Archive for the ‘Jay, Peter Augustus’ Category

“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. . . .

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

” . . . how long . . . am [I] . . . to remain in a state of widowhood”

It’s time for a return visit to one of my favorite Revolutionary War women—SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY. The intelligent and beautiful Sarah, daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, was the wife of John Jay of New York. The couple’s first child, Peter Augustus, was born in 1776. On December 10, 1778, John Jay was elected president of the Second Continental Congress, the highest office in the government at that time, replacing Henry Laurens whose term had come to an end. A few days later, in a letter William Livingston wrote to Nathaniel Scudder in Philadelphia, he included this: “P.S. Please to give my respects to your new President, & to tell him that his present office appears rather obstructive of the performance of the promise he has made me of using his best endeavours to get me another Grandson as soon as possible.”

Writing to her husband from Persipiney, New Jersey on December 28th, SARAH JAY seems to be rather put out by having read about her husband’s new position in a newspaper. And she is a bit miffed at not hearing from him frequently enough. Note the typically formal salutation of wife to husband. Classical references were common in the correspondence of educated people of that time. The manuscript letter can be viewed here.

My dear Mr. Jay,
I should have troubled you a second time, & have wrote you by the last Post had I not entertained the hope that it wou’d not be long before I should have the pleasure of acknowledging at least one favor from you. I have been disappointed, ‘tis true, but still I will not relinquish the pleasing idea of being affectionately remembered by my beloved friend. To prevent future mortifications of the like tender to nature, permit me to remind you that there is a Post that takes letters from Morris-Town for Philadelphia & returns every week.
I had the pleasure of finding by the news-paper that you are honor’d with the first office on the Continent, and am still more pleased to hear this appointment affords general satisfaction. Will you be so kind as to inform me whether our State has prolonged your stay beyond the first of March or not? As by your present Appointment your personal attendance upon Congress I imagine can’t be dispensed with, I am very solicitous to know how long I am still to remain in a state of widowhood; upon my word I sincerely wish these three months may conclude it; however, I mean not to influence your conduct, for I am convinced that had you consulted me as some men have their wives about public measures, I should not have been Roman Matron enough to have given you so intirely to the public, & of consequence your reputation & claim to the gratitude of your country would have been as much diminished as theirs who have acted so imprudent tho’ tender a part.
It will give you pleasure to be informed that your son & myself are still favored with health, & if you can spare time to give me the same grateful tidings of yourself, you can hardly imagine what happiness you’ll confer upon your
affecte. Wife
Sa. Jay

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 54-55. The portrait is by Robert Edge Pine; it appears HERE.

posted December 14th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Governor William

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