Mendes’ letters include a number of wonderful stories. These tales are testament to Mendes' presence at some of the most significant moments during the 19th century, and proof that he always carried his modern American principles with him. Here are some of our favorites!
On the coronation of William IV
London, England - June 28, 1830
“This may be considered in the annals of Great Britain an eventful day in the public announcement of the Duke of Clarence as king of these realms under the title of William the Fourth…[O]ne would have supposed the population of the four quarters of the globe had assembled to see it…I found myself by dint of perseverance in the very place I should have desired most and perhaps would not have got it if I had [not] waited from an early hour, for some distance before reaching the gate the crowd was immense…I learn the king appeared several times at the palace in view of the people.”
King William IV, painted by Sir Martin Archer Shee, 1833
On the funeral of King George IV
London, England - August 4, 1830
“[I] reached the castle in time to see the inspiring spectacle of the lying in state with all the paraphernalia attending. I found myself without a ticket to see the funeral, which was [illeg] supplied by his honor the mayor of Windsor on whom I called. I thus saw the whole of the pomp of the funeral ceremonies as detailed in the newspaper I forwarded and all the great men…the whole passing within three or four feet of me thro’ a line of troops…”
Artists rendition of King George IV’s 'Lying in State' at Windsor Castle, with the King's Drawing Room draped in black. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
On the Paris Student Revolts
Paris, France - August 15, 1830
“The majority of our passengers in the steam boat were Americans …all anxious to witness the proceedings of things here (France) and much to our disappointment on our arrival found it all over and as tranquil as if nothing had ever occurred.”
Mendes missed the excitement by two weeks.
Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830.
On the Coronation of Louis Philippe
Paris, France - September 2, 1830
“Of the King all I can say is that he is a Republican so far. He continues to make reforms as the country has called for it.”
Louis-Philippe I was King of the French from 1830 to 1848. Portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
On Meeting Pope Gregory XVI
Rome, Italy - January 29, 1831
“…to degrade myself as an individual and to bend the knee to human power and submit to the degradation of kissing the foot of any man was too revolting to the feelings of an American, but to pay a respect to a chief magistrate I thought not the smallest abjection. I therefore presented myself…and requested to be introduced [to the pope,] at the same time mentioning my name Signore Cohen uno Americano. The cardinal drawing the attention of the pope beg to be allowed to introduce Signore Cohen, Americano, to which I made one of my best French bow, to which he reciprocated."
Mendes was introduced to the pope shortly after he was elected.
1831 lithograph of Pope Gregory XVI by Joseph Kriehuber. Mendes was introduced to the pope shortly after he was elected.
On a Visit with the Rothschilds
London, England - March 27, 1835
“I have not been long from Mr. Rothchild's where I dined, having been invited by Mrs. R this morning when there to pay a visit to a family party... Mr. R says come Mr. Cohen we will drink the health of your brothers - he has recovered and was in a very good humor, telling of his courtships - indeed, the whole time at dinner was agreeable because the usual stiffness was thrown off, no strangers being there."
We have a number of letters that indicate the close relationship that Mendes developed with the Rothschilds, a prominent Jewish banking family. Gunnersbury Park, called “The Large Mansion,” was acquired by Nathan Rothschild in 1835 shortly before his death. It is contemporaneous with Mendes’ trips to London.
Gunnersbury House, engraving c, 1750. Published in "Greater London" by Edward Walford. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Just two years after his return to Baltimore, Mendes went back to England on official business representing Maryland at the coronation of Queen Victoria in June 1838. The ceremony was a lavish affair lasting five hours and attended by more than 400,000 people including many foreign dignitaries. Unfortunately no written accounts by Mendes describing his experiences exist.
How do we know so much about the life of Mendes and his family? From written transcriptions of conversations that he had as an older man with his nephew, Benjamin Cohen, particularly about his participation in the Battle of Baltimore.
Coronation of Queen Victoria by George Hayter, 1838. Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 401213.