homes & gardens - Fettered Birds
in colonial British America & the early republic
1745 Joseph Badger (American artist, 1708-1765). Detail of John Gerry
(1741-1786) brother of Elbridge Gerry of Boston with bird.
The birds are returning, and I hope that means spring cannot be far
away. I think this is the perfect time to look at paintings of 18C
Americans with their birds, both in the wild & captured in aviaries
1718 Nehemiah Partridge (American artist, 1683-1737) Portrait of
Catherine Ten Broeck with Bird
We know that native North American birds fascinated men & women alike
in 18C British American colonies. Colonials kept cages for their birds.
Some even kept larger bird-keeping areas called aviaries.
1721 Attributed to Nehemiah Partridge (American artist, 1683-1737) Sara
Gansevoort (1718-1731) with a bird
An aviary is an enclosed area, often in a garden & larger than a
traditional birdcage, meant for keeping, feeding, and hopefully breeding
birds. Aviaries in South Carolina sometimes contained two-story
1725 Charles Bridges (American artist, 1670-1747). Detail of William Byrd
II & Lucy Parke daughter Evelyn Byrd and a bird in the tree.
Mark Catesby (1682-1749) sailed to Virginia in 1712, and stayed in the
British Atlantic colonies for 7 years, sketching & compiling The
Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands for
publication upon his return to England. In his monumental work, he
described birds he had seen in the colonies in cages. Thomas Jefferson
had a copy of Catesby's History in his library.
1730 Pieter Vanderlyn (American artist, 1687-1778). Detail Paul de
Wandelaer with bird.
Between 1739 and 1762, South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney (c
1722-1793) kept a letterbook in which she wrote, "Airry
Chorristers pour forth their melody...the mocking bird...inchanted me
with his harmony." By this time, enterprising Southerners
caged red birds and even exported cages of mockingbirds to
The New York Journal published a poem of a woman imagining her
ideal garden entitled A Wish of a Lady in 1769.
"...Just under my window I'd fancy a lawn,
Where delicate shrubs shou'd be planted with taste,
And none of my ground be seen running to waste.
Instead of Italians, the Linnet and Thrush
Wou'd with harmony greet me from every bush;
Those gay feather'd songsters do rapture inspire!
What music so soft as the heav'nly choir..."
1733 Gerardus Duyckinck (American artist, 1695-1746). Detail
David and Phila Franks with bird.
And 18C portrait painters in America depicted men, women, & children
with birds from the beginning of the century to the end. The question is
whether the birds are being used as symbols or are actually birds that
they might have owned.
1750 John Hesselius (American colonial artist, 1728-1778) Ann & Sarah
Birds were kept as pets around Charleston, South Carolina, when an ad in
the South-Carolina Gazette in January of 1753 noted,
"ANY Persons willing to try the cultivation of Flax and Hemp
in this province, may have gratis a pint of Hemp Seed, and half a pint of
Flax Seed, at Mr. Commissary Dart's store in Tradd-Street.But it's
hopeed ladies will not send for any Hemp Seed for birds."
1755 John Wollaston (American artist, 1710-1775). Detail
Elizabeth Page & Mann Page, children of Mann & Ann Corbin
(Tayloe) Page of Rosewell, Gloucester County, with bird.
In February of 1768, James Drummond announced in Charleston's The
South Carolina and American General Gazette that he had
"just imported...from L(ondon), a large and compleat
(Assortment) of GOODS, Among which are the following... men and womens
white Italian gloves... corks, an sortment of watchmaker's tools...a bird
1755 Joseph Badger (American artist, 1708-1765). Detail of Elizabeth
Gould with bird.
James McCall advertised in the 1771 South Carolina Gazette and Country
Journal the he had "just received...a great Variety of
Garden Seeds, Pease and Beans; Hemp, Canary, Rape, and Moss Seed for
1758 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail
Anne Fairchild (Mrs. Metcal Bowler) with bird in birdcage.
In 1772, the South-Carolina Gazette carried an ad for a plantation
to be rented "on the Ashley River near
Charleston" with "two well-contrived
aviaries." A year later, the same paper noted a lot in
Charlestown which contained, "a very good Two-Story Birds
1758 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail
Thomas Aston Coffin with two birds.
1758 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815) Mary &
Elizabeth Royall with dog and bird
Baroness Von Riedesel traveling through the British American southern
colonies with her officer husband during the American Revolution wrote,
"I had brought two gorgeous birds with me from Virginia. The
main bird was scarlet with a darker red tuft of feathers on his head,
about the size of a bull-finch, and it sang magnificently. The female
bird was gray with a red breast and also had a tuft of feathers on its
1760 Joseph Badger (American artist, 1708-1765). James Badger
The Baroness continued, "They are very tame soon after they
are caught and eat out of one's hand. These birds live a long time, but
if two male birds are hung in the same room they are so jealous of each
other that one of them dies soon afterwards."
1760 Joseph Badger (American artist, 1708 - 1765). Detail of Jemima
Flucker with bird.
She related that she, "saw black birds in Virginia of the same
size, which always cry 'willow.' This amused us very much because one of
my husband's aides was named Willoe."
1763-65 Henry Benbridge (American artist, 1743-1812). Detail of
Gordon Family with bird.
The Baroness stated, "One of my servants discovered a whole
nest of these red birds and fed and raised them. Knowing how much I loved
them, he left Colle with two cages full on his back, but they all died
before he reached me, much to our sorrow."
1766-67 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815).
Detail of Mary Boylston (Mrs Benjamin Hallowell) with bird.
William Faris (1728-1804) was a silversmith & clockmaker living in
Annapolis, Maryland, for over 50 years. He kept journals & a diary of
his life there, on & off, during the last quarter of the 18th
century. On October 25, 1793, Faris noted, "Last night the 2
yallow Birds died." Earlier, he had written that his
"poor Mocking Bird" had died. Although these are
the only references to birds in the diary he kept during the 1790s, his
1804 inventory listed eleven bird cages.
Although it is difficult to find descriptions of 18th century aviaries in
the British American colonies, we find the the books flowing into the
colonies from England were replete with references to aviaries &
descriptions of them.
1766 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail of
Elizabeth Ross (Mrs. William Tyng) with bird.
We know that Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman,
scientist, lawyer, jurist, & author, did not like aviaries, or
so he wrote in his 1625 Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall in
the essay entitled Of Gardens. "For Aviaries, I like
them not, except they be of that largeness as they may be turfed, and
have living plants and bushes set in them; that the birds may have more
scope and natural nestling, and that no foulness appear in the floor of
1767 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815).Young Lady with a
Bird and Dog
One of England's earliest agricultural writers, John Worlidge's
(1640-1700) Systema Horticulturae published in 1677, noted that,
"One of the pleasures belonging to a Garden, is an Aviary,
which must be near your house, that you may take some delight in it
there, as well as in your Garden, and that you may in all seasons take
care of its Inhabitants." Actually, Worlidge dreamed
of "an Aviary at large, that the whole Garden with its Groves
and Avenues may be full of these pretty Singers, that they may with their
charming Notes, rouze up our dull Spirits, that are too intent upon the
Cares of this World, and mind us of the Providence, the great God of the
Universe hath over us, as well as these Creatures."
1770-1775 James Peale (American artist, 1749-1831). Girl with
In 1701, when Charles Smith (1715-1762) published his Ancient and
Present State of the County and City of Cork, he noted that
"also nearer Cork Mr. John Dennis Merchant has a good house
and neat gardens with an aviary."
1770 Daniel Hendrickson (American artist, 1723-1788). Detail of
Catharine Hendrickson surrounded by birds.
The most widely read 18C gardening writer &; the chief gardener at
the Chelsea Physic Garden, Philip Miller's (1691-1771) The Gardeners
and Florists Dictionary of 1724, noted that "Mr. J. B. The
Author of the Hereford/hire Orchards enumerates the Benefits of Orchards,
that besides their Profit, they sweeten and purify the ambient Air, and
by that Means, he thinks, conduce to the Health...and afford Shade and
Shelter in the Heat of Summer, but harbour a constant Aviary of sweet
Singers without Wires." Philip Miller was widely read
throughout the British American colonies. His Dictionary was owned
by Benjamin Franklin, Lady Jean Skipwith of Virginia, & Thomas
1770s Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827). Detail Mary
Tilghman & sons with bluejay.
By 1733, garden designer & writer and an early exponent of the
English style landscape garden, Stephen Switzer (1682-1745) was
instructing his readers on aviaries in his Practical Husbandman and
Planter. In the month of June he wrote that the aviary
requires the "Assistance of the Person who looks after it, by
the bruising and Emulsion of the cool Seeds of Melon and Cucumbers, in
their watering Pans; as also, by the giving of them the leaves of
Succory, Beets...and fresh Gravel and Earth, to cure them of their
Sicknefs in Moulting-Time, being now sick of their old Feathers. And now
young Partridges, Indian Hens, Pheasants, Partridges, &c. begin to
require a little looking after to preserve them from the griping Hawk,
constantly digging up of Ant-hills for the Pecking and Support of the
little chirping Brood."
1774 Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741 - 1827). Detail
of The Johnson Brothers with bird.
One of the classic books in Thomas Jefferson's library, The Builder's
Dictionary: or, Gentleman and Architect's Companion explained in
1734, that an avairy was a "House or Apartment for the
keeping, feeding, and breeding of Birds." The book covers all
aspects of building design, construction, and finishes. In its time, the
Dictionary was considered the most complete summary available for
use by English architects & members of the construction
1788 Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827). Detail of Mrs.
Richard Gittings with bird in cage.
In 1721, Richard Bradley, a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1712, and
about to become Professor of Botany at Cambridge University, wrote a
treatise, New Improvements in Planting and Gardening both
Philosophical and Practical. Bradley's work New
Improvements... also noted that orchards "harbour a
constant Aviary of sweet Singers, which are here retained without the
Charge or Violence of the Italian Wires." In the British
American colonies, Thomas Jefferson also owned a copy of Bradley's New
1790 Denison Limner Probably Joseph Steward (American artist, 1753-1822).
Detail of Miss Denison of Stonington, CN possibly Matilda with bird
William Derham (1657-1735), was an Anglican clergyman, Canon of
Windsor Castle, & natural philosopher. He was the first man known to
measure the speed of sound. As a member of the Royal Society, he edited
the correspondence between Eleasar Albin (1708-1742) &; John Ray
helping publish a Natural History of Birds which was illustrated
by Albin between 1731-38, and which noted the Gamboa Grossbeake.
"This Bird was brought from Gamboa on the Coast of Guinea and
was in the Possession of his Grace the Duke of Chandos in an Aviary at
his Grace's Country Seat at Edgeworth," where Albin went to
1790 John Brewster (American artist, 1766-1854). Detail of Boy with
In 1732, French priest Noel Antoine Pluche's (1688-1761) juvenile edition
of Spectacle de la Nature, Or Nature Display'd recommended
the joys of communing with the birds in an aviary. Although the book
influenced many to become naturalists, it was a work of popularization,
not of science. In the book, the Duchess character explains that in
the "Bower which the Count has inclosed with a Lattice of
Brass Wire. I think I have seen, in this charming Aviary, all imaginable
Sorts of little Birds, as well as those of a middling Size... this Aviary
boafts a little of my Invention, and I commonly undertake the Management
of it; but my Pains are requited by Pleasures that vary every Day. The
Contentions of these little Creatures, their Endearments, their Melody,
and Labours, and the obliging Civilities I receive from the Generality,
when I pay them a Visit, are extremely entertaining to me. I carry my
Work to them, and am never alone. One may pass whole Hours and Afternoons
1790 Rufus Hathaway (American artist, 1770 - 1822). Detail of Molly Wales
Fobes with Birds.
In the 1760 Short Account, of the Principal Seats and Gardens, in and
about Twickenham, female writer Joel Henrietta Pye (Jael Henrietta
Mendez Pye) (1737-1782) tells of The Earl of Lincoln's Seat.
"About a Mile beyond Weybridge, situated in the midst of a
noble Park. The Gardens contain 150 Acres, and are divided by a fine
Canal. The whole is laid out in the modern Taste, of Flowering Shrubs,
Lawns, Clumps &...an Aviary of every kind of Singing-Birds, who are,
so concealed by the Trees, that tho' they fillthfe Garden with their
Harmony, it is impossible to discover whence it proceeds."
1790s James Earl (American artist, 1749-1831). Detail of Boy with
Christopher Smart, Oliver Goldsmith, & Samuel Johnson reported in a
compilation of their writings called, World Displayed: or, A
Curious Collection of Voyages and Travels published in 1750, that
in Mexico, "Montezuma had, besides the palace in which he kept
his court, several magnificent pleasure houses, one of which was a noble
building, supported by pillars of jasper. In this edifice he had an
aviary of those birds that are most remarkable on account of their
singing or feathers, and these were so numerous, that 300 men were said
to be employed in attending them." Both George Washington
& John Adams owned a copy of this book.
1790s Ellen Sharples (American artist, 1769-1849). Detail of
Theodosia Burr of New Jersey with bird.
Arthur Young's (1741-1820) accounts of his travels throughout Great
Britain were imported into the colonies as soon as they were published.
In his 1778-1770, A Six Months Tour Through the North of England,
he wrote, "From hence a walk winds to the aviary, which is a
light Chinese building of a very pleasing design; it is stocked with
Canary and other foreign birds, which are kept alive in winter by means
of hot walls at the back of the building."
1793 Rufus Hathaway (American artist, 1770-1822). Detail of
Church Sampson of Duxbury, MA. with bird and birdcage.
English Architect William Chambers (1723-1796) also wrote of what he
hoped would be a strong Asian influence on English gardening. In his
1772, A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, he noted that in
China, "The saloons generally open to little enclosed courts, set
round with beautiful flower-pots, of different forms, made of porcelain,
marble or copper, filled with the rarest flowers of the season: at the
end of the court there is generally an aviary." Chambers'
book was found in libraries across the new American republic.
1796 Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827). Thomas Elliott
& Grandaughter Deborah Hibernia with white bird.
In England, the 1773 Encyclopaedia Britannica, offered its readers
practical advice. "AVIARY, a place set apart for feeding and
propagating birds. It Should be so large, as to give the birds some
freedom of flight; and turfed, to avoid the appearance of foulness on the
floor." These folks had obviously read Francis Bacon's essay
Of Gardens! John Charnock (1756-1807) wrote in his 1794
Biographia Navalis that the retired "Admiral (George)
Churchill (1654-1710) ...had constructed the most beautiful aviary in
Britain, which he had, at an incredible expence, filled with a most rare
and valuable collection of birds."
In America, the New-York Magazine; or, Literary Repository
of 1792, was advising its readers that, "A Goldfinch must
never be let loose in an aviary, for he destroys the nests and breaks the
eggs of the other birds."
The next year, William Marshall's (1745-1818) Planting and
Rural Ornament critically explained that "An Aviary Of
Foreign Birds appears to be equally ill placed, in such a situation:
exotic birds are apt accompaniments to exotic plants; and a shrubery,
rather than a sequestered dell, seems to be the most natural situation
for an aviary." George Washington & many other early
Americans owned a copy of this book.
1790s Unknown American artist, Mary Ann Elizabeth Thum of Philadelphia
Isaac Weld (1774-1856) noted in his 1800 Travels through the States of
North America that at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in
Virginia, "A large apartment is laid out for a library and
museum, meant to extend the entire breadth of the house, the windows of
which are to open into an extensive greenhouse and aviary."
By the early 19th century, John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) was
eager to share his knowledge of aviaries with readers of his
Encyclopaedia of Gardening. He explained that originally apiaries
were common at the country houses of the Romans, where they were used
primarily as safe-keeping for birds destined to be eaten. Loudon
notes that singing-birds, however, also were kept by the Persians,
Greeks, & Romans in wicker-cages. Larger cages of songbirds more
permanently set in gardens followed. The Chinese built actual house-like
structures for their birds. In 1808, the last of the great 18C
English landscape designer Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) re-popularized
aviaries with his Design for an Aviary and Pergola in the Chinese
1790 Ralph Earl (American artist, 1791-1801) Jerusha Benedict
However, Loudon explains that Varro built an elegant & spacious
aviary, at his country house, near Casinum. Varro wrote that there were
two sorts of aviaries, one for containing birds intended for the table,
and the other for birds kept for their song or plumage. The former sort
were built entirely for use, but the latter were often beautiful
pavilions, with an apartment or saloon in the centre, for guests to sit
in and enjoy the melodies of the feathered songsters.
According to Loudon, his fellow countryman, John Evelyn (1620-1706)
mentioned in his Kalendarium Hortense: or, the Gardner's Almanac
the parrots in the aviary of the Marquis of Argyll at Sayes Court. Loudon
explained that a parrot aviary was built with a glass roof front and ends
covered with shades & curtains to protect it from the sun &
frost, and a flue for winter heating. In these aviaries artificial or
dead trees with glazed foliage were fixed in the floor. Sometimes cages
hung on them, and at other times the birds allowed to fly free within the
aviary. Early Americnas (Increase (1639-1723) & Cotton Mather
(1663-1728) and New Yorker Lewis Morris (1726-1798) owned Evelyn's
1805 John Brewster Jr (American artist, 1766-1854) Francis O Watts
Loudon revealed that a special canary aviary was set in an opaque-roofed
greenhouse or conservatory, by enclosing it with a partition of wire; and
furnishing the greenhouse with...branches suspended from the roof for the
birds to perch on. In another type of aviary...a net or wire
curtain was thrown over the tops of trees. Here songbirds could sing on
the trees; aquatic birds could glide on the water; & pheasants could
stroll over the lawn. For severe seasons, discreet houses & cages
would offer them refuge.
1805 Michele Felice Corne (American artist, 1752-1845) Two Children
at Play with White Bird
Loudon noted that in England, portable netted enclosures, from 10 to 20
feet square, were distributed over areas of the lawn to display a curious
collection of domestic fowls. In each enclosure was a small wooden box
for sheltering the animals during night or in severe weather, and for
breeding. Loudon even suggested that "Curious varieties of
aquatic fowls might be placed on floating aviaries on a lake or
pond." He explained that birds from the hot
climates were sometimes kept in hot-houses among their native plants with
doors & openings for giving air covered with wire cloth. Loudon
proposed that grouping birds together geographically would give rise to
an educational aviary containing specimens of the native birds of a
particular country...promoting the knowledge of their names,
classification, climates, & habits. Loudon noted that the emperor
Napoleon kept a large aviary with species of birds from all over the
1810 Cephus Thompson (American artist, 1775-1856) Girl with a
In America, we finally do get an eyewitness account of an aviary in New
York City. Grant Thorburn's (1773-1863) early 19th-century Horticultural
Repository on John Street in New York City had an avaiary, when Thomas
Green Fessenden (1771-1837) visited. He wrote of it in the
Horticultural Register and Gardener's Magazine, "The
aviary...is filled with many beautiful birds which fill the air with
their sweet songs--the native mockingbird, canary &c. all exerting
their sweet voices in mingled harmony, and fluttering as merrily as in
their native woods."
1815 Jacob Maentel (German-born American artist, 1763-1863) Boy
As the 19th century saw American towns & industry grow and
homeowners' property size decrease, caged birds became more popular.
Pennsylvania attorney Henry Beck Hirst (1813-1874) wrote, "And
what man lives, who, as he passes by the cottage of the humble labourer,
and observes the wicker habitation of the well tended Canary suspended at
the door, does not form a favorable idea of the taste of those who dwell
within its walls...And oh! in the crowded cities, with the hum of
business & the rattle of wheels sounding ever around, is it not
pleasant to the ear...to hear the voice of some lone bird...and the
melancholy warbler is converted into the many voiced choir of the
Children with pet birds 16C-18C
Posted: 28 Feb 2014 06:08 AM PST
1564 Hermann tom Ring (German artist, 15211597) Sisters Ermengard
and Waalburg von Rietberg Detail from Rietberg Family Portrait 1564 (with
pet bird and monkey)
1604 DaniÃ«l van den Queborn (Dutch artist, 15521602) Portrait of
a little boy, maybe Lodewiijk van Nassau
1608 Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636) Portrait of a Boy
1620 Unknown artist of the Flemish School, Portrait of a
1620s Cornelis de Vos (Flemish artist, 1584-1651) A Young
Girl Holding a Bullfinch
1627 Wybrand de Geest (Dutch artist, 1592-1661-65) Portrait of a
1629 Attr to Dirck Dircksz van Santvoort (Dutch artist, 1610-1680)
Portrait of a Child age Two Holding a Parrot
1632 Jan Anthonisz van Ravesteyn (Dutch painter, 1572-1657)
Portrait of Joannes de Ruyter, 1632 - Princess Salimah Aga Khan
1630 Unknown artist, Erardus van der Laen,
1640 Unknown artist Netherlandish School Portrait of a Girl with a
1640s Circle of Wybrand de Geest (Dutch artist, 1592-1661-65)
Portrait of a Girl
1640s Philippe de Champaigne (Fench artist, 1602-1674)
Portrait of Anna Maria de Chevreuse her father was the chief falconer of
1642 Charles Beaubrun (Charles Bobrun) (French artist,
16041692) Portrait of Loouis XIV with his younger brother Philip I
1644 Unknown artist of the Dutch School Portrait of a Boy, Aged
Three, with a Large Hat and a Parrot
1649 Jacob Gerritszoon Cuyp (Dutch painter, 1594-1652) Michiel
Pompe van Slingelandt (1643-1685),
1650 Erasmus Quellinus II (Flemish painter, 16071678) Portrait off
a Young Boy
1650-90 Unknown artist Young Children with a Spaniel and a
1664 Cesar Pietersz, or Cesar Boetius van Everdingen (Dutch artist,
1616-17-1678) Two-year-old Boy with an Apple
1690s Godfrey Kneller (English artist, 16481723) Portrait of a Boy
of the Pole Family
1731 Jean Ranc (French artist, 1674-1735) MarÃa Antonieta Fernanda
de BorbÃ³n (1729-1785)
1768 Francesco Guardi (Italian artist, 1712-93) A Young Girl of the
Gradenigo Family with a Dove
1776 Thomas Hudson (English artist, 1701-79) Boy with Birds in a Tricorn
1787 Francisco JosÃ© de Goya (Spanish painter, 17461828) Don Manuel
Osorio Manrique de Zuniiga
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