Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

“they say she rules the Roost . . .”

ANN BLAIR wrote to her sister MARTHA BLAIR BRAXTON (portrayed) telling her about the goings-on in Williamsburg, Virginia, in August 1769. Ann obviously has a sense of humor and, in addition, uses some phrases that need explanation or sound modern to our ears. In the first line “I nick’t it” means “I just hit the right moment”. Later Ann says Governor Tryon’s Lady “rules the Roost,” calling this a “pity.” The expression is an old one dating to the 15th century when it referred to the person in charge of the kitchen who therefore “rules the roast.” In the mid-1700s, “roast” morphed into “roost.”

Well! I just nick’t it, governor Tryon [of North Carolina], his lady, and Mr. Edward’s [Tryon’s secretary] was to drink Tea at our House the day we came to Town . . . so that I had an opportunity of hearing the Conversation of this fine accomplish’d Lady. You may remember we heard she took not notice of the ladies; I therefore, resolved in myself to have nothing to say to her, and accordingly took my Seat as far distant from her as the room would permit; but with all my resolution I could hold no longer; the Lady had unfortunately scall’d [scalded] three of her Fingers (I say unfortunately, for else she wou’d have play’d the Spinnet) so that the speediest method of cure became now the Topick; the company agreed it would heal sooner for having ye Skin cut off the Blisters; Mr. Edwards and self as yet, had said nothing about it——to be sure your opinions was necessary——so the Lady call’d first [page torn] who judged it best to let ye Skin remain; next cones the latter, and having view’d the Wound with all the Sagacity of a Surgeon——agreed with Mr. Edwards (as he was singular) in every thing he said exactly. She reply’d with a smile that notwithstanding there was two to one of the opposite opinion, yet her inclination consided much with us; for to own a truth, she was so far a Coward she did not like her Skin to be cut. Thus much for her Fingers; and as to ye Lady herself, I think what was heard to her disadvantage, proves from a little acquaintance to advantage; they say she rules the Roost, it is a pity, I like her Husband vastly; they have a little Girl with them that is equally to be pitied, this poor thing is stuck up in a Chair all day long with a Cotter on [something to hold her in place], nor dare she even to taste Tea, fruit Cake, or any little Triffle offer’d her by ye Company, but to return to ye Lady’s Finger’s——the old Gentleman squeezed her Hand a little too hard in handing her to the Coach (for one of her Delicacy) she, however, had so far the command of herself as not to fall in a Fit till she got to my Lord’s: Pasteur [William Pasteur, a distinguished surgeon of Williamsburg] immediately was Call’d in. who did in one Minute, what had just before caused us a debate of half an Hour long——he perform’d ye so much dreaded operation of Cuting the Skin after wch he was presented with a Guinea he laugh’d & said, he had no objection to be squeezed into another.

I have a letter from Sisr Cary, telling me I ought to have been at Hampton, instead of King & Queen [William and Mary], for that there had been the Viper sloop of War Commanded by one Cap: Linsey, a Bror. of Mr. Hood’s. a most agreeable Gentleman; the first Lieut: Mr. Frederick, a relation of the Dutchess of Beaufort——extremely cleaver——and several others equally as much so. She thinks it advisable to go down in readiness for ye next that come’s . . . perhaps if I go down I may be as lucky as Bett, other way’s I most shrewdly suspect I very reluctantly shall join that set of animals destined to lead apes.

Don’t you like Ann’s reference to William and Mary as “King & Queen”? Her comment in the last line means that she may end up an old maid, a reference to an expression common at that time that says in hell bachelors are turned into apes and are led by women who die as maids. More to come.

William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XVI, 1908, 174-76. The portrait of Martha Braxton by John Wollaston is in the collection of the College of William and Mary..

posted May 25th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Blair, Anne,Braxton, Mary Blair,Virginia

“I give . . . to my daughter Anne my negro Girl Fanny”

The next post will include a letter from ANNE BLAIR to her sister MARY BLAIR BRAXTON. For this post I am including several provisions of the will of the girls’ father, John Blair Sr, written in October of 1771 and recorded in November of that year in York County court records. Blair, Sr. was a member a prominent Virginia family; he served on the Virginia Council and was for a time acting royal governor. His uncle, James Blair, was a founder of the College of William and Mary. John Blair’s wife had died before him and so, according to his will, Blair’s children, including Anne and Mary, were provided for. All were married except for Anne.

Item. I give and bequeath to my Daughter Anne Blair one thousand Pounds Current Money part of my stock in trade with John Prentis and Company with the profits thereof from the Division made in August one Thousand Seven hundred and Sixty Nine and to my Son James Blair the like Sum of One thousand Pounds part of the said with the profits thereof as to my daughter.

Item. I give to my Daughter Mary Braxton my Negro Gurl called Sall Cooper to my daughter Sarah my negro Wench called Great Hannah and her child Kate to my son James my Negro Barbary and her Child Johnny to my daughter Anne my negro Girl Fanny to each of them and their Heirs forever. . . .

Item. It is my will and Desire that all my Slaves and Stocks of all kinds (including my Horses) not before Disposed of be divided into five equal parcels three of which parcels I give and devise to my Son John Blair and his Heirs forever and the other two parcels to my Son James Blair and his Heirs forever. I have given the Greater proportion of my Slaves and Stocks to my Son John he being my Eldest Son and having already a family and several Children.

I have quoted from Blair’s will because I am constantly jarred by the fact that slaves were commonly bequeathed to family members. I am also distressed at the way they are referred to——the females as “wenches”——and how they are casually listed along with horses and other stock. Slaves were often given as wedding presents: when a slave called Oney Judge found out she was to be given by her mistress, Martha Washington, to her granddaughter Elizabeth Custis upon her wedding, Oney ran away. It was also common practice for a child to be given a slave of the same age as a “present,” perhaps for a birthday.

Source for the will is John Blair House Report, Block 22 Building 5 Lot 36 Originally entitled:
“John Blair House Colonial Lot 36 Block 22,” Mary A. Stephenson, 1963, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series—1493, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1990.

posted May 22nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Blair, Anne,Blair, Sr., John,Braxton, Mary Blair,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Virginia,Washington, Martha

” you possess a guide more certain than any I can give”

When John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as President, ABIGAIL ADAMS wrote to former First Lady MARTHA WASHINGTON before the inauguration in 1791 soliciting her advice on how best to to carry out the duties of her new position. She asked Martha for some rules to guide her. Martha wrote the following letter spelling out what she perceived as good practice.

Philadelphia. 20th February 1797My Dear Madam
your kind and affectionate letter of the 9th instant has been duly received.— For the favourable sentiments you have been pleased to express for me, and for the testimony it contains of the aprobation of my conduct in the station I am about to retire from, I pray you to accept my grateful acknowledgments—

It is very flattering for me, my dear Madam, to be asked for rules, by which I have acquired the good opinion, which you say is entertained of me.— With in your self, you possess a guide more certain than any I can give, to direct you:— I mean the good sence and judgment for which you are distinguished;—but more from a willingness to comply with your request, than from any conviction—of the necessity, I will concisely add—

That the practice with me, has been always to receive the first visits, and then to return them.— These have been repeated (when received) after an absence of considerable length from the seat of the government.—

It has been a custom for the ladies of the diplomatic corps, to be introduced in their first visits by the secretary of state;—and for strangers by those who are known to them and to me; after which the visits have been returned.— This has been the general etequette;—but familiar morning visits have been received and made without cerimoney.—

The President having resolved to accept no invitations, it followed of course that I never dined or supped out, except once with the vice President, once with each of the Governers of the state whare we have resided—and (very rarely) at the dancing assemblies.— In a few instances only—I have drank tea with some of the public characters—and with a particular friend or acquantance.—

with respect to the Trades people of this city, I find but little difference in them: and of domestics, we have none I would venture to recommend, except the steward; who is capable, sober, active and obliging; and for any thing I know, or believe to the contrary, is honest.—

The President feels very sensibly for the politeness of your expressions as they relate to him self; and unites most cordially and sincerely with me in wishing that you, and the President elect, may enjoy every honour happiness and ease which the station you are to fill, can afford— and with compliments to Miss smith [Nabby Adams Smith] in which Nelly Custis [Eleanor Parke Custis, granddaughter of Martha called Nelly] joins us

I am my dear Madam with great / esteem and affectionate regard your / your obedient
Martha Washington

Citation: Martha Washington to Abigail Adams, 20 February 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 11, July 1795 – February 1797, ed. Margaret A. Hogan, C. James Taylor, Sara Martin, Neal E. Millikan, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, and Gregg L. Lint. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013, pp. 570–571.The portrait of Abigail Adams (circa 1800-1815) is at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Martha Washington’s portrait is by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.

posted May 2nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, John,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“will you get . . . two Cloths Baskets”

MARTHA WASHINGTON was not pleased when her husband was elected president. After his service in the Revolutionary War she had hoped to live quietly with him at Mount Vernon. She did not go to his inauguration on April 30, 1789, but in mid-May she left for New York, the temporary capital of the new nation, with her two grandchildren and seven house servants (slaves). She organized the household and devoted herself to the duties she presumed were expected of her as the president’s wife.

Martha placed orders for assorted items from the mundane to the unusual as the letters below show. Clement Biddle, who had served as commissary general under Washington during the Revolutionary War, was a merchant in Philadelphia and had been appointed by President Washington to be the head of the United States Marshals.

July 1790
Mrs. Washingtons compliments to Colo Biddle – will be glad to know, if he had got the knives and fork, – and wine, if it is very good and what quantity she will be very glad to see the list of the things when he has collected them altogether she beggs to know if he has remembered the ginn and liquers the General desires to have them sent and that they may be of the best kind – M W begs he will let Mr Powel* know when the vessel goes that the Chariot and coach Harness may go round with the other things they will be packed up ready for to be put on board-

* Samuel and Ann Willing Powel were close friends of the Washingtons.

Sunday one o’clock

We are much in want of perfumes such as orrange flower water & for cooking

Will you be so good as to get for me the Beauties of Milton Thompson Young and Harvey [poems by John Milton, illustrated by the named]]
M Washington

We are much in want of mops and clamps for scouring Brushes – will you get 6 of each and two Cloths Baskets 1 larger than the other

Pickled walnuts
India Mangoes
Thompson’s Seasons [a collection of poems by James Thomson]
Guthries Geography
Art of Speaking
6 mops or sweeping brushes
6 Clamp scrubbing brushes
2 Cloths Baskets
Orange flower Water
perfumes for Cooking.

Martha Washington, “Letters to Colonel Clement Biddle, July 1790,” in Martha Washington, Item #450 and Item #451,(accessed April 27, 2017).The illustration is of the title page of a later edition of William Guthrie’s A New System of Modern Geography.

posted April 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Biddle, Clement,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

Items from Martha Washington’s wardrobe

Searching through information about MARTHA WASHINGTON I came across two items of clothing that reveal something of her as a woman. The slippers, in purple and yellow silk, are the ones she wore when she wed George Washington in 1759. They signify her status as a wealthy woman and reflect her youthful flair: Martha, the widow of Daniel Parke Custis, was just 27 years old.

Also shown is a simple brown silk satin gown, the only dress of Martha’s wardrobe that has survived intact. It is constructed of narrow brown satin-weave silk, likely of English manufacture.

The SLIPPERS are shown courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The gown can be seen HERE. (accessed April 24, 2017).

posted April 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Fashion,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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