Mary Stead Pinckney was in Paris in January of 1798. (See another post about her here.) Her husband, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, had been sent there in 1796 to replace James Monroe as United States minister to France. Relations between France and the United States had worsened given the decision of the United States to remain neutral during the war then being waged between the French and British; France believed it was entitled to American support based on the treaty of 1778. The Jay Treaty of 1794, perceived as unduly advantageous to the British, caused relations to deteriorate further. Pinckney was denied accreditation and, indeed, was ordered to leave the country. Charles and Mary went to Holland where they remained for some months, returning to Paris in September of 1797. There Pinckney became part of a three-man commission designated by the United States to sort out relations between the two countries. Negotiations—known as the XYZ Affair—failed in the face of attempts by France to extort money from the United States. The Pinckneys returned to the United Sates in 1798. Following is the letter Mary Stead Pinckney wrote to her sister Elizabeth Stead Izard on January 6, 1798.
We have begun our new year in this city, my dear sister, but I am sure I shall not pretend to the spirit of prophecy and venture to foretell where we shall finish it. I hope I may be allowed to wish ourselves, as also you & yours, as happy a year as is consistent with our imperfect nature. After taking such a voyage I should like to see a little more of Europe merely to gratify curiosity, but, believe me, our country is capable of bestowing more real happiness than is to be found out of it. I mean for those who have the wherewith to live comfortable. As to the society of Paris, I know no more of it except by hearsay than you do; & with regard to public amusements they soon tire. My morning excursions procure me the most pleasure, and yet it is too cold and damp not to suffer from visiting churches & museums, and I dare not put them off to a milder season lest I should not then be here. . . . but I am wishing it was spring that I might make excursions round the beautiful environs of Paris. Yet we have no cards of hospitality, and if they are determined to consider us as private americans only are liable to be stopped every time we go out. . . .
I will not risk the safety of my letters by meddling with politicks, and tho’ the citizens allow themselves greater latitude on this subject than I expected, it is still a dangerous subject; and with regard to letters, I am told the owners of vessels both coming from & going to A. are so apprehensive for their cargoes that they generally throw them all into the sea. I hope therefore you will either send copies or write very often.
I wish particularly to know whether in case we are recalled you will venture to let us leave Ralph [Elizabeth Izard’s son] at school in St. Germains, or what you would wish to have done with him. He is losing all his time, & at present has no opportunity of learning even french. We should not hesitate, but send him immediately to St. Germains, tho’ but for a week, were it not for the expence of the outfit—for each student must have a bedstead, 4 mattresses, a pr of sheets, 3 doz. napkins, a silver cup, fork and spoon, and our stay is so uncertain. Sometimes we think of leaving him there if we go to Amsterdam; & then again I am fearful lest he should get sick &c: in a country where he will have no friends. . . . We are indeed quite puzzled what to do with him. Eliza [Ralph’s sister] too is losing all she has learnt—no instrument—no masters.
We changed our lodgings yesterday—these are rather more comfortable & quiet, but they are dark, and the situation much less agreeable; but we were in the Road to Ruin where we were, and lived in the most disagreeable manner. We paid 67 louis d’ors for 21 dinners, without the satisfaction of seeing one friend, except on New Year’s day, when Mr. & Mrs. Middleton [relatives of Charles Pinckney’s first wife] . . . dined with us. . . .
Friday evening—I have been running about Paris all this morning instead of writing. . . . I see very little jewellry or gold trinkets in the shops; and you will be surprised to hear I have not yet been able to meet with a pair of sleeve buttons for Ralph. I am persuaded there is greater choice, and neater work in London. I have not seen one pretty watch. Yet there appears to be a great abundance of all the necessaries of life. I suppose I have been a dozen times at least to the Palais Égalité, and I am as much amused with the shops as any child can be. Pray remember me affect. to &c: &c: and tell us all about Xmas. 4 months and not a line from any of you. Deplorable. . . .
As always, it seems, visitors to Paris see the sights, visit museums and go shopping.