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.

“her laudable endeavors to excel”

From New York on 25th October 1794, SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY wrote to her husband John, who was in London negotiating what came to be called the Jay Treaty, about their daughter Maria’s acceptance to the Bethlehem Academy in Pennsylvania. Organized and operated by Moravians, it was one of the few schools of higher learning for girls in the United States at that time. Sarah Jay was used to making decisions on her own when her husband was away and when Maria who was twelve years old asked to attend the Academy Sarah, with the help of friends and relatives, managed to get her admitted. Sarah’s sister Susan had recently married Judge John Cleves Symmes [see posts here and here] and it was in part through his influence that Maria was accepted. It was in the couple’s custody that Maria traveled to Bethlehem.

My dr. Mr. Jay,
. . . . Last Saturday our dear little Maria went with Judge Symmes & his daughter to Morris-Town where Mrs. Symmes is, to go from thence with them in their Cochee as far as Bethlehem. In my last I inform’d you how very desirous she was of residing there 12 or 18 months as the means of promoting her Education. As we were inform’d that the school was full & that numbers had applied for admittance without obtaining it; I did not expect that she would be gratifyed; but Judge Symmes was of a different opinion; and as he was not ready for his journey when Mr. & Mrs. Arden went upon a visit to their daughters; he requested them to take charge of a letter from him to the Clergy-man there, which they did, & they have return’d; & Mrs. Arden call’d upon me to inform me that Mr. Van Vleck, the principal of the Society told her that the Clergyman told him that they could not hesitate about the reply, for that the Society were under obligations to Judge Symmes for past favors which ought never to be obliterated, & to the chief Justice of the U. States [John Jay] for past & present exertions for the Welfare of the Union; & that therefore his family merited the Assistance of those who were capable of being useful to them.

As Mrs. A[rden] was very desirous of Maria’s being there, she was kind enough to impress them with a favorable opinion of her understanding, representing her as a young Lady that was willing to forego the indulgences her situation in Life afforded, merely to derive advantage from retirement & application. She has acquired great éclat among her friends here likewise who know it to be her own choice. May a kind Providence be propitious to her laudable endeavors to excel. Little Ann [the Jays' younger daughter] is very industrious at home. I did not wish her to accompany her sister, but if I had, she could not have been prevail’d upon to quit me. She is setting by me studying her french. The Children all behave well, enjoy perfect health & are very chearful. Yourself & Peter [Peter Augustus, the eldest of the Jay children who had accompanied his father to London] are the constant theme of our conversation. . . .

Once more, my dearest Mr. Jay receive the Adieus of
your ever affecte. Wife
Sa. Jay

Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay, compiled and edited by Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, and Janet M. Wedge (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2005), 236. The portrait of Maria, dated 1798, is by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin and is in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.

“to relieve a sisters anxiety”

SUSAN LIVINGSTON SYMMES had written a letter to her husband-to-be in 1794 before their marriage referring to the state of her finances and her intention to repay her sister Kitty for money she had borrowed.

Feby 10– Baltimore [17]94Permit me my friend once more to intrude upon your patience & waste so much of your time as to endeavor to clear myself of the heavy charges brought against me in your letter of the 4th february.

I never manifested any distrust of your circumstances, in the first letter you wrote me, you said your fortune was sufficient & I had the fullest confidence in your word.—what I proposed respecting mine was merely to relieve a sisters anxiety whose income was insufficient without the addition of mine, and judging it could be no object with you: how this can be construed into self love I cannot see. I think it would have been an act of great generosity in both of us. I am sorry you are obliged to recur to ages back to find love matches. I see them daily among my acquaintances, altho in many cases previous settlements & stipulations take place, either at the request of parents, friends or the desire of the gentleman. doubtless many connections are founded in interest—for my own part I never would give my hand where I was not attached upon any consideration. I think an Union founded on esteem promises the most happiness, as that will remain when passion declines: I am sorry you have so mistaken my Ideas upon the subject, and still more, that having been flattered with your good opinion, I should be so unfortunate as to forfeit it. as to the plan of living at Morris about a twelve month & then to be fetched to the Miamis, and after a few years residence there (to arrange your affairs) to return to Jersey, it was precisely your own plan the morning of your departure do you not recollect that you said you would write to Mr [Peyton] Short [Cleves son-in-law] to come to Morris & you would protract your stay as long as possible—and when in your last but one you talked of gardening, I presumed you meant at Morris—I have only one proposal more to make, which is that you do just as you wish in the matter. Your will shall be mine. I know not what more I can say. If you choose to go alone to the miamis—my best wishes shall accompany you. Indeed my friend your letter has wounded my feelings more than ever I expected they would have been by you. Since mine has offended you forget the contents, and be assured I erred with the best intentions in consequence of a promise made Mrs R. before I thought of changing my situation; However that may be, in this I am clear that I am with esteem & affection your friend

John Cleves Symmes tried to use Susan’s letter to assert his claim that she had given him control of her finances and did not have the authority to repay her sister. He failed. In 1808, after living several years in Ohio, Susan Livingston Symmes left her husband and returned to the East. Although she did not divorce him she lived apart from him in New York until his death in 1814. Susan died in 1840 and is buried in Stockbridge, New York, in what is known as the Sedgwick Pie. It gets its name from its shape and layout. The family patriarch, Theodore Sedgwick, and his wife lie in the center; family members, relatives, servants, pets, etc. are arranged in concentric circles around him.

American Women Writers to 1800, Sharon M. Harris – editor, (New York: Oxford University Press,1996), 92-94.

posted December 1st, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Marriage, Ohio, Sedgwick Pie, Symmes, John Cleves, Symmes, Susan Livingston

“The transition was great indeed!”

John Cleves Symmes’ land in Ohio called the Symmes Purchase was poorly surveyed and badly managed; portions were sold to settlers before Symmes and his associates had finalized the contract for them. Meanwhile Symmes went about building a home in North Bend, Ohio, during which time Susan Livingston Symmes and Symmes’ daughter Anna went to stay with her older sister Maria Short in Lexington, Kentucky. There Anna Tuthill Symmes met William Henry Harrison and fell in love. The couple married in 1795. Harrison went on to become President of the United States.

SUSAN LIVINGSTON SYMMES became disappointed in her marriage rather quickly. Her husband did not consult her on their place of residence nor did he honor his promise to allow her to visit Morristown frequently. He also sought control of the money she brought to the marriage and decided that she could not “receive the interest or transfer the Stock” at her own discretion; she had wanted to use her money to repay her sister Kitty Livingston Ridley for debts incurred before her marriage. Susan contacted an attorney for assistance but it turned out that the lawyer was a friend of her husband’s who violated client confidentiality by passing along information to her spouse. Here is the letter she wrote to Judge Robert Morris at New Brunswick.

North Bend March 4, 1796Sir
I feel myself greatly embarrassed, & distressed at addressing a Gentleman so much a Stranger to me, & upon so delicate a subject, & nothing but my confidence in the benevolence of your disposition; & the apparent necessity for vindicating my own & Sisters character should have induced me to trouble you upon this occasion—Happening to cast my eye this morning over a paper that the Judges’s [Symmes] nephew was reading, & observing my own name, it excited a curiosity to join in the perusal, when to my surprise I found it to be a letter from the Judge in answer to one of yours respecting Mrs. R. [Ridley's] business; in which I find he labours under several mistakes—It will doubtless appear singular to you, that I should not rather endeavour to convince him than you—& I think myself obliged to assign the reasons, one is, that the Judge has not been pleased to communicate your letter or his answer; tho’ the most important is, least the ungrateful subject should bring altercation, & interrupt that harmony which I wish ever to maintain–

He asserts that I transferred the 2400 dol. [to Mrs. Ridley] at Phil[adelphia], when on my way thro’ to N.Y. with him, (which was some time in June or July)—The fact is they were transferred the preceeding Spring at Baltimore, the certificates being on the books at Annapolis, could not I believe have been transfered at Phil—This transaction I acquainted Mr. S. with, no person being privy to it, tho I had no objection to its being public, & at the same time shewed him my accounts which was within a very few days after our marriage—& told him that the certificates (on the books of Pennsylvania) which I then shewed him, were Mrs. R['s], that I must make them over to her before I left the Country. His displeasure was great, he insisting upon it that it was all a gift of mine [from Kitty]—There was no more occasion to inform Mr. S. before our union that I pd. Mrs. R. than that I had pd. my other Sisters & Brothers. . . .

Mr. S. saw the account with the list of the other property I had & yet says I gave Mrs. R. three forths of my property—It was my intention to settle with her whenever stock rose that I could sell to advantage, & either divide the profits (if any accrued) with her or pay her the sums I had received on her account with interest from the time of receiving them. The Spring I made over the 2400 dollars, certificates were selling at 16s & Mrs. R. took them at par, so that she should complain if any one—I never made a mystery of any thing, I always told the Judge that my fortune was inconsiderable, but that Mrs. R. & myself by living together could be comfortable & independent—when conversing about property so shortly after our marriage he told me he had been informed I had six thousand pounds, & was greatly disappointed to find that I had not the half—that was no fault of mine—Certain it is that I have never spent a shilling either of his money or what was mine, but I have been a prudent, industrious, obedient wife, accommodating myself entirely to his manners & way of life, which are very different from what I have been accustomed to before our marriage—The transition was great indeed! & unspeakable is my mortification to find Mrs. R['s]. opinion of the Judge better founded than mine—Mrs. R. is a woman of the strictest veracity; & most rigid honor, & would not lay claim to property which was not her right. . . .

What I have said on this subject to you Sir, I have never hinted to any one of my own family—Your own delicacy will suggest to you the propriety of keeping the contents of this letter a most sacred secret—
I am Sir
With the greatest Respect
Yours—
Susan Symmes

It seems strange that Susan had not settled the matter of her money with her husband before their marriage or arranged for a prenuptial agreement; without one, according to the practice of the time, all property—real estate, stocks, money—belonging to the wife would be controlled by the husband. It is interesting that Kitty Livingston did not have a high opinion of Symmes.
Next time, the letter Susan had written earlier to John Cleves Symmes on this subject.

American Women Writers to 1800. Contributors: Sharon M. Harris – editor, (New York: Oxford University Press,1996), 92-94.

A short respite

Read more about SUSAN LIVINGSTON SYMMES in the next post which will appear on November 21. Until then I will be visiting family on the West Coast.

posted November 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Uncategorized

“Mountains—They call them Nobs here”

SUSAN LIVINGSTON SYMMES wrote again to her sister Sarah Jay in New York City describing continuing difficulties in reaching Pittsburgh where the party was to lay over for the winter, proceeding to North Bend, Ohio in the spring.

Monday 24 Novr 1794Mr dr Sister
We are thus far on our way, have come over dreadful roads & for our comfort what remains is still worse—The House where we now are & expect to remain to-day as the Horses want shoeing & is filled with Officers, they behave to us with the greatest politeness, & are in excessive spirits to be on their return, they have endured amazing hardships this campaign owing to the inclemency of the weather, & the faults in the Quarter masters Department. Gen. Frelinghuysen is to take charge of this as far as he goes & then to deposit it in the Post-Office—He says this Country looks as if the Deity had thrown all the Rocks & Stones in the whole World here & employed all the Devils to raise them into Mountains—They call them Nobs here, but to be sure the Nobs are such mountains as you never have & I hope never will see—A Gentleman who lately travelled to Pitts. said he had heard that it was hill & dale all the way, but he thought it was hill &hill & no dale. If nature had made a Gap for roads as well as for Rivers it would have been an accomodating circumstance—5 or 6 miles in advance of this we expect to strike into a different road from that which the Army is travelling, it would never do for us to encounter 500 waggons & 17000 troops, it is an important object to avoid the Army—At Morris [town, New Jersey] we took a ride of only 4 miles & broke the Axle tree of our Carriage & in all this length of way & bad-ness of roads no accident has as yet befallen us. I shall be extremely glad to write you the same from Pittsburgh—Mr. Symmes drives with great judgment, & where he thinks it most dangerous we get out of the Carriage—
I am anxious to hear from you, the accounts from mr. Jay must now be very interesting, I mean to the Public, they are always so to his friends.
God bless you all—
Our dr Susey is in perfect health, I am infinitely more uneasy on her account than my own, if it was not for her, I should travel on horseback, I can’t trust her in the Carnage without myself—This is the 4th scrawl I have forwarded to you since our journey commenced—
Nancy begs to be remembred, she is a very amiable girl, & a great comfort to me—My best love to Sister Ridley [Kitty Livingston Ridley] & our dr Nancy [Sarah’s Jay’s daughter Ann] & beleive me with the truest Affection yours—
Susan Symmes

We have a very strict Negro fellow in our retinue that shall carry Susey over the worst places—

The letter is part of the Jay Papers, Columbia Rare Books & Manuscripts Order no. 402136C.


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