Welcome to In the Words of Women, a new blog and a newly published book.

Like a trailer for the primary source material collected in the book, this blog serves as an invitation … to eavesdrop on the lives of women writing 250 years ago … to become acquainted with 144 little-known but amazingly articulate chroniclers … to discover a valuable new perspective on the Revolutionary Era.

These women 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 which issues are being featured. To subscribe via email, click here. Click the many topics to the right to learn more. Leave a comment. Email a question. And enjoy your explorations.

“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

“. . . poor little Caty was dead . . .”

Continuing the story, from the previous post, of Sally Brant, a black indentured servant of Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker and her husband Henry, who had a child out of wedlock:

March 4 [1795] . . . About a mile on this side Clearfield my husband and Sister mett Joe [Gibbs], he had the impudence, as M Courtney told M[ary] S[andwith] to come up into her room, she ask’d him what he wanted, he reply’d, to see something you have got here, and then look’d into the Cradle—she ask’d him if he own’d it, he say’d No, and further this deponent sayeth not. If he had not seen the Child, he had all reason to belive it was his, but the colour was convincing, he had frequently boasted of it, but was fearful of the expences that might accrue. . . .

[April] 19 . . . Sally Johnson here this Afternoon, ask’d if SB could spend a day with her this week, to which I consented, told her of her daughters late conduct wish’d she would take her and Child off our hands, that she had a year to serve from this month, which would have been of more worth to us, had she been a virtuous girl, than any other two years of her time, a girl in her place would cost us 8 or 9/P week, that she is as capable, or perhaps more so, than any one we could hire; I was afraid of her bad example to our other little girl [Sally Dawson] &c—she appeard more angry than griv’d, said she should not care if the childs brains were beat out &c—she would never have anything to do with it—I told her we would make no account of the expences we had already been at of Sallys laying in and board, the childs nursing since &c. She said she would take her daughter provided they, nither of ’em, should ever have any thing to do with the Child—she went away rather out of humor—
When HD. come home we related the above to him, concluded were we to turn her off, upon her mothers terms, she would be in the high road to further ruin—he call’d her into the parlor this evening and talk’d closely to her, told her he had a right to send her to the work house and sell her for a servent, that it was in pity to her, and in hopes of her reformation that he did not send Joe to prision, she had always had a good example in our house, if she did not mend her conduct she should not stay much longer in it &c. she cry’d but said nothing—How it will end, or what we shall do with her, I know not, set aside this vile propensity, she is one of the most handy and best servants we have ever had—and a girl of very pritty manners.

[By the middle of the following month, the “poor little yallow one” was boarded with a “Negro woman in the Neighborhood ’till we can otherwise dispose of it.” On July 2, 1795, Elizabeth Drinker was informed “that poor little Caty was dead—Jacob Morris, a black boy, whose Mother had her to nurse brought the note, and came for a Shroud to bury her in.” Sally Brant, when told, “shed a few tears, but all, appeard to be got over in a little time after.”]

[April 12, 1796] . . . Sally Johnson came to day, she very willingly agree’d to Sallys staying with us two months longer as we shall be cleaning house &c—she is, I expect, sensible, that we might, if inclined so to do, oblidge her to serve us near a year longer for the expences we have been at on her and Childs account, instead of giving her freedom Cloaths &c—I wish the poor girl may do well when she leaves us. She has behaved herself better for a month or two past than for a long time before. Whether it is to get the more from us, or whether she is actualy better I know not, but must hope for the best.

Sally Brant did leave the Drinker family but stayed in touch with one of the other young servants—“S. Brant took tea with our Sally Dawson” noted Elizabeth Drinker tersely on May 17, 1803.

The passages in this post can be found on pages 212-213 of In the Words of Women.

posted August 28th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children, Daily life, Death, Employment, Indentured Servans

“the Jaune pettet”

In 1794, Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker (see posts on Drinker here and here) and her husband Henry had to deal with a problem concerning a young black servant whose mother had arranged an indenture with the Drinkers.

[August 8, 1794] . . . I have been for a week past under great anxiety of mind on account of our poor little and I fear miserable S[ally] B[rant]—’tis possible I may be mistaken, ‘tho I great fear the reverse.
11. . . . it was late when I retir’d to my chamber, and later when I went to sleep—the thought of the unhappy Child that lay on the mattress at the foot of my bed, who does not appear to feel half so much for herself, as I do for her, keep’t me wakeing. . . . H[enry]. and E[lizabeth] D[rinker]. had a trying conversation, if a conversation it cold be call’d. with SB—poor poor Girl, who could have thought it? . . .

[October 31, 1794] . . . Sally Johnson and her daughter Franks came here before dinner, on a visit to her daughter SB. they stay’d an hour or two, eat dinner . . . she left herbs to make tea for SB. said it was good to procure an easy [labor]. . . .

[Nov.] 7 . . . I settled matters with Mary [Courtney at ‘Clearfield’, the Drinker farm 5 or 6 miles outside Philadelphia], concerning our poor Sall, who I intend leaving with her, ’till her grevious business is settld, I look on Mary as a well minded and well disposed woman, and who, with our help, will take the proper care of her. . . .

Decr. 2 . . . S.B. was this morning about 6 o’clock deliver’d of a daughter, the mother and Child both well. . . .

6 . . . Sister [Mary Sandwith] and William went this fore noon . . . found S.B. and her bantling well, Sally weep’d when she saw MS—and cover’d her head with the bed-cloaths—The Child is very Yallow for one so young. . . .

23 Decr. . . . S.B. is very well, and in rather too good spirits, everything considered, she had nam’d the Jaune pettet, [the little yellow one] Hannah G—bs [Gibbs], I disaprovd it, and chang’d it to Catharine Clearfield, with which she appear’d displeas’d. . . .

To be continued.

Diary entries are In the Words of Women, pages 211-212. The photograph is of a silhouette of Drinker at the Pennsylvania Historical Society.

posted August 25th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth, Indentured Servans, Quakers

“we . . . were very sorry we had sold the child”

Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker, a Quaker, kept a journal for more than 50 years. See another post about her here. Quakers were not supposed to own slaves, but more than a few did. Drinker recounts the story of one slave her family owned.

July 22 [1799] Black Judy was here today. She is now about 52 or 53 years old. My sister and self sold her when 9 years old into the country. We did not think we were doing wrong, for we did not know what to do with her, as our parents were dead. and we were going to board out. We loved the child, and after a few week’s consideration took a ride to her mistress’s habitation, and offered her 40 pounds for the child . . . She said that she would not part with her for 100 pounds—she thought Providence had directed her to the child, and she meant to treat her with kindness—we came away disappointed. She was afterwards sold again, but has been many years free, and her children are free when of age. We had formerly some uneasy hours on her account, tho’ nothing to accuse ourselves of as a crime at that time, except parting with a little child we loved, to be a slave, as we feared, for life.

Drinker repeats the story at a later date in her journal and describes how her husband Henry tried to approach Jude’s owner.

Oct. 12 [1807]. Our black Jude, whom we sold 51 years ago when she was a child, was here this afternoon. I thought she was dead, as we have not seen her for many years; she is now not far from sixty years of age. When we sold her, there was nothing said against keeping or selling negroes; but as we were going to board out we knew not what to do with her. Some time after, we were more settled in our minds, and were very sorry we had sold the child to be a slave for life, and knew not what would be her fate. We went to Springfield to repurchase her, but her mistress, a very plausible woman, refused to sell her, tho’ we offered her £40, and had sold her 2 months before for £25. Some time afterward, her mistress sold her to Parson Marshall. It was several years after she had grown up, and when there was much talk of the iniquity of holding them in bondage; my husband called upon her master, and had some talk with him, who did not see the matter in the same light as we did, but at his death, he left her free.

The excerpts from Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker’s journal can be found in A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present, by Margo Culley (Feminist Press: CUNY, 1985), pages 53-54. It can be read online HERE on pages 53-54.

posted August 21st, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Quakers, Slaves

“refuseing to Let [her] have her freedom Dues”

The subject of earlier posts here and here was the frequent plight of indentured servants. In addition to ill treatment, many found it difficult to collect the “freedom dues” they were entitled to at the end of their terms of service. Ruth McGee went to court seeking redress.

The Humble Petition of Ruth McGee Humbly sheweth that your petitoner is poor and not Sufficient to Earn her living by reason of a child she hath to maintain, your Petitioners Master Josiah Hibberd refuseing to Let your Petitioner have her freedom Dues Which is mentioned in a pair of Indentures (Viz) A new Suit of Clothes for freedoms and five Pounds in Money and Eight months schooling of which schooling I received but four months and twenty two Days. Likewise your Petitioners Said Master Josiah Hibbard detains your Petitioners cloths that she had whilst she your Petitioner Lived with Said Master that is to say one quilted peticoat Short Gown and Apron. Likewise your Petitioner had seven years and six weeks to serve and your Petitioner had but two months to serve her Said Master Josiah Hibbard When your Petitioner was Sent to the Gaol of this county; furthermore your petitioner having Suffered the rigour of the Law your Petitioner apprehends that she should not be detained from her said freedom Dues but that your Petitioner should [have them] for her Support in this your Petitioner‘s Poor condition So your Petitioner Layeth this her Humble Petition before your worships for redress of said Grievances and your Petitioner in Duty bound Shall Ever Pray
May the 21st Anno Domini 1774

It is unlikely that Ruth McGee prevailed. She admitted to having a child out of wedlock (a crime in Pennsylvania), and had been jailed, and possibly whipped, as punishment. Quaker Josiah Hibberd was no doubt relieved to be rid of such a troublesome servant.

See In the Words of Women page 211 for the peitition.

posted August 18th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Immigrant servants

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