Archive for the ‘Jay, John’ Category

A mystery and a surprise wedding in two Sarah Jay letters

John Jay was absent from home for extended periods during the early 1790s when, as Chief Justice of the United States, he was riding circuit in the Northeast. He and his wife SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY exchanged letters, many of which have survived. She remained at home, managing the household, entertaining visiting dignitaries and relatives, and overseeing the education of their children Peter (14), Maria (8), Ann known as Nancy (7), and the infant William. She wrote her husband frequently to keep him up-to-date on matters at home or on the political front, or for advice, or just because she missed her “dearest best of friends.”

New York: May 17th, 1792My dear Mr. Jay,
Mr. Dalton has just left me; he sets out to morrow for Massachusetts, & is to take charge of this letter- We still are all well—Yesterday in Company I was told your brother Fredk had been married three weeks; I replied I had not been inform’d of it—today P[eter] Munro [Jay’s nephew] came here to let me know that it was a fact tho he had not had it from your brother. Peggy Munro & myself wish Your opinion respecting the line of conduct proper for us to observe as yet we remain in ignorance respecting it—but perhaps she may deign to inform me of it. . . .

Last Tuesday the Captn of an Halifax vessel called upon me w[ith] an order from Mr. Craighton for one hundred & twenty dollars for the passage of Mr. Craighton & family—I told the Captn that you was in Boston & that I had recd no information from you that such an order was expected consequently could not accept it—the weather has been disagreeable ever since, so that I have not seen either Mr or Mrs Craighton—. . . .
Farewell my dearest! best beloved! Sa. Jay

Indeed, John seems not to have told Sarah that he had offered James Creighton, a Loyalist and a New York lawyer, assistance to return to the U.S. from Halifax, where he, his wife Anna Maria Ogden (1753-?) and their children had settled after the war. They had fared badly there. The matter was clarified by attorney Robert Troup (Jay’s former law clerk), who wrote Jay (May 27, 1792) that the Creighton family was in distress. “Few of our soldiers in the field during the late war reaped more laurels than Mrs. Creighton did within the British lines in her conflicts with the Tory ladies. As an old veteran therefore in affliction she is deserving of every attention we can shew her.”

What patriotic services had Mrs. Creighton performed? Had she been a spy for Jay? It’s an intriguing mystery. Mr. Creighton was able to resume practicing law in New York. Jay had also been sympathetic to another Loyalist, his longtime friend Peter van Schaack, who had settled in London during the War but was able to return in 1785.

John’s youngest brother, Frederick Jay (1747-99), known as Fady, had lost his wife Margaret Barclay Jay very unexpectedly on October 28, 1791. It is no wonder that Sarah was at a loss upon hearing of his wedding so soon after.

New York, May 23d. 1792My dear Mr. Jay,
. . . . I wrote you in my last by Mr. Dalton that your brother Fredk. was married, but believe I did not mention that it was to Miss [Euphemia] Dunscomb. It seems he was already married when you left town, his wedding being on the 10th of April. Mr. Jay’s relations resent the want of [respect] to her memory so much that none of them visit either him or his wife. Last Saturday just as P[eter] Munro & myself were deliberating what was to be done on our part, Fady came in. I suppose said he advancing towards me you have heard that I am married again. I have Mr. Jay, but not being authorised from you to believe it, did not credit it. It’s true said he, I am. Will you take a chair Mr. Jay? No, I must be going, good bye. Good by Mr. Jay, that is all that has passed between us. . . .
Adieu my ever dear Mr. Jay, believe me with the sincerest affection
Unalterably yours S.J.

Don’t you love the way Sarah writes dialogue in her letter, as in the recounting of her conversation with Fady? It conveys a sense of immediacy, and is altogether charming.

The Selected Papers of John Jay, 1788-1794, Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, editor (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017], vol. 5, p. 333-4, 403-4, 411. Also Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge, editors (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co, Inc., 2005], 208. The portrait of Sarah Livingston Jay and her children is by James Sharples (1751 or 1752-1811); it is at the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site.

posted March 16th, 2018 by Louise, Comments Off on A mystery and a surprise wedding in two Sarah Jay letters, CATEGORIES: Family life,Halifax,Jay, Frederick (Fady),Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Loyalists

“A lock of the General’s hair”

On February 22, just in time for George Washington’s birthday, an article in the newspaper announced that an archivist at Union College (Schenectady, NY) library had found an uncatalogued volume, its brown pages frayed, on the shelves. A ho-hum moment you may think, but, upon closer examination, it seems that the book, an almanac from 1793, had belonged to Philip J. Schuyler, son of General Philip John Schuyler, a Revolutionary War hero and a founder of the College. Hidden inside the pages was an envelope with the words “Washington’s Hair”—indeed there was a lock of hair! Although we may view this type of souvenir as a bit odd today, in the 18th century, hair clippings were commonly taken as souvenirs to be placed in rings or lockets. They were tokens of friendship as well as remembrance.

When John Jay was named minister plenipotentiary to Spain in late September 1779, his wife Sarah Livingston Jay was determined to accompany him even though she would be leaving her family, her young son Peter Augustus, and her home, perhaps never to return. (Ocean travel, especially in time of war, was not for the faint of heart.) The Jays and George Washington were friends but Sarah may also have been showing her patriotic support when she wrote General Washington a letter requesting a lock of his hair. Washington had a good head of hair as can be seen in Gilbert Stuart’s portrait. He replied:

West-point Octobr 7th 1779General Washington presents his most respectful compliments to Mrs. Jay. Honoured in her request . . . he takes pleasure in presenting the inclosed,* with thanks for so polite a testimony of her approbation & esteem. He wishes most fervently, that prosperous gales an unruffled Sea & every Thing pleasing & desirable, may smooth the path she is about to walk in.

*Sarah noted on the letter, “A lock of the General’s hair.”

Sarah probably took the lock with her to Europe but we don’t know in what. In a frame, or even an almanac? John Jay had the lock of hair incorporated into a pin while in London in 1784.

The General was generous with gifts of his hair during his lifetime. When he retired from the presidency in 1797, Elizabeth Stoughton Wolcott, wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Oliver Wolcott, requested a lock of his hair as a memento. The story is that Martha Washington took out a pair of scissors then and there and cut off not only a lock of her husband’s hair but also of her own to give Mrs. Wolcott.

From Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge, Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), p. 61. Pin with hair, John Jay Homestead, Katonah, N.Y. Lock of hair in a locket, at Mt. Vernon Collections, W-1150. Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), unfinished, 1796, Boston MFA.

posted March 12th, 2018 by Louise, Comments Off on “A lock of the General’s hair”, CATEGORIES: Fashion,Friendship,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Washington, George,Washington, Martha,Wolcott, Elizabeth Stoughton

“his Majesty . . . ordered a Horse to be sent to me for you”

This post concerns SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY but only in an indirect way. It focuses rather on her husband John Jay. His behavior in the matters described is so at odds with what characterizes the political scene today that it is worth noting. And pondering why it is that so many of our government officials engage in unethical if not illegal behavior and are not held to account by a seemingly unconcerned public.

In 1785 John Jay was secretary for foreign affairs for the United States government under the Articles of Confederation. He ran his department from a small office in Fraunces Tavern in New York City. Jay had served as minister to Spain from 1779 to 1781 when he was called to Paris by Benjamin Franklin to help draft the peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. He returned home in 1784 and when he assumed his new position he naturally had frequent contact, both socially and professionally, with foreign ministers to this country. Straitlaced and a straight arrow, Jay believed that his behavior in office should be above reproach.

On one occasion in 1785, Don Diego Gardoqui, Spain’s envoy, left his card and a box as a present for Mrs. Jay (Sarah Livingston) at the Jay home in New York City. John Jay was away at the time but when he returned he sent this response to Gardoqui:

Mrs. Jay is greatly obliged by ye pleasing & polite attention wh. dictated yr card of Saturday last, & the valuable Present which accompanied it. She wd have replied to it immediately, but as I was then out of town, she wished to consult me on so delicate an occasion, especially as several considerations have weight with public characters, that do not apply to private individuals. These Considerations, wh. I will take an opportunity of explaining to You, induce me to think it adviseable for her to return the Box. Be assured however that this mark of attention and the Friendship & Regard it manifests, will never cease to make the most agreable Impressions. . . .

When Jay was in Spain he had expressed a desire to apply to the king for a permit to import a Spanish horse for breeding purposes. He never did apply for that permit because he was transferred to Paris and did not return home for some time. Don Diego Gardoqui, recalling Jay’s intention, went ahead to apply for a permit on Jay’s behalf. On February 28, 1786, Gardoqui wrote to Jay explaining what had happened as a result.

Dear Sir
You may remember that in one of the conversations which we had soon after I arrived here, you said that if you had returned directly from Spain to America you would have asked for a Permit to export a Spanish Horse for Breed, and that I offered to write and request such a Permit. I accordingly did write in June last to his Excellency Count de Florida Blanca who was pleased to mention it to the King. But his Majesty instead of Granting the Permit ordered a Horse to be sent to me for you, one was chosen afterwards and sent to Cadiz where he has been many months expecting a Vessel that might carry him to this Place. He has arrived at last after a voyage of 75 Days, and will be disembarked as soon as part of the Cargo is taken out—all which I communicate to you for your Information. . . .

John Jay replied to Gardoqui the next day.

I have recd. the Letter which You did me the Honor to write Yesterday, informing me that instead of granting a Permit as you requested for me to purchase and export a Horse, his Majesty has been pleased to order one to be sent to You for me. This is indeed doing a Favor in a royal Manner. It demands my sincere and respectful acknowledgement, and I shall take the Liberty of requesting the Consul de Florida Blanca to express to the King the Sense I entertain of it.

I ought however to apprize you that I do not consider myself at Liberty to accept the horse without the previous Permission of Congress. I shall immediately lay your Letter before them, and acquaint you without Delay of the answer they may be pleased to give.

Your application for the Permit was friendly & obliging. Accept my Thanks for it. . . .

Congress, on March 3, 1786, granted Jay permission to accept the horse.

The letters appear in Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay compiled and edited by Landa Freeman, Louise North and Janet Wedge (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005), 172-173. The pictured horse is an Andalusian.

posted March 4th, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on “his Majesty . . . ordered a Horse to be sent to me for you”, CATEGORIES: Gardoqui, Don Diego,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston

“he inhumanly order’d her thrown over board”

For one last entry before the end of Black History Month the story related by JANE PRINCE ROBBINS is worth remembering. Jane was married to Chandler Robbins, minister of the First Congregational Church of Plymouth, Massachusetts. On October 5, 1792, she wrote to her daughter, Hannah Robbins Gilman, what she had heard of an outbreak of smallpox on board a ship and the fear it inspired.

I read a letter to day that come from Hannah LeBaron. she is in the West Indias, went there with a Capt De Wolf that married a daughter of Gov Bradford. He has accumulated a fortune, in the African trade, the last voyage he made, one of the poor negros broke out with the small Pox a day or 2 after he saild. upon which he inhumanly order’d her thrown over board; when he got home, search was made for him, upon which he was obliged to fly the country.

At a young age James DeWolf of Rhode Island became a sailor on an American privateer during the American Revolution; he participated in several battles and was twice captured by the British. After the war as captain of the ship Polly he joined his uncle and father in the slave trade, becoming wealthy in the process. On a voyage from Africa to Cuba in 1789 his vessel contained 142 slaves and 14 crew. When one of the enslaved women became ill with smallpox she was separated from the others, brought on deck and tied to a chair. Because she did not respond to treatment the captain asked for a volunteer to push her overboard. When no-one was forthcoming, he had her blindfolded and gagged so her screams could not be heard and with the aid of a sailor he raised her with a grappling hook and had her lowered her into the sea where she sank and drowned. One of the crew later testified that DeWolf bemoaned the loss of a good chair.

DeWolf was indicted for murder in 1791 by a grand jury in Newport, Rhode Island. Murder on the high seas was a federal offense. When a warrant was issued for his arrest he fled to the Carribean island of St. Eustatius, leaving his wife and children behind in Bristol. Charged with murder in the West Indies, DeWolf got off again when the prosecuting attorney declined to move forward with the case, two crewmen testifying that he had drowned the slave girl to protect his crew and “valuable cargo” from smallpox. DeWolf relocated to St. Thomas where he was also charged with murder; when no one appeared as a witness, the charge was dropped.

Back in Rhode Island, relatives of his well-connected wife—Nancy Ann Bradford—managed to get the arrest warrant against him dropped. DeWolf then rejoined his family in Bristol where he continued to prosper from the illegal slave trade, from privateering, and his many investments. He became a state senator and in 1821 was elected to the United States Senate. When James DeWolf died in 1837 he was considered to be the second wealthiest man in the United States. (The first was Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Maryland.) It is estimated that members of the DeWolf family over the years were responsible for bringing 11,000 enslaved workers into the United States.

The letter is from In the Words of Women p. 177. Two other sources can be viewed HERE and HERE, though there are errors in the latter. John Jay was not the attorney general. He was the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. At that time (1791), the justices rode circuit. Jay presided over federal courts in the northern circuit. It was in his jurisdiction that the case against DeWolf was brought. The book shown can be ordered HERE.

posted February 28th, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on “he inhumanly order’d her thrown over board”, CATEGORIES: DeWolf, James,Jay, John,Robbins, Jane Prince

“my spirits. . . . are not as I would wish when with you”

In addition to rather fragile physical health SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY seems to have been subject to periods of “despondency” which afflicted her throughout her life, but especially when she was parted from her husband. When John Jay served as president of Congress from December 1778 through the end of September 1779, he was in Philadelphia while Sarah was in various locations in New Jersey with their young son Peter Augustus. Sarah looked forward to his letters and as she put it: “I will not trouble you with repetition of my anxiety to see you.” In a letter of 12 February 1779 she reported:

Our dear little boy has had two severe fits of illness occasioned by worms. During his indisposition my suffering I think was little inferior to his as he was only affected by immediate pain & not by any apprehension of future consequences, happy negligence of disposition that attends the state of child-hood!

I have been blessed with a great share of health the whole winter. The weather is very dull at present. Perhaps the transition from such lovely weather as we have been accustomed to lately may effect my spirits. Whatever it is, they are not as I would wish when with you. I will therefore bid you adieu. Perhaps . . . a letter from you . . . (should the depression of my spirits continue till then) will effectually chear the gloom & for the time banish every disagreeable sensation.

John Jay often expressed concern for his wife’s health and well being. In a letter of 18 February Sarah thanked him for his “kind letters.”

[B]e assured the advice contained in them was as welcome as indeed it was requisite. Continue I beseech you your friendly admonitions, for really no one ever required that aid from friendship more than I do in my present circumstances. For am I not prevented from indulging the pleasing prospect of the reunion of my family lest the frowns of disappointment check my innocent expectations? And if I contract my views to my present situation, what consideration can compensate for the loss I suffer by the absence of my friend, & that for God knows how long a time, since who can tell when this unhappy war shall cease. But avaunt painful reflections! Pardon my dear these emotions of discontent. I know they are wrong & discourage as much as possible sentiments of despondency. . . .

Why enjoin me my dear so frequently to be particular about my health? I remember Papa once told William [her brother] when at school that he would always take it for granted that he was well, provided William mentioned nothing to the contrary. Will not that be a sufficient assurance likewise for you if I promise to inform you if I am indisposed.

You can’t imagine what satisfaction I receive from the increasing fondness of my little boy who frequently inquires where his papa stays so long & if you never intend to return. In telling him stories & teaching him to spell I deceive many hours that would otherwise linger on unamused & sometimes unemployed. . . .

Adieu my dear: May providence smile upon your endeavours for the public weal & reward your constancy.
I am most affectionately
YoursSa. Jay

Don’t you find the practice of referring to one’s spouse as “my friend” charming? Sarah would be reunited with her husband in October when they sailed for Madrid where John Jay was to represent the United States as minister plenipotentiary to Spain. Their child, Peter Augustus, was left in the care, for the most part, of his Livingston grandparents and aunts.

The LETTER is in The Papers of John Jay at the Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscript Library.

posted February 24th, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on “my spirits. . . . are not as I would wish when with you”, CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston

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