Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Patsy and Polly Jefferson; Mary and Sally Hemings

Please see the corrected version of the previous post on Martha Jefferson Randolph, another post about her here and, since the subject has come up, further information on the Hemings.

Thomas Jefferson, made his daughter Martha, known as “Patsy”, a wedding present of eight slaves, when she married Thomas M. Randolph, Jr., as was mentioned in the previous post. One of the slaves was Molly Hemings, a child of Mary Hemings, a slave in the household of Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles. The daughter of Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings, Mary was fathered by John Wayles, as were Betty’s other children, including Sally Hemings. When Wayles died, his slaves were inherited by his daughter, Jefferson’s wife Martha, and joined the Jefferson household at Monticello.

In 1785, Jefferson was appointed minister to France. While he was in Paris his slave Mary Hemings was hired out to Thomas Bell (a common practice) who later purchased and freed her. Mary became his common-law wife (marriage between whites and blacks was against Virginia law) and bore him two children whom he acknowledged and freed. When Bell died he left considerable property to Mary who lived out her life in comfort. Her older children, of whom Molly was one, remained slaves at Monticello. Molly was gifted to Patsy and a son, Daniel was given to Jefferson’s sister. Sally, however, was destined for a different life.

When Jefferson left for Paris he took his daughter Patsy with him but left his younger child Mary, known as “Polly,” with relatives in Virginia. Jefferson decided in 1786 that he wanted Polly to join him in Paris. Polly did not want to go, as is clear from this pitiful letter she wrote to her father.

Dear Papa [ca. 22 May 1786]I long to see you, and hope that you and sister Patsy are well; give my love to her and tell her that I long to see her, and hope that you and she will come very soon to see us. I hope you will send me a doll. I am very sorry that you have sent for me. I don’t want to go to France, I had rather stay with Aunt [Elizabeth Wayles] Eppes. . . .
Your most happy and dutiful daughter Polly Jefferson

Despite her protestations, Jefferson decided that 9-year-old Polly must join him and that the slave Sally Hemings, then 14 years old, should escort her to Paris. The child was tricked into going aboard a vessel (supposedly to visit friends) and fell asleep. When she awoke, to her dismay, she found herself on the high seas. On arrival In London, Abigail Adams took the pair into her care. For Abigail’s reaction see the next post.

Polly’s letter can be found on page 234 of In the Words of Women. Information about Sally Hemings can be found HERE, and more about Mary Hemings HERE.

posted January 24th, 2015 by Janet, Comments Off on Patsy and Polly Jefferson; Mary and Sally Hemings, CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,France,Hemings, Mary,Hemings, Sally,Jefferson, Martha "Patsy",Jefferson, Mary "Polly",Jefferson, Thomas

“We have begun our new year in this city”

Mary Stead Pinckney was in Paris in January of 1798. (See another post about her here.) Her husband, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, had been sent there in 1796 to replace James Monroe as United States minister to France. Relations between France and the United States had worsened given the decision of the United States to remain neutral during the war then being waged between the French and British; France believed it was entitled to American support based on the treaty of 1778. The Jay Treaty of 1794, perceived as unduly advantageous to the British, caused relations to deteriorate further. Pinckney was denied accreditation and, indeed, was ordered to leave the country. Charles and Mary went to Holland where they remained for some months, returning to Paris in September of 1797. There Pinckney became part of a three-man commission designated by the United States to sort out relations between the two countries. Negotiations—known as the XYZ Affair—failed in the face of attempts by France to extort money from the United States. The Pinckneys returned to the United Sates in 1798. Following is the letter Mary Stead Pinckney wrote to her sister Elizabeth Stead Izard on January 6, 1798.

We have begun our new year in this city, my dear sister, but I am sure I shall not pretend to the spirit of prophecy and venture to foretell where we shall finish it. I hope I may be allowed to wish ourselves, as also you & yours, as happy a year as is consistent with our imperfect nature. After taking such a voyage I should like to see a little more of Europe merely to gratify curiosity, but, believe me, our country is capable of bestowing more real happiness than is to be found out of it. I mean for those who have the wherewith to live comfortable. As to the society of Paris, I know no more of it except by hearsay than you do; & with regard to public amusements they soon tire. My morning excursions procure me the most pleasure, and yet it is too cold and damp not to suffer from visiting churches & museums, and I dare not put them off to a milder season lest I should not then be here. . . . but I am wishing it was spring that I might make excursions round the beautiful environs of Paris. Yet we have no cards of hospitality, and if they are determined to consider us as private americans only are liable to be stopped every time we go out. . . .

I will not risk the safety of my letters by meddling with politicks, and tho’ the citizens allow themselves greater latitude on this subject than I expected, it is still a dangerous subject; and with regard to letters, I am told the owners of vessels both coming from & going to A. are so apprehensive for their cargoes that they generally throw them all into the sea. I hope therefore you will either send copies or write very often.

I wish particularly to know whether in case we are recalled you will venture to let us leave Ralph [Elizabeth Izard’s son] at school in St. Germains, or what you would wish to have done with him. He is losing all his time, & at present has no opportunity of learning even french. We should not hesitate, but send him immediately to St. Germains, tho’ but for a week, were it not for the expence of the outfit—for each student must have a bedstead, 4 mattresses, a pr of sheets, 3 doz. napkins, a silver cup, fork and spoon, and our stay is so uncertain. Sometimes we think of leaving him there if we go to Amsterdam; & then again I am fearful lest he should get sick &c: in a country where he will have no friends. . . . We are indeed quite puzzled what to do with him. Eliza [Ralph’s sister] too is losing all she has learnt—no instrument—no masters.

We changed our lodgings yesterday—these are rather more comfortable & quiet, but they are dark, and the situation much less agreeable; but we were in the Road to Ruin where we were, and lived in the most disagreeable manner. We paid 67 louis d’ors for 21 dinners, without the satisfaction of seeing one friend, except on New Year’s day, when Mr. & Mrs. Middleton [relatives of Charles Pinckney’s first wife] . . . dined with us. . . .

Friday evening—I have been running about Paris all this morning instead of writing. . . . I see very little jewellry or gold trinkets in the shops; and you will be surprised to hear I have not yet been able to meet with a pair of sleeve buttons for Ralph. I am persuaded there is greater choice, and neater work in London. I have not seen one pretty watch. Yet there appears to be a great abundance of all the necessaries of life. I suppose I have been a dozen times at least to the Palais Égalité, and I am as much amused with the shops as any child can be. Pray remember me affect. to &c: &c: and tell us all about Xmas. 4 months and not a line from any of you. Deplorable. . . .
Adieu MP.—

As always, it seems, visitors to Paris see the sights, visit museums and go shopping.

The letter has been arranged in paragraphs to make for easier reading. The Letter-book of Mary Stead Pinckney can be found online HERE pages 42-45.

posted January 5th, 2015 by Janet, Comments Off on “We have begun our new year in this city”, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Education,France,Paris,Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth,Pinckney, Mary Stead

Louisa Catherine Adams: “Record of a Life”

Louisa Catherine Adams was the wife of President John Quincy Adams, the only foreign-born First Lady. In the summer of 1825, a few months after moving into the White House, she began a memoir for her three children—George Washington, John 2nd, and Charles Francis. In “Record of a Life” she recalled events of her childhood and young adulthood, breaking off shortly following her marriage to John Quincy Adams. Louisa did not resume her narrative until 1840 when she began writing “Adventures of a Nobody.” A new volume designed to make her writings and observations more easily accessible was published earlier this year. It is from this volume (see below) that the quoted passages are taken.

Louisa Catherine was the daughter of an English mother, Catherine Nuth, and an American merchant, Joshua Johnson from Maryland who was representing an American firm in London. An intelligent and gifted child she adored her parents and they doted on her. One of eventually nine children—eight sisters and one brother—she enjoyed a close relationship with her older sister Anne and a younger sibling named by her parents in a fit of patriotism Carolina Virginia Marylanda. When the American Revolution was imminent, for safety’s sake, her father moved his family to Nantes in France when Louisa was about three. This early period of her life she considered her happiest: the scenes of her childhood Louisa recalls as “visions of delight in which all was joy and peace and love.”

From portrait painted when she was eighteen, she appears to have been petite, with a fair complexion, hazel eyes, and red hair.

As I am interested in Sarah Livingston Jay I was delighted to discover Louisa’s impression of the Jays who were living in Paris at the same time as the Johnsons. (Nabby Adams described what Madame de Lafayette thought of Mrs. Jay in an earlier post.)

Of our journey I do not remember any thing until we arrived in Paris. There we had elegant Apartments in one of the best hotels, and a day or two after our arrival the Children at the request of Mr. & Mrs. [John] Jay were all sent to pay their respects. Mr. Jay was then in Paris I believe as Minister [peace commissioner]. Mrs. Jay was a very Lady like looking woman and she had two daughters children like ourselves but dressed in the plain English fashion white Frocks and Pink Sashes which appeared to me much prettier than the silk dress and hoop which I was used to wear. Their establishment was handsome and their kindness unbounded and I have always looked back with pleasure to this visit which is the only thing that occurred in my stay in Paris which had stamped itself upon my mind.

The painting of Louisa Catherine Adams is by Edward Savage c. 1794. It is at the Adams National Historical Park and can be seen HERE. The information and quoted passages are from A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), pages 1-5.

posted October 2nd, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on Louisa Catherine Adams: “Record of a Life”, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Children,Clothes,France,London,Paris

“The country is much varied”

Abigail “Nabby” Adams was the firstborn offspring of John and Abigail Smith Adams. They called her “Nabby” when she was a child, and the name stayed with her. Apparently she was an attractive young woman with long red hair, blue eyes, and a clear complexion. When she was eighteen she was courted by Royall Tyler, but her parents disapproved of him, and Nabby was whisked away by her mother in 1784 to join her father in Britain where he was serving as the ambassador of the newly independent United States. As her family hoped, the long-distance relationship between Nabby and Royall did not survive.

The family traveled to France in August, and Nabby kept a journal in which she recorded her first impressions of the country. Following is an excerpt describing the trip to Paris after they came ashore on the 9th.

At two, we set off . . . on a journey of two hundred miles. The laws of this country are such as oblige every person who travels in a coach, to make use of six horses. We were equipped with six horses for our carriage, and a cabriolet with three horses, for our two servants. The harness is not superior in any respect, to what we use in America for our carts and ploughs. . . . [We] exchange horses at every post, which is a distance of six miles, or sometimes a post and a half, or two posts at a time. On Tuesday we travelled four posts after dinner, and lodged at Boulogne, a small village, the Inn kept by an English family. The house was not as much Anglaise as I could have wished. There is certainly a great difference in favour of England; the country is by no means equal to it; the soil does not appear so rich and luxuriant, or so well cultivated; the villages are the most wretched of all the habitations of man; it is not one time in ten that I have seen a glass window, nothing but wood. We dined in our carriage; mamma and myself were not out of it from six in the morning, until four in the afternoon.

The country is much varied; in some places you see a great appearance of cultivation and improvement, in others you have a fine prospect of the country around, and some very fine scenes of natural beauty; in others, it appears like a barren uncultivated spot. there is the appearance of more industry here than in England, by the flocks of men, women and children that are out in the fields at their labours; whole families, whole towns, I should suppose by their numbers, some reaping and gathering in the fruits of the year, while others were preparing the ground, sowing seed for a future crop. The country bears to-day a more pleasing aspect than yesterday; the villages are by no means superior, such places I never saw before, or like unto them. The streets are very narrow and dirty, the houses low and heavy; the outside seems to be of a kind of clay, and the roofs are covered with thatch; it has a heavy appearance. The difference is not more striking in any other object, than in the countenances of the people. The English seem formed for some exertion in almost any way we should choose; but these people do not appear sensible to any passions or affections whatever. The difference is striking in the postillions. The English have a sprightliness and alertness suitable to the employment; but in these, there is a heaviness, dirtiness, and no elasticity. . . .

To-day we have been obliged to travel . . . eighty-seven miles, in order to arrive at a place where we could be accommodated with lodging; it was 9 o’clock before we stopped for the night, which was at Amiens. The laws of this nation are so severe as to oblige every one who enters it to follow their customs in everything, particularly in dress, or they render themselves ridiculous. For this reason, every kind of article which they manufacture themselves, is prohibited from entering the kingdom without paying a duty. To prevent this the[r]e are custom-house officers almost at every town, who demand a search of your baggage, although it consist only of your own private clothes. But it is very seldom that they will not be satisfied with half a crown, instead of being a farther trouble to you. . . . We have been stopped several times, but always found them ready to be bought. . . .

We have taken a house at Auteuil, near Paris, very large and very inconvenient—about fifty little apartments [rooms], so small, most of them, as to be inconvenient for lodging. There is a large room to receive company in, and a dining room; all the bed-rooms are above stairs. There is a spacious garden.

More to follow.

The passages are from the Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, daughter of John Adams, Second President of the United States. Written in France and England, in 1785. Edited by her daughter (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1841), pages 8-11 and 14. They can be read online HERE. The illustration is by Rufus Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 91. First ed., 1855.

posted September 4th, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “The country is much varied”, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,France,Paris,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams,Travel

“it was made of taffetas and in the form of an egg”

Sarah Livingston Jay saw the first ascent of the Montgolfier balloon (see this post) in Paris in 1783. The daughter of John and Abigail Adams, known as “Nabby”, visited France in 1784 and recorded her impression of a balloon ascent.

September 19. To-day we went to see the balloon; it was to ascend from the garden of the Tuileries; we had tickets at a crown a person to go in. We left our carriage outside and went in; the garden I had never been in before; it is very large, and in general, elegant. there were eight or ten thousand persons present. This people are more attentive to their amusements than any thing else; however, as we were upon the same errand, it is unjust to reflect upon others, whose curiosity was undoubtedly as well founded. We walked a little, took a view of the company, and approached the balloon; it was made of taffetas and in the form of an egg, if both ends were large; this is what contains the air; below it is a gallery where are the adventurers and the ballast. At eleven it was moved from the place of its standing among the trees to an open situation, and the cords, which were held by some of the greatest men in the kingdom, were cut; it mounted in the air. It was some time in sight, as they had intended making some experiments upon their machine. At six in the evening it descended at Bevre, fifty leagues from Paris. At two o’clock the same day there was a storm of rain, with thunder and lightning, but they were not affected by it.

The passage is from the Journal and Correspondence of Miss Adams, daughter of John Adams, Second President of the United States. Written in France and England, in 1785. Edited by her daughter (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1841), pages 18-19. It can be read online HERE.

posted September 1st, 2014 by Janet, Comments Off on “it was made of taffetas and in the form of an egg”, CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,France,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Paris,Pinckney, Mary Stead,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

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