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.

“Jenny . . . a good Spinster”

Robert Carter III (1728-1804) was a planter, slaveholder, and iron manufacturer of Nomini Hall plantation, Westmoreland County, Virginia. A letter of Robert Carter to Clement Brooke of the Baltimore Iron Works, 11 November 1776, contains an invoice. Of interest is a reference to Jenny. The abstract below is from notations in the invoice and letter.

220 bushels of Indian Corn and one Negroe Woman named Jenny are on board the Sloop Atwell the cargo mentioned abov to be delivered to you for the use of the Baltimoe [sic] Comp[any]—Pray send me a Copy of the Proceedings of the B-C[ompany] when they resolve that there Shall be an Addition of five negroe Women, to their Stock—

It is customary for me to engage my Negroes from new years day to the 31st of December following—however Geo. Wilkerson, Wool Comber, has relinquished Jenny, who is a good Spinster—Jenny is young & Stout, She has fits, accasionally, [sic] I say Accasionally, becuase her fits never happen but upon her being reprimanded for neglects; nor do those Fits leave behind any visible Effects If Jenny Should prove not to be sound, I will at a future date Send a negroe woman in her Stead— . . . .

In 1791 Carter decided to gradually manumit hundreds of his slaves

From the Robert Carter Papers (Vol. III). (Virginia) Special Collections Library, Duke University. See this SITE online.

posted February 26th, 2015 by Janet, Comments Off, CATEGORIES: Slaves/slavery, The South

“the resignation of power over an immense country”

Henrietta Liston was keenly aware of George Washington’s importance as a key figure in America’s history. (See post.) When he voluntarily resigned his office, Mrs. Liston commented on what the reasons underlying that decision might have been.

On the third of March [1797], it being the last day of General Washington’s power as President, he gave a publick dinner to the officers of the State, Foreign Ministers principal Senators, & to their respective Ladies.

I had, as usual, the gratification of being handed to Table & of sitting by the President. Had I never before considered the character of Washington, I should certainly have joined the general voice, & pronounced him greater in this voluntary retreat, & in the resignation of power over an immense country, than when, having by his conduct as a Soldier, been the principal means of rendering his Country independent, he became, by the universal suffrage of the people, its ruler & director. I should have repeated with others—Washington is the first of Men, wise, great, & good, whereas as I now view him, he is in truth & reality, honest, prudent, & fortunate, & wonderful to say, almost without ambition; these words are less dignified but not less strong. . . .

The World gives General Washington more credit for his retirement from publick life than I am disposed to do. He has for eight years sacrificed his natural taste, first habits, & early propensities, I really believe we may truly say, solely to what he thought the good of his Country. But he was become tired of his situation, fretted by the opposition often made to his measures; & his pride revolted against the ingratitude he experienced, and he was also disgusted by the scurrilous abuse lavished upon him by his political enemies.

Later that year, the Listons visited Mount Vernon once again.

Washington still appears more amiable & happy since his retirement from a public life. He has had the good fortune to fill the three first situations in America—at the Head of the Army, during the Rebellion against England, The first Magistrate after the Independence of his Country, &, having voluntarily retired, after filling the office of President to the United States for eight years, He is now the first & most extensive Farmer, perhaps on the Continent. He possesses Lands in several different States, but at Mount Vernon He at present holds four thousand acres, in his own hands.

And, Liston added, “He has five hundred slaves.”

Quotations are from The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Press, 2014) pages 17-19. The map is from a drawing made by Washington himself and can be found HERE.

posted February 23rd, 2015 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant, Mount Vernon, Slaves/slavery, Washington, George

“Guns were fired & Bells rung”

Louise North, a colleague and the author of The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston, has provided observations by Mrs. Liston about George Washington for this post and the one following,

Shortly after arriving in New York City from England on May 1, 1796, Henrietta Marchant Liston and her husband Robert, the new British ambassador, hurried off to Philadelphia, then the capital of the United States. Mr. Liston was anxious to present his credentials to the Congress before it adjourned. Mrs. Liston was just eager to meet the nation’s President.

Washington has made to himself a name remarkable in Europe, but of peculiar [special] Magic in America. . . . Washingtons appearance & manners struck me extremely. Tall, Majestic & well proportioned, his face at the age of sixty three rather pleasing, particularly when he smiles. In his air & movements, there was a dignity which the general coldness of his address did not lessen; to me he was affable & kind & when we rose to take leave, requested to see us often without ceremony & reserve.

The Listons were in Philadelphia in 1797 for the celebration of President George Washington’s birthday and Mrs. Liston recorded her impressions.

[O]n Wednesday last, the 22nd of Feby. the Presidents Birth day was celebrated with all the splendour the Country could afford, Guns were fired & Bells rung—in the Morning the Gentlemen waited on the President, & the Ladies on Mrs. Washington, & were entertained with cake & wine. Ricketts Amphitheater was fitted up & in the Evening a Ball given to about a thousand Persons; the President appeared in the American Uniform, (blue & buff,) with the Cross of Cincinnatus at his breast in diamonds . . . . I went in about seven oClock to the Presidents Box, from which we had a very compleat view of the Company; the Country dances and cotillions were danced verging from the Centre, which admitted of ten, fifteen couples in each, so that three hundred Persons moved at the same time. The American Ladies dance better than any set of People I ever saw . . . .

This was not the first time that Washington’s birthday had been celebrated by Americans. Charlotte Chambers had attended a similar festivity on February 22, 1795 (see post here). Although held in the nation’s capital, neither occasion was an official federal holiday; that designation did not occur until 1885. However, the government did call for a “solemn Fast with Sermons Orations &c” to be held on February 22, 1800, two months after George Washington’s death.

Quotations are from The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Press, 2014) pages 7-8; and from a letter in late February 1797 in the Liston Papers, National Library of Scotland (also on microfilm at the Library of Congress). The unfinished portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (known as the Athenaeum) is jointly owned by The National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington. DC, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Done in 1796, it is one of the earliest portraits of Washington by Stuart.

posted February 19th, 2015 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant, Philadelphia, Washington, George

“our negro and negress”

During February, Black History month, in addition to posts about the artist Prince (see here and here), others containing references to slaves are featured.

Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker was a Quaker who kept a journal or diary throughout her life. (See posts here, here, here, here, and here.) On June 24, 1797, Drinker noted in her Journal:

There was a procession of white, and another of black Free Masons. Absalom Jones, the black Bishop, walked before his brethren to the African Church; the others to St. Paul’s. ‘Tis the first I have heard of negro Masons—a late thing, I guess.

The Drinkers, although they were Quakers and theoretically opposed to slavery, owned slaves. On January 3, 1799, Elizabeth noted in her Journal:

Jacob Turner and Sarah Needham, our negro and negress, went to a wedding this evening. Jacob dressed in a light cloth coat, white cassimere [closely woven smooth twilled usually wool fabric, first use 1774] vest and breeches, white silk stockings, and new hat. Sarah, ye bridesmaid, in white muslin, dizzened off with white ribbons from head to foot, yellow morocco shoes, with white bows &c. They went in Ben Oliver’s Coachee, driven by his white man. ‘Tis now near 11 o’clock, and they are not yet returned. They are both honest servants, but times are much altered with ye black folk.

Although I can find no definition for “dizzened off,” I assume it means “bedecked.” A coachee is similar to a coach but longer and open at the front. Interesting that the coach driver for the black couple was white.

Above entries are from the Journal of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker which can be found online HERE, pages 306 and 338.

posted February 16th, 2015 by Janet, Comments Off, CATEGORIES: Drinker, Elizabeth Sandwith, Philadelphia, Slaves/slavery

“Cupid. . . . transfixed me with a Dart”

Eleanor Parke Custis, known as “Nelly,” was the youngest of Martha Washington’s three granddaughters. Martha was the widow of Daniel Parke Custis when she married George Washington; she had two children: John, known as “Jacky,” and Martha called “Patsy.” Patsy died just before the Revolution and Jacky died during the war. His wife Eleanor Calvert was left with four children: Nelly, two older sisters, and a son, George Washington Parke Custis. Martha and George Washington formally adopted Nelly and George. Martha’s two other granddaughters lived with their mother who remarried.

Martha and George Washington were very dear to Nelly. “She has been ever more than a Mother to me, and the President the most affectionate of Fathers. I love them more than any one.” Nelly was attractive and talented. And well schooled—her step-grandfather saw to that. When the President retired to Mount Vernon at the end of his second term, Nelly went too. She corresponded with her friend Elizabeth Bordley in Philadelphia; on August 20, 1797, she wrote complaining about gossip linking her romantically to one or another of the eligible bachelors.

whoever is my Husband I must first love him with all my Heart—that is not romantically, but esteem & prefer him before all others, that Man I am not yet acquainted with —perhaps never may be, if so—then I remain E P Custis Spinster for life.

A year and a half later, Nelly admitted to her friend that she had found that man and was to be married.

Mount Vernon February 3rd 1799My dearest Eliza,
Cupid, a small mischeivous Urchin, who has been trying sometime to humble my pride, took me by surprise, when I thought of nothing less than him, & in the very moment that I had (after mature consideration) made the sage and prudent resolve of passing through life, as a prim starched Spinster, to the great edification of my Friends [her grandparents] in particular, & the public in general—when I had abused & defied him, & thought my Heart impenetrable he slyly called in Lawrence Lewis to his aid, & transfixed me with a Dart, before I knew where I was. It was sometime I assure you before I could reconcile myself to giving up my favourite scheme, but resistance was vain, I had to contend with perseverance & at last was obliged to submit & bind myself to become that old fashioned thing called a Wife & now, strange as it may seem—I am perfectly reconciled & neither think “the day evil, or the Hour unlucky,” that witnessed my solemn promise to become Mrs. Lewis, & take said Lawrence for better or worse.
That promise will soon be ratifyed—the 22nd of this month is the day which will fix my future destiny. My present prospects are the most pleasing. The Man I have chosen to watch over my future happiness, is in every respect calculated to ensure it.

Lawrence Lewis, a nephew of George Washington, had come to Mount Vernon in 1798 to help deal with the constant flow of visitors; he was thus in a good position to court Eleanor. The couple were married on Washington’s birthday.

The quoted letters can be found on page 186 of In the Words of Women. Further information about Nelly Parke Custis Lewis, as well as the portrait by James Sharples, can be found here.

posted February 12th, 2015 by Janet, Comments Off, CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke, Marriage, Washington, George, Washington, Martha

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