Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861 - Header and Menu


Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 231. First ed., 1855.


Sophia Chew was the sixth child of Benjamin Chew by his second wife, Elizabeth Oswald.[1] She grew up with many brothers and sisters in the family’s elegant townhouse in Philadelphia, spending summers at Cliveden, the Chews’ country house in nearby Germantown.[2] Her mother was the daughter of James Oswald and Mary Turner Oswald; her father was a former chief justice of Pennsylvania and a close friend of John Adams, John Penn, and George Washington.[3] As members of one of one of the most “luminous” families of the Republican Court, Sophia and her siblings thus were well acquainted with many of the nation’s most prominent citizens.[4]

The Chew family’s social life included elegant public balls and other fashionable functions, and Benjamin hired Mr. Cenas, a highly respected Philadelphia dancing master to provide instruction to Sophia and her sisters.[5] In fact, Sophia and her younger sister Harriet, favorites of George Washington when they were girls, both attended Martha Washington’s first levee in Philadelphia.[6] So important were the Chew daughters to Philadelphia society that one historian has noted that it was “social suicide to not be at home when the Chew daughters came to call.”[7]

Along with her younger sisters, Sophia was celebrated for her beauty, and in 1790 Abigail Adams observed that Sophia and her sisters were part of a “constellation of beauties” in an already brilliant social circle.[8] Moreover, Sophia was a “great belle” in her own right; at one ball she insisted on dancing with the guest of honor, Lord Whickham, who succumbed to her charms and danced with her, despite not knowing the steps.[9]

In 1796 she married Henry Philips (1767-1800), an Englishman who was running the American office of his family’s shipping business.[10] They had one child, Elizabeth Henrietta, who was born in 1797. Henry died shortly thereafter and was buried in the old graveyard at St. Peter’s Church, around the corner from the Chew family’s city home.[11]

Although the family began to limit its participation in formal balls and assemblies after the death of Benjamin Chew in 1810, Sophia’s mother did continue to entertain at her Philadelphia townhouse, hosting teas and card games, and attending plays, concerts, and exhibitions.[12] Sophia Philips continued to live in Philadelphia after the death of her husband, and was most likely a frequent guest at these events.[13]

Sophia died in 1841 and is buried in the graveyard at St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia near to her husband, Henry, in her son-in-law’s family vault.[14]

Written by Annie Turner; revised by Janet Hallahan.

[1] “Chew Family,” in Colonial Families of Philadelphia, ed. John W. Jordan (New York: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1911), 1:514.

[2] Nancy E. Richards, “The City Home of Benjamin Chew, Sr., and his Family: A Case Study of the Textures of Life,” (Philadelphia: Cliveden of the National Trust, Inc., 1996). http://www.cliveden.org/Content/Research/Benjamin%20Chew%20
(accessed December 4, 2008).

[3] “Chew Family,” in Colonial Families, 1:512.

[4] Philip R. Seitz, “Tales from the Chew Family Papers: The Charity Castle Story,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 132 (January 2008):66.

[5] Richards, “The City Home of Benjamin Chew, Sr.,” 60. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington (New York: D. Appleton & Co, 1867), 395.

[6] Griswold, The Republican Court, 395.

[7] Seitz, “Tales from the Chew Family Papers,” 66.

[8] Richards, “The City Home of Benjamin Chew, Sr.,” 60-61.

[9] Samuel Breck, Recollections of Samuel Breck, with Passages from His Notebooks (1771-1862), ed. Horace Elisha Scudder (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1877), 135; http://www.google.com/books?id=saHXgnttqJYC&pg=PA135&dq+sophia+
(accessed December 4, 2008).

[10] “Chew Family,” in Colonial Families, 1:514

[11] Ibid.

[12] Richards, The City Home of Benjamin Chew, Sr., 73.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Chew Family,” in Colonial Families, 1:514


LCP HOME - Site contents copyright ©  2009

Introduction Portrait Gallery LCP Home