Archive for the ‘Jay, Sarah Livingston’ Category

“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

“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

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