both men & women. Their dancing or shaking was the origin of the name Shaker.


The community began to decline with the advent of the Civil War & controversies over slave ownership. The last resident on the property died in 1923. The 14 original buildings of the religious community were restored in the 1960s, & it is now the largest restored Shaker community in America, a National Historic Landmark visited by thousands of tourists annually.

Monday, May 25, 2020

American artist Winslow Homer 1836–1910 takes us fishing in 19th-century America


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910)  A Good One


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  An Unexpected Catch


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Bass Fishing Florida  1890


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Boy Fishing 1892


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  Casting, Number Two 1894


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910)  The Rise 1900


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) A quiet pool on a sunny day


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Casting in the Falls (1889)


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Casting


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Crab Fishing


 Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Playing a Fish


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Hauling in the Nets


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Spearing Eels


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The Herring Net 1885


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The lobster pot


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) The Lone Fisherman


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Trout Fishing, Lake St. John, Quebec (1895)


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836-1910) Three Boys in a Dory with Lobster Pots


Winslow Homer (American artist, 1836–1910) Three Men in a Boat

Saturday, May 23, 2020

1841 Rare African American portraits connected to Philadlphia's 1st Mayor


Franklin Street (Philadelphia artist) Charles Montier (1818–1905) 1841


Franklin Street (Philadelphia artist) Elizabeth Brown Montier (1820–c. 1858)


The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses an extremely rare pair of portraits of African American sitters whose heritage can be traced back to the city’s first mayor, Humphrey Morrey (b. c. 1650, England; d. 1716, Philadelphia), appointed to his office by William Penn in 1691. In 1742, Mayor Humphrey Morrey's son Richard (1675-1754) married one of the family’s servants, Cremona Satterthwaite (1710-1770) who was 35 years younger than he. The union resulted in five children, and in Cremona Morrey receiving 198 acres of land from Richard in 1746, near Guineatown in Cheltenham Township of Montgomery County just northwest of Philadelphia. One of their 5 children, Cremona, married a free black man, John Montier. Hiram Chales Montier descended from this union.

 The portraits were painted in 1841 and depict Hiram Charles Montier (1818–1905), who was a bootmaker on N.W. 7th Street at the time of the painting, and his wife Elizabeth Brown Montier (1820–ca. 1858) whom family records indicate had lived in the city’s Northern Liberties neighborhood.  Living in Philadelphia, the Montiers were members of one of the largest free African American communities in the North although Pennsylvania’s gradual emancipation law of 1780 permitted slavery well into the 19th century.  

The signature “Fr Street” on the reverse (now concealed by lining) of Elizabeth’s portrait corresponds to an artist named Franklin R. Street who was active in Philadelphia between 1839 and 1872. No other works by the artist are recorded and no contemporary exhibition records for him have been found, though he was listed in city directories and census records; he was likely a professional painter, producing commercial signs and fancy work as well as portraits. The paintings nevertheless adopt the conventions of high-style portraiture, including the elegant attire, grand architecture, and dramatic landscapes that characterize the works of Philadelphia masters such as Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully. At the time of these paintings, Franklin Street’s studio was located at 41 Chestnut Street.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Catharine Littlefield 1755-1814 m Rev War Gen Nathanael Greene & helpled Eli Whitney change the economy of the South



James Frothingham (American artist, 1786–1864) Catharine Littlefield Greene Miller

Catherine “Caty” Littlefield was born in New Shoreham, R.I., on Block Island.  The 3rd child of 5, she was the 1st daughter of John & Phebe (Ray) Littlefield.  Catharine Littlefield was born off the coast of Rhode Island on Block Island, which her family had helped settle in the 1660s. Her father, John Littlefield represented the town in the colonial assembly from 1747 to the Revolution.  Her mother, Phebe Ray, was a descendant of the earliest settlers of Block Island.

Caty's mother died, when she was 10 years old; & she was sent to live with an aunt & uncle, Catharine Ray & William Greene, in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.  Her aunt, Catharine (Ray) Greene, was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin & corresponded with him for years.  Her uncle William Greene was a leader of the Whig Party & governor of Rhode Island.  Benjamin Franklin was a regular visitor at the Greene house, while Caty was growing up.  Another frequent caller was Nathanael Greene, a successful merchant who was a distant cousin of her Uncle William's. Nathanael, the son of Rhode Island Quakers, who was 14 years older than she. The two began a courtship in 1772.

Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827) Nathanael Greene (1742-1786) 1783

At William & Catharine Greene’s house in Warwick that Kitty Littlefield on July 20, 1774, was married to Nathanael Greene of Coventry, R.I.  Nathanael Greene, brought up as a pacifist Quaker but turned to military concerns by the threats to his country’s liberty, had left his father’s forge; & in 1774, was helping to organize the Kentish Guards, a volunteer military company.  Catharine's new husband was selected by the Rhode Island Assembly as brigadier general, in charge of Rhode Island's 3 Continental regiments. During the war young Caty was not content to sit at home awaiting word of her husband. Instead, she visited him at his headquarters & joined him at his various encampments, where she witnessed many battles firsthand.

Catharine came to the notice of Washington & his troops at Valley Forge in the grim winter of 1777-78.  She had followed her husband, soon to become quartermaster general, to the Schuylkill headquarters to sharing the hardships of those bitter months with the men upon whom the success of the Revolution depended.  She was with her husband again the following winter at Morristown.  “We had a little dance at my quarters,” wrote General Greene, “His Excellency & Mrs. Greene danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.”  Catherine’s gallantry of spirit won Washington’s grateful admiration, although some gossiped about her association with mostly men at these encampments. Catharine Littlefield Greene stood out among Revolutionary War military wives, engaging in political discourse, maintaining friendships with men & bearing her children at the same time.

Three of their 5 Greene children were born during those years-Martha Washington in 1777, Cornelia Lott in 1778, & Nathanael Ray in 1780.  George Washington Greene, the oldest, was 8, when peace came in 1783; Louisa Catherine, the youngest, was born the following winter.  Greene's presence at her husband's encampments endeared her to the troops & to the other military leaders. George & Martha Washington became friends & supporters of Greene. The trips were made more challenging, when she began to have children. By 1779, she had three—George, Martha, & Cornelia—& was expecting a fourth. She was looking forward to joining her husband again; when word arrived, that he had been appointed commander of Washington's southern forces. It was not until 1781, that she was able to head to Charleston, South Carolina, to join him. By then their 4th child, Nathanael Ray, had arrived.

When the war finally came to an end & the family was reunited, Caty looked forward to having Nathanael there to share in the responsibility of raising the children & handling family business affairs. His presence at home "brought a peace of mind unknown to her since the conflict began." She was eager to let Nathanael take charge & to settle herself into the life of a respected, well-to-do gentleman's wife.

Though Nathanael was not required to be of further service to his country, his involvement in the war continued to affect their lives. During his Revolutionary command in the south, he faced very harsh conditions. In order to clothe his soldiers during the winter, he had to personally guarantee thousands of dollars to Charleston merchants. He later discovered that the speculator, through whom he had dealt, was fraudulent. At the end of the war, the merchants began pressing him for payment on the notes & judgments began coming down from South Carolina courts. He was without sufficient funds & heavily in debt.

 In recognition of General Greene’s war services, Georgia deeded him a sequestered loyalist estate that included Mulberry Grove plantation on he Savannah River.  Here he hoped to make a living by cultivating rice & pay off their debts by selling their other lands, when real estate markets proved favorable. This decision was particularly hard on Catharine. She had lived her whole life in the north. She would be leaving behind many friends & what was left of her family on Block Island.  There the family settled in the autumn of 1785, while the 43-year-old Nathanael undertook to restore the long-neglected land to productivity.  He would die only 9 months later.

When her husband died of “severe sunstroke” in June 1786, the widow Greene was left alone to raise their 5 children & oversee the family plantation. Catharine decided to remain in Georgia. The plantation was still not a financial success; but by 1788, with the help of the new plantation manager, originally their children’s tutor Yale grad & Connecticut native, Phineas Miller 1764-1803, Mulberry Grove was thriving.

She also gratefully yielded to General Lafayette’s request to let him educate her eldest, son of his beloved comrade-in-arms, with his own son in France.  Retaining her place in the “court circles” of the new republic, Mrs. Greene returned every summer to the cooler air of Newport, a center of Rhode Island society.  Her cultivated manners & warmth hade Mulberry Grove a gathering place for all her southern neighbors, as well, who valued such status & social graces.

In 1791, the Greene family of Mulberry Grove entertained George Washington during his presidential tour of the South.  Soon after that visit, Catharine personally presented to the United States Congress a petition for indemnity to recover funds that Nathanael had paid to Charleston merchants. On April 27, 1792, President  Washington approved & signed an act that indemnified the Greene estate. In a happy letter to a friend, she wrote:

I can tell you my Dear friend that I am in good health & spirits & feel as saucy as you please-not only because I am independent, but because I have gained a complete triumph over some of my friends who did not wish me success-& others who doubted my judgement in managing the business & constantly tormented me to death to give up my obstinancy as it was called-they are now as mute as mice-Not a word dare they utter... O how sweet is revenge!

On her journey homeward from Newport in the fall of 1792, a traveling companion was Eli Whitney 1765-1825, newly graduated from Yale, whom tutor-turned-plantation-manager Phinaes Miller had secured as a tutor for a South Carolina family across the Savannah River. 

During Whitney’s youth, the tall, heavy-shouldered boy with large hands & a gentle manner was a blacksmith, a nail maker on a machine he made at home & at one time, he was the country's sole maker of ladies' hatpins.  In his early 20s, Whitney determined to attend Yale College; so unusual a step for anyone not preparing for either the law or theology, that his parents objected. He was 23, before he got away from home & 27, when he received his degree, almost middle-aged in the eyes of his classmates. Again the most serious drawback facing him was that no profession existed suited to a man of his talents.

Eli Whitney 1765-1825

When Whitney’s teaching plans collapsed, Mrs. Greene invited him to accompany her to her plantation & read law. In the meantime, he could make himself useful in one way or another helping the tutor-turned-plantation-manager, Phineas Miller.  Miller was also a Yale alumnus, about a year older than Whitney. Whitney accepted the offer.

Being from New England, Whitney was unfamiliar with cotton farming, but Greene quickly brought him up to speed. She explained the difficulties of raising green-seed cotton.  Struck by his ingenuity in designing & fashioning a new tambour frame for her embroidery, Catherine Greene persuaded him to turn his talents to devising a machine that could rapidly strip the tenacious seeds from short-staple cotton & thus make it a profitable crop to raise. 

Some believe that she not only suggested the idea of the cotton gin, but she drew the rudimentary design, made corrections for improvement, & later financed the patent & fabrication. In Woman as Inventor, written in 1883, Matilda Joslyn Gage asserted that it was Caty & not Eli Whitney who should be credited with the invention.

Gage wrote that the cotton gin “owes its origin to a woman, Catherine Littlefield Green.” Gage goes on to describe Whitney as familiar enough with “the use of tools” to be able to build the machine. Nonetheless, the young man’s first contraption featured inefficient wooden teeth & he nearly quit, but the widow Greene’s suggestion to substitute wire for wood proved successful.

At the urging of Catharine Green & Phineas Miller, Whitney watched the cotton cleaning process of the slaves & studied their hand movements. During the slow process, one hand held the seed while the other hand teased out the short strands of lint. The machine he designed simply duplicated this.  To take the place of a hand holding the seed, Whitney made a sort of sieve of wires stretched lengthwise. More time was consumed in making the wire than stringing it, because the proper kind of wire was nonexistent.

To do the work of human fingers, which pulled out the lint, Whitney had a drum rotate past the sieve, almost touching it. On the surface of the drum, fine, hook-shaped wires projected which caught at the lint from the seed. The restraining wires of the sieve held the seeds back, while the lint was pulled away. A rotating brush, which turned 4 times as fast as the hook-covered drum cleaned the lint off the hooks. Originally Whitney planned to use small circular saws instead of the hooks, but the saws were unobtainable. That was all there was to Whitney's cotton gin; & it never became any more complicated.

Whitney worked developing his cotton gin for 6 months in a basement room of the plantation house.  In that interval Caty’s older son, returned from France, drowned in the Savannah River. 

When Whitney announced in April 1793, that he had completed a working model of an engine, or “gin”, his hostess called the attention of influential planters in the neighborhood to the potentialities of the new machine.  With no more than the promise that Whitney would patent the machine and make a few more, the men who had witnessed the demonstration immediately ordered whole fields to be planted with green seed cotton.



Eli Whitney's Cotton Gin

Word got around the district so rapidly, that Whitney's workshop was broken into & his machine examined. Within a few weeks, more cotton was planted in the area than Whitney could possible have ginned in a year of making new machines. Before he had a chance to complete his patent model, or to secure protection, the prematurely planted cotton came to growth. With huge harvests pressing on them, the planters had no time for the fine points of law or ethics. Whitney's machine was pirated without a qualm.

Descriptions of the main features of the gin leaked out; as it was simple to build, copies began to appear in Georgia, almost before Whitney secured his patent in March 1794.  A newly formed partnership with tutor-turned-plantation-manager Phineas Miller, could manufacture few more than half a dozen gins.  A prolonged struggle to establish the partners’ rights early threatened the new firm with bankruptcy. 

Whitney’s partnership with Miller ran into problems immediately. The agreement was that Whitney was to go north to New Haven, secure his patent, & begin manufacturing machines, while Miller was to remain in the South & see that the machines were placed. Having no precedent of royalty arrangement to go on, the partners' initial plan was that no machine was to be sold, but simply installed for a percentage of the profit earned. Since they had no idea that cotton planting would take place in epidemic proportions, they did not know that they were asking for an agreement that would have earned them millions of dollars a year. It had been Miller's idea to take 1 pound of every 3 of cotton, & the planters were furious. Meanwhile, cotton, one of the easiest growing crops, was coming up out of the ground engulfing everything around.

Catherine Greene in 1795, enabled the venture to continue by committing her entire resources to the effort.  According to The National Archives, Greene’s “support, both moral & financial were critical” to Whitney’s efforts. When Miller began charging farmers a fee to use cotton gins, & disgruntled farmers started building their own.

By the time Whitney & Miller were willing to settle for outright sale or even a modest royalty on every machine made by someone else, the amount of money due them was astronomical. He & Miller were now deeply in debt & their only recourse was to go to court; but every court they entered was in cotton country. At length in 1801, Miller & Whitney were willing to settle for outright grants from cotton-growing states in return for which the cotton gin would be public property within the boundaries.   By 1807, Whitney had re-established title to his invention, but his patent expired in that year, ending any real hope of financial return.  He was penniless, & his patent worthless.  Whitney was 39 years old, & most of the past 10 years had been wasted either in courtrooms or in traveling from one court to another. He returned north, turning his back on cotton, the cotton gin, & the South forever.

As for why Caty Greene did not attempt to patent the cotton gin herself, Gage suggested that doing so “would have exposed her to the ridicule” of friends & “a loss of position in society,” which disapproved of women’s involvement in any "outside industry." Perhaps she didn’t receive credit for the invention, because women were not allowed to hold patents. Regardless, neither Whitney nor Caty profited from the invention, after Congress refused to renew the patent, & it was mass produced.

An unforeseen by-product of Whitney's invention, a labor-saving device, was to help preserve the institution of slavery in the South by making cotton production highly profitable. Exports of cotton from the U.S. skyrocketed exponentially after the introduction of the cotton gin. Between 1820 & 1860, cotton represented over half the value of U.S. exports. Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, slavery was in decline. The profitably of crops grown with slave labor, such as rice, tobacco, indigo & cotton was steadily decreasing. Some slaveholders began freeing their slaves in response. By effortlessly separating the seeds from the cotton fibers, the cotton gin removed the main obstacle to producing cleaned cotton. As the price of cotton decreased, the demand for cotton soared; so too did the demand for more land & more slaves to grow & pick the cotton. The number of slave states increased from s6 in 1790 to 15 in 1860.  By 1860, 1 in 3 Southerners was a slave. The labor-saving device Whitney created effectively rejuvenated the institution of slavery in the South & helped split American society.

Catherine married Phineas Miller on June 13, 1796 in Philadelphia's First Presbyterian Church. The President & Mrs. Washington served as witnesses to the wedding.  Despite the couple’s best efforts, by 1798, Mulberry Grove fell upon hard times.


Post Civil War ruins of Dungeness Plantation on Cumberland Island

Catharine, in financing the cotton gin firm of Whitney & Miller, had lost a great deal of money. Caty was forced to sell the plantation along with many of Mulberry Grove's slaves, moving her family to Cumberland Island. There she & Phineas established a new home on land that had been given to Nathanael for his Revolutionary War service. The plantation, located near the southern end of the island & called "Dungeness," thrived. They held a total of 210 slaves to work the plantation. Miller succumbed to a fever & died in 1803, worn out at 39. Catherine Greene Miller died of fever at “Dungeness” in 1814, at 59, & she is buried there.


Post Civil War ruins of Dungeness Plantation on Cumberland Island