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 pair of brass Candle-sticks”

The Battle of White Plains, New York, occurred on October 28, 1776. General Washington was moving his troops northward from New York City into Westchester County after having suffered a major defeat by the British. It proved impossible to defend his position in the village of White Plains and so he retreated further north, eventually crossing the Hudson River, marching through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. Phoebe Oakley, fleeing her home, had stored her valuables at her brother-in-law’s house for safekeeping. Unfortunately the house was in White Plains near the site of the battle. it was plundered by American soldiers. Her complaint listed the items stolen:

a trunk filled with Linen & cloaths . . . five feather beads [beds] & bedding, one looking glass, one Copper Coffey-Kettle, with lamp and stand, two muffs in cases, a long blue cloth cloak, one pair of brass knobbed hand irons, one painted and one woolen floor-cloth, one copper Tea Kettle, two Pewter dishes & one dozen of plates, a whole set of Tea China, and a small red trunk . . . a pair of boots almost new, a pair of brass Candle-sticks and some books.

Some items were returned to her, but the rest disappeared.

Phoebe Oakley’s list can be found on page 62 of In the Words of Women.

posted May 4th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Battles, Looting, Oakley, Phoebe

“On a SURVEY of the HEAVENS.”

Another poem from Mercy Otis Warren, patriot, dramatist, poet, historian, and correspondent, to mark the end of Poetry Month, this one with a religious bent. See another poem by MOW in the previous post.

On a SURVEY of the HEAVENS.

DOES there an infidel exist?
Let him look up—he can’t resist,
These proofs of Deity—so clear,
He must the architect revere,
Whene’er to heaven he lifts his eyes,
And there surveys the spangled skies;
The glitt’ring stars, the worlds that shine,
And speak their origin divine,
Bid him adore, and prostrate fall,
And own one Lord, supreme o’er all.

One God this mighty fabrick guides,
Th’ etherial circles he divides;
And measures out the distant bound,
Of each revolving planet’s round;
Prevents the universal jar,
That might from one eccentric star,
Toss’d in the wide extended space,
At once—a thousand worlds displace.

What else supports the rolling spheres;
Nought but Almighty power appears,
The vast unnumber’d orbs to place,
And scatter o’er the boundless space,
Myriads of worlds of purer light,
Our adoration to excite;
And lead the wandering mind of man,
To contemplate the glorious plan.

Not even Newton’s godlike mind,
Nor all the sages of mankind,
Could e’er assign another cause,
Though much they talk of nature’s laws;
Of gravity’s attractive force,
They own the grand, eternal source,
Who, from the depths of chaos’ womb,
Prepar’d the vaulted, spacious dome;
He spake—a vast foundation’s laid,
And countless globes thereon display’d.

His active power still sustains
Their weight, amidst the heavenly plains;
Infinite goodness yet protects,
All perfect wisdom still directs
Their revolutions;—knows the hour,
When rapid time’s resistless pow’r,
In mighty ruin will involve,
And God—this grand machine dissolve.

Then time and death shall both expire,
And in the universal fire,
These elements shall melt away,
To usher in eternal day.

Amazing thought!—Is it decreed;
New earth and heavens, shall these succeed?
More glorious far—still more august!
In his omnific arm we trust.

But how this system ’twill excel,
Nor Angel’s voice, or tongue can tell;
Nor human thought so high can soar;
His works survey, and God adore.

The poem is from Mercy Otis Warren’s Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous (Boston: I. Thomas and E.T. Andrews, 1790), pages 198-199. It can be found HERE. The image is from Abner D. Jones, ed., The Illustrated American Biography, Vol. 3 (1855) p 107.

posted April 30th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Poetry, Religion, Warren, Mercy Otis, Women Writers

“Woman’s Trifling Needs”

For the last week of April here are two more poems, these by Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), one today and the other on Thursday. Warren was a patriot, poet, dramatist and historian. See previous posts here, here, here, here, and here. She came from a prosperous Cape Cod family and was educated at home to a degree far above most women. She had close connections to many patriots: her brother James Otis was very active in the resistance to Britain; her husband James Warren served in the Massachusetts legislature; and she carried on a correspondence with friends Abigail Adams, Hannah Fayerweather Winthrop, and John Adams, among others. In 1790 a collection by her called Poems, Dramatic and Miscellaneous was published including the following poem which had appeared earlier. It supports the boycott of British goods that was one of the first actions taken by the colonies and ridicules those frivolous women who are too weak to participate.

Woman’s Trifling Needs

AN inventory clear
Of all she needs Lamira offers here;
Nor does she fear a rigid Cato’s frown
When she lays by the rich embroidered gown,
And modestly compounds for just enough—
Perhaps, some dozens of more flighty stuff;
With lawns and lustrings, blond, and Mechlin laces,
Fringes and jewels, fans and tweezer-cases;
Gay cloaks, and hats of every shape and size,
Scarfs, cardinals, and ribbons of all dyes;
With ruffles stamped, and aprons of tambour,
Tippets and handkerchiefs, at least three score;
With finest muslins that fair India boasts,
And the choice herbage from Chinesan coasts;
(But while the fragrant hyson leaf regales,
Who’ll wear the homespun produce of the vales?
For if ‘twould save the nation from the curse
Of standing troops; or—name a plague still worse—
Few can this choice, delicious draught give up,
Though all Medea’s poisons fill the cup.)
Add feathers, furs, rich satins, and ducapes,
And bead-dresses in pyramidial shapes;
Sideboards of plate and porcelain profuse,
With fifty dittos that the ladies use;
If my poor treach’rous memory has missed,
Ingenious T——l shall complete the list.
So weak Lamira, and her wants so few,
Who can refuse?—they’re but the sex’s due.
In youth, indeed, an antiquated page
Taught us the threatenings of an Hebrew sage
‘Gainst wimples, mantles, curls, and crisping-pins;
But rank not these among our modern sins;
For when our manners are well understood,
What in the scale is stomacher or hood?
‘Tis true, we love the courtly mien and air,
The pride of dress and all the debonair;
Yet Clara quits the more dressed negligee,
And substitutes the careless Polanee;
Until some fair one from Britannia’s court,
Some jaunty dress or newer taste import;
This sweet temptation could not be withstood,
Though for the purchase paid her father’s blood.
* * * * * * *
Can the stern patriot Clara’s suit deny?
‘Tis Beauty asks, and Reason must comply.

The poem was taken from E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes, 1891. Vol. III: “Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 1765–1787.” It can be found online HERE.

posted April 27th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes, Fashion, Poetry, Resistance to British, Warren, Mercy Otis, Women Writers

“few people whose prospects of happiness exceed mine”

Eliza Southgate Bowne wrote to her mother on July 8, 1803, adding details to the account of her experiences in New York City she had described to her sister Octavia in the previous post.

Mv letter will be an old date before I finish it. You must have perceived, my dear mother, from my letters, that I am much pleased with New-York. I was never in a place that I should prefer as a situation for life, and nothing but the distance from my friends can render it other than delightful. We have thus far spent the summer delightfully; we have been (on) no very long journeys, but on a number of little excursions of twenty or forty miles to see whatever is pleasant in the neighborhood.
Mr. Bowne’ s friends, though all very plain, are very amiable and affectionate, and I receive every attention from them I wish. I have a great many people call on me, and shall have it in my power to select just such a circle of acquaintance as suits my taste: few people whose prospects of happiness exceed mine, which I often think of with grateful sensations. Mr. Bowne’s situation in life is equal to my most sanguine expectations, and it is a peculiar gratification to me to find him so much and so universally esteemed and respected. This would be ridiculous from me to any but my mother, but I know it must be pleasing to you to know that I realize all the happiness you can wish me. I have not a wish that is not gratified as soon as ’tis known. We intend going to Bethlehem, Philadelphia, and a watering-place, similar to the Springs [Saratoga], about thirty miles beyond Philadelphia: shall probably set out the latter part of this month. At present we have done nothing toward housekeeping, and Mr. Bowne won’t let me do the least thing toward it, lest I get my mind engaged, and not enjoy the pleasure of our journeys.
‘Tis very different here from most any place, for there is no article but you can find ready made to your taste, excepting table-linen, bedding, etc., etc. One poor bed-quilt is all I have toward housekeeping, and been married two months almost. I am sadly off, to be sure. We have not yet found a house that suits us. Mr. Bowne don’t like any of his own, and wishes to hire one for the present, until he can build, which he intends doing next season, which I am very glad of, as I never liked living in a hired house, and changing about so often. . . . I have been very busy with my mantua-maker, as I am having a dress made to wear to Mrs. [Rufus King] Delafield’s to dinner on Sunday. They have a most superb country-seat on Long Island, opposite Hell Gate. . . .
My picture is done, but I am disappointed in it. Malbone says he has not done me justice; so says Mr. Bowne; but I think, though the features are striking, he has not caught the expression, particularly of the eyes, which are excessively pensive. . . . The mouth laughs a little, and they all say is good,—all the lower part of the face,—but the eyes not the thing. He wants me to sit again; so does Mr. Bowne; Malbone thinks he could do much better in another position. I get so tired, I am quite reluctant about sitting again. However, I intend showing it to some of our friends before we determine. . . . Mr. Bowne and myself are talking of coming to see you next summer very seriously. How comes on the new house? We are to come as soon as ever that is finished. If you choose to send so far, I will purchase any kind of furniture you may wish, perhaps cheaper and better than you can get elsewhere. Adieu! Remember me to all the children. Dear little Mary! I can’t help crying sometimes, with all my pleasures and amusements: ’tis impossible to be at once reconciled to quitting all one’s friends. . . . Tell [father] I yesterday met a woman full broke out withe the small-pox. I was within a yard of her before I perceived it. The first sensation was terror, and I ran several paces before I recollected myself. As soon as I arrived in town. Dr. Moore examined my arm, inquired the particulars, and refused to inoculate me again; that he would venture to insure me from the small-pox; that he had inoculated hundreds, and never had one take the small-pox after the kine-pox. Adieu!
Your affectionate daughter,
ELIZA S. BOWNE.

Eliza and Walter Bowne would have two children. Eliza was not well after the second birth and she went, with her sister Octavia, to Charlestown, South Carolina, hoping to benefit from the milder climate. She died there in 1809. She was twenty-five years old. The last letter she wrote was to Caroline Bowne, her mother-in-law, on January 28. “I send by Capt. Crouch a little pair of shoes for Mary, a little cuckoo toy for Walter, and a tumbler of orange marmalade for Mother. . . . I can tell you nothing flattering of my health. I am very miserable at present; I have a kind of intermittent fever; this afternoon I shall take an emetic, and hope a good effect. How are my dear little ones? I hope not too troublesome. . . . Precious children!”
Walter Bowne went on to become the 59th mayor of New York City in 1829.

The first letter can be found HERE. The one from Charleston can be found HERE. The portrait miniature is by Edward Greene Malbone (1777–1807) and was taken from a POST of the New England Historical Society.

posted April 23rd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art, Bowne, Eliza Southgate, Bowne, Walter, New York, Smallpox

A New England Bride in New York

I hope, dear reader, you are as enamored as I am with Elizabeth Southgate (1783–1809). See previous post and others here, here, here, here, and here. She married Walter Bowne, a wealthy Quaker from Flushing, Long Island, in 1803. (See post describing her first meeting with him.) Following is a letter she wrote to her sister Octavia describing her impressions of New York City, the fashions, and her happiness in her marriage.

New York 6 June, 1803.I have so much to say, where shall I begin? My head is most turned, and yet I am very happy. I am enraptured with New York. You cannot imagine anything half so beautiful as Broadway, and I am sure you would say I was more romantic than ever, if I should attempt to describe the Battery—the elegant water prospect—you can have no idea how refreshing in a warm evening. The gardens we have not yet visited—indeed we have so many delightful things ’twill take me forever, and my husband declares he takes as much pleasure in showing them to me as I do in seeing them; you would believe it if you saw him. . . .
Caroline and I went a-shopping yesterday, and ’tis a fact that the little white satin Quaker bonnets, cap-crowns, are the most fashionable that are worn—lined with pink or blue or white—but I’ll not have one, for if any of my old acquaintance should meet me in the street they would laugh; I would if I were they. I mean to send sister Boyd a Quaker cap, the first tasty one I see. Caroline’s are too plain, but she has promised to get me a more fashionable pattern. ’Tis the fashion, I see nothing new or pretty—large sheer-muslin shawls . . . are much worn; they show the form through, and look pretty. Silk nabobs, plaided, colored and white, are much worn—very short waists—hair very plain . . . .
Last night we were at the play—“The way to get married.” Mr. Hodgkinson in Tangent is inimitable. Mrs. Johnson, a sweet, interesting actress, in Julia, and Jefferson, a great comic player, were all that were particularly pleasing. House was very thin—so late in the season. . . .
As to house-keeping, we don’t begin to talk anything of it yet. Mr. Bowne says not till October—however, you shall hear all our plans. I anticipate so much happiness—I am sure if anybody ought to, I may. My heart is full sometimes when I think how much more blest I am than most of the world. . . .
Thursday morning—I have been to two of the gardens; Columbia, near the Battery—a most romantic, beautiful place—’tis enclosed in a circular form and little rooms and boxes all round—with tables and chairs—these full of company; the trees all interspersed with lamps twinkling through the branches; in the centre a pretty little building with a fountain playing continually. The rays of the lamps on the drops of water gave it a cool sparkling appearance that was delightful…. Here we strolled among the trees and every moment met some walking from the thick shade unexpectedly—and come upon us before we heard a sound—’twas delightful. We passed a box that Miss Watts was in; she called us, and we went in and had a charming, refreshing glass of ice-cream—which has chilled me ever since. They have a fine orchestra, and have concerts here sometimes. I can conceive of nothing more charming than this must be.
We went on to the Battery. This is a large promenade by the shore of the North River—very extensive; rows and clusters of trees in every part, and a large walk along the shore, almost over the water, gives you such a fresh, delightful air that every evening in summer [it] is crowded with company. Here, too, they have music playing on the water in boats of a moonlight night.
Last night we went to a garden a little out of town—Mount Vernon Garden. This, too, is surrounded by boxes of the same kind, with a walk on top of them—you can see the gardens all below—but ’tis a summer playhouse—pit and boxes, stage and all, but open on top; from this there are doors opening into the garden, which is similar to Columbia Garden, lamps among the trees, large mineral fountain, delightful swings, two at a time. I was in raptures, as you may imagine, and, if I had not grown sober before I came to this wonderful place, ’twould have turned my head. . . . I have so much to tell you, and of those that have called on me, I have no room to say half. . . . Adieu; I am expecting to hear from you every day. Mr. Bowne is out, would send a great deal of love if he were here. . . . Our best love to my father and mother—Horatio, Isabella and all. I mean to write as soon as I am settled a little—adieu.

From A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vol. IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 1788–1820
, Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. By permission of Mr. Walter Lawrence, from Letters copied from the originals by his mother, Mrs. Mary King Bowne Laurence appearing online HERE.

posted April 20th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements, Bowne, Eliza Southgate, Bowne, Walter, Fashion, Marriage, New York

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