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.

Postilions

Pondering George Washington’s letter (previous post) to ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL in regard to the sale of his coach horses to her, one wonders what Washington’s coach was like, who drove it, rode the horses or accompanied it. And so this digression.

It is known that while in Philadelphia Washington kept fourteen horses, twelve in a stable behind the mansion of Robert Morris that he occupied, and two at a nearby livery stable. A coachman and two grooms cared for the horses. There were three carriages for his use. On state occasions the President rode in a large, cream-colored, richly decorated London-made coach drawn by six matched horses “brilliantly caparisoned,” attended by coachmen and footmen who wore livery in Washington’s colors of white and red-orange. The carriage no longer exists but a commemorative print made of a procession in New York City in 1872 shows this equipage.

In Philadelphia there was also a lighter carriage made by David and F. Clark that Washington used for traveling. In addition there was a phaeton for his wife.

Two postilions, slaves Giles and Paris, wore the Washington livery. Enclosed in a letter the President penned from Mount Vernon to his secretary Tobias Lear in 1790 was a thin strip of paper described thus: “The whole length of this paper is the circumference of Giles cap measured at the bottom and on the inside . . . being the exact Band of the head. . . . To the black line drawn across the paper is the size of Paris’s cap.” Washington instructed Lear to commission two “handsome” new caps, “with fuller and richer tassels at top than the old ones have.”

In a letter to Lear dated June, 1791, Washington complained about Paris who

“has become so lazy, self willed & impudent, that John [the Coachman] had no sort of government of him; on the contrary, J[un]no. say’s it was a maxim with Paris to do nothing he was ordered, and every thing he was forbid. This conduct, added to the incapacity of Giles for a Pistilion, who I believe will never be able to mount a horse again for that purpose, has induced me to find Paris some other employment than in the Stable—of course I shall leave him at home. A boy, or two may be necessary there, to assist about the horses—Carriages—& harness. but these (dutch ones) it is possible may be had for their victuals & cloaths; especially if there are large importations from Germany (as some articles in the papers say there will be)—I mention the matter now, that in case arrivals should happen before I get back, of these kind of People, you may be apprised of my wishes—low & squat (well made) boys, would suit best. If emigrants are not to be had, there can be no doubt, but that some of the Dutch Servants in the family could easily procure such as are wanted from among the Citizens—& perhaps none readier, or better than by John himself when he arrives.

Giles had had an accident which incapacitated him. Washington was considering indentured servants to help out in the stables.

“From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0193. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 275–278.] Other sources and further information HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

posted September 18th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Giles, Indentured Servants, Lear, Tobias, Paris, Powel, Elizabeth Willing, Washington, George

“the horses might repine for want of their Coach”

Here is the first page of the letter (in his own hand) that George Washington wrote to ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL describing the horses she proposed to buy. His care and concern for the animals is clear. As is his sense of humor! Powel took delivery of the six horses (previous post) but did not purchase the carriage. A transcription of the complete letter follows.

My dear Madam,

I accept your offer for my coach horses, to be delivered after the third of March in good order.

I bred them myself, and therefore cannot be mistaken in their ages; — ten and eleven is the extent. — No horses of true spirit can be more gentle; and never having received a fright are afraid of nothing. — One of them was a little unwell about a month ago, but is now perfectly recovered, and is used (as you may have perceived) whenever the carriage is out. —

No horses are better broke—none go quieter when drove by a person on the box, and I dare say would go as well with a Postilion (being perfectly good tempered) but as I never used them in that way, this is conjectural. As the leader of four (in hand) and as Pole enders with six, they are equally docile and steady. —

As the Coach would be lonesome without the horses — and the horses might repine for want of their Coach (having been wedded together seven years) you had better take both. — It is a very easy and convenient carriage for the City, but too heavy for the Road — thence I part with it; — and will let it go cheap.
Truly & affectionately
I have the honor to be
Your Most obed’t & obliged
Go Washington

Monday afternoon
6th February 1797

When six horses were used with a carriage two were the leaders, the second two were “pole enders,” and the ones nearest the carriage were “wheelers.” Washington frequently referred to his state carriage as a “chariot.”

Washington’s letter appears HERE.

posted September 14th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing, Primary sources, Washington, George

“My Coach horses, having performed (faithfully & well). . . “

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL, widowed in 1793, maintained her close friendship with George and Martha Washington throughout his second term as president. Early in 1797, as the Washingtons were dismantling their household in Philadelphia and preparing to return to Mount Vernon, Powel wrote to Washington offering to buy his town coach horses: they were, she said, for her nephew. Washington acknowledged receipt of $1000 from her and wrote the following letter to her regarding the purchase.

Monday 6th of March 1797. My dear Madam,
My Coach horses, having performed (faithfully & well) all the duties I have required of them, they are sent to you, agreeably to my promise; hoping they will be as serviceable to whomsoever they are committed, as they have been to me; and it is my wish that they may meet with a continuance of their former kind usage.

As every moment of our time while we remain in this City, will be closely employed in packing up; and as taking formal leave is not among the most pleasant circumstances of one’s life, we embrace this mode of bidding you adieu, until we shall have the pleasure of seeing you at Mount Vernon; which we hope for and shall expect.

In this farewell, I am cordially [joined] by Mrs Washington and Nelly Custis, who, with me, entreat you to be assured of the great esteem, and affectionate regard we bear you. To add anything more particular, as it respects myself, would be unnecessary; and therefore I shall conclude with wishing that you may be perfectly happy, and that I have the honor to be
Your most Obedt—obliged—and Very Hble Servant
Go: Washington

“From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 6 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0008. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 12–13.]

posted September 7th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing, Washington, George, Washington, Martha

“you are the only Man in America that dares to do right on all public Occasions”

While I knew of ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL, I confess I did not appreciate the close relationship she had with George Washington. In 1792 Washington was debating whether to serve a second term as president. He wanted to retire: Mount Vernon beckoned and his health was deteriorating. But he knew that problems were brewing at home regarding the direction the new nation should take. Abroad there was the question of how to position the United States in the impending conflict between France and England. Washington’s friends and advisers were urging him to stay on in light of these challenges. He confided his doubts to Elizabeth Powel and, in the following long letter, she sets forth the reasons why he should serve a second term. I have broken this amazing piece of writing into paragraphs to make it easier to read.

[Philadelphia] November 17th 1792My dear Sir
After I had parted with you on Thursday, my Mind was thrown into a Train of Reflections in Consequence of the Sentiments that you had confided to me. For tho’ they were not new, yet I had flattered myself that a nearer View of the Consequences that would probably ensue upon your quitting a Trust, upon the proper Execution of which the Repose of Millions might be eventually depending, would have pointed out to you the Impropriety, or to use a stronger Word, the Impracticability of carrying your Intentions into Effect—Regard for you and Anxiety for the Wellfare of our common Country, have determined me to submit to your Consideration the Thoughts which have occured to me on this Subject, and which, I think, it would be inconsistent with my Friendship for you to withold.

That you have obtained the Love, Respect and Confidence of the Citizens of the United States is a Fact as well substantiated as any that we are in Possession of; and, be assured, that I am as superior to the Meanness of Adulation as you are incapable of receiving it with Pleasure. Your honest Mind is not a Soil for it to take Root in, nor are your Ears attuned to listen, with Delight to the Syren Song of Flattery; nor, on the other Hand, do I mean to give you Pain by wounding your feelings. I well know your invincible Diffidence, and your Sensibility with respect to public Opinion; on the last therefore I must lay some Stress. Be assured that a great Deal of the well earned Popularity that you are now in Possession of will be torn from you by the Envious and Malignant should you follow the bent of your Inclinations. You know human Nature too well not to believe that you may have Enemies. Merit & Virtue, when placed on an Eminence, will as certainly attract Envy as the Magnet does the Needle. Your Resignation wou’d elate the Enemies of good Government and cause lasting Regret to the Friends of humanity. The mistaken and prejudiced Part of Mankind, that see thro’ the Medium of bad Minds, would ascribe your Conduct to unworthy Motives. They would say that you were actuated by Principles of self-Love alone—that you saw the Post was not tenable with any Prospect of adding to your Fame.

The Antifederalist would use it as an Argument for dissolving the Union, and would urge that you, from Experience, had found the present System a bad one, and had, artfully, withdrawn from it that you might not be crushed under its Ruins—that, in this, you had acted a politic Part. That a Concurrence of unparralelled fortunate Circumstances had attended you—That Ambition had been the moving spring of all your Actions—that the Enthusiasm of your Country had gratified your darling Passion to the Extent of its Ability, and that, as they had nothing more to give, you would run no farther Risque for them—that as Nature had not closed the Scene while your Carreer was glorious you had, with profound Address, withdrawn yourself from a Station that promised nothing to your Ambition, and that might eventually involve your Popularity.

The Federalists consider you as their own and glory in the Possession. They gave what a great and generous People might offer with Dignity and a noble Mind receive with Delicacy. They made no Oblation on the Altar of Idolatry or Vanity; their Offering was the Effect of Gratitude, Respect, Affection and Confidence to the Man that had, materially, assisted them in rearing and establishing the glorious Fabric of Liberty. Will you withdraw your Aid from a Structure that certainly wants your Assistance to support it? Can you, with Fortitude, see it crumble to decay? or, what is still worse behold the Monster Licentiousness, with all his horrid Attendants, exalted on its Ruins? I know you cannot you will not. But you will say that there are Abilities and Virtues in other Characters equall to the Task; admitting the Fact, it does not prove the Expediency of the Inference you have drawn from it, If there is not a Confidence in those Abilities and that Integrity they cannot be beneficially applied.

I will venture to assert that, at this Time, you are the only Man in America that dares to do right on all public Occasions. You are called to watch over the Welfare of a great People at a Period of Life when Man is capable of sustaining the Weight of Government. You have shewn that you are not to be intoxicated by Power or misled by Flattery. You have a feeling Heart, and the long Necessity of behaving with Circumspection must have tempered that native Benevolence which otherwise might make you too compliant, the Soundness of your Judgement has been evinced on many and trying Occasions, and you have frequently demonstrated that you possess an Empire over yourself. For Gods sake do not yield that Empire to a Love of Ease, Retirement, rural Pursuits, or a false Diffidence of Abilities which those that best know you so justly appreciate; nay your very Figure is calculated to inspire Respect and Confidence in the People, whose simple good Sense associates the noblest qualities of Mind with the heroic Form when it is embellished by such remarkable Tenets of Mildness and calm Benevolance—and such I believe was the first Intention of Nature. You love philosophic Retirement; convince the World then that you are a practical Philosopher, and that your native Philanthropy has induced you to relinquish an Object so essential to your Happiness. To do this I am certain that you need only give free Exercise to those Sentiments of patriotism and Benevolence which are congenial to your Bosom. Attend to their Verdict—Let your Heart judge of its Truth—Its Decrees will be confirmed by Posterity. That you are not indifferent to the Plaudits of the World I must conclude when I believe that the love of honest Fame has and ever will be predominant in the best the noblest and most capable Natures. Nor is the Approbation of Mankind to be disregarded with Impunity even by you. But, admitting that you could retire in a Manner exactly conformable to your own Wishes and possessed of the Benediction of Mankind, are you sure that such a Step would promote your Happiness? Have you not often experienced that your Judgement was fallible with Respect to the Means of Happiness? Have you not, on some Occasions, found the Consummation of your Wishes the Source of the keenest of your Sufferings?

God grant that your Mind may be so enlightened that you may, on this Occasion, form a true Judgement and may the eternal Disposer of human Events watch over your welfare. May the Remnant of your Days be happily and actively employed in the Discharge of those Duties which elevate and fortify the Soul. And may you, till the extremest old age, enjoy the pure Felicity of having employed your whole Faculties for the Prosperity of the People for whose Happiness you are responsible, for to you their Happiness is intrusted. Adieu believe me as I ever am Your sincere affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 17 November 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-11-02-0225. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 11, 16 August 1792 – 15 January 1793, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002, pp. 395–398.] The Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1796. Courtesy National Portrait Galley, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

posted August 31st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing, Washington, George

George Washington: “one of my best Friends and Favorites”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL was a renowned hostess and the Powel home on Third Street in central Philadelphia was the gathering place for important political and social figures of Revolutionary America and the early republic. Elizabeth and her husband were close personal friends of George and Martha Washington. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, with Martha back in Mount Vernon, Washington was often in the company of the Powels. He particularly enjoyed conversing with Elizabeth who was brilliant, well educated, and outspoken in her opinions. In a letter Elizabeth wrote to Mrs. William [Ann Bolling Randolph] Fitzhugh in July 1786 she refers to George Washington as “one of my best Friends and Favorites.” Elizabeth Powel either wrote or copied verses which she sent to Washington on his birthday in 1792 beginning with the line: “No Peerage we covet, No Sceptres desire.”

In the following letter, dated 9 January 1792, Elizabeth Willing Powel informs George Washington that she is sending information about a possible treatment for his nephew George Augustine Washington who was suffering from tuberculosis. The preparation of the medicine koumiss, fermented mare’s milk, described by John Grieve was published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1788. Writing that it was “recommended as an almost universal remedy”— Elizabeth quickly anticipates Washington”s reaction—”which I know you will say proves too much and rather savours of Quackery; yet the Authorities appear so respectable and the Object of the Publication so benevolent, that I think it is entitled to considerable Confidence and Attention. . .” She then waxes philosophical, considering whether

the protracting human Life is adding to the Mass of Happiness. But what is this Life that we should be so over studious to prolong the Respiration of that Breath which may with so much Ease be all breathed out at once as by so many successive Millions of Moments? For surely there are more exquisite Pains than Pleasures in Life, and it seems to me that it would be a greater Happiness at once to be freed forever from the former than by such an irksome Composition to protract the Enjoyment of the latter. We must all die, and, I believe there is no Terror in Death but what is created by the Magic of Opinion, nor probably any greater Pain than attended our Birth. As I suppose at our Dissolution every Particle of which we are compounded returns to its proper original Element and that which is divine in us returns to that which is divine in the Universe.
I most sincerely wish you the two Extremes of Happiness—fullness of Joys in this Life and an immortal Series of Felicities in Heaven. I am dear Sir with Respect & Esteem your affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 9 January 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-09-02-0248. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 9, 23 September 1791 – 29 February 1792, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 419–420.] The photographs are from Wikimedia Commons. Use of the parlor photo was given to Wikipedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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