This is the appellation of the most splendid pageant ever exhibited in our country, if we except the great "Federal Procession" of all trades and professions through the streets of Philadelphia in 1788. The Meschianza was chiefly a tilt and tourn ament with other entertainments, as the term implies, and was given on Monday the 18th of May 1778, at Wharton's country-seat in Southwark by the officers of General Sir William Howe's army, to that officer on his quitting the command to return to England. A considerable number of our city 'belles' were present; which gave considerable offence afterwards to the whigs; and did not fail to mark the fair as the "tory ladies". The ill-nature and the reproach have long since been forgotten.
The company began to assemble at three to four o'clock, at Knight's wharf * at the water edge of Green street in the Northern Liberties, and by half past four o'clock in the afternoon the whole were embarked, in the pleasant month of May, in a "grand regatta" of three divisions. In the front of the whole were three flat boats, with a band of music in each of them "rowed regular to harmony". As this assemblage of vessels progressed, barges rowed on the flanks, "light skimming, stretch'd their oary wings" to keep off the multitude of boats that crowded from the city as beholders; and the houses, balconies and wharves were filled with spectators all along the river side. *This wharf at that time was the only wharf above Vine street, which ran out to a good depth of water. The tickets of admission (one of which I have) were elegant and curious. It had a view of the sea, military trophies, the general's crest, "Vive Vale".
When arrived at the fort below the Swedes' church they formed a line through an avenue of grenadiers, and light-horse in the rear. The company were thus conducted to a square lawn of one hundred and fifty yards on each side, and which was also lined with troops. This area formed the ground for a 'tilt or tournament'. On the front seat of each pavilion were placed seven of the principal young ladies of the country, dressed in Turkish habits, and wearing in their turbans the articles which they intended to bestow on their gallant knights. Soon the trumpets at a distance announced the approach of the seven white knights, habited in white and red silk, and mounted on gray chargers, richly caparisoned in similar colours. [I have in my MS. Annals an original drawing by Major Andre, showing the style of this dress.] These were followed by their several esquires on foot; besides these there was a herald in his robe. These all made the circuit of the square, saluting the ladies as they passed, and then they ranged in line with their ladies; then their herald, Mr. Beaumont, after a flourish of trumpets, proclaimed their challenge, in the name of "the knights of the blended rose" declaring that the ladies of their order excel in wit, beauty and accomplishments those of the whole world, and they are ready to enter the lists against any knights who will deny the same, according to the laws of ancient chivalry; at the third repetition of the challenge, a sound of trumpets announced the entrance of another herald with four trumpeters dressed in black and orange. The two heralds held a parley when the black herald proceeded to proclaim his defiance in the name of "the knights of the burning mountain". Then retiring, there soon after entered "the black knights" with their esquires, preceded by their herald on whose tunic was represented a mountain sending forth flames, and the motto, "I burn for ever".
These seven knights, like the former ones, rode round the lists, and made their obeisance to the ladies, and then drew up fronting the white knights, and the chief of these having thrown down his gauntlet, the chief of the black knights directed his esquire to take it up. Then the knights received their lances from their esquires, fixed their shields on their left arms, and making a general salute to each other by a movement of their lances, turned round to take their career, and encountering in full gallop, shivered their spears ! In the second and third encounter they discharged their pistols. In the fourth they fought with their swords.
From the garden they ascended a flight of steps, covered with carpets, which led into a spacious hall, the panels of which were painted in imitation of Sienna marble, enclosing festoons of white marble. In this hall and the adjoining apartments, were prepared tea, lemonade &c., to which the company seated themselves. At this time the knights came in, and on their knee received their favours from their respective ladies. From these apartments they went up to a ball-room, decorated in a light, elegant style of painting, and showing many festoons of flowers. The brilliancy of the whole was heightened by eighty-five mirrors, decked with ribands and flowers, and in the intermediate spaces were thirty-four branches. On the same floor were four drawing rooms, with sideboards of refreshments, decorated and lighted in the style of the ball-room. The ball was opened by the knights and their ladies; and the dances continued till ten o'clock, when the windows were thrown open, and a magnificent bouquet of rockets began the fire-works. These were planned by Captain Montresor, the chief engineer, and consisted of twenty different displays in great variety and beauty, and changing General Howe's arch into a variety of shapes and devices. At 12 o'clock, (midnight) supper was announced, and large folding doors, before concealed, sprung open, and discovered a magnificent saloon of two hundred and ten feet by forty feet, and twenty-two feet in height, with three alcoves on each side, which served for sideboards. The sides were painted with vine leaves and festoon flowers, and fifty-six large pier-glasses, ornamented with green silk flowers and ribands. [All the mirrors and lustres &c., were borrowed from the citizens, and were all sent home with all their ornaments attached to them as a compliment for their use.] There were also one hundred branches trimmed, and eighteen lustres of twenty-four lights hung from the ceiling. There were three hundred wax tapers on the supper tables, four hundred and thirty covers, and twelve hundred dishes. There were twenty-four black slaves in oriental dresses, with silver collars and bracelets.
Towards the close of the banquet, the herald with his trumpeters entered and announced the king and royal family's health, with other toasts. Each toast was followed by a flourish of music. After the supper, the company returned to the ball-room, and continued to dance until four o'clock in the morning. I omit to describe the two arches, but they were greatly embellished. They had two fronts, in the Tuscan order. The pediment of one was adorned with naval trophies, and the other with military ones. Major Andre, who wrote a description of it (althought his name is concealed) calls it "the most splendid entertainment ever given by an army to its general". The whole expense was borne by twenty-two field officers. The managers were Sir John Wrotlesby, Colonel O'Hara, Majors Gardiner and Montresor. This splendid pageant blazed out in one short night ! Next day the enchantment was dissolved; and in exactly one month, all these knights and the whole army chose to make their march from the city of Philadelphia !
When I think of the few survivors of that gay scene who now exist, (of some whose sprightliness and beauty are gone ! ) I cannot but feel a gloom succeed the recital of the fete. I think, for instance, of one who was then "the queen of the Meschianza" since Mrs. L., now blind and fast waning from the "things that be". To her I am indebted for many facts of illustration. She tells me that the unfortunate Major Andre was the charm of the company. Lieut. Andre, his esquire, was his brother, a youth of about nineteen, possessing the promise of an accomplished gentleman. Major Andre and Captain Oliver Delancey painted, themselves, the chief of the decorations. The Sienna marble, for instance, on the apparent side walls, was on canvas, in the style of stage scene painting. Andre also painted the scenes used at the theatre, at which the British officers performed. The proceeds were given to the widows and orphans of their soldiers. The waterfall scene, drawn by him, was still in the building when it lately burnt. She assures me that, of all that was borrowed for the entertainment, nothing was injured or lost. They desired to pay double if accidents occurred. The general deportment of the officers was very praiseworthy therein. There were no ladies of British officers, save Miss Auchmuty, the new bride of Captain Montresor. The American young ladies present were not numerous -- not exceeding fifty. The others were married ladies. Most of our ladies had gone from the city, and what remained were of course in great demand. The American gentlemen present were aged non-combatants. Our young men were whigs generally, and were absent.
No offence was offered to the ladies afterwards, for their acceptance of this instance of an enemy's hospitality. When the Americans returned, they got up a great ball, to be given to the officers of the French army, and the American officers of Washington's command. When the managers came to invite their guests, it was made a question whether the ":Meschianza ladies" should be invited. It was found they could not make up their company without them; they were therefore included. When they came, they looked differently habited from those who had gone to the country, "they having assumed the high head-dress &c.," of the British fashion, and so the characters, unintentionally, were immediately perceived at a glance through the hall. -- [It was in the Masonic hall in Lodge alley.] But lots being cast for partners, they were soon fully inter-mixed, and conversation ensued as if nothing of jealousy had ever existed, and all umbrage was forgotten.
The same lady was also at a splendid supper and dance given by Captain Hammond, on board the Roebuck. The ship was fully illuminated, and one hundred and seventy-two persons sat down to supper.
Miss J. C---g, who was also a knight's lady, has kindly given me her original invitation from Sir Henry Calder (an officer of high rank) and also an original drawing by Major Andre (see p. 242 of my MS. Annals in the City Library) of the dress for that fete. He sketched it to give the ladies an idea of the garb they should assume. In reality it was this : -- for the Blended Rose a white silk called a 'Polonaise', forming a flowing robe, and open in front on the waist -- the pink sash six inches wide, and filled with spangles -- the shoes and stockings also spangled -- the head-dress more towering than the drawing, and filled with a profusion of pearls and jewels. The veil was spangled and edged with silver lace. She says the whole scene was like enchantment to her young mind.
The ladies of the black knights wore white sashes edged with black, and black trimmings to white silk Polonaise gowns. "The ticket" (p. 242 of my MS. Annals, in the City Library) is surmounted with Sir William Howe's crest, and the shield represents the sea, which Sir William is about to cross -- hence "Vive Vale". The setting glory of the sun, and the Latin scroll, seem to indicate that although their luminary is thus receding from them, it shall rise again (resurgum) in another hemisphere.