Archive for the ‘Jay, Sarah Livingston’ Category

“The Doctor proposes to Inoculate our little Fellow”

SUSAN LIVINGSTON (1748-1840) was the oldest daughter of William Livingston and Susannah French. (The couple had thirteen children.) Her father was the governor of New Jersey, a member of the Continental Congresses, and a brigadier general in the New Jersey militia. Susan, her younger sisters, Sarah and Catharine (Kitty), known as “the three graces,” were very popular. Sarah became the wife of John Jay in 1774. The Livingstons often had the care of Peter Augustus, the couple’s son, during the war. Susan wrote her sister Sarah on November 1, 1777 in care of John Jay who was in Kent, Connecticut at the time, reporting that the boy was to be inoculated.

Dearly beloved Sarah
I am in expectation of the arrival of the Post every moment, he usually comes in on Friday Evening, and returns next Morning as he goes no further than Morris Town. . . . I do not know where to direct to you. . . .
The Doctor proposes to Inoculate our little Fellow next week. He is now a fit subject for it, his blood is well purified, he has pretended to inoculate him often, so he will not be afraid of it. You know old Woodruff, that carts for us, his Son that lived next door to Dr. Darby, died a few days ago of the Small pox the natural way, and now his Widow and Child have it, the old Man has never had it, he stayed in the same House with his Son till a day or two before he expired, they are not entitled to much pity, for they say the Avarice of the old Man prevented their being inoculated. The Child will perish with it, it is thought. . . .
I think this scrawl as it is . . . entitles me to a few Lines from your fair hand. This I submit to you and whether you write or not, I am yours most Affectionately.

Source: John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary, 1745-1780, edited by Richard. B. Morris (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 445-47.

posted April 15th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Epidemics,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Livingston, Governor William,Livingston, Susan,New Jersey,Smallpox

“Accept the Compts: of the season . . .”

I am taking this opportunity to revisit several posts about the Christmas and New Year holidays. I hope you will find them as interesting and charming as I do.

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY and her husband John were apart during the holiday season of 1778-1779, John being in Philadelphia serving in the Continental Congress, and Sarah in New Jersey with their son Peter Augustus. Sally (as she was called), whose health was always fragile, was unwell and depressed by the absence of her husband. However, she assured him that “The company of your dear little boy proved a great consolation to me since you’ve been absent.” She ended her letter to him: “Accept the Compts: of the season,” the lovely expression typical of the time, adding to it “& may we repeat the same to each other fifty years hence.” Sadly, Sarah Jay did not live to fulfill her hope.

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, perhaps, some mistletoe.

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 22nd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston

“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

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