The "Philadelphia Revely" Commonplace Book

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            Although most of the entries in this commonplace book are certainly not made by Philadelphia Revely (?1689-15 May 1764), she signed both paste-downs of the book, and hers is the only signature in the book.  “Mrs. Ash” and "Mrs. Nilden[?], Bauley Bar," the only other named persons associated with the book, signed the back of loose sheet containing the recipes that were found inserted between leaves 19v-20r and 75v-76r.  Tracing the possible or probable authorship of the entries may prove impossible, but biographical details of her family offer at least a starting place for establishing the social context in which the book was made.  The birth and death dates of her known descendents and their spouses are recorded to aid estimation of whether they might have had a role in making the book.

            To the extent that printed books’ passages have been identified, the earliest was published in 1730 (James Thompson, Sophonsiba, f. 15v top fragment) and the latest was published in 1787 (Mrs. Keir, The History of Miss Greville, f. 18r).  Because the first datable entry comes from Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets (1779-81) on an early leaf (13r) following closely after the initial recipes (ff. 2r-10r, 10v-11r blank), this strongly suggests that the writer was nearly mature by that date and had access to a library of English books dating back to the previous half century.  The frequency with which one printer (T. Cadell) turns up as publisher of the first editions may or may not be significant.

            Philadelphia Revely, daughter of William Revely of Newby Wisk, Yorkshire, and a mother whose name has not yet been discovered, married Langdale Smithson, son of Sir Hugh Smithson, Baronet, of Stanwick, Yorkshire, and his wife, Elizabeth Langdale.  The date of their marriage is not yet known, but her son, Hugh Smithson (later Percy), was born around 1714.  Through her son’s marriage, Revely’s line becomes connected to English aristocracy and to a famous American national institution.

            Hugh Smithson married Elizabeth Seymour, Baroness Percy (b. 26 November 1716, d. 5 December 1776), and upon the death of his wife’s father (1749/50), he succeeded to the titles of Earl of Northumberland and Baron Warkworth.  On 12 April of 1750, Parliament passed an act recognizing the change of his last name to “Percy,” joining him to his wife’s line of powerful northern barons.  He was created Earl Percy and Duke of Northumberland in 1766, and Lord Lovaine, Baron of Alnwick, in 1784, two years before his death on 6 June 1786.  The couple’s sons were Hugh Percy, later Duke of Northumberland (14 August 1742-10 July 1817), and Algernon Percy, Earl of Beverley (21 January 1750-21 October 1831).

            In addition to his marriage, Hugh Smithson also began a relationship with Elizabeth Hungerford Keate Macie (ca. 1732-1800), who bore a son in Paris who was given the name James Lewis Macie or Jaques Louis Macie, in about 1765.  The son lived a complicated life, moving between the English universities and the Continent before dying in Genoa (27 June 1829).  James Macie’s mother was the widow of James Macie, Weston (Somerset), and had married John Marshe Dickinson in 1757, having a son during that marriage who also may have been the “natural son” of Hugh Percy. 

            After James Smithson’s birth, neither his father’s nor his mother’s families recognized him, but his mother’s wealth (she was an heiress to the Hungerford family of Studley) enabled him to study at Oxford, where he specialized in the then-emerging science of mineralogy, specializing in field research in exotic locations.  He was the youngest person ever elected to the Royal Society (19 April 1787).  In 1800, after his mother’s death, he changed his last name to Smithson, making an implicit claim of relationship to his father’s family, but this claim was never granted any social acknowledgement.  Upon his death, he willed the portion of his mother’s fortune which he shared with his half-brother to the half-brother’s son, his nephew, Henry James Dickinson, whose name was changed to Hungerford to acknowledge the relationship to their mother’s ancestors and the source of the fortune.  The nephew died in 1835 with no heirs, and Smithson’s will specified that in this event, the estate should go to the government of the United States of America to found at Washington, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.”  Although the American government accepted the bequest in 1836, Congress disputed whether its terms took unfair advantage of the nation to establish the fame of a single individual.  Finally, in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was created by act of Congress with an endowment that was worth, at that time, half a million dollars (at least approximately $15 million dollars today).  Because of a fire at the Smithsonian “Castle” on 24 January, 1864, most of Smithson’s personal papers have not survived.