Saturday, January 21, 2012

Drafting the Letter

Edward Lamson Henry painted "Drafting the Letter," the painting in the above photo, in 1871. You may recognize certain elements in the room as being similar to the master bedroom in the Keith House at Graeme Park.

In fact it is based on this room - Henry painted what was called "historic fiction," so he based his paintings on real spaces but reinvented them to suit his artistic vision. An avid collector of 18th century furniture, he also envisioned the space with pieces from his collection. The subject of the painting was based on a description of an incident in Elizabeth Graeme's life that Elizabeth F. Ellet wrote about in her book, The Women of the American Revolution.

While in Philadelphia to take leave of her husband, who was embroiled in the Revolutionary War, Elizabeth stayed in the home of Charles Stedman. The Stedmans were also entertaining George Johnstone, a Commissioner sent by the British to settle the differences between England and America. Johnstone requested of Elizabeth that "should she see" General Joseph Reed that she might suggest to him that should he "conformably to his conscience and views of things" bring about the settlement of the dispute between England and her colonies that he might "command 10,000 guineas and the best post in the government." Elizabeth expressed her concerns that Reed might view this as a bribe and that were he in favor of giving up independence he would say so without personal gain, but Johnstone convinced her it was part of the normal negotiation process.

Commissioner George Johnstone

Elizabeth requested a meeting with Reed, allegedly to discuss her loyalist husband Henry's situation, and, when he mentioned having recently received a letter from Johnstone, conveyed to him the conversation she had with him, assuming the letter had similar content. Reed's indignant reply was "I am not worth purchasing; but such that I am, the King of Britain is not rich enough to do it." General Reed brought the matter to Congress, conveying both the conversation with Elizabeth and a letter he had received from Johnstone. He did keep Elizabeth's name out of it, but the details were such that in an account published in the newspapers, suspicion was immediately drawn to Elizabeth. When Elizabeth saw the article in Towne's Evening Post she immediately "drafted a letter" to General Reed complaining of having been made to look like Johnstone's pawn.

General Joseph Reed

"I find it hard, knowing the uncorruptness of my heart, to be held out to the public as a tool to the commissioners. But the impression is now made, and it is too late to recall it. How far, at this critical juncture of time, this affair may injure my property, is uncertain; that, I assure you, is but a secondary thought." The writing of this response is the subject of Henry's painting, and her fear for Graeme Park was real, as the property was confiscated due to Henry Hugh Fergusson's loyalties. The exchange with Reed, which continued on with more back and forth in the papers, left him an enemy while his position in the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council gave him great influence over her fate.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Sweetheart of Graeme Park

Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson led a life of wealth and privilege, romance and intrigue, heartbreak, poverty and sorrow. She was the youngest child of the prominent and wealthy Dr. Thomas Graeme and his wife, Ann Diggs Graeme, and the step-granddaughter of Sir William Keith, Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania. She spent her summers at idyllic Graeme Park and her winters enjoying the social scene in Philadelphia. She was well educated and spent time travelling abroad, writing, and in the company of Philadelphia’s political, social, and literary elite.

After early heartbreak at the hands of William Franklin, Elizabeth finally met and married a man she would describe in one of her poems as tall, handsome, brown-haired, blue-eyed, charming, and a little untrustworthy and careless with the feelings of others. Henry Hugh Fergusson would side with the British during the Revolution and as a result of his loyalties, Elizabeth would find herself after the war fighting to keep her ancestral home and a scant few of her possessions.

Henry returned to England and the couple would never again be together. Rumors swirled through Philadelphia of his infidelity and an illegitimate child and Elizabeth began an unrelenting quest to learn the truth on this matter, which alienated all but her closest of friends. She spent the years after the Revolution at Graeme Park with her friend Betsy Stedman as her companion, struggling to pay debts left by her father and to regain title to her home. Her last years were spent as a boarder and then a guest in the home of a friend. She died on February 23 with Betsy Stedman and her grandniece, Anna Smith, at her side.

Guests at the Colonial Valentine’s Day tour will see Elizabeth’s story reenacted in vignettes throughout the house. Tours are $12/person and will run approximately every 30 minutes from 12 noon to 3 pm on Sunday, February 12. Light refreshments are included in the tour price. No reservations.

We’re running these tours during daylight hours this year, since the weather in February can be a little dicey. We hope those of you who have been hesitant to join us on a cold, dark night will make it out for a truly terrific program and great way to learn the history of Graeme Park.

Friday, January 6, 2012

First Fridays Fotos - January 2012

Back in October we announced a new "First Friday Foto" series which will be the same shot taken on the first Friday of every month so we can see how the property evolves and changes over the course of the year. Since the garden is one of the more mercurial things around here, I thought it would make a good subject for this year's series.  

The photo was taken about 9 o'clock in the morning. While the colors are pretty much exclusively brown, green, and white, the variances in texture and color keep it interesting. Heck, I'm just glad we still have green at this time of the year. Can you tell that there is a light frost on the cabbage? It shows up better in the close-up below.

We'll be back on February 3 to see how things have changed.

It's better than a blue tarp...

After laying out sheets of plywood on Dec. 30 so the lift truck wouldn't get stuck, the "new roof" project was put back on hold until this week. Tuesday the crew showed up to install our brand, spankin' new "temporary" rubber roof. This will help prevent additional leaking and plaster damage on the third floor until the roof can be reshingled in the spring or summer.

The material has been laid over the existing shingles on the upper slope of the gambrel roof and is held in place by boards which are nailed through. Supposedly the material is good for 5 or 6 years, but we hope it won't stay on that long. Stay tuned for when the real work begins which they tell us will be later this year.

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