February 1, 2015

A Bit of "Biddle-Mania" Part 1

The true identify of the Jane Biddle whose name appears on the quilt block covering one of our bears has been nagging at us.  (Incidentally, to date we have found no fewer than twenty-two other "Biddle" names inscribed on blocks of nineteenth-century quilts but, for now, our "Biddle-mania" is focused on "Janes" in search of the one whose name is on the bear.)

We introduced you, last time, to Jane Marsh Biddle, wife of John Rowan Biddle, who may or may not have been the Jane represented on the block.  Although this Jane is perfectly fine as a possibility, we just couldn't leave it alone.  We kept asking ourselves:  What about the other Jane Biddles who appeared in the 1850 Philadelphia census?  (Those of you who have researched names inscribed on quilts will recognize this obsessive behavior as perfectly normal!)
The Jane we're featuring today provides more than a glimpse of upper-class society in nineteenth-century Philadelphia.  This Jane is Jane Margaret Craig (1793-1856), the daughter of John Craig (1754-1807), a wealthy Philadelphia ship owner and import/export merchant, and Margaret (Peggy) Murphy Craig (1761-1814) who was raised and highly educated by her uncle, Caldwell Craig, a West Indian sugar planter living in Tobago.
Margaret (Peggy) Murphy Craig.  Private collection
Source of image: Wainwright, "Andalusia, Countryseat of the
Craig Family and of Nicholas Biddle and his Descendants."
John and Peggy, as she was called, married in 1780 in the West Indies and soon sailed for Philadelphia where John's business resided.  In 1795, John bought a farm near Philadelphia on the Delaware River that would later be called Andalusia.  This property became the country seat of the Craig family during John's and Peggy's lifetimes.
Drawing of Andalusia.  Source of image:  Wainwright.  Courtesy of
General Nicholas Biddle.
Jane Margaret Craig was two years old when her father bought the property that would become Andalusia and she grew up watching him transform an ordinary farm into one of the grandest properties of the region.
At the age of eighteen, Jane married Nicholas Biddle (1780-1844) at Andalusia.  The date was October 4, 1811.  Her mother Peggy referred to Nicholas in her 1811 almanac as "[...] the best, the most virtuous of men."  (Wainwright, 20.).  Peggy passed away fewer than three years later in 1814 and, shortly thereafter, Nicholas bought her estate for $17,000 (a sum of $185,850 in 2013 dollars).  With this purchase, Jane Margaret Craig Biddle became the second mistress of Andalusia.
Over the next fifteen years, Nicholas and Jane produced six children:  Edward born in 1815;  Charles John born in 1819; John Craig born in 1823; Margaret "Meta" Craig born in 1825; Adele born in 1828; and, Jane born in 1830.  All of these children lived to adulthood and into old age.
Jane Margaret Craig Biddle three years after her marriage to Nicholas Biddle.
Artist: Bass Otis, 1814.  Source of image: Wainwright.  Courtesy of General
Nicholas Biddle.
Nicholas Biddle.  Engraved by John Surtain, 1831.  Source of image:
Just who was this man Jane had married - this man who would spend a large fortune over the years expanding the farming activities of Andalusia and converting its residence into a premiere example of Greek Revival architecture?
Nicholas Biddle was the son of Captain Charles Biddle, who served in the Quaker Light Infantry (called the Quaker Blues) under Joseph Cowperthwait and held various political offices in the late 1700s, and Hannah Shepard Biddle of Beaufort, South Carolina.  He was also the great-great-grandson of Quakers William Biddle (1630-1712) and his wife, Sarah Kempe (1634-1709) who emigrated from England to America in 1681 where William had acquired rights over 43,000 acres in Quaker West Jersey.  The first generation of Philadelphia Biddles began with William Biddle III (1698-1756), Nicholas' grandfather, and William's brother John (1707-1789) when they moved from Mount Hope, Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia in the 1720s and 1730s.  (John Rowan Biddle, of our last post, was a descendant of John Biddle.)
Nicholas had a long and, until the very end of his life, illustrious career.  He was an extremely intelligent child, having enrolled in what-is-now the University of Pennsylvania at the age of ten where he rapidly completed his studies in Classical languages, history, literature, and architecture.  When the University refused to award a degree to a teenager, Nicholas transferred to Princeton where he studied law and graduated in 1801 as class valedictorian.  He was fifteen years old at the time.
Between his graduation and his marriage to Jane, Nicholas spent time traveling in Europe and in a variety of capacities including as Secretary to James Monroe when the latter was the U.S. minister to the Court of St. James in Great Britain.  Back home in 1807, he practiced law in Philadelphia, helped prepare the Lewis and Clark report of their expedition up the Missouri River for publication, and wrote for several different publications.
After his marriage to Jane, aside from overseeing the agricultural, horse breeding, and architectural renovation activities at Andalusia, Nicholas served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1810-11) and in the Pennsylvania State Senate (18140).  He is best known, however, for his involvement with and Presidency of the Second Bank of the United States which President Andrew Jackson, who greatly opposed the idea of a national bank, refused to recharter.  The bank's charter expired in 1836 provoking widespread inflation and the economic panic of 1837.  The bank continued operation for some time thereafter and, when Nicholas retired from its Presidency in March, 1839, he was convinced that its affairs were in order and that it would remain prosperous.  Unfortunately, this did not prove to be the case and the bank eventually failed.  Although Nicholas had retired before this failure, he was blamed by many for the bank's demise.  He was arrested and charged with fraud but was acquitted.  After these events, he quietly retired in disgrace to the seclusion of Andalusia where he spent the year 1843 suffering from a heart condition that required four doses of digitalis a day.  Nicholas passed away on February 28, 1844, leaving everything to Jane.
Nicholas Biddle c. 1830s.  Artist:  William Inman.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
Jane's life at Andalusia and the Biddle's Spruce Street residence in Philadelphia was filled with the daily activities of raising children and the many social events demanded of a man of her husband's standing.  Described by her mother as a shy girl of "excessive modesty" and no desire for attention (Wainwright, 25), Jane nonetheless carried out her duties as hostess to a parade of distinguished Americans, including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster, and foreign dignitaries (who included the older brother of Napoleon, the Compte de Survilliers, formerly King of Spain, and his daughter Charlotte).
Each winter the Biddles hosted a grand ball and Jane frequently gave musical parties.  Hosting so many social events could not have been easy for Jane who reportedly preferred tending to her children and watching them grow and play at Andalusia.
Jane Margaret Craig Biddle.  Artist: Thomas Sully, 1826.  Source of
image" Wainwright.  Courtesy of  Mr. and Mrs. James Biddle.
After Nicholas' death, Jane's health rapidly deteriorated.  Her doctor prescribed a sea voyage and she sailed to Europe on the ship Great Western, taking her family with her.  On return, she took a house in Philadelphia near her sons who worked there and resided at Andalusia only in summer.  As time went on, Jane returned to Andalusia where she suffered continuously from weakness and fainting spells that often led to unconsciousness.  Members of her family attended her day and night until she passed away quietly in her room at Andalusia on August 12, 1856.  She was sixty-three years old.
We have no way of knowing whether or not Jane Margaret Craig Biddle is the woman represented by the inscription on the quilt block used to make one of our bears.  Jane's daughter, Jane (1830-1915), was fourteen years old in 1844, the estimated date of the quilt, and might have been the Jane referred to by the inscription.  Again, we cannot know if either of these women is the one represented on the quilt without knowledge of all the names inscribed on the quilt and the relationship of these people one to another.  But, we do love speculating about the "real Jane" and discovering life stories along the way!
Ancestry.com census, church records, and Public Member Trees (especially The Craig Family Tree, owner jonathanmcraig).
Baltzell, E. Digby.  Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, Two Protestant Ethics and the Spirit  of Class Authority and Leadership.  New York: The Free Press, 1979.
Wainwright, Nicholas B.  "Andalusia, Countryseat of the Craig Family and of Nicholas Biddle and His Descendants" in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 101, No. 1 (Jan. 1977), pp. 3-69.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2015.

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