Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

“I found a large Bundle of Letters”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL not only purchased six coach horses from George Washington when he was preparing to move back to Mount Vernon from Philadelphia in 1797, she also bought his writing desk (at auction). The following letter reveals that she found an interesting packet in a drawer of the desk.

Phila. 11 [–13] th March 1797My very dear Sir
Like a true Woman (as you will think) in the Moment of Exultation, and on the first Impulse (for you know we are never supposed to act Systematically or from attentive Consideration,[)] I take up my Pen to address you, as you have given me a complete Triumph on the Subject of all others on which you have I suppose thought me most deficient, and most opposite to yourself; and what is still more charming—your Candor shall preside as Judge, nay you shall pass Sentence on yourself, and I will not appeal from your Decision. Suppose I should prove incontestably that you have without Design put into my Possession the love Letters of a Lady addressed to you under the most solemn Sanction; & a large Packet too. What will the Goddess of Prudence and Circumspection say to her favorite Son and Votary for his dereliction of Principles to which he has hitherto made such serious Sacrifices. Was the Taste of your Sex predominant in your Breast; and did the Love of Variety so preponderate, that because you had never blundered as President, was you determined to try its Delights as a private Gentleman; but to keep you no longer in Suspense, tho’ I know that your Nerves are not as irritable as a fine Ladies, yet I will with the Generosity of my Sex relieve you, by telling you—that upon opening one of the Drawers of your writing Desk I found a large Bundle of Letters from Mrs Washington bound up and labled with your usual Accuracy. Mr Lear was present, I immediately desired him to take Charge of the Package which he declined—alleging that he thought it was safer in my Hands, at least for some Time—at first I urged it; but finding him Inflexible as I suppose from Motives of Delicacy I sealed them up And I trust it is unnecessary for me to add that they will be keept Inviolably until I deliver them to him or to your Order. As Mr Lear has been connected both with you and Mrs Washington, and as it is probable that some family Circumstances may have been mingled into her Communications to you, to save his Feelings I have sealed the Package with Three Seals bearing the Impression of my blessed Friends Arms, such as that I myself use. Should Mrs Washington appear to have any unpleasant Sensations on this Subject you will I am certain remove them by reminding her—that tho’ Curiosity is supposed to be a prominent feature of the female Mind, yet it will ever be powerfully counteracted when opposed by native Delicacy, or sense of Honor, and I trust a pious Education.

I shall my good Sir give to Mr Lear 245 Dollars which I find was the first Cost of the writing Desk. In my Estimation its Value is not in the least diminished by your use of it; nor from its having been the Repository of those valuable Documents that originated with you during your wise and peaceful Administration for Eight Years. I am sensible many true & handsome Compliments might be paid to you on this Occasion; but as they have been resounded with Elegance & Sincerity through the Whole Continent, and will be re-echoed by Posterity, as you must be conscious they are just and as you are not a Man of Vanity, I will not in my blundering Way attempt a Theme that I feel myself totally inadequate to, as Blundering would not have to me even the Charm of variety to recommend it.

And now let me return you Thanks for your Tributes of Affection. Mr Lear has sent me in your Name a Pair of Lamps & Brackets with the Appendages. From you they are acceptable tho from no other Being out of my own Family would I receive a pecuniary Favor, nor did I want any inanimate Memento to bring you to my Recollection. I most sincerely hope to hear that you are all well and safely arrived at Mount Vernon long before you will receive this Scrawl. Be pleased to present my best Wishes to Mrs Washington & Miss Custis. Truly & affectionately I have the Honor to be, Sir Your most Obedt & Obliged
Eliza. PowelN.B. March 13th Mr Lear dined with me Yesterday. I desired him not to mention the Circumstance alluded to in the first ⟨Para⟩-graph of this Letter, therefore Mrs W. need not be informed of it unless you choose to tell her yourself. E.P.

Only four letters between Washington and his wife have survived. The others were almost certainly destroyed, either by Washington before his death, or by Martha later. Tobias Lear in a letter to Powel (March 9) indicated that the original cost of the desk was 98£ in New York Currency. He also listed the gifts from Washington Powel refers to in her letter as “a token of his respectful & affectionate remembrance.”

Information about the desk:
“George Washington’s presidential desk, usually exhibited at Mount Vernon, was on display Feb. 17-20, 2006 at the Atwater-Kent Museum of Philadelphia. The desk is attributed to New York cabinetmaker Thomas Burling and is modeled on a French style called bureau à cylinder. The desk, purchased by Washington on November 21, 1789, in New York City for £98 New York currency, was brought to Philadelphia in 1790. It is made of mahogany, pine, mahogany veneer, and maple inlay. The desk stands 66″ high, 62″ wide, and 35″ deep and is estimated to weigh 350 pounds. The legs and finials are replacements. A mechanism retracts the roll top, when the writing surface is extended. When Washington returned to Mount Vernon at the end of his presidency in 1789, he left the desk to be sold at auction. Elizabeth Willing Powell purchased it for $245 on March 10, 1797, and placed it in her home at 244 South 3rd Street. The desk was in her family until 1867, when it was donated to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by Charles Hare Hutchinson.

Information…provided by the Atwater-Kent Museum. Pictures ©2014”

In the next post Washington’s reply to Powel’s discovery.

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 11–13 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 28–30.] Details about the desk were found HERE.

posted September 21st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Furnishings,Lear, Tobias,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George


Pondering George Washington’s letter (previous post) to ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL in regard to the sale of his coach horses to her, one wonders what Washington’s coach was like, who drove it, rode the horses or accompanied it. And so this digression.

It is known that while in Philadelphia Washington kept fourteen horses, twelve in a stable behind the mansion of Robert Morris that he occupied, and two at a nearby livery stable. A coachman and two grooms cared for the horses. There were three carriages for his use. On state occasions the President rode in a large, cream-colored, richly decorated London-made coach drawn by six matched horses “brilliantly caparisoned,” attended by coachmen and footmen who wore livery in Washington’s colors of white and red-orange. The carriage no longer exists but a commemorative print made of a procession in New York City in 1872 shows this equipage.

In Philadelphia there was also a lighter carriage made by David and F. Clark that Washington used for traveling. In addition there was a phaeton for his wife.

Two postilions, slaves Giles and Paris, wore the Washington livery. Enclosed in a letter the President penned from Mount Vernon to his secretary Tobias Lear in 1790 was a thin strip of paper described thus: “The whole length of this paper is the circumference of Giles cap measured at the bottom and on the inside . . . being the exact Band of the head. . . . To the black line drawn across the paper is the size of Paris’s cap.” Washington instructed Lear to commission two “handsome” new caps, “with fuller and richer tassels at top than the old ones have.”

In a letter to Lear dated June, 1791, Washington complained about Paris who

“has become so lazy, self willed & impudent, that John [the Coachman] had no sort of government of him; on the contrary, J[un]no. say’s it was a maxim with Paris to do nothing he was ordered, and every thing he was forbid. This conduct, added to the incapacity of Giles for a Pistilion, who I believe will never be able to mount a horse again for that purpose, has induced me to find Paris some other employment than in the Stable—of course I shall leave him at home. A boy, or two may be necessary there, to assist about the horses—Carriages—& harness. but these (dutch ones) it is possible may be had for their victuals & cloaths; especially if there are large importations from Germany (as some articles in the papers say there will be)—I mention the matter now, that in case arrivals should happen before I get back, of these kind of People, you may be apprised of my wishes—low & squat (well made) boys, would suit best. If emigrants are not to be had, there can be no doubt, but that some of the Dutch Servants in the family could easily procure such as are wanted from among the Citizens—& perhaps none readier, or better than by John himself when he arrives.

Giles had had an accident which incapacitated him. Washington was considering indentured servants to help out in the stables.

“From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 275–278.] Other sources and further information HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

posted September 18th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Giles,Indentured Servants,Lear, Tobias,Paris,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

“the horses might repine for want of their Coach”

Here is the first page of the letter (in his own hand) that George Washington wrote to ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL describing the horses she proposed to buy. His care and concern for the animals is clear. As is his sense of humor! Powel took delivery of the six horses (previous post) but did not purchase the carriage. A transcription of the complete letter follows.

My dear Madam,

I accept your offer for my coach horses, to be delivered after the third of March in good order.

I bred them myself, and therefore cannot be mistaken in their ages; — ten and eleven is the extent. — No horses of true spirit can be more gentle; and never having received a fright are afraid of nothing. — One of them was a little unwell about a month ago, but is now perfectly recovered, and is used (as you may have perceived) whenever the carriage is out. —

No horses are better broke—none go quieter when drove by a person on the box, and I dare say would go as well with a Postilion (being perfectly good tempered) but as I never used them in that way, this is conjectural. As the leader of four (in hand) and as Pole enders with six, they are equally docile and steady. —

As the Coach would be lonesome without the horses — and the horses might repine for want of their Coach (having been wedded together seven years) you had better take both. — It is a very easy and convenient carriage for the City, but too heavy for the Road — thence I part with it; — and will let it go cheap.
Truly & affectionately
I have the honor to be
Your Most obed’t & obliged
Go Washington

Monday afternoon
6th February 1797

When six horses were used with a carriage two were the leaders, the second two were “pole enders,” and the ones nearest the carriage were “wheelers.” Washington frequently referred to his state carriage as a “chariot.”

Washington’s letter appears HERE.

posted September 14th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Primary sources,Washington, George

“My Coach horses, having performed (faithfully & well). . . “

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL, widowed in 1793, maintained her close friendship with George and Martha Washington throughout his second term as president. Early in 1797, as the Washingtons were dismantling their household in Philadelphia and preparing to return to Mount Vernon, Powel wrote to Washington offering to buy his town coach horses: they were, she said, for her nephew. Washington acknowledged receipt of $1000 from her and wrote the following letter to her regarding the purchase.

Monday 6th of March 1797. My dear Madam,
My Coach horses, having performed (faithfully & well) all the duties I have required of them, they are sent to you, agreeably to my promise; hoping they will be as serviceable to whomsoever they are committed, as they have been to me; and it is my wish that they may meet with a continuance of their former kind usage.

As every moment of our time while we remain in this City, will be closely employed in packing up; and as taking formal leave is not among the most pleasant circumstances of one’s life, we embrace this mode of bidding you adieu, until we shall have the pleasure of seeing you at Mount Vernon; which we hope for and shall expect.

In this farewell, I am cordially [joined] by Mrs Washington and Nelly Custis, who, with me, entreat you to be assured of the great esteem, and affectionate regard we bear you. To add anything more particular, as it respects myself, would be unnecessary; and therefore I shall conclude with wishing that you may be perfectly happy, and that I have the honor to be
Your most Obedt—obliged—and Very Hble Servant
Go: Washington

“From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 6 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 12–13.]

posted September 7th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“you are the only Man in America that dares to do right on all public Occasions”

While I knew of ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL, I confess I did not appreciate the close relationship she had with George Washington. In 1792 Washington was debating whether to serve a second term as president. He wanted to retire: Mount Vernon beckoned and his health was deteriorating. But he knew that problems were brewing at home regarding the direction the new nation should take. Abroad there was the question of how to position the United States in the impending conflict between France and England. Washington’s friends and advisers were urging him to stay on in light of these challenges. He confided his doubts to Elizabeth Powel and, in the following long letter, she sets forth the reasons why he should serve a second term. I have broken this amazing piece of writing into paragraphs to make it easier to read.

[Philadelphia] November 17th 1792My dear Sir
After I had parted with you on Thursday, my Mind was thrown into a Train of Reflections in Consequence of the Sentiments that you had confided to me. For tho’ they were not new, yet I had flattered myself that a nearer View of the Consequences that would probably ensue upon your quitting a Trust, upon the proper Execution of which the Repose of Millions might be eventually depending, would have pointed out to you the Impropriety, or to use a stronger Word, the Impracticability of carrying your Intentions into Effect—Regard for you and Anxiety for the Wellfare of our common Country, have determined me to submit to your Consideration the Thoughts which have occured to me on this Subject, and which, I think, it would be inconsistent with my Friendship for you to withold.

That you have obtained the Love, Respect and Confidence of the Citizens of the United States is a Fact as well substantiated as any that we are in Possession of; and, be assured, that I am as superior to the Meanness of Adulation as you are incapable of receiving it with Pleasure. Your honest Mind is not a Soil for it to take Root in, nor are your Ears attuned to listen, with Delight to the Syren Song of Flattery; nor, on the other Hand, do I mean to give you Pain by wounding your feelings. I well know your invincible Diffidence, and your Sensibility with respect to public Opinion; on the last therefore I must lay some Stress. Be assured that a great Deal of the well earned Popularity that you are now in Possession of will be torn from you by the Envious and Malignant should you follow the bent of your Inclinations. You know human Nature too well not to believe that you may have Enemies. Merit & Virtue, when placed on an Eminence, will as certainly attract Envy as the Magnet does the Needle. Your Resignation wou’d elate the Enemies of good Government and cause lasting Regret to the Friends of humanity. The mistaken and prejudiced Part of Mankind, that see thro’ the Medium of bad Minds, would ascribe your Conduct to unworthy Motives. They would say that you were actuated by Principles of self-Love alone—that you saw the Post was not tenable with any Prospect of adding to your Fame.

The Antifederalist would use it as an Argument for dissolving the Union, and would urge that you, from Experience, had found the present System a bad one, and had, artfully, withdrawn from it that you might not be crushed under its Ruins—that, in this, you had acted a politic Part. That a Concurrence of unparralelled fortunate Circumstances had attended you—That Ambition had been the moving spring of all your Actions—that the Enthusiasm of your Country had gratified your darling Passion to the Extent of its Ability, and that, as they had nothing more to give, you would run no farther Risque for them—that as Nature had not closed the Scene while your Carreer was glorious you had, with profound Address, withdrawn yourself from a Station that promised nothing to your Ambition, and that might eventually involve your Popularity.

The Federalists consider you as their own and glory in the Possession. They gave what a great and generous People might offer with Dignity and a noble Mind receive with Delicacy. They made no Oblation on the Altar of Idolatry or Vanity; their Offering was the Effect of Gratitude, Respect, Affection and Confidence to the Man that had, materially, assisted them in rearing and establishing the glorious Fabric of Liberty. Will you withdraw your Aid from a Structure that certainly wants your Assistance to support it? Can you, with Fortitude, see it crumble to decay? or, what is still worse behold the Monster Licentiousness, with all his horrid Attendants, exalted on its Ruins? I know you cannot you will not. But you will say that there are Abilities and Virtues in other Characters equall to the Task; admitting the Fact, it does not prove the Expediency of the Inference you have drawn from it, If there is not a Confidence in those Abilities and that Integrity they cannot be beneficially applied.

I will venture to assert that, at this Time, you are the only Man in America that dares to do right on all public Occasions. You are called to watch over the Welfare of a great People at a Period of Life when Man is capable of sustaining the Weight of Government. You have shewn that you are not to be intoxicated by Power or misled by Flattery. You have a feeling Heart, and the long Necessity of behaving with Circumspection must have tempered that native Benevolence which otherwise might make you too compliant, the Soundness of your Judgement has been evinced on many and trying Occasions, and you have frequently demonstrated that you possess an Empire over yourself. For Gods sake do not yield that Empire to a Love of Ease, Retirement, rural Pursuits, or a false Diffidence of Abilities which those that best know you so justly appreciate; nay your very Figure is calculated to inspire Respect and Confidence in the People, whose simple good Sense associates the noblest qualities of Mind with the heroic Form when it is embellished by such remarkable Tenets of Mildness and calm Benevolance—and such I believe was the first Intention of Nature. You love philosophic Retirement; convince the World then that you are a practical Philosopher, and that your native Philanthropy has induced you to relinquish an Object so essential to your Happiness. To do this I am certain that you need only give free Exercise to those Sentiments of patriotism and Benevolence which are congenial to your Bosom. Attend to their Verdict—Let your Heart judge of its Truth—Its Decrees will be confirmed by Posterity. That you are not indifferent to the Plaudits of the World I must conclude when I believe that the love of honest Fame has and ever will be predominant in the best the noblest and most capable Natures. Nor is the Approbation of Mankind to be disregarded with Impunity even by you. But, admitting that you could retire in a Manner exactly conformable to your own Wishes and possessed of the Benediction of Mankind, are you sure that such a Step would promote your Happiness? Have you not often experienced that your Judgement was fallible with Respect to the Means of Happiness? Have you not, on some Occasions, found the Consummation of your Wishes the Source of the keenest of your Sufferings?

God grant that your Mind may be so enlightened that you may, on this Occasion, form a true Judgement and may the eternal Disposer of human Events watch over your welfare. May the Remnant of your Days be happily and actively employed in the Discharge of those Duties which elevate and fortify the Soul. And may you, till the extremest old age, enjoy the pure Felicity of having employed your whole Faculties for the Prosperity of the People for whose Happiness you are responsible, for to you their Happiness is intrusted. Adieu believe me as I ever am Your sincere affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 17 November 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 11, 16 August 1792 – 15 January 1793, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002, pp. 395–398.] The Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1796. Courtesy National Portrait Galley, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

posted August 31st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

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