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). (Author information current at time of publication.)

Copyright 2015, Rutgers University


Ticket for the Meschianza, 1778

Library Company of Philadelphia

The opulence of the Meschianza can be seen in the tickets that were engraved for the event. Over four hundred elite Philadelphians and British residents of the city were invited to the Wharton family's Walnut Grove mansion in what is now South Philadelphia in tribute to General Sir William Howe, who was resigning as commander in chief of the British Army in America. The event was held on May 18, 1778, and ended with a lavish dinner and ball held in a richly decorated tent. The grandeur of the Meschianza revealed the insensitivity of Philadelphia’s upper class to the political aspirations and material deprivations of ordinary citizens caught in the middle of the Revolutionary War.

Sir William Howe, Commander in Chief of the British Army in America

Library of Congress

Sir William Howe, shown in a 1780 engraving, served as commander in chief of the British Army in America from 1775 to 1778. Howe was responsible for the campaign to capture Philadelphia, having already captured New York in 1776. He successfully took Philadelphia in September 1777 and led the bombardment of Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer later that year to open a supply line to the occupied city.

Though Howe was successful in capturing Philadelphia, he did not aid in General John Burgoyne's invasion from Canada. Burgoyne was forced to surrender, and this victory for the Continental Army is considered a principal reason that France joined the war. Howe's other missteps, including a near-loss in the Battle of Germantown and his failure to control looting by the British Army in Philadelphia, further exposed his weakness. He resigned from his position in May 1778, a month before the British evacuated the city.

Major John Andre

Library of Congress

Major John Andre, who organized the Meschianza in 1778, was depicted in an illustration in Walkers Hibernian magazine, Dublin, in 1780.

Margaret "Peggy" Shippen

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Margaret “Peggy” Shippen, the second wife of infamous traitor Benedict Arnold, was a member of Loyalist society during the Philadelphia campaign. Shippen was raised in a prominent Loyalist household and educated in politics and finance by her father, Judge Edward Shippen IV. During the occupation in 1777, the Shippen family's Society Hill home was frequently visited by British officers. It was through one of these social visits that Shippen was introduced to Captain John André.

In May 1778, André planned an extravagant celebration of General Sir William Howe, who was retiring from his post as commander in chief of the British armed forces in America. The celebration was dubbed the Meschianza—Italian for a medley or mixture—and festivities ranged from a jousting match to a regatta. Though there is some modern debate on whether she actually attended, André counted Shippen and her two sisters among the 400 guests. One month after the Meschianza, the British were forced to evacuate Philadelphia. Shippen remained a Loyalist and aided husband Benedict Arnold in his 1779 conspiracy to surrender West Point. She died in 1804. This lithograph, based on a 1777 sketch by André, shows Shippen in a headdress designed for wear at the Meschianza.

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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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