Richard Caton was a cotton merchant, an Englishman, and a gentleman. He settled down in Philadelphia in 1785, two years after the Declaration of Independence had been signed, for he foresaw many opportunities in the reconstruction of trade which was likely to follow the revolution.
His business required him to travel a good deal, and one of his trips took him to Baltimore, the centre of social life in Maryland. Baltimore was very gay, very light-hearted, and some of the most courtly blood of England ran in the veins of its principal families.
Richard Caton was welcomed to its life, and took to it at once. This was well, since he was to live there always.
For in Baltimore he met Mary Carroll. She was beautiful, cultured, witty, charming, full of virtues and graces, and the daughter of the richest man in America. Her father was a very distinguished man, a very pillar of the State. At his death he was the last of the signatories of the Declaration. He owned enormous estates - so enormous that a whole county was named after him; and Baltimore's biggest fort, to this day, is Fort Carroll. His brother was the first Archbishop of Baltimore - the first Archbishop ordained in America. Mary was his only child, and Richard Caton may well have wondered if he would ever be allowed to marry her.
But Mr. Carroll was not the man to hinder a love-match. For once the course of true love ran smooth. The young couple were married, and Mr. Carroll gave them the beautiful estate of Brookland Wood, a little way out of Baltimore, and there they settled down to a very happy life. The suburb which grew up round this estate is still called Catonsville after them.
They had four children, all daughters, who were christened Mary, Elizabeth, Louisa, and Emily. It was early apparent that these children were going to be beautiful, but by the time they had reached early girlhood they were the acknowledged belles of Baltimore. They were graceful and slender; they had faces like flowers; they had manners of the most perfect ease, combined with a touch of old-world courtliness which they had caught from their grandfather. Their lovely heads were full of brains; they had wit and learning and accomplishments; they were wealthy; and they had the supreme merit of being perfectly delightful on top of all these other advantages. Some women have all the virtues, and yet are not attractive, but the Caton girls had Baltimore at their feet to a man - and to a woman.
Their training had been perfect. Their grandfather looked on women with a deep, chivalrous reverence; and they had spent much time at Carrollton with him. Their mother was beautiful, which nearly always forbids vanity in the daughters; and she was a singularly cultured woman, who had taught them to love culture. Their father was a very charming man, and from both sides of the house they inherited that nameless, indescribable quality of good breeding which adds the last charm to beauty.
American girls have always enjoyed more freedom than English ones, and have been far more independent, consequently, in their amusements. The Caton girls flung themselves whole-heartedly into the merry-makings of Baltimore. Maryland is famous for its edible delicacies, and the young folk planned terrapin feasts, and revelled in the inimitable canvas-back duck, which Holmes said ought to have a statue put up to it. They danced all night, riding many miles on horseback, with blankets flung over their pretty muslin dresses to keep off the dust. In winter they drove to their parties in a sledge. Four lovelier, happier, young things never breathed. They were rich, with everything they could desire; they had adoring parents and a worshipping grandfather; and yet they did not get spoiled.
The Marchioness of Wellasley, who died in 1853. one of the four remarkable daughters of Mr. Richard Caton, of Philadelphia
From a miniature by Mrs. Robertson
We do not hear of the many little fluttering episodes that must have fallen to the share of such a quartette as this. We can only hear snatches of their clear laughter and light-hearted songs as they flitted through the sunlight, while Europe groaned through the Napoleonic wars, and Nelson died amid the smoke of Trafalgar.
The inevitable break came. Mary, in 1807, married. She was only nineteen, but already had had a wide choice of suitors. She chose young Robert Paterson, the son of a wealthy merchant of Baltimore. Four years before, the name of Paterson had rung through two continents, for Robert's sister had married Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, and set the world agape. Since then she had been to Europe, been disowned by Napoleon, and sent back ignominiously by her husband. In 1807 she was living in England with her boy, and Jerome was King of Westphalia, and married to a foreign princess.
No such alarums and excursions accompanied Mary's marriage to Robert Paterson. They settled down in Baltimore for some years. No children appeared, and after a while they grew restless, and began to talk about seeing Europe. The idea caught the fancy of Elizabeth, and Louisa, too; Emily, however, took it more quietly. There was a certain Mr. John Mac-tavish, recently come to Baltimore as British Consul. He was a Scot, and apparently an attractive one, since Emily did not care to go to Europe. She stayed at home and married her Scot, and never left America.
Young Mr. and Mrs. Paterson, however, sailed for Lisbon in 1811, and with them went Elizabeth and Louisa, all eager to see the Old World.
They landed at Lisbon in May, and spent some time in Spain, where the Peninsula War was dragging out its tragic length. Here they met Wellington, and the Iron Duke succumbed at once to the high-bred beauty and lively charm of Mrs. Paterson. It is a certificate to both of them that, though it was well-known that if the Patersons went anywhere, there Wellington would be found, nobody ever breathed a word of scandal about the rather charming little episode. It must have been the only humanising experience of the whole war to the grim field-marshal.
Nor was this the only damage done by Cupid in poaching upon the preserves of Mars. Wellington had an aide-de-camp, Colonel Sir Felton Bathurst-hervey. He must have blessed his chief's liking for Mary Paterson, for it brought him into almost daily contact with the lovely younger sisters, and, in particular, he was pleased to be with Louisa.
When they left Spain they went about Europe, and then England, staying at the greatest houses, which opened to the magic touch of Wellington's hand. They met the most distinguished men of many circles, but Louisa saw no one who caught her fancy so much as her Colonel, and in due course they were married. The newly-married pair were entertained by the Duke of Wellington at Walmer Castle, and the Duchess of Rutland gave a great ball in their honour, at which she bestowed on them the name by which they were afterwards always known in England - "The American Graces."
Mr. and Mrs. Paterson went back to America where, a few years later, he died. After a while Mrs. Paterson came to rejoin her sisters in England. By this time Elizabeth was married to Baron Stafford, and Louisa, left a widow in 1819, was still a reigning beauty. Mrs. Paterson found them installed on the top rung of English society, and when her mourning was over, the three sisters again went everywhere together. Once more they stayed with Wellington.
Here they met his elder brother, the Marquess Wellesley. He was sixty-five, very deep in debt, distinguished for his Viceroyalty in India, and engaged at that time in trying to redress the many evils with which Ireland was afflicted. What was more important, so far as Mary Paterson went, was that he was absolutely irresistible in the charm of his nature and manner. Neither man nor woman could withstand him. He had married a French singer, a union which had been unhappy, but his wife was dead.
We do not hear why Mary kept him waiting two years; but, in 1827, she and Elizabeth visited Dublin, where they were entertained with the greatest magnificence.
They were married in great state at Viceregal Lodge, and the bride's beauty won all hearts. The people strewed flowers before her wherever she went, and for the brief remainder of this stay in Ireland the Viceroy's wife was one of the most popular people in Ireland. This was partly due to the fact that she was a Roman Catholic, and he a Protestant, so that the marriage bore directly on one of the knottiest of Irish problems.
Her cheeks like apples which the sun hath ruddied, Her lips like cherries charming men to bite, and goes on with a catalogue of charms drawn from fruiterers' and jewellers' shops. In the following year Louisa married the Duke of Leeds, so now the three sisters were all settled ornaments of England. Wellesley was made Comptroller of the Household at Windsor, and his wife first Lady-in-waiting to Queen Adelaide, with whom she was a great favourite.
Thus did the American Graces conquer England with their beauty. "No Court of Europe ever produced women of greater elegance and accomplished manners," said one writer; while another remarked that, "though of Republican parentage, they had a patent of nobility from Nature." It was a strange coincidence that two beautiful girls of Baltimore, and sisters-in-law at that, should each have married brothers of the great antagonists of the era, Wellington and Napoleon. The power of beauty works coincidences greater far than those of fiction.
A nineteenth century American peeress - the Duchess of Leeds, who before her marriage was Louisa Caton, the third daughter of Mr. Richard Caton, of Philadelphia