Archive for the ‘Jay, Sarah Livingston’ Category

“a Paradise something like it might be made”

There are many reasons to move from one place to another: adventure; new job opportunities; fleeing a hostile environment; joining relatives to make a fresh start; marriage. These certainly accounted for many who made the trek westward after Congress passed a series of ordinances to survey, divide, and offer at public auction any lands ceded to the Confederation.

It was a proposal of marriage that determined SUSAN LIVINGSTON’s move from the East Coast to a spot on the Miami River in Ohio. The eldest daughter of thirteen children born to Susannah French and William Livingston, the first elected governor of New Jersey, Susan (“Sukey”) was well-educated by her parents, witty, courageous, and politically astute. She had sometimes assisted her father as his secretary; had undertaken the education of her young nephew Peter Augustus Jay while his parents, John and Sarah Jay, were in Europe during the Revolutionary War; had taken care of her parents at the end of their lives (1790); and after, had moved in with her widowed sister Kitty Ridley (Catharine Livingston) and her family in Baltimore.

It must have been quite a surprise to her relatives when she suddenly married John Cleves Symmes in September 1794. Accompanied by her 6-year old niece Susan Anne Ridley, Susan Livingston Symmes and her husband John set out for Ohio. How Susan coped with the move is hinted at in a letter to her sister Sarah Jay and her niece Maria Jay, a year and a half later.

March 3d 1796 N.BendMy dear Sister
I had the pleasure of a letter from you last Novr. it ought to have been attended to long before this, but having nothing material to write, I delayed from time to time until I feel very much ashamed of myself. We have no news here. We lie snug beyond the tempests of Politicks & the gay Circle of pleasure. Each one is engaged in cultivating his Plantation. At present the whole Country is busy in making Sugar from the maple Tree . . . we have too much business on hands to make any ourselves. . . .

Our house would probably have been nearly finished could we have pleased ourselves with a Site, we have a beautiful one on the Ohio, but too many conveniences must have been sacrificed to perspectives. The Miami is a contemptible stream compared with the Ohio, yet we have concluded to build on it 3 quarters of a mile from the Ohio, the Village occupies this space; we have the Miami river in front on a western view, to the North we have a mile of beautiful level bottom land, along the east bank of the Miami about 200 Acres; this bottom is skirted along the east by a range of hills covered with timber, & from which 3 rivulets descend & cross the bottom; between the house & the Miami are about 10 acres perfectly level, on the left or rather South of which is a wood divided by a never failing small stream of water which passes by the east end of our house, at the distance of 40 feet with the addition of a very fine Spring, about 10 feet beyond the brook, or 50 feet from the house, this brook as it divides the wood on its way leaves about 3 acres of the grove a perfect level, next to the intended Garden & Courtyard; this small wood, & the brook terminating in the Miami. You will from this description think it a Paradise something like it I assure you might be made. I only wish we were on the spot which I do not expect to be until late in the autumn. . . .

. . . . I have a good house building 4 rooms below & 4 abo[ve] with a kitchen adjoined to it by a Linto 30 feet long, stone Cellars under the whole, the house is 44 by 40 feet, the Passage only half way thro the house so that the 44 feet is divided into 2 rooms, it’s a plan of my own I do not know how it will answer; I have suffered much from the want of a good house in this Country, it was a great transition from your Papa’s house [the Jays’ house in New York City] to Cabbins. . . .

John C. Symmes (1742-1814) was a justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and had been a member of that state’s constitutional convention as well as a member of the Continental Congress. In 1788, Symmes had been named a judge in the Northwest Territory, settling in North Bend, Ohio. That year, he and some friends created a company and purchased over 311,000 acres from Congress. President Washington signed the patent on October 30, 1794 conveying the land, known as Symmes Purchase, for $225,000. There was much controversy over this purchase at the time as well as afterwards.

Susan and John Symmes had serious financial disagreements about her right to control her money even before their marriage. No doubt his financial difficulties and speculating irregularities played a large role in her decision to leave him for good in 1807. The house burned in 1810.

For more on Susan Livingston Symmes see posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

This letter is at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

posted June 7th, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Ohio,Sedgwick, Susan Anne Ridley,Symmes, John Cleves,Symmes, Susan Livingston

“I . . . hope that what I’ve done will receive yr. approbation”

After the Revolutionary War, John Jay was often away from his home while performing his duties as secretary for foreign affairs or as chief justice of the United States. But these absences from the family circle lasted only some months at a time, and John was still within reaching distance in case of an emergency. So the shock of SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY, upon hearing the news—not from her husband but from the newspaper—that President Washington was sending John Jay to England in 1794 to try to avert a possible war, is even now heart-wrenching.

New York 18th April 1794 My dr. Mr. Jay,
. . . . how my dr. Mr. Jay is it possible! The Utmost exertion I can make is to be silent. Excuse me if I have not philosophy or patriotism to do more. I heard of the nomination yesterday, so did the Children. The paper of to-day mentions it as a report that deserves credit. . . . Had any one predicted that dread wd. be mingled with my desire to see you could I have believed it? Never! Yet so it is. Should you leave us I must intreat you to permit your son [Peter Augustus] to accompany you. . . .
Adieu my best beloved! Absent or present I am wholly yours Sa. Jay

John Jay, asserting that he could not “desert my Duty for the sake of my Ease and Domestic concerns & comforts,” persuaded Sarah to change her mind, although only after he agreed to take their 18-year-old son with him. This time, the separation would last just over one year.

Sarah, as she had done before, oversaw the household and her children’s education, represented her husband entertaining public officials, monitored the building of the mills at the farm in Bedford, New York, and managed the family’s finances. She asked for advice when necessary, but carefully explained to John how she had handled investment matters herself.

New York 25th Octbr 1794My dr. Mr. Jay,
. . . . By this time I hope you have recd. my letters informing you that your Jamaica business is satisfactorily settled. The Money which I have received for you on that Debt, not being able to loan, I have embarked in the National Bank: the first sum of near 1000₤ procured 5 shares of 400 dollar each at 24 pr. Cent advance as I wrote you formerly, & I then intended awaiting your orders respecting the disposition of the rest; but finding it improbable that it could be placed to any advantage at all (a friend of yours having for a long time had 2000₤ to put out without having any applications for it) & the funds continuing to rise, I resolved last week to purchase 5 shares more at 29 pr. Cent advance; I shall however take care not to be so sanguine as to risque it after having by its rise cleared the interest the sum ought to make. Had I not been diffident of acting without yr. advice I shd. already have cleared 12 per. Cent. but I shd. not now have done what you when here, disapproved, had I not been of opinion that were you here at present, you would have altered your sentiments with the times. I shall however respect yr. sentiments more than my own, & will therefore probably sell out again in a month’s time, perhaps less. At the rate I’ve purchased for you it yields 6 pr. Cent, & even at fifty advance (which ‘tis thought it will soon be) better than 5 pr. Cent. . . . I sincerely hope that what I’ve done will receive yr. approbation, as my Conduct has not been the effect of a Gambling disposition, but the result of mature reflection aided by the Advice of those in whose judgement I had reason to confide. . . .
Once more, my dearest Mr. Jay receive the Adieus of your ever affecte. Wife

From Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge, Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2005), pp.221-2, 235-7. Image from
Papers of John Jay, at Columbia University.

posted March 22nd, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Business,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Money

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 (0), CATEGORIES: Family life,Halifax,Jay, Frederick (Fady),Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Loyalists

“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 (0), CATEGORIES: Gardoqui, Don Diego,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston

“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 (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston

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