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.

A Sampler: pictorial, sweet, and rather whimsical


This lovely sampler was made by a Boston girl named Millisent Connor in 1799 when she was ten—so says the little “banner” toward the top. Embroidered with silk thread on linen it is quite different from the usual “marking sampler,” the first needlework project for most young girls which displayed their mastery of stitches as well as the alphabet and numbers. This sampler is pictorial, sweet and rather whimsical—a man is shown walking his dog. One presumes the girl in the door of the house is Millisent of whom, sadly, nothing more is known other than this small embroidered scene made by her.

The knowledge of embroidery stitches apparently had a practical use for girls later in life. As wives they marked each piece of household linen (among their most valuable possessions) with a cross stitch, their initials, and a number.

The sampler is one of several illustrating the folk art of the eighteenth century accompanying an essay on the subject by Amelia Peck, Department of American Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both can be viewed online here.

posted September 15th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art, Boston, Children, Education

“a greater degree of politeness and civility in America”

The Adams family returned to London from France in the latter part of May 1785 where John took up his duties as Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s from the United States. Nabby, after having spent nearly nine months in France (see posts here, here, and here) remarked on her experience there: “I am accustomed to many things at present, but I am not reconciled to them.”

In London her feelings about England were probed by two ladies who came to visit on September 2d.

Miss B. began to question me, as to which country I liked best, France or England? I would not give a preference. “But you undoubtedly prefer England to America?” “I must indeed confess, Miss, that I do not at present.” Was it possible! I acknowledged the excellencies of this country. There was more to please and gratify the senses; but I had formed such friendships and attachments in America, as would ever render it dear to me. “But surely, the culture is carried to a much great degree of perfection here than in America.” “Granted.” “And you must,” said Miss B. very pertly, “find a great difference between America and this country?” “In what, pray, Miss?” said I. “Why in general appearance, in the people, their manners, customs, behaviour, and in every thing.” “Indeed,” said I, “I do not; there is so great a similarity in the manners of the people, in the two countries, that I should take them for one. If any thing, I find a greater degree of politeness and civility in America, than in the people of this country. And the lower class of people in America, are infinitely superior to the lower class of people here.” Their astonishment was great—was it possible I could think so!

In London Nabby met Colonel William Stephens Smith who was serving as her father’s secretary; the couple were married on June 12, 1786.

The quoted passages can be found on pages 68-69 and 79-80 of Nabby’s Journal online.

posted September 11th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Abigail "Nabby" Adams Smith, Americans Abroad, Britain, John Adams, London

“very fond of Mrs. Jay”

As you may have gathered, I have been reading the Journal that Nabby Adams kept in 1785 when she was abroad with her parents, John and Abigail Adams. As two colleagues and I edited the book Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay I was interested in the reference to Sarah Jay made by the Marquis de Lafayette’s wife whom Nabby visited in Paris. I have always thought that Sarah Jay was a very special person and that the correspondence between Sarah and her husband come in a close second to that of Abigail and John Adams. Sarah was in Paris in 1782-1784 with two children while her husband John helped draw up the Treaty of Paris that concluded the American Revolution. Nabby wrote:

Speaking of Mrs. Jay, on whom every person who knew her when here bestows many encomiums. Madame de la Fayette said, she was well acquainted with, and very fond of Mrs. Jay; she added, Mrs. Jay and she thought alike; it was Mrs. Jay’s sentiment, that pleasure might be found abroad—but happiness could only be found at home—in the society of one’s family and friends. She told my papa that Mrs. Jay did not like the French ladies—neither do I, said she. From the account she had heard of the American ladies, she believed she should be pleased with them—and should the Marquis ever again visit America, she would accompany him.

The quoted passage can be found on pages 49-50 of Nabby’s Journal ONLINE.. The illustration is of Sarah Livingston Jay from the print collection of the New York Public Library.

posted September 8th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Abigail "Nabby" Adams Smith, Americans Abroad

“The country is much varied”

Abigail “Nabby” Adams was the firstborn offspring of John and Abigail Smith Adams. They called her “Nabby” when she was a child, and the name stayed with her. Apparently she was an attractive young woman with long red hair, blue eyes, and a clear complexion. When she was eighteen she was courted by Royall Tyler, but her parents disapproved of him, and Nabby was whisked away by her mother in 1784 to join her father in Britain where he was serving as the ambassador of the newly independent United States. As her family hoped, the long-distance relationship between Nabby and Royall did not survive.

The family traveled to France in August, and Nabby kept a journal in which she recorded her first impressions of the country. Following is an excerpt describing the trip to Paris after they came ashore on the 9th.

At two, we set off . . . on a journey of two hundred miles. The laws of this country are such as oblige every person who travels in a coach, to make use of six horses. We were equipped with six horses for our carriage, and a cabriolet with three horses, for our two servants. The harness is not superior in any respect, to what we use in America for our carts and ploughs. . . . [We] exchange horses at every post, which is a distance of six miles, or sometimes a post and a half, or two posts at a time. On Tuesday we travelled four posts after dinner, and lodged at Boulogne, a small village, the Inn kept by an English family. The house was not as much Anglaise as I could have wished. There is certainly a great difference in favour of England; the country is by no means equal to it; the soil does not appear so rich and luxuriant, or so well cultivated; the villages are the most wretched of all the habitations of man; it is not one time in ten that I have seen a glass window, nothing but wood. We dined in our carriage; mamma and myself were not out of it from six in the morning, until four in the afternoon.

The country is much varied; in some places you see a great appearance of cultivation and improvement, in others you have a fine prospect of the country around, and some very fine scenes of natural beauty; in others, it appears like a barren uncultivated spot. there is the appearance of more industry here than in England, by the flocks of men, women and children that are out in the fields at their labours; whole families, whole towns, I should suppose by their numbers, some reaping and gathering in the fruits of the year, while others were preparing the ground, sowing seed for a future crop. The country bears to-day a more pleasing aspect than yesterday; the villages are by no means superior, such places I never saw before, or like unto them. The streets are very narrow and dirty, the houses low and heavy; the outside seems to be of a kind of clay, and the roofs are covered with thatch; it has a heavy appearance. The difference is not more striking in any other object, than in the countenances of the people. The English seem formed for some exertion in almost any way we should choose; but these people do not appear sensible to any passions or affections whatever. The difference is striking in the postillions. The English have a sprightliness and alertness suitable to the employment; but in these, there is a heaviness, dirtiness, and no elasticity. . . .

To-day we have been obliged to travel . . . eighty-seven miles, in order to arrive at a place where we could be accommodated with lodging; it was 9 o’clock before we stopped for the night, which was at Amiens. The laws of this nation are so severe as to oblige every one who enters it to follow their customs in everything, particularly in dress, or they render themselves ridiculous. For this reason, every kind of article which they manufacture themselves, is prohibited from entering the kingdom without paying a duty. To prevent this the[r]e are custom-house officers almost at every town, who demand a search of your baggage, although it consist only of your own private clothes. But it is very seldom that they will not be satisfied with half a crown, instead of being a farther trouble to you. . . . We have been stopped several times, but always found them ready to be bought. . . .

We have taken a house at Auteuil, near Paris, very large and very inconvenient—about fifty little apartments [rooms], so small, most of them, as to be inconvenient for lodging. There is a large room to receive company in, and a dining room; all the bed-rooms are above stairs. There is a spacious garden.

More to follow.

The passages are from the Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, daughter of John Adams, Second President of the United States. Written in France and England, in 1785. Edited by her daughter (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1841), pages 8-11 and 14. They can be read online HERE. The illustration is by Rufus Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 91. First ed., 1855.

posted September 4th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Abigail "Nabby" Adams Smith, Americans Abroad, France, Paris, Travel

“it was made of taffetas and in the form of an egg”

Sarah Livingston Jay saw the first ascent of the Montgolfier balloon (see this post) in Paris in 1783. The daughter of John and Abigail Adams, known as “Nabby”, visited France in 1784 and recorded her impression of a balloon ascent.

September 19. To-day we went to see the balloon; it was to ascend from the garden of the Tuileries; we had tickets at a crown a person to go in. We left our carriage outside and went in; the garden I had never been in before; it is very large, and in general, elegant. there were eight or ten thousand persons present. This people are more attentive to their amusements than any thing else; however, as we were upon the same errand, it is unjust to reflect upon others, whose curiosity was undoubtedly as well founded. We walked a little, took a view of the company, and approached the balloon; it was made of taffetas and in the form of an egg, if both ends were large; this is what contains the air; below it is a gallery where are the adventurers and the ballast. At eleven it was moved from the place of its standing among the trees to an open situation, and the cords, which were held by some of the greatest men in the kingdom, were cut; it mounted in the air. It was some time in sight, as they had intended making some experiments upon their machine. At six in the evening it descended at Bevre, fifty leagues from Paris. At two o’clock the same day there was a storm of rain, with thunder and lightning, but they were not affected by it.

The passage is from the Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, daughter of John Adams, Second President of the United States. Written in France and England, in 1785. Edited by her daughter (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1841), pages 18-19. It can be read online HERE.

posted September 1st, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad, France, Paris

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