Wednesday, November 5, 2014

B. R. Biddle, Tailor

My 4th great grandfather, Benjamin Robert "B. R." Biddle (1808-1882), started out his career as a tailor.

[From "And this is our heritage" by Esther Moreland Leithold, 1944.  About 1860, most likely in Oregon, when B.R. had moved on to other professional ventures.]
B.R. was born July 2, 1808, in Southampton County, Virginia, to Benjamin R Biddle (1776-1848) and Mary "Polly" Ann Capell (1782-??).  Although his parents came from a privileged background and were very cultured and sophisticated, they had not managed to make much money for themselves, and by the time B.R. and his brothers came of age it was determined that since the family couldn't afford the expense of a professional education for their sons they had to learn a trade (the horror!).  I think his parents felt it déclassé to have to learn a trade, but it was necessary.  Fortunately B.R. and his brothers did not appear to have taken this as hard as their parents.

B.R. and his family moved from Southampton, Virginia to Grainger County, Tennessee sometime between 1820 and 1826.  According to Leithold, B.R. apprenticed with a tailor (name unknown) in Middlesboro, Kentucky.  While traveling between his apprenticeship and his parents' home he had to travel through Tazewell, Claiborne, Tennessee, where he met his future wife, Maria Evans.

In late 1830 B.R.'s family moved to Sangamon County, Illinois, and in 1832 the elder Biddle had purchased some farmland outside Springfield, Illinois.  B.R. stayed in Tazewell for a few years and then moved out to join them. According to Leithold:
Robert [B.R.] Biddle was an exceptionally good tailor, and had done well while in business in Tazewell.  He had sent money regularly to his parents, and had also saved enough to start in business when he reached Springfield in the early Spring of 1833.  Robert himself dressed with style and distinction, and was a person who would be noticed when he went, as a stranger, to a pioneer village.  His father, brother, and brother-in-law had been living near Springfield for some time before he went to Illinois, and they introduced him to their friends and neighbors; but his own polished manner and pleasing personality were his greatest assets in building up a business among the type of people who were financially able to wear clothes of the latest cut and best materials.
Here are some examples of advertisements and notices that B.R. was involved in between 1836-1846:
Illinois Weekly State Journal
4 Jun 1836
page 4
Tender their services in the line of their mechanical profession, to the citizens of Springfield and the adjacent country.  From their experience in business, they feel confident that those who patronize them will be pleased.  Work done in the neatest manner and most fashionable style.  Punctuality in business shall characterise them.  The eastern reports will be received regularly, and they are prepared to execute work on the shortest notice.  Military work of all grades, ladies riding habits and polieces, cut and made in the latest style and on short notice.
Their shop is nearly opposite the Post Office, on the north side of the square.
May 19, 1836-37
Illinois Weekly State Journal
23 Mar 1839
page 3
Pay your Tailor!
Having declined business, I wish those who know themselves to be indebted to me, to pay up immediately, as I am about leaving this place.  I shall leave all unsettle business in a situation to be collected without my presence.
B. R. Biddle.
Springfield, March 22, 1839.
The subscribers inform the citizens of Springfield and of Sangamon county, that they have taken the shop formerly occupied by Mr. B. R. Biddle, on the north side of the public square, where they intend to carry on the Tailoring business.  They have made arrangement to receive the Philadelphia Fashions and Tailor's Archetype, and have just received a Report of the Latest Fashions.  They will do their work in the neatest and most fashionable manner, and will insure good fits of all the garments made by them.  They hope to merit a share of public patronage.
Thomas E. Lea(?)(Lek?)
Joseph Knotts.
Springfield, March 20, 1839.

Illinois Weekly State Journal
18 Jun 1841
page 3
The partnership between B. R. Biddle and G. W. Stipp in the Tailoring business, is dissolved by mutual consent.
June 15, 1841.

Illinois Weekly State Journal
10 Sep 1841
page 3
B. R. Biddle
Has removed his shop to the south side of the public square, next door to the sheriff's office where he will be thankful for a continuance of the patronage which the public has so generously bestowed.
He will be ready at all times to make clothing of every description at short notice and in a fashionable style, and workmanlike manner.
Produce of Lumber taken for work.
Two apprentices wanted immediately--boys from 15 to 17 years of age, and of good moral habits.
Springfield, Aug. 27, 1841.

Illinois Weekly State Journal
17 Sep 1846
page 3
To Tailors.
The subscriber has for rent, on the public square in this city, a shop with two rooms, put up expressly for a Tailor's shop, and is among the finest in the State, furnished and finished with every convenience for a Tailor to commence business there: and I have no hesitation in saying there is as fine an opening in this city at this time for a first rate Tailor, who is asty(?) and competent to do fashionable business, as here is in this state.  Applications addressed to the subscriber immediately, will meet with favor.
B. R. Biddle
Springfield, Ill., Aug. 25, '46. 
In 1843, while B.R. was working with John Irwin and Co.and made a suit for a man named Abraham Lincoln:
"On May 16, 1843 his largest single day's purchase at Irwin's was made.  The $45.37 total included $32.50 for cloth, $3.87 for trimmings and $9 to tailor Benjamin R. Biddle for making a suit for Mr. Lincoln. The suiting is described as two yards of superior black cloth at $11 a yard, and three yards of cassimere, a medium-weight woolen cloth of soft texture, at $3.50." [from the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, page 66:]

According to Leithold, B.R. and Lincoln were personal friends and once shared a backyard fence in Springfield.

It is unclear to me when B.R. officially stopped being a tailor professionally, but I do know that the pull of the Gold Rush proved irresistible, and on March 28, 1849 he set out for California.
Daily Illinois State Journal
7 Apr 1849
page 2
Mr. B. R. Biddle, of one of the California Companies which have left this town, writes to us under date of "Barre, Pike County, April 2, 1849:"--
"We have all got along well.  Our men are cheerful.  We crossed the Illinois river at Naples, and ferried four miles.  Our waggons and teams are complimented.  Our men have proved that they can work in water and out of it, and the remark was made at the river, after we had pulled the wagons out of the mud and water, that if any persons got to California, we would."
Once he got to California he and two partners set up a business selling goods to the miners in Shasta, California.

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