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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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Mifflins’ Marriage

Yesterday, when we looked in on the Brattle House in Cambridge in August 1775, Continental Army quartermaster general Thomas Mifflin had taken it as his home and office during the siege of Boston.

Three women were already living there: the widow Katherine Wendell, daughter of the house’s Loyalist legal owner; her thirteen-year-old daughter, Martha-Fitch Wendell; and their eighteen-year-old guest, Abigail Collins of Rhode Island.

After a visit to the house in August, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in Philadelphia with a hint for Mifflin’s wife Sarah:
tell her I do not know whether her Husband is safe here. . . . You hear nothing from the Ladies, but about Major Mifflins easy address, politeness, complasance &c. &c.
Sarah Mifflin set out for Cambridge in the next month.

The Mifflins lived together in the Brattle house over the winter. They hosted Dr. John and Mary Morgan, another Philadelphia couple. They held dinner parties. In fact, it looks like the Mifflins entertained visiting officials in genteel style while dinner at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters down the street was more of a “pot-luck” military affair.

So did that togetherness fend off any rifts in the Mifflins’ marriage? Not for long. By the end of the war, Thomas Mifflin was known for his sexual affairs. After Mifflin was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1790, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote:
This man was known to be of a very immoral character. He had lived in a state of adultery with many women during the life of his wife, and had children by some of them, whom he educated in his own family. It is said his wife died last summer of a broken heart in consequence of this conduct towards her.
Rush had other reasons to dislike the man, but everyone seems to agree that Mifflin led a “dissipated” later life while also serving as his state’s highest official.

However, the Brattle House was a happier rendezvous for other couples. Abigail Collins met her future husband, Dr. John Warren, when he was working down the street at the army hospital. Martha-Fitch Wendell later married a tutor from Harvard College nearby. And her mother, by keeping on the good side of both military and local officials, kept the estate from being confiscated as the property of a Loyalist.

I’ll have stories of other women in other mansions along Brattle Street in my “Women of Tory Row” walking tour on Saturday afternoon, part of this year’s Cambridge Discovery Day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear -- and Mrs. Mifflin came up all the way from Philadelphia!