Graeme Park as Setting for Republican Discourse Graeme Park - Horsham Plantation, Horsham Township Pennsylvania

For the relatively short inhabited history of Graeme Park, the dominant historical personality-though entirely understudied-was undoubtedly Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. Fergusson and her intellectual coterie constructed the third, and perhaps most poignant, layer of meaning for the residence; this salon took control of the senior Graeme's high-style status symbol and employed it as a genteel backdrop to a thoroughly enlightened discourse on republicanism and other intellectual pursuits. Although her knowledge of and interest in architecture hint at the possibility of contributions to the Graeme Park renovations under her father's tenure, it was her control and directorship of both intellectual and everyday life at the estate, before and after his death, that is most significant. Fergusson animated the country retreat with civil and republican discourse and is most likely responsible for the ultimate form of the garden acreage surrounding the dwelling. She extended weekend invitations to the intellectual offspring of Philadelphia's elite where they dueled with poetry and reverenced the divine origins of virtue. While Graeme Park served this more sociable and quasi-public function, it was also a very private space where the natural world's perceived virtues provided inspiration for Fergusson's poetry, reflection, and experimental horticulture and agricultural production.

By the mid-eighteenth century, colonial America's largest cities, Boston, New York, Newport, Philadelphia, Charleston, had completed their transformation from frontier ports into well-established centers of trade. As the largest of the eighteenth-century colonial cities, Philadelphia was particularly successful in its transformation to an emerging market economy. This new economy created a distinctly modern set of social relations where power was no longer reserved for the titled; on the contrary, the new elite was largely composed from members of the emerging merchant class. This merchant class aligned itself with the Whigs of the English Civil War and their politically and philosophically progressive thinking, as well as with French and English philosophers of the Enlightenment. While most of the merchant class cared little for revolutionary theory beyond Lockean notions of private property, a minority sought to actually recreate the political and intellectual institutions described in English Whig and Enlightenment ideologies. From early in the 1750s, a circle of friends formed a literary salon led by Fergusson and based on European models; it initially met at the Graeme family's residences in Philadelphia and at Graeme Park.

America's revival of classical republicanism originated in opposition politics in the chaotic years leading up to the Revolution. As with revivals in general, American republicanism was a vernacular theory; although its primary influences were drawn from the writings of the English Real Whigs of the English Civil War, the theory also included the postulated determinations of the French Enlightenment, Italian Renaissance, and ancient Greece. The cornerstone of republicanism rested on the principle of civic virtue-the will to place the good of the commonwealth over individual aspirations and reward. Between 1765 and 1787, republicanism emerged as the revolutionary ideology that rallied Americans to challenge English tyranny. The Graeme Park salon was a construction of ideological invention and indoctrination where the various influences on republicanism were explored and celebrated in literary and artistic exhibition. The culmination of the discourse at the "Saturday night soirees" aided in creating a political and social language that would later serve as a unifying factor for the formation of a revolutionary movement.

In 1737, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, the salon's founder and organizer, was born at the Carpenter House in Philadelphia on Chestnut Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets; the house was razed in 1826. She was the daughter of Dr. Thomas Graeme and Ann Diggs Graeme, who was the stepdaughter of Sir William Keith. Dr. Graeme, a physician by profession, was employed at Philadelphia's quarantine station where he checked incoming trade and passenger ships for disease. By working at the port, Graeme was materially involved in the emerging market economy and was intimate with, if not a part of, the rising class of merchants. Thus, Fergusson was reared in and around the culture of the new elite composed of "men and women of learning and conversational powers" who she later gathered into a "circle of choice spirits."

Philadelphia's brightest intellectuals composed Fergusson's salon. The most prominent among them-Nathaniel Evans, Francis Hopkinson, and Jacob Duche-were students at the newly established College of Pennsylvania, where William Smith, the Provost and Anglican minister, organized a traditional curriculum that consisted of both classical and theological emphases. Smith also established what some have called "America's first artistic coterie," sometimes known as the "Swains of the Schuylkill." A structured organization, the Swains met and published their writings under the Smith's direction. Conversely, Fergusson's salon evolved in an unstructured and emancipated manner and Graeme Park became a place where several of the Swains went to develop their artistic inclinations. Furthermore, as the College of Pennsylvania did not admit women, Fergusson's salon drew a number of the male Swains on account of its mixed gender composition. The salon became the antithesis of a patriarchal establishment; Fergusson stood as "the social centerpiece of the group, drawing them together and presiding over them with unrivaled wit, charm, intelligence, and grace."

Because such institutions as the College of Pennsylvania and the American Philosophical Society disallowed female attendance, the salon was Fergusson's only opportunity for educational and intellectual fellowship. One of the salon's most important benefits for its women members was that it gave them a venue for borrowing books. An inventory taken at Graeme Park by the Revolutionary government in 1778-who planned to sell the household items after Fergusson was accused of treason against the American cause-indicated that she had in her possession one hundred and thirty books that were the "property of different Gentleman whose names are in them." This collection of borrowed books and those that she owned included mostly religious tracts and classics. However, a number were of the literary genre which historian Bernard Bailyn describes as influences for "The Literature of Revolution;" writings that appeared in pamphlets written by Americans who supported the Revolution. Her borrowed and purchased books included titles from classical Greek and Roman authors, English Whig ideologues, and Enlightened French philosophers.

Ten years after Fergusson's death, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a close defender and friend, wrote of Graeme Park: "[It] was...consecrated to society and friendship. A plentiful table was spread daily for visitors, and two or three young ladies from Philadelphia generally partook with Miss Graeme of the enjoyments which her situation in the country furnished." Rush continued: "one while she instructed by the stores of knowledge contained in the historians, philosophers, and poets of ancient and modern nations, which she called forth at her pleasure; and again she charmed by a profusion of original ideas, collected by her vivid and widely expanded imagination, and combined with exquisite taste and judgment into an endless variety of elegant and delightful forms."

Rush's eulogy for Fergusson revealed that Graeme Park was remembered as a place-a locality-where the dominant discourse emanated from her relaxed weekend intellectual salons, not the medical treatises of Dr. Graeme. Certainly, Dr. Graeme controlled the authoritative and political power over place, but intellectual power, according to Dr. Rush, was in control of Fergusson.

The "retreats" at Graeme Park were more than "a circle of friends" gathered together to share their most recent writings and to pursue artistic endeavors. These meetings were also forums for the development of republican thought, gatherings where Fergusson "charmed" (instructed) her guests through discussions about the divine nature of reason and virtue. Fergusson aspired to create "the Athens of North America" as illustrated in her quoting from Bishop Berkeley's "Verses on the prospect of planting Arts and Learning in America." She relayed that "There shall be seen another golden age, The rise of Empires and of the arts, The good and great inspiring epic rage, The wisest heads, and noblest hearts." At Graeme Park, Fergusson controlled intellectual power, creating a pedagogical realm where she could develop and forward her "original ideas."

Fergusson's ideology was, perhaps, best expressed in her poetry. She understood that beyond Graeme Park men ruled and her poetry would be largely ignored. "It is the noble Lordly Creature Man, whose heart must glow, & Head toil for his country for you know some Author says A Woman's glory is to shine unknown." Despite the difficulties, however, she did succeed in having her work published. A varied assortment of Philadelphia newspapers and journals including the Columbian Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine ultimately published twenty-seven of her poems. Notably, several copies of her translation of Fenelon's epic, Telemacus, and her metrical version of Psalms were also made implying that her work was respected among a broader Philadelphian audience.