J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Ann Edwards: “retained her Eastern habits until her death”

Back in my first posting about John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Margaret Gage, I noted that her father, the New Jersey merchant Peter Kemble, had been born in Smyrna, in the Ottoman Empire. (Shown here in a 1732 print, which Iscra of the Netherlands is selling.) Kemble’s father ran a trading house, and his mother was of Greek ancestry.

Boston 1775 reader John Beasley sent me an email adding that Margaret Gage had an even more direct connection to Turkey:
Margaret’s Greek grandmother had a sister who married the British consul to Smyrna named Edwards. The Kembles were in the trading business, and Mr. Edwards seems to have taken part in the trading business also. He is credited with introducing coffee in England. At some time, under circumstances unknown, the Edwards family died out, except for a daughter, Ann Edwards, six years older than Margaret.

The Kembles invited Ann to leave Turkey and live with them in New Jersey. She spent the rest of her life with the Kembles and [following her death in 1808] is buried in the Kemble family plot at Mount Kemble, N.J. In the Prefatory Notes for Volume II of the Stephen Kemble Papers (pg. xiv), Margaret’s brother (Stephen Kemble) writes: “She was highly educated, spoke Greek, Italian, French, and English.” But more importantly he adds that she was “a complete Greek, and retained her Eastern habits until her death.”

Thus Margaret grew up with a Greek/Turkish cousin living in the same house—a cousin who perhaps regularly wore a Turkish costume. It just might be Ann Edwards’ clothes that Margaret wears in the portrait.
If so, they had probably been altered to be closer to British-American norms, in the same way other aspects of culture get adapted. The “Turkish” style fashionable in late-eighteenth-century Britain apparently had little connection with actual Turkish dress.

Nevertheless, Margaret Gage clearly had more knowledge of and emotional ties to life in the Ottoman Empire than the average British aristocrat, and far more than the average North American lady. She might have chosen to be painted in that fashion as a statement of her heritage as well as her taste. Given how other Copley patrons had their pictures painted in similar dress, it’s also possible that Margaret Gage helped to promote the “turquerie” style in America.

TOMORROW: Remaking Copley’s portraits of the Gages.

1 comment:

Samantha Sakcriska said...

I am a descendant of Richard Kemble and Miss Macrocodato and their son Peter Kemble and his son William Kemble and so on. I live in Mississippi where Willaims granddaughter Elizabeth Kemble Givens died. I really enjoyed your article and will share it with my family.