Monday, February 15, 2016

Rebecca Gratz's Romance 2. Samuel Ewing

This narrative thread begins here.

Samuel Ewing has been the chief candidate for the Christian man whom Rebecca loved and renounced since his granddaughter Lucy Lee Ewing identified him as such in the early twentieth century.  But at this point I am more interested in getting at the facts of Ewing's life than in recounting family stories.   I have used as my main source for this post The Philadelphia Souvenir; A Collection of Fugitive Pieces from the Philadelphia Press with Biographical and Explanatory Notes by J. E. Hall.  John Elihu Hall, Ewing's nephew, was an admirer of his uncle's literary work and included two of Ewing's poems in his anthology, along with a  biographical sketch.  Since Hall was only nine years younger than Ewing and the book was published in 1826, about a year after Ewing's death, his is the most accurate account available.  I have summarized it here.

Samuel Ewing was born on August 16, 1776, a son of Dr.  John Ewing, the minister at Philadelphia's First Presbyterian Church, and  for nearly 20 years the provost of the University of Pennsylvania.  Ewing began his education with his father and continued it at the University, graduating when he was about 16. He then entered the countinghouse of  an eminent merchant whose subsequent bankruptcy cost Ewing his job.  He took one voyage as a supercargo (the agent for the owner of the cargo who sold the goods at ports of call and purchased merchandise for his employer).  Hall does not mention where he went or for how long, but when Ewing returned, he took up the law in the office of William Lewis, and was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar in December of 1800.

During this rather bumpy period between college and attaining a profession, Ewing pursued his first love -- literature -- and saw his work published in local journals.  In 1800, a successful writer and editor from New England arrived in Philadelphia to take a government job and to create a magazine which would appeal to the literati throughout the new nation.  On January 1, 1801, John Dennie published the first issue of  The Port-Folio, a weekly devoted to literature, politics (in this case,  Federalist), culture, travel writing and humor.  Ewing was an early and frequent contributor to the magazine.  Under the name "Jacques" he wrote serious poetry, humorous pieces and political satire.  In 1809  Ewing created his own publication, Select Reviews and Spirit of the Foreign Magazines, selling it in 1812 for "a considerable sum," and applying himself thenceforth completely to the law. He had a successful practice. (Hall does not mention that Ewing had married Elizabeth Redman, a daughter of a Philadelphia doctor, in 1810, and their growing family may have led to his decision to leave off his literary endeavors.)

Although he no longer wrote, Ewing did support literature and learning as a founding member of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, serving on its board and in various official capacities until his death.

Ewing died  at the age of 48, in 1825.  His nephew wrote that he "suffered much during the last five months of his life from the delusive illness" (tuberculosis --see the note at the end of the post "Making a Good Death").  Samuel Ewing was buried in the First Presbyterian Church's graveyard, but when the land was needed for other uses, his remains were moved to the churchyard at Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church where you may visit his grave.

Hall's biography bolsters the claim for Ewing as Rebecca's sweetheart.  He was in Philadelphia at the right time:  Rebecca was eighteen in 1799 and probably made her debut that year.  He wa the right age, five years older than Rebecca.  (Men in Rebecca's set generally married in their late 20's to early 30's; their wives were five to ten years younger.)  He was of the same social class and shared Rebecca's interest in literature.  And like Rebecca, he was known as an excellent conversationalist.  His nephew remarked on this, noting that his talk combined "social feeling with sallies of playful wit."  In a city as small as Philadelphia they must have met.  The Gratz papers will provide more evidence here.

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