Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Meschianza

An ornately engraved ticket for <i>The Meschianza</i> showing canons and flags under a crown.

The Meschianza was an elaborate celebration held for Sir William Howe in 1778 in recognition of his service to the Crown. Ornately engraved tickets like this one were used by over 400 elite Philadelphians and British members of society to attend the lavish affair, which included jousting and a regatta on the Delaware. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

On May 18, 1778, four hundred British officers and elite Philadelphians embarked on a regatta down the Delaware River. This aquatic procession kicked off the Meschianza, an extravagant fete to honor General William Howe (1729-1814) and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe (1726-99), on their departure from North America. General Howe’s army took control of Philadelphia in September 1777, and the British occupation of the city in 1777-78 featured a busy schedule of concerts, parties, and other entertainments. The Meschianza—which derives its name from mescolanza, the Italian word for “mixture” or “medley”—was the climax of this social season.

Organized by Major John André (1750-80), the Meschianza included a mock jousting tournament between two groups of British officers, the Knights of the Blended Rose and the Knights of the Burning Mountain, on the plain between the Delaware River and Walnut Grove (an estate near Fifth Street and Washington Avenue, later demolished to make way for the urbanization of South Philadelphia). After a procession through two triumphal arches, one in honor of each of the Howe brothers, the guests enjoyed dancing and fireworks, and then dined in a mirrored tent. The young, marriageable daughters of Philadelphia’s colonial elite—including Peggy Chew (1760-1824) and Rebecca Franks (1760-1823)—appeared in Turkish costumes, and enslaved Africans in turbans and sashes waited on the guests.

The opulence of the Meschianza made it an easy target for patriotic satire. After the British defeat at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, just six weeks after the Meschianza, General Anthony Wayne (1745-96) quipped: “The Knights of the Blended Rose & Burning Mount… have resigned their Laurels.”

Christian DuComb, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of theatre and English at Colgate University and the author of Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016).


Copyright 2015, Rutgers University

Related Reading

André, John. “Particulars of the Mischianza Exhibited in America at the Departure of Gen. Howe.” Gentlemen’s Magazine. August 1778: 353-357.

Brown, Jared. The Theatre in America during the Revolution. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Jackson, John W. With the British Army in Philadelphia, 1777-1778. San Rafael, Calif.: Presidio Press, 1979.

Engle, Paul. Women in the American Revolution. Chicago: Follett, 1976.

Fuller, Randall. “Theatres of the American Revolution: The Valley Forge Cato and the Meschianza in their Transcultural Contexts.” Early American Literature. 34.2 (1999): 126-146.

Shields, David S. and Fredrika J. Teute. “The Meschianza: Sum of all Fetes.” Journal of the Early Republic. 35 (Summer 2015): 185-214.

Stillé, Charles J. Major-General Anthony Wayne and the Pennsylvania Line in the Continental Army. Philadelphia, 1893.

Ward, Sophie Howard. “Major André’s Story of the Mischianza: From the Unpublished Manuscript.” The Century: A Popular Quarterly. (March 1894): 684-691.

Watson, John Fanning. Annals of Philadelphia: Being a Collection of Memoirs, Anecdotes, and Incidents of the City and Its Inhabitants. Philadelphia, 1830.

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Graphics Collection, Print Department, Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia.

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