Arts and Leisure

In 1744, The Doctor Found Not One Prude in Boston

Dr. Alexander Hamilton saw many pretty women and not one prude during the 12 days he spent in Boston in the summer of 1744.

prude edward holyoke

Edward Holyoke

Hamilton was a 32-year-old doctor with access to the best social circles wherever he traveled during his four-month journey from Annapolis, Md., through New England.

He published what he saw and heard in a book he called Itinerarium. It has been described as ‘the best single portrait of men and manners, of rural and urban life, of the wide range of society and scenery in colonial America.’

His Boston visit brought him into contact with all sorts of people: attractive coquettes, a Frenchman with odd dining habits, a painter, doctors and a couple of embarrassed Philadelphians. He met the artist John Smibert, the most influential artist in New England at the time. He also went to Cambridge to meet the president of Harvard, the Rev. Edward Holyoke.

Boston, then a town of fewer than 20,000 people, favorably impressed Hamilton. “There is an abundance of men of learning and parts so that one is at no loss for agreeable conversation, nor for any set of company he pleases,” he wrote at the end of his stay. The city ‘abounds with pretty women, who appear rather more abroad than they do at York, and dress elegantly. They are for the most part free and affable as well as pretty. Saw not one prude while I was here.’

One of the pretty women he met was the daughter of a Scottish woman he visited, a Mrs. Blackadder:

She is a jolly woman, with a great round red face. I bought of her a pound of chocolate, and saw one of her daughters, a pretty buxom girl, in a gay tawdry deshabille, having on a robe de chambre of cherry-coloured silk, laced with silver round the sleeves and skirts, and neither hoop nor stays. By this girl's physiognomy, I judged she was one of that illustrious class of the sex commonly called coquettes. She seemed very handsome in every respect, and indeed needed neither stays nor hoop to set out her shapes, which were naturally elegant and good; but she had a vile cross in her eyes, which spoilt in some measure the beauty and symmetry of her features.

While having tea with his landlady, Mrs. Guneau, the conversation turned to scandal:

There was in the company a pretty young lady. The character of a certain Church of England clergyman in Boston was canvassed, he having lost his living for being too sweet upon his landlady's daughter, a great belly being the consequence. I pitied him only for his imprudence and want of policy.

John Smibert

John Smibert

Hamilton himself was no prude:

As for the crime, considered in a certain light, it is but a peccadillo, and he might have escaped unobserved, had he had the same cunning as some others of his brethren who doubtless are as deep in the dirt as he in the mire. I shall not mention the unfortunate man's name (absit foeda calumnia), but I much commiserated his calamity and regretted the loss, for he was an excellent preacher; but the wisest men have been led into silly scrapes by the attractions of that vain sex.

Hamilton befriended a Frenchman holed up in his room at Mrs. Guneau’s. King George’s War had broken out, and M. la Moinnerie was afraid of being taken as a prisoner of war, so he spent his day in his room. Hamilton spent an hour with the entertaining European every morning, practicing his French:

His chamber was strangely set out: here a basin with the relicks of some soup, there a fragment of bread; here a paper of salt, there a bundle of garlic; here a spoon with some pepper in it, and upon a chair a saucer of butter. The same individual basin served him to eat his soup out of and to shave in, and in the water where a little before he had washed his hands and face, he washed likewise his cabbages. This, too, served him for a punchbowl. He was fond of giving directions how to dress his victuals, and told Nanny, the cook maid, "Ma foi, I be de good cock, Madame Nannie," said he. The maid put on an air of modest anger, and said she did not understand him. "Why, here you see," says he, "my cock be good, can dress de fine viandes."

Hamilton met two Philadelphians who mistakenly wore nightcaps – as was the custom in Philadelphia – to the Exchange at Faneuil Hall. In Boston, one wore wigs to Exchange. They were mortified.

What strange creatures we are! and what trifles make us uneasy! It is no mean jest that such worthless things as caps and wigs should disturb our tranquillity and disorder our thoughts, when we imagine they are worn out of season. I was myself much in the same state of uneasiness with these Philadelphians, for I had got a great hole in the lappet of my coat, to hide which employed so much of my thoughts in company that, for want of attention I could not give a pertinent answer when I was spoke to.

‘John Smibert’ self portrait, detail from Bermuda Group. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. ‘Edward Holyoke’ by an unknown artist. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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  1. Pingback: Cabinet of Curiosities, vol. x

  2. Pingback: Cabinet of Curiosities, vol. x | Holly Tucker

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