Welcome to In the Words of Women, a new blog and a newly published book.

Like a trailer for the primary source material collected in the book, this blog serves as an invitation … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

These women 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 which issues are being featured. To subscribe via email, click here. Click the many topics to the right to learn more. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your explorations.

“I have spent this morning in reading . . . “

Fragments of the Journal of a Young Lady of Virginia, written by Lucinda Lee Orr to her friend Polly on visits to relatives and friends in Lower Virginia in 1782, show that reading novels had become a pastime of young women and a subject of their correspondence.
From “The Wilderness”, residence of John Grymes, Esq.(one of this family was Gen. Robert Lee’s grandmother) Orr writes to “my dearest Polly” on September 20.

I have spent this morning in reading Lady Julia Mandeville, and was much affected. Indeed, I think I never cried more in my life reading a Novel: the stile is beautiful, but the tale is horrid. I reckon you have read it. Some one just comes to tell us A Mr. Masenbird and Mr. Spotswood is come. We must go down, but I am affraid both Sister’s and my eyes will betray us.

Orr writing from “Belleview”, residence of Thomas Ludwell Lee to Polly

Sept. 25
The Company is all gone, and I have seated myself to converse with my Polly. Mrs. A. Washington has lent me a new Novel, called Victoria. I can’t say I admire the Tale, though I think it prettyly told. There is a verse in it I wish you much to read. I believe, if I a’n't too Lazy, I will copy it off for you: the verse is not very butifull, but the sense is, I assure you.

Lucinda writing from Chantilly, the residence of Richard H. Lee.

October 6
I have been very agreeably entertained this evening, reading a Novel called Malvern Dale. It is something like Evelina, though not so pretty.

I have a piece of advice to give you, which I have before urged—that is, to read something improving. Books of instruction will be a thousand times more pleasing [after a little while] than all the novels in the World. I own myself, I am too fond of Novel-reading; but, by accustoming myself to reading other Books, I have become less so, and I wish my Polly to do the same.

Writing from Lee Hall, the residence of Richard Lee.

To-day is rainy and disagreeable, which will prevent their comeing from Bushfield. I have entertained myself all day reading Telemachus. It is really delightful, and very improveing. Just as I have seated myself they are come to tell me tea is ready. Farewell.

Nov. 5
I have, for the first time in my life, just read Pope’s Eloiza. Just now I saw it laying in the Window. I had heard my Polly extol it frequently, and curiosity lead me to read it. I will give you my opinion of it: the poetry I think beautiful, but do not like some of the sentiments. Some of Eloiza’s is too Ammorous for a female, I think.

Nov. 12
We are going to seat ourselves and hear Mr. Pinkard read a Novel.

Lucinda Lee Orr’s Journal had been printed and published For the benefit of the Lee Memorial Association of Richmond ( Baltimore: John Murphy and Company, 1871). The Journal can be found online HERE.The History of Lady Julia Mandeville by Frances Brooke is written as a series of letters by the widow Lady Anne Wlmot and Harry Mandeville. It was published in 1763. The book can be read HERE. You can read hear it read HERE. The illustration is on the cover of a recent edition.

posted July 21st, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements, Poetry

“my heart . . . almost burst through my bosom, to meet him”

Charlotte Chambers (see previous post) wrote a particularly interesting letter to her mother on February 25, 1795. In it she describes the celebrations in Philadelphia on the 22nd in honor of George Washington’s birthday as well as her introduction to both the President and his wife.

The morning of the ” twenty-second” was ushered in by the discharge of heavy artillery. The whole city was in commotion, making arrangements to demonstrate their attachment to our beloved President. The Masonic, Cincinnati, and military orders united in doing him honor. Happy republic! great and glorious! . . . Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, with Dr. Spring, called for me in their coach. Dr. Rodman, master of ceremonies, met us at the door, and conducted us to Mrs. Washington. She half arose as we made our passing compliments. She was dressed in a rich silk, but entirely without ornament, except the animation her amiable heart gives to her countenance. Next her were seated the wives of the foreign ambassadors, glittering from the floor to the summit of their head-dress. One of the ladies wore three large ostrich-feathers. Her brow was encircled by a sparkling fillet of diamonds; her neck and arms were almost covered with jewels, and two watches were suspended from her girdle, and all reflecting the light from a hundred directions. Such superabundance of ornament struck me as injudicious; we look too much at the gold and pearls to do justice to the lady. However, it may not be in conformity to their individual taste thus decorating themselves, but to honor the country they represent.

The seats were arranged like those of an amphitheatre, and cords were stretched on each side of the room, about three feet from the floor, to. preserve sufficient space for the dancers. We were not long seated when General Washington entered, and bowed to the ladies as he passed round the room. ” He comes, he comes, the hero comes!” I involuntarily but softly exclaimed. When he bowed to me, I could scarcely resist the impulse of my heart, that almost burst through my bosom, to meet him. The dancing soon after commenced. Mr. John Woods, Mr. John Shippen, Lawrence Washington, and Col. Hartley enlivened the time by their attentions, and to them I was much indebted for the pleasure of the evening.

Next morning I received an invitation by my father from Mrs. Washington to visit her, and Col. Hartley politely offered to accompany me to the next drawing-room levee.

On this evening my dress was white brocade silk, trimmed with silver, and white silk, high-heeled shoes, embroidered with silver, and a light blue sash, with silver cord and tassel tied at the left side. My watch was suspended at the right, and my hair was in its natural curls. Surmounting all was a small white hat and white ostrich-feather, confined by brilliant band and buckle. Punctual to the moment, Col. Hartley, in his chariot, arrived. . . . The hall, stairs, and drawing-room of the President’s house were well lighted by lamps and chandeliers. Mrs. Washington, with Mrs. Knox, sat near the fire-place. Other ladies were seated on sofas, and gentlemen stood in the centre of the room conversing. On our approach, Mrs. Washington arose and made a courtesy—the gentlemen bowed most profoundly—and I calculated my declension to her own with critical exactness.

The President soon after, with that benignity peculiarly his own, advanced, and I arose to receive and return his compliments with the respect and love my heart dictated. He seated himself beside me, and inquired for my father, a severe cold having detained him-at home. . . .
C. C.

Subsequently, Charlotte was invited to spend the day with Mrs. Washington.

I have but few moments to spare. Engagements abroad and company at home occupy my time; and such is the variety of Philadelphia, every day brings some new pursuit, and is passed in the perpetual rotation of what is termed pleasure. Everywhere I experience those attentions which render my excursions from the city, and my visits in it, invariably pleasing.

In a previous letter, I wrote of being at the President’s, and my admiration of Mrs. Washington. Yesterday, Col. Proctor informed me that her carriage was at the door, and a servant inquiring for me. After the usual compliments and some conversation, she gave me a pressing invitation to spend the day with her; and so perfectly friendly were her manners, I found myself irresistibly attached to her. On taking leave, she observed a portrait of the President hanging over the fire-place, and said ” She had never seen a correct likeness of General Washington. The only merit the numerous portraits of him possessed was their resemblance to each other.” . . . I must finish this letter to-morrow, as the carriage has arrived, and I am engaged to accompany Dr. Bedford, Gen. and Mrs. Neville, and my father to the theatre.
Adieu, devotedly,
C. C.

Charlotte’s letter can be found in her Memoir by her grandson Lewis H. Garrard (Philadelphia: Printed for the Author, 1856), pages 14-16.

posted July 17th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes, Entertaining, Fashion, George Washington, Martha Washington, Philadelphia

“. . . a dangerous amusement for young ladies!”

I have become enchanted by a young woman named Charlotte Chambers. She was the second daughter of General James Chambers and Catherine Hamilton. A supporter of the Patriot cause, James Chambers served with the Pennsylvania infantry during the Revolution and wrote informative letters to his wife from his various postings. He returned to his home in Pennsylvania in 1781, volunteered again during the Whiskey Rebellion, served as a judge in Franklin County, and was made a brigadier-general in the militia raised in readiness for a possible war with the French that never happened. All the while his wife, as did many women, kept the home fires burning.

Their daughter Charlotte by all accounts was attractive, intelligent, and witty as her frequent letters to her mother during visits to friends and relatives attest. I especially like this one written from Woodbine while on a visit to her aunt and uncle, the Ewings, near Columbia on the Susquehanna River. In it she defends the reading of novels, an increasingly popular pastime among young women.

May 4, 1792.MY DEAR MOTHER:—
The first of March I arrived at Woodbine. How dreary was the scene! cold stormy winds, naked hills, muddy roads and pensive hours. Now rosy-footed May, ushered by gentle zephyrs, has clothed the fields in fragrant verdure. The birds warble melodiously through the blooming grove, and the time glides imperceptibly by in cheerful friendship.
At dinner to-day the reading of novels was denounced without mercy, as an unprofitable waste of time and a dangerous amusement for young ladies! I became for the occasion a champion in the defence as a means of rational entertainment, and inquired if they had ever known an instance of very great injury resulting from the perusal of fiction? They were obliged to confess they had not. I am sure history affords many instances of heroic exploits, tender attachments, inviolable friendships, as suddenly commenced, and perhaps as imprudently, as can be found in the field of fiction. If such examples are dangerous, young ladies should not read history, for truth must make a greater impression than fable! I would as soon be compelled to subsist on meat, without fruit or vegetables, as to be confined exclusively to sober matter of fact study. In ancient history we read of obscure barbarians rising to fame and glory by force of arms, with the horrid accompaniments of carnage, cruel oppression, massacre, envy, despair, revenge, and death! until we almost contemplate the human species with abhorrence; and can scarcely forbear pronouncing it a race of monsters only tamed by art. Even in books of travel, we read of arid deserts, burning sands, frozen seas, ferocious animals, poisonous serpents, stinging scorpions; and every variety of human misery. How delightful after those repulsive scenes are the pages of a well written novel or poem; where in the luxuriant images of peaceful valleys, virtuous peasantry, shady groves, roses, myrtle, love and friendship, we become reconciled to life.
I fear, dear mother, you will pronounce my opinions heterodox.
Your devoted daughter

Charlotte’s letter can be found in her Memoir by her grandson Lewis H. Garrard (Philadelphia: Printed for the Author, 1856) on page 12-13.

posted July 14th, 2014 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Amusements

“the first martyr for the common good”

Black poet Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem about the four men killed by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre—a fifth died the next day— (see previous post). These men are considered to be the first martyrs to the American cause. But Wheatley wrote another poem about about a boy whom she called “the first martyr for the common good”. In “On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder’d by Richardson,” she gives an account of a boy named Christopher Snider (or Seider), killed two weeks before the Massacre.

Ebenezer Richardson was an informer for the British who passed along the names of Americans who were smuggling goods into the country without paying duties. On February 22, 1770, surrounded by an angry mob and fearing for his life, Richardson fired into the crowd killing Christopher Snider, a boy of eleven or twelve, the son of a German immigrant. Here is what Wheatley wrote.

In heavens eternal court it was decreed
Thou the first martyr for the common good
Long hid before, a vile infernal here
Prevents Achilles in his mid career
Where’er this fury darts his Pois’nous breath
All are endanger’d to the shafts of death
The generous Sires beheld the fatal wound
Saw their young champion gasping on the ground
They rais’d him up but to each present ear
What martial glories did his tongue declare
The wretch appal’d no longer can despise
But from the Striking victim turns his eyes—
When this young martial genius did appear
The Tory chief no longer could forbear.
Ripe for destruction, see the wretches doom
He waits the curses of the age to come
In vain he flies, by Justice Swiftly chaced
With unexpected infamy disgraced
By Richardson for ever banish’d here
The grand Usurpers bravely vaunted Heir.
We bring the body from the watry bower
To lodge it where it shall remove no more
Snider behold with what Majestic Love
The Illustrious retinue begins to move
With Secret rage fair freedom’s foes beneath
See in thy corse ev’n Majesty in Death.

Wheatley’s poem can be found HERE.

posted July 10th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Boston, Patriots, Poetry, Resistance to British

“Dear to your Country shall your Fame extend”

Phillis Wheatley, considered the first black poet in America (see posts concerning her here, here, here, and here), was an enslaved servant who at the age of seventeen was living in Boston with her owners, the Wheatleys, on the corner of King Street and Mackeral Lane not far from where the Boston Massacre took place on March 5, 1770. A poem attributed to her, “On the Affray in King Street, on the Evening of the 5th of March 1770” was published in the Boston Evening-Post on March 12. Her sympathies clearly lie with the Patriot cause. A transcription follows the image.

With Fire enwrapt, surcharged with sudden Death,
Lo, the pois’d Tube convolves it’s fatal Breath!
The flying Ball with heav’n-directed Force.
Rids the free Spirit of it’s fallen Corse.
Well fated Shades! let no unmanly Tear
From Pity’s Eye, distain your honour’d Bier:
Lost to their View, surviving Friends may mourn,
Yet o’er thy Pile shall Flames celestial burn;
Long as in Freedom’s Cause the Wise contend.
Dear to your Country shall your Fame extend;
While to the World, the letter’d Stone shall tell,
How Caldwell, Attucks, Grey and Mav’rick fell.

James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks (a mulatto), Samuel Grey, and Samuel Maverick, referred to in the poem, died immediately. A fifth, Patrick Carr, died the next day.

The image is from the Boston Evening-Post, 12 March 1770.

posted July 7th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Boston, Patriots, Poetry, Slaves

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