Operation Meschianza Pt 1: The Party

Yo waddup, my peasants? It’s ur gurl with another internet breaking project (hopefully)

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Around this time last year, the Leviathan was born and went viral after the Met’s security team had a power trip when I was supposed to be there to help with a tour. Life has a funny way of manifesting your dreams of internet celebrity status; if you’ve found my blog through all of last year’s hullaballoo and are still reading it, thank you! I hope my shenanigans are still entertaining enough to read!

Anyway, it’s gonna be hard to follow up the Leviathan in its sheer monstrous glory, but I’m gonna try and I’m gonna do that through recreating a dress from a party that will forever live in Revolutionary War infamy: The Meschianza. Now,– like– almost two years ago, I had written a post about music and theatre life in British occupied New York and Philadelphia and I never got around to writing about the Meschianza until now. Why? Honestly, I have no excuse and just blame it on me as a person. This post might be a long one, so bear with me; this project is going to be divided into several parts. The reason why I’m doing this project is because I’m looking to provide another character portrayal for the business; I portray Mlle Lenormand, Eliza Hamilton,  Mary Bloomfield, and Theda Bara, so I want to expand my repertoire. I would like to give a good loyalist portrayal because loyalist civilians are so overlooked in living history; and plus it’ll give me the opportunity to ramp up my sassiness! Starting this year, I am portraying Becky Franks, queen of all things sassy, celebrated poetess, satirical writer, and utter troll who spared no one. We’re basically the same person.

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Becky Franks was the daughter of prominent New York loyalist David Franks and Margaret Evans of Philadelphia. David Franks was from a prominent Jewish family from England and had a solid merchant business in Philadelphia where he was a land speculator and fur trader. Because her mother Margaret was Christian, she was raised in a Christian household, but it’s honestly fascinating to bring up her family’s heritage as a topic for further research. It’s got me curious!  During the revolution, Franks was the commissary responsible for supplying British prisoners of war with provisions, a job which did not make him too popular with the Americans… and his youngest daughter Becky’s behavior did not help his image.  Becky seemed to have friends everywhere; Anne Harrison, second wife to William Paca, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Charles Lee, but her most famous friends have to be Peggy Shippen and her crowd along with Major John Andre. Peggy Shippen and her crew were kind of the equivalent of the American Revolution era Plastics– and they knew it! When everything is said and done with this project, I’ll give a better post about Becky, but I will give you this little anecdote from her shenanigans,

It was at a ball given by British officers in New York City, when Sir Henry Clinton, their General, requested the band to play “Britons Strike home!” that Rebecca Franks exclaimed: “The Commander-in-chief has made a mistake; he meant to say ‘Britons, go home!'” on another occasion, Lieutenant Jack Stewart, of Maryland, who served in the Continental Army, called on Miss Franks, wearing a scarlet coat. He remarked to her: “I have adopted your colors, my princess, the better to secure a kind reception; deign to smile upon a true knight?” To this the lady did not reply , but, addressing to her friends around her, exclaimed; “How the ass glories in the lion’s skin!” (the Jews of Philadelphia: Their History from the Earliest Settlements…” Henry Samuel Morais, p37)

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Photo by Lindsey Loves History

So in order to better understand what the heck I’ll be making for this portrayal, I ought to pull up some information on the party it was worn to. To set the scene, I’ll give you a quote from Elizabeth Drinker’s diary on May 18th of 1778,

This day may be remembered by many from ye scenes of Folly and Vanity– promoted by ye officers of the army– under the pretense of showing respect to Gen. Howe, now about leaving them. Ye parade of Coaches and other Carriages, with many Horsemen, thro’ the Streets, towards ye Northern Liberties; where great numbers of ye Officers, and some women, embarked in three Galleys and a number of boats, and passed down ye River, before ye city, with Colors displayed, and a large Band of music; and ye Ships in ye Harbor decorated with Colors, which were saluted by ye Cannon of some of them.

It is said they landed in Southwark, and proceeded from ye waterside to Joseph Wharton’s late dwelling, which has been decorated and fitted up for this occasion in an expensive way, for this Company, to Feast, Dance, and Revel in.

On ye River Sky-Rockets and other Fire Works were exhibited after night.

How insensible do these people appear, while our Land is so greatly desolated, and Death and sore destruction has overtaken, and now impends, over so many!

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The Meschianza, meaning “medley” or “mixture” in Italian, was a grand fete Major Andre planned and threw for Sir William Howe’s grand exit from the American Revolution. The celebration was the largest the British army threw in Philadelphia during its occupation and it looked like a massive “screw you!” to the Continental army who had been suffering in Valley Forge not a few months ago. Twenty-two officers pooled together 3,312 guineas to put on this massive party– which is $682,929 in today’s USD! This lit AF party went on for eighteen hours and was attended by nearly 400 people including British officers and affluent loyalists of Philadelphia.This party had everything, dancing, mock joust tournaments, festooned ships, medieval fantasy, Turkish decor– it was hella lit. Like so lit. Yeah.

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The procession began at the docks of Philadelphia on Knight’s wharf and ended at Joseph Wharton’s home on Walnut St– a massive slap to the face of American patriots considering he was in exile at the present moment. The house itself, Walnut Grove, was built in 1760 and was used as a reception/dressing room. The ball itself was held in grand tents on the grounds. Before the party, at around four pm, there was a procession that started on Knight’s wharf, at the water edge of Green st. There was a grand regatta of three divisions, each with music. Someone who attended the Meschianza wrote about it for the Niles’ Weekly Register in November of 1834:

We continued waiting on the water, for the rest of the company, near half an hour; when, a signal being given from the Vigilant, we began to move in three divisions, a galley, and ten flat bottomed boats in each division.

In the first was general Kniphausen, &c. in the third British and German officers; and, in the middle, lord and gen. Howe &c with three barges, in each of which were bands of music playing. Opposite to the place of embarkation lay the Vigilant in the stream, completely unmanned. As soon as the boats had passed, she gave them three cheers, which were answered by three from the sailors in the general’s galley. Opposite Market street, lay the Fanny, a ship of about 20 guns, decorated with colors; the standard of Great Britain being at the mainmast-head. Here we lay on our oars, while music played God Save the King.

About seven o’clock we landed upon pontoons, at the old fort, directly opposite Mr. Wharton’s house.

When the general had got on shore, the Roebuck fired a salute of nineteen guns, which was taken up by the Vigilant, and several smaller vessels, up and down the river. The fleet, at the wharves, consisting of about 300 sail, were adorned with colors; and, together with the procession, exhibited a very grand and pleasing appearance.

The party was nothing short of enchanting; there were gallant knights, fair maidens, jousting, and military showboating. Guests must have felt as though they went back in time for a moment and could simply forget about this whole war thing that’ll totally blow over soon. The house itself had a magical and almost supernatural quality about it; there had been rumors of it being haunted! When the guests entered the scene, they were greeted by a square lawn which formed the center for the jousting tournament. On the front of each pavilion were seven of the hottest available chicks in the county all bedazzled in “Turkish” outfits waiting for their knights to show up. Suddenly, trumpets sound ushering in seven white knights dressed in white and red silk mounted on gray horses. Squires and servants followed them bearing colors and heralds. These were the Knights of the Blended Rose, gallant knights that pride themselves on all things good. They boldly claim that the ladies of their order “excel in wit, beauty, and accomplishments, those of the whole world.” and challenged anyone who dared speak otherwise. Enter the challengers, clad in black and orange silk, to cry defiance to the knights of the Blended Rose. These were the Knights of the Burning Mountain whose motto “I burn forever” was emblazoned on their colors. These knights rode around the lists sizing each other up, gave regards to their ladies, and engaged in mock duels and jousts fighting with pistols, swords, and spears.

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After the knights got their fight on, the whole party got their dance on and danced until 10 pm when the guests enjoyed 20 different displays of fireworks, as provided by British engineer Captain Montresor. Supper was served at midnight and then after that, the party continued until about 4 am when everyone sang God Save the King. Like I said, super lit. Oddly enough, there were no British officers’ wives who attended the fete, save for Montresor’s new bride Miss Auchmuty.

So that leaves us these questions: who were the ladies of the Blended Rose and Burning Mountain and what did they wear? Well, we’ll find out in my part 2 which should be up this week if I get around to it. Idk because I’m sewing now and it’s filled me with a sense of purpose. Anyway, I’m out for now, peasants! Party on! I love you!

 

 

 

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