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.

“he will make thee a good husband”

After DOLLEY PAYNE TODD recovered from yellow fever and the death of her husband and her younger son in 1793 she began to be seen in Philadelphia society once again. Soon she received a note from a friend conveying a request from Aaron Burr that she meet James Madison who very much wanted make her acquaintance. The two met at her home and soon the attentions of the “great little Madison” (he was 5′ 4″) resulted in talk of an engagement. According to a memoir compiled by Dolley’s grand niece the rumor reached the President and Mrs. Washington. The niece recounted a conversation said to have taken place when Mrs. Todd and Martha Washington met.

“Dolly,” said Mrs. Washington, “is it true that you are engaged to James Madison? ” The fair widow, taken aback, answered stammeringly, *’No,” she “thought not.” ” If it is so,” Mrs. Washington continued, “do not be ashamed to confess it: rather be proud; he will make thee a good husband, and all the better for being so much older. We both approve of it; the esteem and friendship existing between Mr. Madison and my husband is very great, and we would wish thee to be happy.”

It seems there was substance to the rumor. Dolley and James Madison were married in September of 1794 in her sister’s home, Harewood, in Virginia. After the wedding celebration the couple resided in the Madison home, Montpelier, but by the end of the year they were back in Philadelphia. At Madison’s request Dolley shed her Somber Quaker attire and joined in the gaiety of the Philadelphia social scene.

Source: The Memoirs and Letters of Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, President of the United States, edited by her Grand-Niece (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., The Riverside Press, Cambridge: 1886) 14-17. Dolley’s portrait, dated 1804, is by Gilbert Stuart and is in the Library of Congress.

posted September 22nd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Courtship, Madison, Dolley, Madison, James, Marriage, Washington, George, Washington, Martha

“the Dear Wife of my Bosom”

DOLLEY PAYNE TODD MADISON, who is best known as the wife of President James Madison, was born Dorothy (or Dorothea) Payne in North Carolina to Quaker parents in 1768, the fourth of eight children. See an earlier post here. Her father was a planter who, when he emancipated his slaves, moved his family, first to Virginia, and then, in 1783, to Philadelphia where he established a laundry starch-making business. When the venture failed, and following her husband’s death in 1792, Mrs. Payne for a time took in boarders, among whom was Aaron Burr. When Dolley was 21 (1790) she married John Todd, a lawyer and a Quaker; they, along with Dolley’s youngest sister Anna, lived in this brick house in Philadelphia. In 1793 when the city was struck by a yellow fever epidemic, John sent Dolley and their two small children to the country while he remained in the city. Sadly, he died as did their three-month-old son William Temple. By the terms of her husband’s will Dolley inherited their house and the property enumerated below. Todd’s will read:

I give and devise all my estate, real and personal, to the Dear Wife of my Bosom, and first and only Woman upon whom my all and only affections were placed, Dolly Payne Todd, her heirs and assigns forever, trusting that as she proved an amiable and affectionate wife to her John she may prove an affectionate mother to my little Payne, and the sweet Babe with which she is now enceinte. My last prayer is may she educate him in the ways of Honesty, tho’ he may be obliged to beg his Bread, remembering that will be better to him than a name and riches.—I appoint my dear wife executrix of this my will.
John Todd, Jr.

An inventory of the “very small estate” iincluded:

    One large Side Board
    One Settee
    Eleven Mahogany & Pine tables
    Three Looking Glasses
    Thirty-six Mahogany and Windsor chairs
    One Case of knives & forks
    And-Irons, Shovel & Tongs
    Window curtains & Window blinds
    Carpets & Floor Cloaths
    Bed, Bedstead & Bed Cloath
    Sundry Setts of China &c.
    Articles of Glass Ware & Waiters etc.
    Glass lamp, pr Scones & six pictures
    Sundry Articles of Plate & Plated ware—also Sett of Castors
    Sundry Kitchen furniture
    Desk & Book case
    An open stove
    Two Watches
    One fowling piece
    One Horse & Chair
    Library

The total value was estimated as ƒ434 5 shillings. With the addition of the house, Dolley was fairly comfortably provided for.

Source credited HERE. The inventory is taken from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Dorothy Payne, Quakeress, by Ella Kent Barnard, which can be found online HERE, pages 73-75. The image of the Todd house is at Independence Historical Park, National Park Service. The painting of Dolley Madison by Vanderlyn is at Greensboro Historical Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read the TRANSCRIPT of the Public Television production The American Experience devoted to Dolley Madison.

posted September 19th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Epidemics, Madison, Dolley, Philadelphia, Quakers, Todd, John

“I hope and pray, I may never again be left to go to sea”

ABIGAIL ADAMS continued to describe the voyage from England to Boston in a letter written at sea {May 29, 1788) to her daughter Abigail Adams Smith. Ships met in passing are “spoken to,” that is contacted for news or an exchange of letters. The Lucretia met several en route. Normally there were doctors on board to tend to the health of the crew and passengers, to deal with accidents and with injuries sustained in wars. (Dr. Stephen Maturin in the O’Brian books). One assumes that the doctor on the Lucretia delivered Mrs. Briesler’s baby. Ships’ crews also always included carpenters to repair damage to the vessel due to battles or severe weather.

My Dear Daughter:
Tis agreed by all the hands, that they never knew so blustering a May. We have met with several ships, with which we have spoken; and one morning after a very heavy wind we espied a ship in distress, having lost her masts; we steered immediately for her, and found her to be an American ship, captain M——, called the Thomas and Sally, bound to Baltimore. We lay to, and sent hands on board of her, to assist in getting up another mast. We sent our old doctor on board to bleed two men, much hurt by the fall of their masts; and Mr. Boyd [William Boyd of Portsmouth], one of our passengers, said he would go on board and see if there were any passengers; as the sea ran high I thought it was rather dangerous, but he was young and enterprising; our mate, carpenter, doctor, and four sailors, accompanied him. It was late in the afternoon before they could get back, and really at the hazard of their lives, for the wind had increased to a storm and the sea ran mountain high; we were all very anxious for them, but happily they all returned safe; Mr. Boyd bringing us an account, that there were four passengers on board, amongst whom was poor Hindman [possibly William Hindman, an American lawyer who had studied at the Inns of Court in London], almost terrified to death; but as the ship was a very good one, and they had got up a new mast, we left them, we hope, safe. We spoke the same day with a brig from London to Virginia, and an American ship from Bordeaux to Boston. For these four days past we have had finer weather, but alas no good winds, and no prospect of reaching Boston until the middle of June, if then.

You will be anxious to know how we have done: really better than my fears. With respect to myself, I have been less seasick than when I crossed before: want of sleep I have suffered more from. Your papa has been very well. But Esther you say, what have you done with her? Yesterday at five, she had a daughter, a poor little starvling, but with special lungs, old nurse Comis is just the thing, never sick, can eat and sleep, at all times, as well as any sailor on board. We got through this business much better than I feared we should. I had for the first time in my life, to dress the little animal, who was buried in its clothes. At present, we seem to want only a good wind. I am almost exhausted, and my patience wearied out; if we had been favoured with a fair wind, we should have got home before this matter took place. Brisler has been much the sickest person on board ship. I expected him to have been half nurse, instead of which, he has wanted constant nursing. I hope and pray, I may never again be left to go to sea: of all places, it is the most disagreeable, such a sameness, and such a tossing to and fro. Our passengers are agreeable; our captain is very clever; our ship very clean. We have many things to be thankful for. Adieu!
Yours,
A. A.

The Thomas and Sally, Capt. F. Dorset (Dorsett), left London on 15 April and arrived safely in Baltimore by 24 June. The Adamses arrived in Boston Harbor on June 17 and the next day there was a public reception for them after their nine-year absence from America. Read the newspaper account here.

Source: “Abigail Adams to Abigail Adams Smith, 29 May 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-08-02-0130. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 8, March 1787 – December 1789, ed. C. James Taylor, Margaret A. Hogan, Jessie May Rodrique, Gregg L. Lint, Hobson Woodward, and Mary T. Claffey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, pp. 266–269.]

posted September 12th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Adams, John, Boston, Childbirth, Ocean Voyages, Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

“on Board the ship Lucretia

My husband has macular degeneration that has affected his ability to read. But we have found ways of working around this. He listens to books borrowed from the library via the Overdrive app on our iPad. He also has earphones which he can use so as not to disturb others. Right now I can say that he is one of the best read men of my acquaintance. He reads at least one book a week ranging from spy novels to the history of the Middle East.

Added to these are the books I read aloud to him. I have always enjoyed reading aloud and we both like the sea tales of Patrick O’Brian. The high point of our day is the hour before dinner devoted to the adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin. The word pictures O’Brian paints of life at sea on a sailing vessel are technically accurate in their depiction of seamanship, the vagaries of the weather and the terrors of battle. And they are often poetic in their evocation of beauty.

In this blog I have recounted the experiences of several women who crossed the Atlantic. See a few here, here, and here. After reading O’Brian I have a better understanding of the perils they faced at sea.

ABIGAIL ADAMS kept a diary (April 20 to May 1, 1788) during her return trip from England. Herewith an excerpt from that diary. Once on board, passage was delayed by unfavorable weather and the ship was obliged to lay to. Some gentlemen and sailors daily went ashore and returned to the ship at night. Abigail was concerned about her maid [Mrs. Briesler] who was due to give birth and was seasick. As was usual, there were Sunday services on deck for all crew members, as well as passengers who wished to attend. Abigail is critical of the sermon she heard.

[O]n Sunday the 20 of April we embarked on Board the ship Lucretia Captain Callihan. . . .
The wind with which we saild scarcly lasted us 5 hours, but we continued our course untill Monday Evening when it blew such a gale that we were driven back and very glad to get into Portland Harbour. Here we have lain ever since, now 8 days, a Situation not to be desired, yet better far than we should have been either at Sea or in the downs. Whenever I am disposed to be uneasy I reflect a moment upon my preferable Situation to the poor Girl my maid, who is very near her Time, in poor Health and distressingly Sea sick, and I am then silent. I Hush every murmer, and tho much of my anxiety is on her account, I think that God will suit the wind to the shorn Lamb, that we may be carried through our difficulties better than my apprehensions. Trust in the Lord, and do good. I will endeavour to practise this precept. My own Health is better than it has been. We fortunately have a Doctor on Board, and I have taken an old woman out of kindness and given her a passage who seems kind, active and cleaver, is not Sea sick and I hope will be usefull to me. I am much better accommodated than when I came and have not sufferd so much by Sea Sickness. Want of Sleep is the greatest inconvenience I have yet sufferd but I shall not escape so. This day 3 weeks Mr. and Mrs. Smith [Nabby Adams and her husband] saild and my dear Grandson just one Year old for New York in the Thyne packet. I fear they will have a bad time as the Westerly Winds have been so strong. God protect them and give us all a happy meeting in our Native Land. We Lie Here near the Town of Weymouth, and our Gentlemen go on shore almost every day which is an amusement to them and really some to me, as they collect something or other to bring Back with them either Mental or Bodily food. This is Sunday 27 April. Mr. Murry preachd us a Sermon. The Sailors made them-selves clean and were admitted into the Cabbin, attended with great decency to His discourse from these words, “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him Guiltless that taketh His Name in vain.” He preachd without Notes and in the same Stile which all the Clergymen I ever heard make use of who practise this method, a sort of familiar talking without any kind of dignity yet perhaps better calculated to do good to such an audience, than a more polishd or elegant Stile, but in general I cannot approve of this method. I like to hear a discourse that would read well. If I live to return to America, how much shall I regreet the loss of good Dr. Prices Sermons. They were always a delightfull entertainment to me. I revered the Character and Loved the Man. Tho far from being an orator, his words came from the Heart and reached the Heart. So Humble, so diffident, so liberal and Benevolent a Character does honour to that Religion which he both professes and practises.

On Sunday Eve the wind changed in our favour, so much as to induce the Captain to come to sail. This is Thursday the first of May, but we have made very small progress, the winds have been so light; yesterday we past Sylla and are now out of sight of Land. The weather is very fine and we only want fresher winds. The confinement of a Ship is tedious and I am fully of the mind I was when I came over that I will never again try the Sea. I provided then for my return in the Resolution I took, but now it is absolute. Indeed I have seen enough of the world, small as [it?] has been, and shall be content to learn what is further to be known from the page of History. I do not think the four years I have past abroad the pleasentest part of my Life. Tis Domestick happiness and Rural felicity in the Bosom of my Native Land, that has charms for me. Yet I do not regreet that I made this excursion since it has only more attached me to America.

The above is a fragment. Abigail continued her description of the voyage in a letter to her daughter Nabby written at sea. Some of that letter in the next post. Of note: the Adamses paid ƒ200 for their passage and for the transport of their furniture.

Source: The Founders Archive.

posted September 8th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Ocean Voyages

“the Thoat distemper . . . . a terrible disease”

In a letter from London prior to the Adams’s trip to the West Country ABIGAIL ADAMS gives her sister Elizabeth Smith Shaw advice on how to deal with an outbreak of throat distemper. The term referred to infections of the throat, which were very contagious sometimes reaching epidemic proportions. Could have been diphtheria or strep throat. Women of that time were the ones who dealt with illness and nursed the sick. The go-to medical reference was Dr. Buchan’s Domestic Medicine, a copy of which Abigail had carried with her to Europe.

London july 20 [19] 1787my dear sister
I will not plead in excuse that I have not by any of the late vessels received a Line from my Sister, and on that account omit writing to her. I know she would have written to me if she had known early enough of the opportunity I hope she has before this time received all the Letters I have written to her, & the little matters I have sent her— Mrs Cranch wrote me that the Thoat distemper had broken out, with great voilence in Haverhill it is a terrible disease & frequently Baffles the Skill of the Physician. it is so infectious as to expose every person who attends the sick to it, and therefore taking large doses of the Bark in powder is considerd as a good antidote & preservative, but smoking airing washing & cleansing ever article as after the Small Pox in the natural way, is considerd here as absolutely necessary. it has been known to break out in families after the disease had quitted it, only from some infectious garment. I should have advised my sister to have Sent her children immediately out of Town. as she would from the Small Pox in the natural way burning pitch & Tar, Hot viniger, are all good purifiers of the air; I pray Heaven preserve you & yours— I want, yet feel affraid to hear, from you. I hope the warm weather will be the means of abating and removeing the disease. I am something relieved by a Letter from Dr Tufts of the 15 of june if any of my Friends had been sick, he would have mentiond it. . . .
I am my dear Sister with Sincere wishes for / your Health & happiness / your ever affectionate / Sister
A Adams

Source: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016.

posted September 1st, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Illness, Shaw, Elizabeth Smith

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