Archive for the ‘Jay, John’ Category

“mutually engaged in the same agreeable employment”

Sometimes writing a letter to someone seems like communing with the intended recipient. When it turns out that the recipient had been writing to you at the same time, the question of ESP comes into play. Strange, mystical perhaps. This is what SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY observes in a letter to her husband John who is in Philadelphia participating in the Continental Congress. She is pensive and sad. The ending is poignant.

Eliz[abeth town]. Town Jany 18th 1779 A thousand thanks are due to my ever amiable friend for the many marks of your distinguishing esteem; among which your favors of the 26th of Decr. & 3d. of Jany. are recent instances. I could not but observe with pleasure by the date of yr. last that we were at the same time mutually engaged in the same agreeable employment. How often, could we observe each other’s thoughts should we find them in quest of ourselves, tho’ you must allow mine to be more frequently employed in recollections of that nature; since ye business of your station demands a greater share of your attention than is claimed of mine by any other objects. I wrote you a short bill of health as I may style it (since little else did it contain) on the 9th or 10th inst. . . .
Mr. Ferguson is at Eliz. Town on a visit to his lady who has travelled quite from Philadelphia un-accompanied at this inclement season of the year to take leave of her husband who is soon to sail for England—poor lady, I fear it’s a final adieu, for I am told she is in a declining way. How few in these calamitous times are exempt from trouble. Fervently, very fervently do I wish for the restoration of peace & tranquility to these unhappy States. Then my dear, among the numerous blessings that such an event would be the means of dispensing may I not indulge the pleasing expectation that we shall no more be thus seperated, that I shall not again be deprived of my friend & counsellor: In short my love when you are absent I distrust my discretion so far that I even decline visiting lest by acting with impropriety I lessen the general opinion of your discernment. Hasten therefore my love to take again under your own wi[ng] your
ever affectionate Wife

To clarify for those not familiar with 18th century dates and abbreviations: inst. means “this month,” from the Latin “instante mense,” while “ult.” is “last month” and derives from “ultimo mense.”

Sarah’s letter is in the Digital Library of the Papers of John Jay at Columbia University and can be found HERE.

posted February 15th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston

“great severities from the Frigidness”

John Jay, having been named minister plenipotentiary to Spain, sailed for Europe on October 20, 1779, accompanied by his wife Sarah. Their ship Confederacy met with severe weather and barely made it to Martinique where there was a considerable layover until another vessel could be secured. Catharine (Kitty) Livingston wrote, on 13 February 1780, to her sister from Philadelphia, expressing her concern.

How my dear sweet Sister was you supported in the hours of trial and danger; the appearance of death in so terrible a manner must have awaken[ed] every fear. You have indeed seen the wonders of the deep, and experienced in a remarkable manner the goodness and mercy of an indulgent providence. Your Friends have all reason to bless and thank God for his interposition in your favor, and it ought to console and encourage us to trust in the Author of your Salvation—For he spoke and it was done. he commanded and it stood fast.

Kitty continued, recounting details of the severe winter the country was enduring, envying (when she had thought Sarah was safely in Spain) “the temperance of your climate, whilst we were exposed to great severities from the Frigidness of ours.”

Our Winter set in earlier and with more Severity than is remembered by the Oldest liver among us. The year thirty five, and forty is agreed from circumstances not [to] be compared to this; in neither of those severe Seasons was the Chesapeake at & twenty Miles below Anopolis a firm bridge as is and has been a long time the case. In Virginia it has impeded all Trade, several of there Vessels have been cut to peices and sunk by the ice. The Merchants here think many of there Vessels that they expected in have perished on our coast, the last that got in was the Jay*; and that was in November, and she was much injured by the Ice and it was expected for several days that she and her cargo would be lost.

To the Eastward the Snow impeded all traveling to the State of New York—it cut of[f] Communication from Neighbour to Neighbour. The last accounts from Fish Kill it was four feet deep on a level. Numbers of Families in this City have suffered from its severity altho many among them made great exertions for their releif. In New York the want of fuel was never known like it, they cut down every stick of timber on Mr. Byard’s place** and would not permit [him] to keep any tho he offered to buy it. Several gentlemen went upon long Island and felled the trees, and after bringing it to town with their own horses it was seized for the Kings Troops [New York was occupied by the British], its reported of two families that the want of wood obliged them to lay a bed a week . . . .

You shall hear from me by every opportunity; at least I will write by every one. This letter is going to New London. I shall write to morrow by a Vessel that is to sail from Boston—till then I bid you adieu

* The ship, the Jay, was a Pennsylvania vessel of eighteen guns. There were three other vessels in the Continental service named Jay. One was Lady Jay. They saw action in the Revolution.
** William Bayard was a New York merchant who, initially sympathetic to the Patriot cause, ultimately became a firm Loyalist.

And we complain of the frigid weather and snow we have had recently (and, no doubt, more to come) when most of us are comfortable in our heated houses and can stay warm under our electric blankets!!

Kitty Livingston was not exaggerating in her description of the winter of 1779-80. George Washington, from his winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey, wrote to Lafayette in March 1780, “The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before.” There were twenty-six snow storms in New Jersey, six of which were blizzards. The illustration shows the type of hut soldiers encamped at Jockey Hill near Morristown occupied.

According to historian Ray Raphael, writing in the American History Magazine 2/4/2010:

In January 1780 . . . Mother Nature transformed America into a frigid hell. For the only time in recorded history, all of the saltwater inlets, harbors and sounds of the Atlantic coastal plain, from North Carolina northeastward, froze over and remained closed to navigation for a period of a month or more. Sleighs, not boats, carried cords of firewood across New York Harbor from New Jersey to Manhattan. The upper Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the York and James rivers in Virginia turned to ice. In Philadelphia, the daily high temperature topped the freezing mark only once during the month of January, prompting Timothy Matlack, the patriot who had inscribed the official copy of the Declaration of Independence, to complain that “the ink now freezes in my pen within five feet of the fire in my parlour, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Kitty’s letter is in The John Jay Papers in the Columbia Digital Library Collections and can be seen HERE.

posted February 12th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Maryland,Morristown, New Jersey,New York,Philadelphia,Virginia,Washington, George,Weather,Winter of 1780

” 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.

posted December 25th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Brockholst,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Livingston, Governor William

“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.

posted December 19th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Governor William

” . . . 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.

posted December 14th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Governor William

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