A Romantic Interlude


 

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we bring you a Cliveden romantic interlude…

Margaret “Peggy” Chew (1760-1824) was only 17 years old when Captain John André asked her to be his date to the hottest party in occupied Philadelphia: the Mischianza. The Mischianza was General William Howe’s farewell sendoff attended by British military elites and Philadelphia socialites. A noted absence was the Quaker Philadelphians, who remarked that such opulence during a time of great need was insulting to the war effort.

Watercolor painted by John André for Peggy Chew. From the collection of Cliveden of the National Trust.

Howe was the marginally successful British general in control of the city during the Philadelphia campaign (1777-1778). After unsuccessfully detaining George Washington and his troops twice, Howe sent a resignation letter in 1777 and was acknowledged in 1778. John André meticulously planned this fête, from the transportation with a two mile regatta from Knight’s Warf (Spring Garden and Columbus Boulevard) to Old Swedes’ Church (Christian and Columbus Boulevard), the lavish decorations, and even the attendees’ attire. Women wore white silk dresses with Turkish style turbans and sashes, and the men, who were the ladies’ knights, wore period clothing from King Henry IV of France’s reign (1589-1610). The party continued until dawn with mock jousting, fireworks, and music at Walnut Grove, home of Joseph Wharton (1707-1776), at the current cross streets of 5th Street and Washington Avenue.*

 

Cover page to John André’s manuscript of the Mischianza, a gift to Peggy. From the collection of Cliveden of the National Trust.

André was quite taken by Peggy. She knew the proper dances, was friends with other high society ladies in Philadelphia, including Peggy Shippen, future wife and collaborator of Benedict Arnold, and was very aware of the social finesse needed secure an advantageous marriage. André gave her a booklet that included a watercolor drawing of a knight and a letter recounting the events of the party. It is possible that he also wrote her two poems showing his admiration.

The relationship between Peggy and André was shadowed by the looming Patriot threat. Her father Benjamin Chew was granted permission from the American government to return to the city from a 10 month period of house arrest on May 15, 1778. The Mischianza was May 18. André sent the booklet June 2 and the British evacuated Philadelphia June 18. Whatever future they might have had was never realized. John André was hanged for espionage by a board of senior American officers on October 2, 1780.

None of the ladies that attended the Mischianza married their knights. Rebecca Franks, whose date’s motto, Captain Watson Guds, is represented in Andre’s frontispiece, married Col. Sir Henry Johnson, Rebecca “Becky” Redman married Col. Elisha Lawrence, and Janet Craig never married. Peggy’s older sister Sarah ended up marring John Galloway and Peggy married Col. John Eager Howard in 1787, who, a year later, became the fifth governor of Maryland.

Walnut Grove was demolished in 1862 to make way for a schoolhouse. Walnut Grove was the home of Joseph Wharton (1707-1776). When the British took over Philadelphia, and Walnut Grove, in 1777 it is unclear if Wharton’s widow remained in the house or fled the city.


 

Bibliography

MacDowell, Lillian Ione (Rhoades). The Story of Philadelphia. New York, NY: American Book Company, 1900. Accessed February 1, 2018. Archive.org.

“Meschianza.” LCP Art & Artifacts. June 28, 2008. Accessed February 01, 2018. http://www.librarycompany.org/artifacts/meschianza.htm.

Robbett, Mary Kate. “Meschianza.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. November 29, 2016. Accessed February 07, 2018. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/meschianza/.

Watson, John F., and Willis P. Hazard. Annals of Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, in the olden times ; being a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, and incidents of the city and its inhabitants, and of the earliest settlements of the inland part of Pennsylvania. Vol. II. Philadelphia: E.S. Stuart, 1844. Google Books.

Watson, John F., and Willis P. Hazard. Annals of Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, in the olden times ; being a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, and incidents of the city and its inhabitants, and of the earliest settlements of the inland part of Pennsylvania. Vol. III. Philadelphia: E.S. Stuart, 1884. Google Books.

Westcott, Thompson. Historic Mansions and Buildings of Philadelphia: with some notice of their owners and occupants. Philadelphia: Walter H. Barr, 1895. Google Books.

Wharton, Anne Collingsworth. Through colonial doorways. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1893. Accessed February 1, 2018. Archive.org.