Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Greatest American Social Event of the 19th Century

by Stephen J. Gertz

On May 21, 1874, Ellen "Nellie" Grant, the 19-year old third child and only daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant, married Algernon Charles Frederick Sartoris, a member of a British theatrical family, wealthy English singer and nephew of Fanny Kemble, the famous actress.

It was considered one of the greatest social events in America during the nineteenth century. "To the public it was an irresistible, romantic story [met with] insatiable public demand" (Wead, All the President's Children).

The wedding was held in the Presidential Mansion, aka White House. It was a lavish affair, the ceremony held in the East Room followed by a wedding breakfast immediately afterward. The approximately 250 guests were each presented with the banquet's menu, as seen here, a  6 3/4 x 3 3/4 inch broadside printed by Beresford Print of Washington D.C. in blue ink on pink silk with white silk bow tied at top, the whole on mounting paper.

Gifts to the couple included “… a dessert-service of eighty four pieces [given] by Mr. George W. Childs, and a complete dinner-service by Mr. A.J. Drexel, the combined value of the two being $4500" (Harper's, June 6, 1874). "The couple received a 'little' gift of $10,000 from Mr. Grant, and a silver Tiffany fruit dish that the bride supposedly swooned over" (Christine Graham-Ward, Everyone Loves a Wedding, American Antiquarian Society).
This was not a marriage made in heaven. It began with a shipboard romance between Sartoris and Nellie when she was only seventeen. President Grant disapproved. His intuition was spot-on. Satoris brought Nellie to England and soon proved to be a cad, womanizer, gambler, and alcoholic, the four horsemen of the nuptial apocalypse.  The marriage ended in divorce in 1889 and Nellie returned to the United States.

The caterer was Frederick Freund, whose name appears at menu's bottom.  

The meal was typical American breakfast fare. Dig in:

Soft Crabs on Toast
Grimaux garais de Crabes & Champignons, Sauce a la Créme
Croquettes of Chicken with Green Peas.
Coteleties d'agneant, Sauce a la Tartare
Aspic de langues de boeuf a la Modern
Wood Cocks and Snipes on Toast, Decorated
Boiled Spring Chicken

Salade Sauce, Maillonais      Strawberries with Cream

BRIDE CAKE - Center-piece

Side-piece of Charlotte Russes and Croque en bouche
Corbeils glaces a la Jardiniere
Gateaux de trois frères

Epigraphe la fleur, de NELLIE GRANT

Pudding a la Nestlerode Sauce a la Creme
Corbeils d'Oranges garnis de fraises
Gelee, Blamangee a la Napoleon

Plombieres garnies de fruits a fleures glaces
Ice Cream of various flavors
Water Ices of various flavors
Small Fancy Cakes
Punch a la Romaine. Coffee. Chocolate. Fancy Boxes - with Wedding Cake

Punch au côlon implicit. Élixir de l'Alka-Seltzer, alas, not included.

Menu image courtesy of Howard S. Mott, Inc., with our thanks.

Wedding photograph courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, with our thanks.

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