Archive for the ‘Jay, Peter Augustus’ Category

“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 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 (0), CATEGORIES: Fashion,Friendship,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Washington, George,Washington, Martha,Wolcott, Elizabeth Stoughton

“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

” 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

“my dearest friend”

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY had written the letter in the previous post on December 28, 1778, but found no way of sending it to her husband John who was in Philadelphia tending to his responsibilities as president of the Second Continental Congress. From Elizabeth Town, to which she had returned, she penned an addition to it on the 30th.

I have always been charmed by the way married couples during often referred to each other in their letters as “my dearest friend.” My colleagues and I had wanted that phrase to be the title of our book on the correspondence of the Jays, but sadly the publisher overruled it.

Wednesday Morng.
I wrote this letter on monday, but as I knew of no opportunity of sending it, left it unsealed, & in the evening was agreeably surprised by Papa’s arrival at Persipiney, but still more pleased when he handed me your letter of the 10th Inst. which I have the pleasure of acknowledging at present. Accept my dearest friend of my sincere thanks for your never-ceasing attention to my happiness. You tell me, my dear, that the greatest gratification you derive from the honor of your late appointment is it’s being an additional recommendation to my esteem. And do you really imagine that my esteem for you can be heightned by any public testimony of your merit? No, no my dear, my sentiments of esteem have long since been confirmed, nor indeed has the public acknowledgment of your merit been wanting to convince me that the respect I felt for you was founded on your virtue.
Yesterday Papa prevailed upon me to return with Kitty & himself to Eliz. Town, and by way of inducement assured me there are more frequent opportunities of hearing from you here than if I staid at Persipiney. He tells me likewise to inform you that unless there is an order of Congress to the contrary he shall certainly fetch your little Boy [Peter Augustus in Persipiney] very soon. Papa is just going to church, I’ll seal my letter in hopes that in town he’ll hear of some way of forwarding this to you. . . .
Yours

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 55. Circa 1870s antique engraving of Sarah Livingston.

posted December 19th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Governor William

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