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.

“that heavy lifeless lump a wife”

GRACE GROWDEN came from a Philadelphia family of wealth and social standing. She had a mind of her own; on a trip to England in 1747 to visit her sister she fell in love with a Mr. Milner who was a customs collector at Poole. Her father forbid the union ordered his daughter home. She complied. In 1753 Grace married Joseph Galloway who inherited his father’s land holdings and mercantile business. Galloway became a lawyer with a prosperous practice in Philadelphia whose marriage to Grace enhanced his social and financial standing. Upon her father’s death Grace inherited the family mansion in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, but as women were not allowed to own property at this time her husband became its owner. The Galloways had three children, one of whom, Betsy, survived past childhood. The marriage was stressful and Grace was not happy. In 1759 she wrote “[I] find myself neglected, loathed, despised.” In her poetry she complained about the tyranny of men and the suffocating constraints of marriage. In one:

…I am Dead
Dead to each pleasing thought each Joy of Life
Turn’d to that heavy lifeless lump a wife.

In another:

never get Tyed to a Man
for when once you are yoked
‘Tis all a Mere Joke
of seeing your freedom again.”

Life became complicated as the Revolution approached. Joseph Galloway opposed independence and as a member of the First Continental Congress proposed a conciliatory plan toward Britain. It was rejected. After the Declaration of Independence was approved Galloway, fearing for his safety, fled to a British camp and then to New York City where he joined the British forces. By now a staunch Loyalist, Galloway followed General William Howe when he occupied Philadelphia and became that city’s Superintendent of Police and of the Port. In 1778 Pennsylvania passed a law by which property of Loyalists was confiscated. A substantial amount of Galloway’s holdings included property inherited by Grace, and when the British evacuated the city she determined to stay on —alone, since her husband had left with her beloved daughter—to try to save it. More from the diary Grace Galloway kept during this period in the next post.

Sources include Texts on The Origins of Liberty Rhetoric, 1770s-1820s and History of American Women, which can be viewed HERE.

posted January 19th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Galloway, Grace Growden, Galloway, Joseph, Loyalists, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Poetry

“I grew up like a neglected weed . . .”

It seems fitting on Martin Luther King day to draw attention to a book published in 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada compiled by Benjamin Drew whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. This by Drew from the introduction to the book:

When in any State, the oppression of the laboring portion of the community amounts to an entire deprivation of their civil and personal rights; when it assumes to control their wills, to assign them tasks, to reap the rewards of their labor, and to punish with bodily tortures the least infraction of its mandates, it is obvious that the class so overwhelmed with injustice. are necessarily, unless prevented by ignorance from knowing their rights and their wrongs, the enemies of the government. To them, insurrection and rebellion are primary, original duties. If successfully thwarted in the performance of these, emigration suggests itself as the next means of escaping the evils under which they groan. From the exercise of this right, they can only be restrained by fear and force. These, however, will sometimes be found inadequate to hold in check the natural desire of liberty. Many, in spite of all opposition, in the face of torture and death, will seek an asylum in foreign lands, and reveal to the ears of pitying indignation, the secrets of the prisonhouse.

Benjamin Drew sought out many black Americans who had fled to Upper Canada to escape slavery in order to interview them and record their experiences under slavery and what they were experiencing under conditions of liberty. His intent was to place “their testimony on record.” One of the people he interviewed was HARRIET TUBMAN. She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. She is well known for leading hundreds of other slaves to freedom utilizing the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War she served as nurse, cook, and spy for the Union forces. Here is her brief narrative.

I grew up like a neglected weed,—ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented: every time I saw a white man I was afraid of being carried away. I had two sisters carried away in a chain-gang,—one of them left two children. We were always uneasy. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. I have no opportunity to see my friends in my native land. We would rather stay in our native land, if we could be as free there as we are here. I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell, if he could.

You can read other narratives from Drew’s book HERE. The Tubman sculpture is by Jane DeDecker.

posted January 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Canada, Slaves/slavery, Tubman, Harriet

“who can fail from being Charmed with the Baron de Stael?”

ABIGAIL ADAMS wrote the following letter to her niece Elizabeth Cranch, whom she calls Betsy, during the Adams’s stay in France in 1785. She describes visits to the residence of the Swedish Ambassador and to a French aristocrat, including details of the furnishings and dress she knew her niece would find interesting. John and Abigail would shortly proceed to London where John Adams would be minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James’s.

May 12th. 1785 AuteuilDid you ever my dear Betsy see a person in real Life such as your imagination form’d of Sir Charles Grandison*? The Baron de Stael the Sweedish Ambassador comes nearest to that Character in his Manners and personal appearence of any Gentleman I ever saw. The first time I saw him I was prejudic’d in his favour, for his countanance Commands your good opinion, it is animated intelligent sensible affable, and without being perfectly Beautifull, is most perfectly agreeable. Add to this a fine figure, and who can fail from being Charmed with the Baron de Stael?

He lives in a Grand Hotel, and his suite of apartments his furniture and his table are the most Elegant of any thing I have seen. Altho you dine upon plate in every noble House in France, I cannot say that you may see your face in it, but here the whole furniture of the table was burnished and shone with Royal Splendor. Seventy thousand Livres in plate will make no small figure, and that is what his Majesty gave him. The desert was servd in the richest China with knives, forks, and spoons of Gold. As you enter his apartments you pass through files of servants into his antichamber, in which is a Throne coverd with green velvet upon which is a Chair of State over which hangs the picture of his Royal Master. These thrones are common to all Ambassadors of the first order as they are the immediate representatives of the king. Through his antichamber you pass into the grand Saloon which is elegantly adornd with architecture, a Beautifull Lusture hanging from the middle. Settees Chairs and hangings of the richest Silk embroiderd with Gold, Marble Slabs upon fluted pillars round which wreaths of artificial flowers in Gold entwine. It is usual to find in all houses of fashion, as in this, several dozen of Chairs, all of which has stuft backs and cushings standing in double rows round the rooms. The dinning room was equally beautifull, being hung with Gobelin tapestry the coulours and figures of which resembled the most elegant painting. In this room were hair bottom mahogony back chairs and the first I have seen since I came to France, two small statues of a venus de Medicis and a venus de bel . . . were upon the Mantle peice, the latter however was the modestest of the kind, having something like a lose robe thrown partly over her.
From the Sweedish Ambassadors we went to visit the Dutchess of D’Anville, who is Mother to the Duke de Rouchfoucault.* We found the old Lady sitting in an Easy chair, around her set a circle of Academicians and by her side a young Lady. Your uncle presented us, and the old Lady rose and as usual gave us a Salute. . . . The dutchess is near 80, very tall and lean. She was drest in a silk chimise with very large sleaves comeing half way down her arm, a large cape, no stays a black velvet Girdle round her waist. Some very rich lace in her chimise round her neck and in her sleaves, but the lace was not sufficient to cover the upper part of her neck which old time had harrow’d. She had no cap on, but a little black gauze Bonet which did not reach her Ears and tied under her chin, her venerable white hair in full view. The dress of old women and young girls in this Country is detestable to speak in the French stile. The latter at the age of Seven being cloathed exactly like a woman of 20 and the former have such a fantastical appearance that I cannot endure it. The old Lady has all the vivacity of a Young one. She is the most learned woman in France. Her house is the resort of all Men of literature with whom she converses upon the most abstruse subjects. She is [of] one of the most ancient as well as richest families in the kingdom. . . .

Thus you have my yesterdays entertainment. The only pleasure which I shall feel to day, is that which I have taken in writing you this morning. I forgot to mention to you that several persons of high rank dined with us yesterday, but not one of them can claim a stroke of my pen after the Baron de Stael.
Adieu my dear Betsy . . . . Yours affectionately
A. A

* Abigail is referring to the character in an epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson first published in 1753 that both she and her niece would have read.
** The Duchess’s son, Louis Alexandre, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, was a leading philosophe and friend of America with a keen interest in American state constitutions. He was killed by a Revolutionary mob in 1792.

The Baron de Stael married the daughter of the French Minister of Finance Jacques Necker, Anne Louise Germaine Necker, who was to achieve fame as “Madame de Staël”. His portrait by the Swedish painter Adolph-Ulrich Wertmüller shows him at the age of thirty three.

The letter can be found at the Massachusetts Historical Society; see this LINK.

posted January 12th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail, Cranch, Elizabeth "Betsy", Paris

“a Lad . . . engaged in the sea service”

CATHARINE LIVINGSTON undertook the responsibility of contacting Benjamin Franklin, at the time Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States to France, concerning the fate of her brother John Lawrence. Catharine was the daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, and the elder sister of Sarah Livingston Jay. The Livingston family was exceedingly concerned as they had not heard from their son/brother who was a midshipman on the Saratoga in nearly a year.

Phila. Octr 19 [17]81Not long since I had the pleasure of forwarding a letter from my Father to your Excellency, but as the casualties attending the receipt of letters in War time are many, it may not reach you Sir before this, if at all— And being furnished with a very favorable opportunity by the gentleman* who will honor me with the care of this, I hope you will excuse the liberty of my troubling you Sir, with a few lines; to which I am encouraged by the attention the American Minister has shewn to his unfortunate Countrymen, & my great anxiety for a Captive Brother; now a Prisoner in some part of England; late a Midshipman on board the Saratoga—Third & youngest Son of William Livingston’s—a Lad of about 19 years of age, inspired by the example of his fellow countrymen, engaged in the sea service, with a view to assist in humbling Americas proud Foes, & restoring peace & liberty to their Republic—

The purport of my father’s letter, was Sir, to request your interest in releiving & effecting as far as in your power his Sons exchange. It is near a twelve month since my Brother left America, & no particulars has reached his family respecting his fate, but the capture of the Ship in which he sailed; for many months we suffered much on his account, those less interested than his relatives, gave up all Idea of ever hearing of the saratoga— our hope was a remote one, & would admit only of the cruel alternative of capture— my brothers situation is particularly unfortunate to him, as he has not for a few years past enjoy’d his health except at Sea, tho naturally sound & strong constitution’d—but impaired in being often exposed in the frequent incursions of the Enemy in New Jersey the State of his residence—nor can he flatter himself that he will find friends in a country to which his father is so notoriously an Enemy to—

Any releif that he experiences in consequence of your Excellency’s exertions in his favor, will be gratefully acknowledged by his Family & Friends, & particularly so by his affectionate Sister, & your very obliged Friend & Admirer

Catharine W Livingston

P.S. My Brothers name is John Lawrence Livingston

* Matthew Ridley, whom Catharine later married.

It was later learned that John Livingston was not a prisoner of war but was lost at sea with all his shipmates when the Saratoga was sunk. Such a long time to discover the truth, for a family to hope, and then to mourn. Not at all uncommon at that time.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Catharine W. Livingston, 19 October 1781,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-35-02-0464. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 35, May 1 through October 31, 1781, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999, pp. 611–612.]

posted January 9th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Franklin, Benjamin, Livingston, Catharine "Kitty"

“Your Excellency’s Old Devoted Servant”

ELIZABETH THOMPSON was seventy-two years old when she accepted the position of housekeeper to George Washington and his military family. The Irish widow exhibited the stamina and vigor of a much younger woman, following Washington as he moved up and down the northeastern coast. Her duties included overseeing the cooking, cleaning, and the washing of clothes, as well as supervising female servants in the General’s household for which she received “50 £ New York money” a year. She replaced MARY SMITH who left (or was discharged) shortly before it became known that she was part of a loyalist group whose intention was to help the British secure New York City.( Above is Mary Smith’s signature indicating she had received of Caleb Gibbs $216 for the use of Washington and his family.)

Washington had asked the help of Colonel James Clinton in finding a replacement for Mary, as he was “entirely destitute” of a housekeeper, and had heard good reports of Thompson. He hired her but she served for less than a year (July 1776 to April 1777) when she was let go because the spring campaign was about to begin. Apparently Martha Washington was upset when she learned that her husband had dismissed Thompson without consulting her and urged him to rehire her, if not for his military household then for Mount Vernon. Mrs. Thompson was located and agreed to return—to army headquarters at Morristown, New Jersey.

Mrs. Thompson proved to be more than competent in discharging her many responsibilities—quite amazing considering that she could neither read nor write. When she retired in 1781 she was asked to “assist in the enquiries and examination” of a new cook. Washington preferred a German, “a Person that has an understanding in the business, who can order, as well as get a dinner; who can make dishes, and proportion them properly, to any Company which shall be named to him. . . .” Apparently someone satisfactory was found.

When Mrs. Thompson left Washington’s employ, the General invited her to come and live at Mount Vernon but she was too infirm to make the trip. On October 10, 1783 John Trumbull, writing for Elizabeth Thompson, sent a letter to George Washington.

Sir,
When I had the favour of seeing your Excellency at Princeton you desired that I should make an Account for my Services in your Family to be laid before the Financier.

I came in to Your Excellency’s Service as Houskeeper in the month of June 1776 with a Zealous Heart to do the best in my Power. Although my Abilities had not the Strength of my Inclinations Your goodness was pleased to approve and bear with me untill December 1781 when Age made it necessary for me to retire.

Your Bounty and goodness in that time bestowed upon me the sum of £79 ..6..8 which makes it impossible for me to render an Account: my Service was never equal to what your Benevolence has thus rated them.

And being now in my Eightieth Year should I ever want, which I hope will not be the Case, I will look up to Your Excellency for Assistance where I am sure I will not be disappointed.

And that the Father of Mercies may pour on you his Choicest Blessings shall ever be the Prayer of
Your Excellency’s
Old Devoted Servant
Elizabeth Thompson

Thompson applied for and, in 1785, received a lifetime pension from the Continental Congress for her service: £100 a year. She died in 1788.

Frank e. Grizzard, Jr. George! a Guide to All Things Washington (Mariner Companies, Inc., 2005), 305; see entry on Thompson HERE. See also the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799; Elizabeth Thompson to George Washington, October 10, 1783. 373-74. For further information check the Mount Vernon SITE.

posted January 6th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Employment, Smith, Mary, Thompson, Elizabeth, Washington, George, Washington, Martha

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