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.

“With what pleasure my dr madam do I take up my pen”

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY and MARY WHITE MORRIS continued to correspond. See previous post. By this time Sarah was in Paris where her husband John served as a peace commissioner. Her subjects were children—two of the Morris sons had been sent to Europe to continue their education. And clothes—after all this is Paris. And then there are the Marchioness de Lafayette and Marie Antoinette. Making for an interesting letter, don’t you think?

Paris 14th Novbr. 1782With what pleasure my dr madam do I take up my pen as a medium of or substitute for a conversation with you by admitting no other idea to rob me of your image; I enjoy, at least for the moment the most pleasing delusion—Yesterday your little sons by passing their holiday with me made me very happy—Robert so exceedingly resembles Mr. Morris that I feel for him a respect mingled with my love; tho’ at the same time I regret his distance from his father’s example & counsel—When (as it sometimes happens) among our Little Americans that my decision is referr’d to respecting matters of right & wrong, I always request Robert’s opinion; & when he hesitates, I ask him what he thinks would be his Father’s sentiments upon such occasions, to which he generally replys very justly; & I remark to him the certainty of his acting with propriety while he imitates so worthy an example—Tommy (who is likewise a fine boy) told me that his last letters mention’d [his sisters] Hetty’s & Maria’s illness—I hope they are now quite recovered as well as my dr. Kitty [Sarah's sister Catharine]—will you embrace them for me?
If during my stay in Paris it is in my power to serve you, nothing my dr Mrs Morris can give me greater pleasure than receiving yr commands—at present the prevailing fashions are very decent & very plain; the gowns most worn are the robes à l’Anglaise which are exactly like the Italian habits that were in fashion in America at the time I left it—The sultana, resembling the long polinese is also à la mode, but as it is not expected that it will long remain so, every body makes them of slight silk—There is so great a variety of hats, Caps, cuffs &c. that it is impossible to describe them. I forgot to mention that the robe à l’Anglaise if trimm’d either with the same or with gauze is dress, but if intirely untrimm’d must be worn with an apron & is undress: negligees are very little in vougue: fans of 8 or 10 sous are almost the only ones in use.—
At the Marquis de la Fayette’s table I had the pleasure of hearing you my dear Mrs. Morris mention’d the other day as well as Mr. Morris in terms to me the most grateful imaginable—The Marchioness [Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles] is a most amiable woman who express’d her inclination to see America in very flattering terms, & I could not forbear assuring her that if she ever honor’d us by a visit, she would find that her Character there had already prepar’d the Americans to receive her in a manner, that would convince her that the Marquis, tho’ much esteem’d, was not the only one of his Family that they respected.—
The Queen has lately return’d to Versailles after a residence of 8 or 10 weeks at Passey – While there I used some times to have the pleasure of seeing her at the Plays—She is so handsome & her manners are so engaging, that almost forgetful of republican principles, I was even ready while in her presence to declare her born to be a Queen.— There are however many traits in her character worthy of imitation even by republicans, & I cannot but admire her resolution to superintend the education of Madame Royale her daughter, to whom she has alotted chambers adjoining her own, & persists in refusing to name a Governante for her. . . .
Mr. Jay . . . desires me to assure you that his esteem for you is not less than that with which
I have the honor to be
my dr madam
yours sincerely
Sa. Jay

The letter appears in Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay, compiled and edited by Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North and Janet M. Wedge, (Jefferson, N.C.: Mcfarland & Co, 2005), page 123. The Illustration of the robe à l’Anglaise can be found HERE. The Marie Antoinette portrait is by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783 taken from Wikepedia.

“where can I hope to find such friends as I parted from”

The last post referred to the friendship between MARY WHITE MORRIS and the sisters Kitty Livingston and SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY. Sarah was one of the few wives who accompanied their husbands on diplomatic missions abroad. She was brave enough to undertake what was very much a dangerous crossing of the Atlantic and emotionally strong enough to leave their young son in the charge of her parents in New Jersey. She missed her friends in America and tried to stay in touch by mail which was unreliable at best. Following is one of a series of letters she wrote to Mary Morris, this one from Madrid where John had been sent to try to secure loans from the Spanish.

[Madrid April 22d 1781]My dear Mrs. Morris,
. . . As Mr. Jay & myself are interested in Mr. Morris’ and your happiness, we were very anxious last fall about both your healths, for we had heard (from France) that they were impaired, & a letter from Kitty some time after was doubly welcome by giving us the pleasing information of the recovery of persons we so much esteem’d, and likewise the re establishment of mama’s & her own health. How amply, my dear madam! does your affection compensate Kitty for the absence of her sister—but where can I hope to find such friends as I parted from in quitting America—not I am sure in the acquaintances of a few months or in the formal birthday visitors—preserve therefore I charge you the regard you honor me with, that in your company when I return, I may forget how long we have been seperated.
I dare say you were pleased with the marriage of Mr. [William] Bingham & Miss [Ann] Willing, as it promises happiness to the parties interested: shall I request you to present to them our congratulations?
Tell Miss Hetty [the oldest Morris daughter, aged seven] if you please that if she thinks she can smile upon a Don, I’ll use my influence to engage a few to accompany us, for we hope to return before she seriously thinks of paying her devoirs to Hymen. Kitty’s accounts of Maria [a Morris daughter aged two] increase my inclination to see her; and I am quite happy that your little sons are likely to answer the expectations form’d of them. . . .
You & Mr. Morris will do us justice in believing that you have not more sincere friends in the numerous circle of those who love & esteem you, than in Mr. Jay and your humble servt.
Sa. Jay
I have often smil’d at the apologies made for Incorrect letters, but none ever requir’d them more than this.

The expression “paying her devoirs to Hymen” refers to courtship and marriage. I would think Hetty was a bit young to be thinking such thoughts—but maybe not. Ann Willing was a Philadelphia socialite regarded as one of the most beautiful women in America. She married the wealthy William Bingham referred to in this post.

The letter is in the Robert Morris Collection, Henry E. Huntington Library. The print of Sarah Livingston Jay is from the Print Collection Portrait File of the New York Public Library.

“Our little boys Arrived . . . as Shabby as lolls”

Among the circle of friends of MARY WHITE MORRIS were the daughters of William Livingston and Susannah French, particularly Catharine called “Kitty” and Sarah who had married John Jay.
The Jays had sailed for Europe in 1779 when John had been appointed minister plenipotentiary to Spain. The vessel they set out in was dangerously disabled by a storm and had to put in at Martinique (referred to as Martinico). Securing passage on another ship John and Sarah arrived at Cadiz and proceeded to Madrid.
Kitty Livingston had enjoyed an extended visit with Mary and Robert Morris during the summer of 1780. From August to October she had returned to the family home, Liberty Hall, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, to tend to her mother who was ill. She subsequently fell ill herself. Mary wrote to her from Philadelphia.

Be assured my dear Kitty, that tho, this is the first moment I have found leisure to write to you, You have been the constant Companion of my thoughts, this is the only Resource Left For the loss of your Sosiety, which I do assure you, can not be made up to me here, Our little boys Arrived a day or two after You left us, as Shabby as lolls, but a welcome, as the fondest of Parents, cou’d make them – last Evening they and Miss Hetty (the Morris daughter Hester known as Hetty) Gave a Ball, to the Masters, & Misses of their Acquaintance, Bob (Robert Morris Jr,) Opend it, in a minuet with much Applause, which gave Me Sensations, Similar and Equally flattering to any I ever felt, when giveen [sic] to myself, on such occations, This is encouragement For you to Marry as you see we have the advantage of loveing over again – [M]y party on the occation [included] . . . the Minister, Monr. Marbois, Mr. Bingham. A Propo you have I suppose received the letters sent you by this young Gentleman, from Mrs. Jay, which was Wrote at Martinico I sincerely wish, he had Arrived a Few days sooner, that you might have partaked, if you will allow me the expression, of my pleasure, in hearing from him talk of Mrs. Jay, who he says, is the lovelyest women [sic] he ever Saw, and that if She had been the Queen of France, could not Have met with more attention, than were paid Her in that Land.
I do most heartily Congratulate you, & yours, my Dear Kitty, on the wish’d for Intelligence, of your dear Freinds [the Jays] being Arrived safe at their Destined Port. [T]he emotions I felt after hearing they were safe, was to fly to you with the News, but upon Enquireing, found it came here from headquarters, of course you had it before us. . . .
Yours affectionately, M.M.

Robert Morris adds in a postscript to “my worthy & amiable Friend” that “Molly” (Mary Morris) wrote the letter despite a bad headache. François Barbé-Marbois was the French chargé d’affaires. William Bingham arrived in Philadelphia in late April or early May carrying letters from Sarah Jay written in Martinique. The word “lolls” in the letter means an idle person; a spoiled child.

Massachusetts Historical Society, Matthew Ridley Papers II (1754-1782), Box 1 of 5; Ms. N-797. transcribed by Louise North.

“Cupit has given our little General a . . . Mortal wound”

In the fall of 1777, the British under General William Howe occupied Philadelphia and while the British spent a a comfortable and enjoyable winter season there, General Washington and his troops endured dreadful deprivations at Valley Forge. When General Howe resigned his command in 1778, Captain John André and John Montresor orchestrated a spectacular farewell for him called the Meschianza (Italian for medley or mixture) that included a regatta, a procession, a joust of pretend knights, a ball, and fireworks. Prominently featured in the festivities were several of the city’s fashionable young ladies, Peggy Shippen, Rebecca Franks, daughter of loyalist David Franks, and Peggy Chew, daughter of Benjamin Chew among them.
Howe’s replacement, General Sir Henry Clinton, decided later in 1778 to withdraw from Philadelphia and consolidate the British position in New York City in expectation of a possible attack by American and French troops (France had signed a treaty with the United States in 1778).
Those who had fled Philadelphia returned to reclaim their city. General Benedict Arnold was in charge of the American forces there and it wasn’t long before the social calendar was full once again. MARY WHITE MORRIS (See previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.) wrote to her mother, Esther Hewlings White on 10 November 1778:

. . . I know of no News, Unless to tell you that we are very gay, as such, we have a great many Balls and Entertainments and Soon, the Assembly will begin, tell Mr. Hall Even our military Gentlemen here, are too Liberal to make any Distinctions between Wig and Tory Ladyes, if they make any, Its in favor of the latter, such, Strange as it may seem, is the way those things are Conducted at present in this City, it Originates at Headquarters, and that I may make some Apology for such Strange Conduct, I must tell you that Cupit has given our little General a more Mortal wound, than all the Host of Britons cou’d, unless His present Conduct can Expiate, for His past, — Miss Peggy Shippen is the fair One . . .
Mary Morris

The “little General” is, of course, Benedict Arnold.

The letter is in the Robert Morris Collection at the Huntington Library, Lists No. 5, pages 53-55, transcribed by Louise North. [Microfilm, courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Nuxoll] The illustration is a sketch made by Captain André of a costume he proposed for the ladies participating in the celebration, from John Fanning Watson, Extra-Illustrated Manuscript of the Annals of Philadelphia (1830) and can be found HERE.

“Mr. Morris has met with a great loss”

By the middle of April 1777, it became abundantly clear that the goal of the British was to capture Philadelphia. MARY WHITE MORRIS again writes to her mother about the situation. (See previous posts here, here, here and here.) The Continental Army was in dire straits. When several colonies did not contribute their share of assessed monies during the winter of 1776-77, Robert Morris loaned the government $10,000 to provision the desperate troops. And he underwrote the operations of privateers that ran British blockades in order to bring much needed supplies to this country, often to his loss, to which Mary refers in the following letter dated 14 April.

My Dear Mamma
There is orders from the Governor, to Innoculate all the Troops that are quarterd there [in New Town] Immediately. . . . There are now three men of War in our Bay, which look as if they intend this way; Mr. Morris has met with a great loss, as well as the Continent, by them, the ship Morris with a most Valuable Cargo of Arms, Ammunition, and dry goods. She had provided Her self with guns, to keep off any common Attack, but was most Unfortunately beset by three, the Roe buck one of them, at our Capes, She defended her Self bravely as long as it was possible, and then the Captain run her on Shore, and very bravely blew her up, and poor fellow, perished HimSelf, in his Anxiety to do it Effectively. We are prepareing for another flight in packing up our furniture, and Removeing them to a new purchase Mr. Morris has made 10 miles from Lancaster, no Other than the famous House that belongd to Stedman and Steagle at the Iron Works, where you know I Spent 6 Weeks, so am perfectly well acquainted with the goodness of the House and Situation. The Reason Mr. Morris made this purchase, he looks upon the other not Secure if they come by water. I think Myself very luckly in haveing this Assylum, it being but 8 miles fine road from Lancaster where I expect Mr. Morris will be if he quits this, besides many of my freinds and Acquaintances. So I now Solicite the pleasure of your Company, at this ones [once] famous place. . . .
We now begin to be Alarmd for Our City, theres 8 Sail of Men of War, at our Capes, and its thought are only waiting for their Transports to make an attempt. . . . I hope youll let me know if there is any thing in your House, you wish me to pack up and take care of for you. . . .
This Alarm is not like the first, every body as yet, seems quite Composed.

Two weeks later Mary Morris, still in Philadelphia, grumbled: “Theres no doubt, if General Washington had a Tolerable Army, he might with Ease, take every Man of them in Brunswick, but we cant deserve so fortunate an Event, Else our Contrimen wou’d have Spirit Enough to Undertake it.”

The letter can be found on pages 106-07 of In the Words of Women. The Roebuck, pictured above, was a 44-gun British frigate. More information about the ship and its movements during the Revolution can be found on this WEBSITE.

posted June 15th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Inoculation, Money, Morris, Mary White, Morris, Robert, Philadelphia

next page

   Copyright © 2015 In the Words of Women.