WELCOME TO THE BLOG IN THE WORDS OF WOMEN

Based largely on the book of the same name, the blog is a kind of trailer for it and the primary source material it contains. An invitation, you might say … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … and to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

The women featured lived between 1765 and 1799. But once you attune your ears to their way of writing, their voices easily leapfrog across the centuries. Read just a few sentences and you’ll find yourself back in time, entering their concerns, sharing their feelings. And what they have to say is always fascinating, often eye-opening, sometimes heart-rending.

Please bookmark the blog and visit regularly to see which writers and issues are being featured. There are two new posts weekly: on Monday and Thursday. And do explore those related to the many topics listed on the right. In addition to posts based on the book, others introduce the writings of women who didn’t make it into the book or who turn up as a result of ongoing research. To subscribe via email, click here. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your visits.

“Frances Slocum: The Lost Sister of Wyoming”

Jonathan Slocum, the father of FRANCES SLOCUM, was a Quaker from Rhode Island who had visited Wyoming Valley (see previous post) and, pleased with what he saw, brought his wife Ruth Tripp and their children there in 1777, settling on land in Wilkes-Barre a short distance from the fort. After the Massacre in July of 1778, Jonathan and his family, who had been spared, did not join the settlers who fled believing that their Quaker principles and friendly relations with the Indians would protect them. They were wrong.

In November three Delaware Indians approached the house in which were Mrs. Slocum, her four young children and the two Kingsley boys the family had taken in after Indians had made a prisoner of their father. The Indians killed and scalped Nathan Kingsley; nine-year-old Mary, with great presence of mind, fled with her baby brother Joseph. The Indians, however, seized Frances, four years and seven months old, her brother Ebenezer, and the other Kingsley lad. Mrs. Slocum pleaded with them not to take Ebenezer as he was lame; they left him behind but took the other two. An alarm was given and the area searched to no avail. Several weeks later Mr. Slocum, his father-in-law, and a boy named William were gathering fodder for their cattle in a field when they were attacked by Indians. The boy escaped but the two men were killed and scalped. Mrs. Slocum bore these terrible tragedies as best she could, knowing at least that her loved ones were dead and buried. But she still agonized over the fate of Frances. Was she alive or dead?

In 1906, a descendant of the SIocums, Martha B. Phelps, compiled information from various sources, including her grandfather, and wrote the story of Frances Slocum, the Lost Sister of Wyoming. According to her account this is what subsequently happened.

The two sons of Mrs. Slocum, grown to manhood, searched for their sister after the Revolution in the area of Niagara, offering a reward for information about her. With no success. In 1788 the two journeyed into the Ohio wilderness on the same quest. Once again they could find no trace of her. Mrs. Slocum made the trip to Niagara in 1789 where a group of captives held by the Indians had been assembled. She could not identify any as her beloved Frances. Mrs. Slocum died in 1807 without knowing the fate of her child. The remaining family members promised her not to give up the search.

In 1835 while traveling in Indiana, a Colonel Ewing, who did business with the Indians, discovered an aged white woman in an Indian lodge where he stopped for the night. In the course of the evening she told him her name was Slocum and recounted her story in the tongue of the Miami Indians which Ewing understood. Ewing wrote a letter to the postmaster of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, asking that the information he had gleaned be published in a local newspaper in the hope that a Slocum relative or friend might see it. Here is what he wrote:

There is now living near this place, an aged white woman, who a few days ago told me, while I lodged in the camp one night, that she was taken from her father’s house, on or near the Susqueha0nna River, when she was very young . . . by the Delaware Indians, who were then hostile toward the whites. She says her father’s name was Slocum; that he was a Quaker, rather small in stature and wore a large-brimmed hat; was of sandy hair and light complexion and much freckled; that he lived about half a mile from a town where there was a fort; that they lived in a wooden house two stories high, and had a spring near the house. She says three Delawares came to the house in the daytime, when all were absent but herself, and perhaps two other children; her father and brother were . . . working in the field. The Indians carried her off, and she was adopted into a family of Delawares, who raised her and treated her as their own child. They died about forty years ago, somewhere in Ohio. She was then married to a Miami, by whom she had four children; two of them are now living—they are both daughters—and she lives with them. Her husband is dead; she is old and feeble, and thinks she will not live long.
These considerations induced her to give the present history of herself, which she would never do before, fearing that her kindred would come and force her away. She has lived long and happy as an Indian, and, but for her color, would not be suspected of being anything else than such. She is very respectable and wealthy, sober and honest. Her name is without reproach. . . . She had entirely lost her mother tongue, and speaks only in Indian, which I also understand. . . .
I have been much affected with the disclosure, and hope the surviving friends may obtain, through your goodness, the information I desire for them. If I can be of any service to them, they may command me. . . .

The story continues in the next post.

Biography of Frances Slocum, the Lost sister of Wyoming: A complete Narrative of her Captivity and Wanderings Among the Indians, John Franklin Meginness (Williamsport, PA: Heller Bros. Printing House, 1891). Also Frances Slocum: The Lost Sister of WyomingCompiled and written by her grand niece Martha Bennett Phelps for her Children and Grandchildren (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1906), available online HERE.

posted August 3rd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Indians, Pennsylvania, Slocum, Frances, Wyoming Massacre

The Wyoming Massacre

I was born and grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, not far from Wilkes-Barre. My earliest impressions of the Wyoming Valley, bisected by the Susquehanna River, were physical. Of the anthracite or hard-coal fields in the area: a landscape dotted with collyeries, steam locomotives and railroad sidings, mine shafts and culm banks, refuse heaps which were often burning fueled by bits of discarded coal. Eventually this sort of mining deep underground became too expensive and was replaced by surface or strip mining which further ravaged the land until laws were passed requiring reforestation. Some of the area today still resembles the dead landscape of the moon.

As I grew up I also became aware of the early history of the Wyoming Valley—in the 1760s when the beautiful lands and fertile soil bordering the Susquehanna were claimed by Connecticut according to its founding charter. Many settlers from that colony, and some from Rhode Island, moved into the area. Periodically, conflict broke out between the locals and the “intruders” but nothing like what happened in 1778 in what is known as the Battle of Wyoming and the subsequent “Massacre.”

During the Revolution the British sought to put pressure on the American rebels by harrassing frontier settlements with the assistance of the Indians who felt they had been displaced from land which was rightfully theirs. Settlers in the Wyoming Valley feeling exposed and insecure constructed several small forts for their protection. In July of 1778, British Colonel John Butler put together a force of some 1,000 consisting of British soldiers, Tories, and Seneca Indians and marched to the head of Wyoming Valley intending to clear out the settlers. Receiving news of this impending raid a small band of patriot soldiers and citizens hurriedly assembled, under the command of a Continental Army officer named Colonel Zebulon Butler, and attempted to repel the invaders. A battle ensued in which the heavily outnumbered soldiers and settlers were completely routed. Rampaging Indians slaughtered and scalped some 225 fighters and in the following days killed civilians and devastated the area, destroying dwellings and crops. Survivors fled to the east where many perished in the wilderness that was the Pocono Mountains.

Living in the area I also knew of the town of Slocum but had no idea of the derivation of its name. Research led me to the story of Frances Slocum, her connection with the Wyoming Valley, and her abduction and captivity by the Indians. More of Frances’ story in the next post.

posted July 30th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Battles, Indians, Patriots, Pennsylvania, Slocum, Frances, Wyoming Massacre

“. . . descended with him, without repining”

It is not fair to MARY WHITE MORRIS, or you the reader, to abandon her without giving some information about subsequent events in her life.

The Morrises were among the first families of Philadelphia after the Revolution, entertaining the nation’s leaders as well as distinguished visitors and diplomats from abroad. During the constitutional convention held there in 1787, George Washington stayed at the Morris House— Robert Morris made the motion for Washington to preside over the convention. After the Constitution was ratified, Morris was chosen by the Pennsylvania legislature to be one of its two senators in the new government.

Martha Washington did not attend her husband’s inauguration as president in April 1789 in New York City but subsequently made her way north, honored and feted along the way. She stayed for several days with Mary Morris in Philadelphia, who then accompanied her to New York where Mary was present at the first levée held by Mrs. Washington in May.

Robert Morris declined the position of Secretary of the Treasury which President Washington had offered him, preferring to tend to his personal business. When the capital of the United States was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, Morris gave up his house to the President and moved to an adjacent dwelling. The hot air balloon described in an earlier post was launched from his back garden in 1793. At the end of his second term in 1797, Washington gave a farewell dinner at which he presented Mrs. Morris with a portrait miniature of himself.

During this period Robert Morris’ financial troubles multiplied as a result of excessive spending and bad investments. He rashly speculated in western lands in several states and overextended himself right before the Panic of 1796-97. His creditors caught up with him and in 1798 he was sent to debtor’s prison in Philadelphia where he remained for more than three years. Mary, the loyal wife, visited her husband daily and often took dinner with him. Morris was released from prison in 1801 with the passage of a new bankruptcy law. Gouverneur Morris (no relation), perhaps the closest of their family friends, arranged for Mary to have an annuity of $1500 a year that allowed the pair to live in modest circumstances until Morris’ death in 1806.

Lafayette, touring the United States in 1824, visited Mary in Philadelphia and at his invitation she attended the ball given in his honor. Mary died in 1827 at the age of 78. This passage taken from her obituary describes her well: Morris’ “deceased widow, after having enjoyed with him without arrogance the wealth and the honours of the early and middle years of his life, descended with him, without repining, to the privation incident to the reverses of his fortune towards the close of it.”

The portrait of Mary White Morris was painted by John Trumbull in 1790 and hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A summary of the life of Mary White Morris is included in an ADDRESS delivered in 1877, which includes the obituary.

Look for … “The fall . . . is the grandest sight imaginable”

Do check out the online Journal of the American Revolution. An article I wrote about Niagara Falls titled “The fall . . . is the grandest sight imaginable” will be published in the August edition. It includes descriptions of the Falls by several visitors, both men and women (among them Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin, Anne Powell, and Elizabeth Simcoe) who journeyed to see the cataract that was already famous in the eighteenth century. I’m sure you will find other items to pique your interest.

“Balloon mania”

The Montgolfier brothers launched their first balloon (powered by hot air) in June of 1783. Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers, Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis, launched a hydrogen balloon from the Champs de Mars in Paris on August 27, 1783 before a huge crowd of onlookers. The balloon landed 45 kilometers away where it was attacked and destroyed by frightened peasants with pitchforks.
Another Montgolfier balloon, this time carrying sheep, a duck, and a rooster in a basket attached to the balloon, rose into the sky on September 19. The craft landed safely with the animals no less the worse for wear.
These successes spawned a slew of subsequent flights by various engineers and inventors, with human passengers, across the English Channel in 1785 and in 1793 in Philadelphia, the launch of which was watched by George Washington. There were accidents, of course, the first in Ireland in 1785 in which the balloon crashed and nearly destroyed the town of Tullamore by fire.

Percy Bysshe Shelley composed this Sonnet:

To a balloon, laden with Knowledge

Bright ball of flame that thro the gloom of even
Silently takest thine etherial way
And with surpassing glory dimmst each ray
Twinkling amid the dark blue Depths of Heaven
Unlike the Fire thou bearest, soon shall thou
Fade like a meteor in surrounding gloom
Whilst that unquencheable is doomed to glow
A watch light by the patriots lonely tomb
A ray of courage to the opprest & poor,
A spark tho’ gleaming on the hovel’s hearth
Which thro the tyrants gilded domes shall roar
A beacon in the darkness of the Earth
A Sun which oer the renovated scene
Shall dart like Truth where Falshood yet has been.

Not everyone welcomed this fascination with flight. One author wrote: “Let us leave to each its domain,/ God made the skies for the birds;/ To the fishes, He gave the waters./ And to the humans, the Earth./ Let us cultivate it, my dear friends.”
But the balloon craze hit hard and was reflected in dress and hair styles, fashion accessories like cuff links and fans, furniture and snuff boxes, as well as many commemorative objects. And it was the subject of satire. Here are some examples.

You can even buy fabric (below on right) depicting airborne balloons for your walls today at 78 £ per meter.

posted July 20th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements, Art, Fashion, France, Paris, Philadelphia, Poetry, Washington, George

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