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.

“the mighty Day is over”

Mary Smith Cranch reported to ABIGAIL ADAMS details of the commencement exercises at Harvard, during which John Quincy Adams and Billy Cranch received their degrees, and the entertainment that followed. Every candidate for a degree had to give a commencement oration. The title of John Quincy’s was “The Importance and Necessity of Publick Faith to the Well-Being of a Community.” Although he was much praised, JQ was miffed when the newspaper the Massachusetts Sentinel declared the oration of classmate Nathaniel Freeman superior to his. The party afterwards was quite a do. “We din’d above a hundred People & treated with cake & wine above four hundred”!!!

Boston July 21d 1778 [1787]My Dear Sister
The Day—the mighty Day is over, & our Sons have perform’d their Parts—& receiv’d the Honour of the college in a manner which will do them credit while they Live—never did you see two Happier Faces than theirs when they return’d from meeting—I do not believe they will ever feel so happy again—If to excell where all did well—can give pleasure your Son must feel a peculiar one. He has a faculty of throughing expresson into his countinance beyond any person I ever met with—I was not in the meeting house, but I am told that he excell’d in his manner every one who ever Spoke in it—The performences of the Day are said by every one to have been the best composition, & the best spoken of any since the universitys were created—

Every thing was conducted in our Chambers with the greatest order & regularity— Mr Beals who lives on our place at Weymouth had the whole care of delivering out drink & we had uncle Smiths Primus—& a Black Servant of cousin Willm. Smiths & our Pheby [Abdee, a former slave of the Smith family] to attend the Tables—she was exceeding useful to me after dinner in washing up the Dishes & clearing the Tables we had two chambers one for the Tables & the other for our company to Sit in. We made no Tea but had cake & wine carried about in stead of it which sav’d us a great deal of trouble

We din’d above a hundred People & treated with cake & wine above four hundred I am very certain we were honour’d after Dinner with the company of His excellency the Governer & L—— Govr. & a number of the Senate—The Resident Professor & Tutors, who all came to congratulate us—In short I had enough to do to set & receive the congratulations of our Friends & acquaintance I most sincerly wish’d you with me to have taken your share—We were not only congratulated that we had a son & Nephew who had done themselves such Honour, that day but that they had sustain’d such amiable good characters during their residence at college—I had as much small Talk to do as their Majestys upon a presentation day—but they never felt half as much pleasure your sons all felt like my own & I presented them as my adopted ones till your return & proud enough I am of them. . . .

My Love to mr. Adams—as to you my sister I know not how to bid you adieu—may God preserve you & bring you once more safe to my arms—This is the constant Petition of your affectionate Sister
M Cranch

The letter appears in Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016. Some information was taken from Woody Holton Abigail Adams (New York: Free Press, 2009), 245. The engraving of Harvard in 1767 is by Paul Revere.

posted August 25th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Adams, John Quincy, Cranch, Mary, Education, Harvard

“my Nephew walks about . . . crying “oh Lord! oh Lord”

MARY SMITH CRANCH wrote to her sister ABIGAIL ADAMS in England about preparations for the graduation from Harvard of John Quincy Adams and her son Billy Cranch. A huge celebration after the commencement exercises on July 17 is planned. Lots and lots of food! Such a shame that the Cranchs don’t have enough money to send Billy with JQA to study law.

Braintree July 16th 1778 [1787]My dear sister will I am sure excuse me if I send her now but a short Letter—when she is inform’d that there is but one day between this & commencment & that I have but just hear’d that capt. Folger will sail this week

It is true we are doing but little but it makes us more work than Ten such entertainments at home. every thing is dress’d here, & to be cut cold at cambridge except Green Peas. we are allamoding Two rounds of Beef, Boiling four Hams of Bacon & six Tongues. They smell finely I assure you. this will be all our meat—cider Punch wine & Porter our drink: we have had our Tables & seats made here, nothing but Boards plain’d, making them hear will save us five or six-dollars we have Milk Bisket & plumb Cake to be eat with our Tea. Betsy Smith from Haverhill has been here some time. She & Lucy are gone to day mr JQ.A. & Billy also. tomorrow mr Cranch & I go. . . . Cousin JQA has lost . . . much Flesh . . . but he looks much better than he did in the spring he is going a journey to Haverhill after commencment. . . .

I fear you do not use exercise enough any more than your eldest son— He will take a journey after the Bustle of commencment is over to Falmouth & then sit down to the study of the Law will mr Parsons. There will be a hard parting on Billys side at least. He wishes to study with his cousin but we cannot pay his Board & the demands of a Teacher also at least for a year or two the expence of the last year has been very great & yet Billy has been as prudent as a child could be, but I hope we shall get through it without injuring any one & that it will not be lost upon him. He has behav’d well & pass’d thro college without a censure Tomorrow he will compleat his eighteenth year—There is no time of Life exemted from temtations, but I have thought that there was none more critical for a Gentleman than from eithteen to twenty two. Passion is then the strongest & is too apt to prove an over match for Reason. . . .

Let us teach our children humility—& not to think more highly of themselves than they ought. Let us teach them that no rank of their ancestors be if ever so high will secure them the approbation esteem & respect of the world without the strictest attention to the rules of honour morality, & Religion

our sons look a little anxous as the Day approaches—I wish it was over. Billy is too busy assisting us too think much but my Nephew walks about with his hands hung down crying “oh Lord! oh Lord—I hope it will rain hard that all their white wigs may be wet who would not let us have a private commencment—” be compos’d said I, perform your Parts well & you will find that the Honour you will gain & the pleasure you will give your Freinds will over ballance all the anxietys you have experienc’d—

adieu for the present I must go & pack to send another cart tomorrow one is gone to day.

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

posted August 22nd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Adams, John Quincy, Cranch, Mary, Harvard

“past through the university with so much reputation”

Eartlier in 1787, before ABIGAIL ADAMS and John had set out on their tour of the West Country of England, Abigail wrote her sister Mary Cranch (July 16) complaining that John Quincy Adams and Mary’s son Billy, both due to graduate from Harvard, had not been writing regularly. No surprise to any mother, Abigail was worried about John Quincy’s health. She also expresses her concern over the political climate in the United States.

[T]he account you give me of the Health of JQA, is no more than I expected to hear. I warnd him frequently before he left me, and have been writing him ever since. I hope he will take warning before it is too late. it gives me great satisfaction to learn that he has past through the university with so much reputation, and that his fellow Students are attached to him. I have never once regreeted the resolution he took of quitting Europe, and placing himself upon the Theatre of his own Country, where if his Life is spaired, I presume he will neither be an Idle or a useless Spectator. Heaven grant that he may not have more distressing scenes before him, and a Gloomier stage to tread than those on which his Father has acted for 12 years past, but the curtain rises before him, and instead of peace waving her olive branch, or Liberty seated in a triumphal car or commerce Agriculture and plenty pouring forth their Stores, Sedition hisses Treason roars, Rebellion Nashes his Teeth. Mercy Suspends the justly merited blow, but justice Striks the Guilty victim. here may the Scene close and brighter prospects open before us in future. I hope the political machine will move with more safety and security this year than the last, and that the New Head may be endowed with wisdom sufficient to direct it. there are Some good Spokes in the Wheels, tho the Master workmen have been unskilfull in discarding some of the best, and chusing others not sufficiently Seasond, but the crooked & cross graind will soon break to peices, tho this may do much mischief in the midst of a journey, and shatter the vehicle, yet an other year may repair the Damages, but to quit Allegory, or you will think I have been reading Johnny Bunyan.

Abigail ends by noting that she is sending tea urns to each of her sisters with instructions for their use and commenting on the high prices of goods in England.

I send my dear sisters each a tea urn, which must prove comfortable in a hot summers day I have orderd them put up in a Box together and addrest to uncle Smith. the Heater, & the Iron which you put it in with, is to be packed in the Box by the Side of them. whilst your water is boiling, you heat the Iron & put it in to the little tin inclosure always minding that the water is first put in. this keeps it hot as long as you want to use it.— how are English Goods now? cheeper I suppose than I can buy them here, and India much lower, in the article of Spice could you credit it if I was to tell you that I give 2 pound Eleaven Shillings sterling pr pound for Nutmegs—and other Spice in proportion yet tis really so—

Read about the Harvard commencement in the next posts.

The letter can be found at Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2016. The portrait of JQA at age 29 is by John Singleton Copley; it is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

posted August 18th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Adams, John Quincy, Cranch, Mary, Education, Harvard

“that retiring grace, which awes whilst it enchants”

ABIGAIL ADAMS finishes her long letter to her sister Mary Cranch in which she described their experiences and the impressions she had of the places they stopped at and the people they met. The map of Devon shows these towns they visited: Axbridge, Exeter, Plymouth, and Kingsbridge. I have included Abigail’s description of members of the Cranch family because of the comments she makes about their place in British society and because she compares the class system in England to social status in the United States. Note Abigail’s comments on women: she was very critical of the behavior of upper class women in England and thought it appropriate that women affect a “retiring grace.”

Our next movement was to Kingsbridge. . . . the chief resort of the Cranch family. We arrived at the inn about six o’clock on Saturday evening. About eight, we were saluted with a ringing of bells, a circumstance we little expected. Very soon we were visited by the various branches of the Cranch family, both male and female, amounting to fifteen persons ; but, as they made a strange jumble in my head, I persuaded my fellow traveller to make me out a genealogical table, which I send you. Mr. and Mrs. Burnell, and Mr. and Mrs. Trathan, both offered us beds and accommodations at their houses; but we were too numerous to accept their kind invitations, though we engaged ourselves to dine with Mr. Burnell, and to drink tea with Mr. Trathan, the next dav. Mrs. Burnell has a strong resemblance to Mrs. Palmer. She is a genteel woman, and easy and polite. We dined at a very pretty dinner, and after meeting drank tea at the other house, Mr. Trathan’s. Their houses are very small, but every thing neat and comfortable. Mr. Burnell is a shoemaker, worth five thousand pounds; and Mr. Trathan a grocer, in good circumstances. The rest of the families joined us at the two houses. They are all serious, industrious, good people, amongst whom the greatest family harmony appears to subsist.

The people of this county appear more like our New England people than any I have met with in this country before; but the distinction between tradesmen and gentry, as they are termed, is widely different from that distinction in our country. With us, in point of education and manners, the learned professions, and many merchants, farmers and tradesmen, are upon an equality with the gentry of this country. It would be degrading to compare them with many of the nobility here.

As to the ladies of this country, their manners appear to be totally depraved. It is in the middle ranks of society, that virtue and morality are yet to be found. Nothing does more injury to the female character than frequenting public places; and the rage which prevails now for the watering-places, and the increased number of them, are become a national evil, as they promote and encourage dissipation, mix all characters promiscuously, and are the resort of the most unprincipled female characters, who are not ashamed to show their faces wherever men dare to go. Modesty and diffidence are called ill-breeding and ignorance of the world; an impudent stare is substituted in lieu of that modest deportment, and that retiring grace, which awes whilst it enchants. I have never seen a female model here of such unaffected, modest, and sweetly amiable manners as Mrs. Guild, Mrs. Russell, and many other American females exhibit.
Having filled eight pages, I think it is near time to hasten to a close. Cushing and Folger are both arrived; by each I have received letters from you. A new sheet of paper must contain a reply to them. This little space shall assure you of what is not confined to time or place, the ardent affection of your sister,
A. A.

Abigail’s letter is from the volume Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840.

posted August 15th, 2016 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Americans Abroad, Britain, Cranch, Mary, Travel

Axminster

ABIGAIL ADAMS continued to describe the trip she and John took to the West Country of England in a letter to her sister Mary Cranch in 1787. Their tour took them next to Axminster, noted for beautiful carpets. The “manufactory” there was started by John Whitty in 1755 and the quality, colors, and designs of his woolen carpets made them popular with the rich and famous everywhere. The illustration is a detail from a carpet dated 1791; it is at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

From Wevmouth, our next excursion was to Axminster, the first town in the county of Devonshire. It is a small place, but has two manufactures of note: one of carpets, and one of tapes; both of which we visited. The manufactory of the carpets is wholly performed by women and children. You would have been surprised to see in how ordinary a building this rich manufactory was carried on. A few glass windows in some of our barns would be equal to it. They have but two prices for their carpets woven here; the one is eighteen shillings, and the other twenty-four, a square yard. They are woven of any dimensions you please, and without a seam. The colors are most beautiful, and the carpets very durable.

The next section of the letter is concerned with meeting relatives of Mr. Cranch. Afterwards:

[Mr. J. Cranch] accompanied us in our journey to Exeter, Plymouth, and Kingsbridge. At Exeter, we tarried from Saturday till Monday afternoon. . . . From Exeter, we went to Plymouth ; there we tarried several davs, and visited the fortifications and Plymouth dock . . . . The natural advantages of this place are superior to any I have before seen, commanding a wide and extensive view of the ocean, the whole town of Plymouth, and the adjacent country, with the mountains of Cornwall. I have not much to say with respect to the improvements of art. There is a large park, well stocked with deer, and some shady walks ; but there are no grottos, statuary, sculpture, or temples. At Plymouth, we were visited by a Mr. and Mrs. Sawry*, with whom we drank tea one afternoon. Mr. Sawry is well known to many Americans, who were prisoners in Plymouth jail during the late war. The money which was raised for their relief passed through his hands, and he was very kind to them, assisting many in their escape. . . .

* Miles Saurey, a linen draper of Plymouth, England, assisted American prisoners at Mill Prison during the Revolution by providing them with food, clothing, newspapers, and cash.

Read the conclusion of Abigail Adams’s letter in the next post.

Source: Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840.

posted August 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Americans Abroad, Axminster carpets, Britain

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