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.

Brrr….Happy New Year!

On January 11, Russell Shorto will be at the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, New York, to talk about his new book Revolution Song: A Story of American Freedom (New York: W.W. Norton, 2018). Shorto is the author of several books, perhaps the best known being The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America (New York: Vintage Books, 2005).

In his new book Shorto has taken a different approach to writing about the founding of our nation. This “change of focus” involves “weaving six different lives into one story” creating what he calls “a narrative song.” The characters are a Seneca warrior named Cornplanter; England’s Secretary of State for the American Department, Lord George Germain; George Washington; Venture Smith, an American slave who bought his freedom; Margaret Moncrieffe Coghlan, the daughter of a British military officer, with connections on both sides of the Atlantic; and Abraham Yates, Jr. of Albany, New York, a self-made man whose views and writings reflected the tradesman’s perspective and a distrust of elites on both sides, British and American. Shorto’s research is prodigious; he has drawn on primary source material for all of his characters—letters, diaries, account books, scribbled orders—managing to orchestrate the lot into a cohesive narrative.

Of course, I am particularly interested in the woman he has chosen as one of the six characters: MARGARET MONCRIEFFE COGHLAN. Women’s lives at that time were circumscribed, largely limited to duties as wives and mothers, and subject to the control of men: fathers, husbands, brothers, and even sons. Moncreiffe’s rebellion was against forced marriage, her situation made more horrible by an abusive husband. Shorto follows Moncrieffe as she tries to make a life on her own. I plan to ask the author why he chose this particular woman. (More on Coghlan, with extracts from her Memoir in future posts.)

The lecture on January 11th will take place in the Iselin Wing at John Jay Homestead. Registration and refreshments begin at 6:30 pm; the lecture begins at 7 pm. $25; $20 for members. Limited free seating is available for students.

posted January 6th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat, Coghlan, Margaret Moncrieffe

” the pleasure of your company is my prime enjoyment”

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY continues her correspondence with her husband who is in Philadelphia during the holiday season in 1778-1779. She misses John terribly and is excited at the prospect of joining him. Sarah’s health was always rather fragile—she seems to have suffered from some sort of rheumatism at a young age (perhaps rheumatoid arthritis?)—and, as is clear from this letter, from depression which comes and goes. I love the way she sometimes writes as if carrying on a conversation, here with her father, who teases her about her “naughty husband who is too lazy to write,” and then produces a letter from him.

Eliz. Town, 3d. Jay. 1779My dear Mr. Jay,
I was making inquiries just now for pen, ink &c. in order to write to my absent friend when papa return’d from town. What going to scribble again my dear? Were I in your place I would not give myself any concern about such a naughty husband who is too lazy to write to his little wife. So unusual an expression from papa commanded my attention & percieving a smile upon his countenance I demanded a letter from him, when after a few Presbiterian evasions he handed me yours of the 26th Decr. . . .

Sister Kitty [Livingston] is much obliged to you for your polite invitation, & already anticipates the pleasure of being with us. Papa too has made her happy by his acquiescence with your request, tho’ it’s my opinion you could not make a request with which he would not chearfully comply. As to me, you know, that the pleasure of your company is my prime enjoyment & therefore your proposal to send for me is very agreeable. If you think it probable that accomodations will be provided by the 1st Feby. let that be the time for the Col: [Henry Brockholst Livingston, Sarah’s brother] to attend us: I think it will not be amiss if Jacob should come with the waggon for our baggage, unless Brockst. can procure a continental one; but be that as it will, order your Secy. to inform us of yr. determination previous to his leaving Philadelphia.

The company of your dear little boy [Peter Augustus] proved a great consolation to me since you’ve been absent, & I should not have forsaken him for Eliz. Town had I not found my spirits a key too low, which I thought a ride would contribute to enliven. As soon as a convenient opportunity offers Kitty & I shall return to Persipiney & wait there the Colonels arrival. Adieu, my dr. Mr. Jay. I dare not ask you to write frequently, if the time to be so employed, must be deducted from sleep; for certain I am, that if a sufficient portion of time is not alotted for repose, your too intense application to business will inevitably impair your health.

Accept the Compts: of the season from our little circle & may we repeat the same to each other fifty years hence. Once more my beloved Adieu.
Yours affectionately
Sa. Jay

Christmas was not a widely celebrated holiday in the colonies. Its observance was generally prohibited in New England by Calvinists and other Protestant sects, and by the Quakers in Philadelphia and elsewhere. On the other hand, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Moravians did celebrate the Christmas season with both religious services and secular festivities. Generally these groups were in the Middle colonies and the South. If there was any decoration at all in homes it was likely to be garlands of natural greens, a few sprigs of holly and some mistletoe.

Using an expression I find particularly felicitous, I beg all of the readers of this blog to ACCEPT THE COMPLIMENTS OF THE SEASON. And to join me in the new year when I will resume posting.

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 56. Read articles on the celebration of Christmas in the colonies HERE and HERE.

“my dearest friend”

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY had written the letter in the previous post on December 28, 1778, but found no way of sending it to her husband John who was in Philadelphia tending to his responsibilities as president of the Second Continental Congress. From Elizabeth Town, to which she had returned, she penned an addition to it on the 30th.

I have always been charmed by the way married couples during often referred to each other in their letters as “my dearest friend.” My colleagues and I had wanted that phrase to be the title of our book on the correspondence of the Jays, but sadly the publisher overruled it.

Wednesday Morng.
I wrote this letter on monday, but as I knew of no opportunity of sending it, left it unsealed, & in the evening was agreeably surprised by Papa’s arrival at Persipiney, but still more pleased when he handed me your letter of the 10th Inst. which I have the pleasure of acknowledging at present. Accept my dearest friend of my sincere thanks for your never-ceasing attention to my happiness. You tell me, my dear, that the greatest gratification you derive from the honor of your late appointment is it’s being an additional recommendation to my esteem. And do you really imagine that my esteem for you can be heightned by any public testimony of your merit? No, no my dear, my sentiments of esteem have long since been confirmed, nor indeed has the public acknowledgment of your merit been wanting to convince me that the respect I felt for you was founded on your virtue.
Yesterday Papa prevailed upon me to return with Kitty & himself to Eliz. Town, and by way of inducement assured me there are more frequent opportunities of hearing from you here than if I staid at Persipiney. He tells me likewise to inform you that unless there is an order of Congress to the contrary he shall certainly fetch your little Boy [Peter Augustus in Persipiney] very soon. Papa is just going to church, I’ll seal my letter in hopes that in town he’ll hear of some way of forwarding this to you. . . .
Yours

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 55. Circa 1870s antique engraving of Sarah Livingston.

” . . . how long . . . am [I] . . . to remain in a state of widowhood”

It’s time for a return visit to one of my favorite Revolutionary War women—SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY. The intelligent and beautiful Sarah, daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, was the wife of John Jay of New York. The couple’s first child, Peter Augustus, was born in 1776. On December 10, 1778, John Jay was elected president of the Second Continental Congress, the highest office in the government at that time, replacing Henry Laurens whose term had come to an end. A few days later, in a letter William Livingston wrote to Nathaniel Scudder in Philadelphia, he included this: “P.S. Please to give my respects to your new President, & to tell him that his present office appears rather obstructive of the performance of the promise he has made me of using his best endeavours to get me another Grandson as soon as possible.”

Writing to her husband from Persipiney, New Jersey on December 28th, SARAH JAY seems to be rather put out by having read about her husband’s new position in a newspaper. And she is a bit miffed at not hearing from him frequently enough. Note the typically formal salutation of wife to husband. Classical references were common in the correspondence of educated people of that time. The manuscript letter can be viewed here.

My dear Mr. Jay,
I should have troubled you a second time, & have wrote you by the last Post had I not entertained the hope that it wou’d not be long before I should have the pleasure of acknowledging at least one favor from you. I have been disappointed, ‘tis true, but still I will not relinquish the pleasing idea of being affectionately remembered by my beloved friend. To prevent future mortifications of the like tender to nature, permit me to remind you that there is a Post that takes letters from Morris-Town for Philadelphia & returns every week.
I had the pleasure of finding by the news-paper that you are honor’d with the first office on the Continent, and am still more pleased to hear this appointment affords general satisfaction. Will you be so kind as to inform me whether our State has prolonged your stay beyond the first of March or not? As by your present Appointment your personal attendance upon Congress I imagine can’t be dispensed with, I am very solicitous to know how long I am still to remain in a state of widowhood; upon my word I sincerely wish these three months may conclude it; however, I mean not to influence your conduct, for I am convinced that had you consulted me as some men have their wives about public measures, I should not have been Roman Matron enough to have given you so intirely to the public, & of consequence your reputation & claim to the gratitude of your country would have been as much diminished as theirs who have acted so imprudent tho’ tender a part.
It will give you pleasure to be informed that your son & myself are still favored with health, & if you can spare time to give me the same grateful tidings of yourself, you can hardly imagine what happiness you’ll confer upon your
affecte. Wife
Sa. Jay

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 54-55. The portrait is by Robert Edge Pine; it appears HERE.

Washington’s Encampment at Verplanck 1782

Having recently visited the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and written about it in this post, I am tempted to return to see a special limited-run exhibit there from January 13 to February 19. On display will be a newly discovered seven-foot-long watercolor painting of Washington’s Encampment in Verplanck, New York, on the banks of Hudson River in 1782. The meticulously detailed painting by Pierre Charles L’Enfant shows the tents of various regiments and on a hilltop the only known wartime depiction of George Washington’s traveling canvas headquarters tent. The actual tent is a prize artifact at the Museum of the American Revolution. Below is the part of the panoramic painting that shows Washington’s tent.

Read about the discovery of this painting in this New York Times article.

I am excited about this painting not only because the Verplanck Encampment is in the Lower Hudson Valley where I live but also because it is directly across from the Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site of which my friend Julia Warger is the manager. She is over the moon about this discovery and she and her staff are poring over a highly enlarged reproduction of a section of the watercolor she received from the Philadelphia Museum.

Stony Point is the scene of the battle in which Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, on July 16, 1779, led his troops in a daring midnight attack on the British garrison seizing its fortifications and taking the soldiers and camp followers prisoners. The site is also the location of the Hudson River’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1826. Presently decommissioned it’s worth seeing if only for the spectacular view it affords up and down the river.


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