Page images

issued the first city directory (1785) wherein he took occasion to express his personal pique at those that proved uncommunicative to his canvassing queries. Under the “I's ” we find“ I won't tell you,” or “ I don't care! Put down what you please,” and so on with the numbers of the houses, while under the “C's” there is a whole regiment of “ Cross women” dotted about the city so that we might fancy Philadelphia a very unsafe place to live in.

Unfortunate in some of his financial affairs and wearying of the seclusion of Mount Pleasant, as well as longing again for the smell of the sea, this gallant but eccentric gentleman, at the outbreak of the Revolution, applied to the Marine Commission of the Continental Congress for the chief command of the navy, a position for which his past achievements bespoke favourable consideration. Despite his importunities to gain his point, however, the honour was given to another.

After Macpherson left Mount Pleasant he leased it to Don Juan de Merailles, the Spanish ambassador, and finally, in the spring of 1779, sold the estate to General Benedict Arnold, who gave it as a marriage gift to his bride, Peggy Shippen. Here they lived much of the time for more than a year after their marriage and here they gave some of those splendid entertainments that increased the cavilling and carping of the general's enemies and creditors when his personal fortunes were sinking into hopeless embarrassment.

Despite Judge Peters's deep-seated dislike and distrust and his accusation that Arnold embezzled the money with which he bought Mount Pleasant, justice demands that

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

we examine his case fairly. In the first place, the position in which he was placed as military administrator, after the British evacuated Philadelphia, required the exercise of the utmost patience and tact in order to avoid clashes. Neither of these qualities did Arnold possess. The city was a hotbed of bickering and contention and he was not fitted by temperament to handle the situation.

He was nagged at, hectored and badgered almost beyond endurance by meddlesome people who must needs interfere even in his love affairs. His repeated requests for money long overdue him from Congress were unavailing. When he set out to see Washington about resigning his commission and settling on an estate in Western New York, no sooner was his back turned than General Joseph Reed, who seems to have pursued him with the vindictive malevolence of a peevish dyspeptic, brought a tale of charges against him that could not be substantiated in the trial before a committee of Congress, except in two trifling matters. General Reed then moved for a new examination and the matter was referred to another Congressional committee which dodged the responsibility and suggested a court martial. The sitting of the court martial was deferred again and again at the request of his accusers that they might collect evidence. Finally it was held and exonerated him, but as a sop to his influential enemies it suggested a reprimand from Washington for two very insignificant matters, the utmost that could be proved. Washington's reprimand was practically a letter of recommendation.

Nothing can ever palliate his unfaithfulness to Wash

[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

MOUNT PLEASANT, ON THE SCHUYLKILL. THE RIVER FRONT Built by Captain James Macpherson, 1761. Sometime the home of General Benedict Arnold

ington and his gigantic treachery in asking an important command that he might betray it, but historic justice compels us to "give the devil his due” and admit that he had much provocation for the discontent and resentment that he allowed to lead him at last to the blackness of villainy.

After Arnold's attainder and the confiscation of his property, Mount Pleasant was leased to Baron Steuben, but it is doubtful whether he ever lived there, as his duties took him to the South at that very time, and when he returned thence the estate had another tenant. Passing through several hands, the property eventually came to General Jonathan Williams, of Boston, the Revolutionary worthy, who remained there and his family after him till the middle of the nineteenth century, shortly after which period Mount Pleasant and all the surrounding estates were acquired by the city and made a part of Fairmount Park.

Knowing thus a little of its history, the interior of the house, where personal memories seem to cling more persistently, can be better appreciated. A spacious hallway as wide as a room runs through the house from east to west. In summer, if the doors at the ends are open, delightful prospects open up in either direction. The detail of classic ornament on cornice, pilaster, and doortrims is wonderfully rich and remarkably well preserved. To the north of the hall is the great drawing-room running the full depth of the building, with windows looking both east and west. In the middle of the north side is a full-throated fireplace above which is an elaborately wrought overmantel, in whose central panel one instinc

« PreviousContinue »