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.

“The Girl she has with her, wants more care than the child”

After five weeks at sea, Polly Jefferson and Sally Hemings (see previous post) arrived in London. Thomas Jefferson was not on hand to greet them, having sent Adrien Petit in his place with orders to bring them to Paris. Abigail Adams was living in London at the time with her husband John who was Ambassador from the United States to Great Britain. She welcomed Polly and her companion and cared for them in Jefferson’s absence. In the following letter she chastised Jefferson for his behavior, albeit in diplomatic language, and provides a lovely description of the precocious Polly.

London july 6, 1787My Dear Sir
If I had thought you would so soon have Sent for your dear little Girl, I should have been tempted to have kept her arrival here, from you a secret. I am really loth to part with her, and she last evening upon [Adrien] Petit’s arrival [who was to take her to Jefferson], was thrown into all her former distresses, and bursting into Tears, told me it would be as hard to leave me as it was her Aunt Epps. She has been so often deceived that She will not quit me a moment least She should be carried away. . . She says she does not remember you, yet she has been taught to consider you with affection and fondness, and depended upon your comeing for her. She told me this morning, that as She had left all her Friends in virginia to come over the ocean to see you, She did think you would have taken the pains to come here for her, & not have sent a man whom She cannot understand. I express her own words. . . .
She is a child of the quickest Sensibility, and the maturest understanding, that I ever met with for her years. She has been 5 weeks at Sea, and with men only, so that on the first day of her arrival, She was as rough as a little Sailor, and then She been decoyed from the Ship, which made her very angry, and no one having any Authority over her; I was apprehensive I should meet with Some trouble, but where there are such materials to work upon as I have found in her, there is no danger. She listened to my admonitions, and attended to my advice and in two days, was restored to the amiable lovely Child which her Aunt had formed her. In short She is the favorite of every creature in the House, and I cannot but feel Sir, how many pleasures you must lose by committing her to a convent. Yet Situated as you are, you cannot keep her with you. The Girl she has with her [Sally Hemings], wants more care than the child, and is wholy incapable of looking properly after her, without Some Superiour to direct her.
As both miss Jefferson & the maid had cloaths only proper for the Sea, I have purchased & made up for them, Such things as I should have done had they been my own; to the amount of Eleven or 12 Guineys. . . .
I have not the Heart to force her into a Carriage against her will and send her from me almost in a Frenzy; as I know will be the case, unless I can reconcile her to the thoughts of going . . . Books are her delight, and I have furnished her out a little library, and She reads to me by the hour with great distinctness, & comments on what She reads with much propriety. . . . A. Adams

On July 16 Abigail wrote her sister Mary Cranch about Polly Jefferson.

My dear Sister,
. . . . I have had with me for a fortnight a little daughter of Mr. Jefferson’s, who arrived here with a young negro girl, her servant, from Virginia. Mr. Jefferson wrote me some months ago that he expected them, and desired me to receive them. I did so, and was amply repaid for my trouble. A finer child of her acre I never saw. So mature an understanding, so womanly a behaviour, and so much sensibility, united, are rarely to be met with. I grew so fond of her, and she was so attached to me, that, when Mr. Jefferson sent for her, they were obliged to force the little creature away. She is but eight years old. She would sit sometimes, and describe to me the parting with her aunt who brought her up, the obligations she was under to her, and the love she had for her little cousins, till the tears would stream down her cheeks ; and how I had been her friend, and she loved me. Her papa would break her heart by making her go again. She clung round me so that I could not help shedding a tear at parting with her. She was the favorite of every one in the house. I regret that such fine spirits must be spent in the wall of a convent. She is a beautiful girl, too.

When Polly arrived in Paris on July 15, she did not recognize her sister but, as Jefferson reported, “recollected something of me” when the three were reunited. The Jefferson family returned to America in 1789. More about Sally Hemings in the next post.

Abigail’s letter can be found on pages 234-35 of In the Words of Women Her letter to her sister can be found HERE.

posted January 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Adams, John, Children, Hemings, Sally, Jefferson, Mary "Polly", London

Patsy and Polly Jefferson; Mary and Sally Hemings

Please see the corrected version of the previous post on Martha Jefferson Randolph, another post about her here and, since the subject has come up, further information on the Hemings.

Thomas Jefferson, made his daughter Martha, known as “Patsy”, a wedding present of eight slaves, when she married Thomas M. Randolph, Jr., as was mentioned in the previous post. One of the slaves was Molly Hemings, a child of Mary Hemings, a slave in the household of Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles. The daughter of Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings, Mary was fathered by John Wayles, as were Betty’s other children, including Sally Hemings. When Wayles died, his slaves were inherited by his daughter, Jefferson’s wife Martha, and joined the Jefferson household at Monticello.

In 1785, Jefferson was appointed minister to France. While he was in Paris his slave Mary Hemings was hired out to Thomas Bell (a common practice) who later purchased and freed her. Mary became his common-law wife (marriage between whites and blacks was against Virginia law) and bore him two children whom he acknowledged and freed. When Bell died he left considerable property to Mary who lived out her life in comfort. Her older children, of whom Molly was one, remained slaves at Monticello. Molly was gifted to Patsy and a son, Daniel was given to Jefferson’s sister. Sally, however, was destined for a different life.

When Jefferson left for Paris he took his daughter Patsy with him but left his younger child Mary, known as “Polly,” with relatives in Virginia. Jefferson decided in 1786 that he wanted Polly to join him in Paris. Polly did not want to go, as is clear from this pitiful letter she wrote to her father.

Dear Papa [ca. 22 May 1786]I long to see you, and hope that you and sister Patsy are well; give my love to her and tell her that I long to see her, and hope that you and she will come very soon to see us. I hope you will send me a doll. I am very sorry that you have sent for me. I don’t want to go to France, I had rather stay with Aunt [Elizabeth Wayles] Eppes. . . .
Your most happy and dutiful daughter Polly Jefferson

Despite her protestations, Jefferson decided that 9-year-old Polly must join him and that the slave Sally Hemings, then 14 years old, should escort her to Paris. The child was tricked into going aboard a vessel (supposedly to visit friends) and fell asleep. When she awoke, to her dismay, she found herself on the high seas. On arrival In London, Abigail Adams took the pair into her care. For Abigail’s reaction see the next post.

Polly’s letter can be found on page 234 of In the Words of Women. Information about Sally Hemings can be found HERE, and more about Mary Hemings HERE.

“more sickness than I ever saw in a family in my life”

At this season in 2015, when the flu is widespread given the ineffectiveness of this year’s vaccine, one need only look back at the incidence of illness during the eighteenth century to realize how much better our situation is.

Martha “Patsy” Jefferson, daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles, was tall and slender with red hair and freckles. She had accompanied her father to Paris, when he was named American minister to France, and attended a nearby convent school. In 1790 she married Thomas M. Randolph, Jr. who later became governor of Virginia. Her father gave the newlyweds eight slaves as a gift. Patsy was devoted to her father and kept him informed of the goings-on at Monticello and her own plantation, Belmont. In 1798, she described in a letter to him the widespread illness that prevailed there.

January 22nd, 1798It was with infinite pleasure that we learned you had got the better of your cold and were at least comfortably if not agreeably fixed for the winter. It is much more than we can boast of, for the extreme dampness of the situation and an absolute want of offices of every kind to shelter the servants whilst in the performance of their duties, have occasioned more sickness than I ever saw in a family in my life. Pleurisies, rhumatism and every disorder proceeding from cold have been so frequent that we have scarcely had [anyone] at any one time well enough to attend the sick.

Martha Jefferson Randolph served as her father’s hostess when he was president. Her son, James Madison Randolph, was the first child born in the White House.

The excerpt above can be found on page 164 of In the Words of Women. The portrait is by Thomas Sully, done in 1836 when Martha was sixty-four years old. It appears on this website.

posted January 22nd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Health, Jefferson, Martha "Patsy", Jefferson, Thomas

Fraktur, Pennsylvania Folk Art

The illustration on the left introduces Part III of In the Words of Women—”Women in the Emerging Nation”. Titled “Laedy Waschington,” it is the oddest and most quirky image of Martha Washington you are likely to see. An example of folk art called Fraktur, it is peculiar to the German-American community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The term derives from the Latin word for “broken,” which refers to lettering characterized by many angles. Practitioners dashed off illustrations in vibrant colors on single pages of paper commemorating important events in the lives of ordinary individuals such as marriages and baptisms, decorating them with hearts and flowers, stars and birds, whatever struck their fancy.

A recent article in The New York Times, “Drawn, Elaborately” lists a number of exhibits and auctions soon to open featuring Fraktur at places like Winterthur, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and on January 24, the Winter Antiques Show in Manhattan. Few of the artists can be identified by name and are most often referred to by their motifs, as in the Ruffled Tulip Artist, or their subjects—the illustrator of “Laedy Waschington” is The Sussel-Washington Artist.

The example of Fraktur on the right, titled “New Year’s Wish,” was created by an artist who is identified as Johann Carl Scheibeler. Its text, translated from the German is as follows:

“Jesus! To the new year. Praise to God, the new year has come once more. The entire Christian host shall praise God with prayers, the old age and youth. Let peace and unity reign at all times, that hatred and envy will disappear, that love bind, now and with this new year. O Lord! Make my wishes come true. Anno Domini 1798.

The text in left column reads “A house is beautifully adorned,” continued in the right column: “where unity reigns.”

“Laedy Waschington” is by The Sussel-Washington Artist; Berks County, Pennsylvania, ca. 1780; in watercolor and ink on paper. It is at the American Folk Art Museum, New York, gift of Ralph Esmerian. “The New Year’s Wish” is at the Free Library of Philadelphia. See more examples of Fraktur on the Free Library’s WEBSITE.

posted January 19th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art, Washington, George, Washington, Martha

“we were waked with a most delightful Serenade”

Sarah Bard accompanied her aunt Sarah DeNormandie Barton and her husband Reverend Thomas Barton to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when he was given a pulpit there. Paying visits was part of the ritual of welcome.

Lancaster 17th January 1776[After a difficult journey] Wednesday which was the day we were expected many of the Gentlemen came out to meet us, but it was Thursday evening before we got there . . . In the night we were waked with a most delightful Serenade under the window consisting of two Violins, one flute, and a hautboy played extreamly well, a Compliment to Mr. and Mrs. Barton. Saturday Mr. Barton was visited by all the Gentlemen of the place; its Customary here to send cards to all those you would wish to come and have an elegant Collation served up at twelve Clock with wine punch, &c—Yesterday Aunt made her appearance and today she receives company.

Would you believe that our Church music at Lancaster exceeds any thing you ever heard, It is entirely Vocal and performed by Soldiers [British] who have been used to sing in Cathedrals. Their voices are really heavenly, so much melody I never heard before; when they begin to sing the whole congregation rise. Uncle Barton has raised a subscription for them and they are to sing every Sunday.

The excerpt can be found on page 212 of In the Words of Women.

posted January 15th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bard, Sarah, British soldiers, Music, Pennsylvania, Religion

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