Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

” . . . in some points I am very obstinate”

Although MARY “POLLY” HEWSON lost her husband in 1774 and was left to raise her three children on her own (see previous post), in that same year Polly’s aunt died leaving her a small inheritance that eventually when it was settled enabled her to live in relative comfort. “I shall be rich enough to indulge myself and my children in any occasional expences that will essentially gratify me or benefit them.”
With all hope of reconciliation between Britain and her American colonies abandoned, Polly’s friend and mentor Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1775. The United States, at war with Britain, sent Franklin to Paris in 1777 to seek French aid and negotiate a treaty. Polly and Franklin continued to correspond as best they could during wartime, Polly forwarding news about Franklin’s friends in England.

My letters are a kind of private newspaper, I give the articles just as they happen to occur without regard to order or connection. I fancy this kind will be most pleasing to you, as it will not require an answer, and will make you feel somewhat like having your English friends about you.

Of course Polly described her children’s progress. She had a mind of her own and did not hesitate to go against custom when it seemed sensible to do so. She refused to dress her daughter in stays for example.

Contrary to fashion, and consequently to the opinion of most people (you know in some points I am very obstinate) I keep her without stays, by which means her shape retains its natural grace; being unconfined, and her motions free, her health too is preserved.

In January 1783, Benjamin Franklin wrote to Polly about the end of the war:

At length we are in Peace, God be praised; & long, very long may it continue. All Wars are Follies, very expensive & very mischievous ones. When will Mankind be convinc’d of this, and agree to settle their Differences by Arbitration? Were they to do it even by the Cast of a Dye, it would be better than by Fighting & destroying each other.

Franklin invited Polly and her children to spend the winter of 1784-85 with him in his residence in Passy. Much to his delight she accepted. Franklin loved small children and enjoyed their company. He wrote to her after she and the children had departed:

…My love to William and Thomas and Eliza, and tell them I miss their cheerful prattle. . . . I have found it very triste breakfasting alone, and sitting alone, and without any tea in the evening.

Polly was uncertain about where her children would be most likley to meet with success. Franklin offered this advice.

With regard to the future Establishment of your Children, which you say you want to consult me about, I am still of Opinion that America will afford you more Chances of doing it well than England. All the means of good Education are plenty there, the general Manners more simple & pure, Temptations to Vice and Folly fewer, the Profits of Industry in Business as great and sure as in England; and there is one Advantage more which your Command of Money will give you there, I mean the laying out a Part of your Fortune in new Land, now to be had extreamly cheap, but which must be increas’d immensely in Value before your Children come of Age, by the rapid Population of the Country. If you should arrive there while I live, you know you may depend on every Assistance in my Power to afford you, and I think my Children will have a Pleasure too in serving their Father’s Friend. I do not offer it as a Motive that you will be much esteem’d and respected there, for that you are & must be every where; but give me leave to flatter myself that my being made happier in my last Years by your Neighbourhood and Society, may be some Inducement to you.

Hewson did relocate to America with her children and lived in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin lent her some money, $185.30, in January of 1787 to help her get settled. During Franklin’s last illness, when his pain eased, Polly read to him from Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. Franklin died in 1790, age 84.

Polly’s children did indeed do well in the United States. William Jr. obtained some land and became a farmer, Thomas became a medical doctor, and Elizabeth married an American. Franklin’s “surrogate daughter” Polly died the 14th of October 1795 aged 56.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Hewson, 8 September 1776,” “To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Hewson, 23 December 1781,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson, 27 January 1783,” “From Benjamin Franklin to Mary Hewson, 7 September 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0355. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 22, March 23, 1775, through October 27, 1776, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London:: Yale University Press, 1982, pp. 287-289, 594–596, 67–68, 588–590.]
Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York: Viking Press, 1938), 638, 738, 776.
Autograph letter signed (“B. Franklin”) to Mary “Polly” Hewson, Passy, 13 April 1782.

posted April 15th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,England,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,London,Paris,Philadelphia

“But gone before/ me”

Life in the 18th century was so fragile. FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON LEAR lived only a short time after her marriage to Tobias Lear. She died in 1796 from the same disease that had claimed her first husband—consumption (tuberculosis). The painting is the sort of memorial commonly created for a deceased family member. It is thought that Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter, made this one, probably in 1796, the year of Fanny’s death. The watercolor—ink and gouache on laid paper—references both classical and Christian themes. The pointed evergreens represent the hope of eternal life. A grieving woman leans on a plinth; the script on a square of paper pasted on the front reads: “She is not lost!/Blest thought!/ But gone before/ me!”

Citation for this post: HERE.

posted July 31st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Death,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Washington, Martha

“When God his Summons Sends”

That inveterate writer JEMIMA CONDICT from Pleasantdale, New Jersey, summarizes what had befallen her family in the past year.

It is now the 2 of JANUARY [1777] & as I have not had time to write any this winter I thought this a Proper Season, as I am up With my Sick Sister, to take Pen in Hand & Recollect a little of What is Past. I intended to kept a Strickt account of the Times, But as Providence has ordered matters, I have my Hands full By Night & Day, So that I shall Now only jest Tell you In Broken Languige What Troubles we have had in Our family. since I Saw you Last. My Dear mother was taken Sick the 25 of October & was So Bad that we Did not much Expect her recovery. It was then I thought I Should Bin Deprivd of that great Blessing I had so Long undeservedly enjoyd. My Youngist Brother also Lay Very Bad So that we did not Expect him to Live for many Days. Dear father was taken Sik Quick after, But through the Goodness of God they Soon recovered; So that we were in Hopes of having health in our habitation. But at Chrismas my Sister was taken Sick & was Extreme Bad. She had a Strange Disoder. it Lay in her throat & Stomack Sometimes she would be So Choack that we never expected She would Come too agin. another of my Brothers Likewise at the Same time was very Sick; But it has Pleased a holy god to show us his Power in Raiseing them to a State of health.

JANUARY ye 29 1777 Samuel ogden my Brother in Law was taken Sick at Newark & was Brought up to his uncle abrams. Where after a Short tho Tedious fit of Sickness Died; his mother Being there to tend him; she was taken Sick the Next Night & Died the week following So the both died from home yet not from friends.

And so all must Go
When God his Summons Sends

Jemima Condict, Her Book: Being a Transcript of the Diary of an Essex County Maid During the Revolutionary War (Orange N.J.: Jemima Condict Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930), 64-65, 66. The original of Jemima Condict’s diary is in the archives of the New Jersey Historical Society, “Manuscript Group 123.”

posted March 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Condict, Jemima,Death,Illness,New Jersey

“the Blody flux”

JEMIMA CONDUCT, the young woman from Pleasantdale, New Jersey, once again writes about actions of the British.

Monday May first [1775]. this day I think is a Day of mourning we have word Come that the fleet is coming into Newyork also & to Day the men of our Town is to have a general meeting to Conlud upon measures Which may Be most Proper to be taken; they have Chose men to act for them & I hope the Lord will Give them Wisdom to Conduct wisely & Prudently In all matters.

In 1776, disease ravaged the area. “July 23, Did that Distressing Disorder the Blody flux Began to rage in this Neighborhood.” Jemima cites death after death: of friends and neighbors, adults and children, civilians and soldiers. “August the 16th, Then Died Jered freeman. he was taken Sick at newyork among the Sogers & was brought home & Died Soon After.” Some soldiers were killed in action, but more died as a result of sickness.

September 1776. We hear News from our army at Montigue & Several of them we hear is Dead. sense there Departure Benjamin Canfield & Stevan Morris, David Luis Died with the Camp Disorder & william acorn we hear was killed by the injuns; Sen Jabez freeman the Son of the Late Diseast John freeman is Dead, also Sias Heady Died up there with Sickness.

The bloody flux or dysentery is characterized by bloody diarrhea. The “Camp Disorder” is likely typhus. It is heartbreaking to read Jemima’s list of the dead. It goes on and on, year after year, and is a reminder of the fragility of life at that time and the ineffectiveness of treatment. What is also impressive is the way sickness and death were borne: always regarded as God’s will, to be accepted. Gratitude was expressed for those who had been spared.

Jemima Condict, Her Book: Being a Transcript of the Diary of an Essex County Maid During the Revolutionary War (Orange N.J.: Jemima Condict Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930), 52, 59, 60, 61. The original of Jemima Condict’s diary is in the archives of the New Jersey Historical Society.

posted March 23rd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Condict, Jemima,Death,Illness,Medicine

“try to give her up freely”

Dr. Richard Hill and his family were part of the substantial Quaker community in America. Born in Maryland in 1698, Hill married Deborah Moore whose grandfather was the governor of Pennsylvania. Hill was a surgeon, an amateur botanist, and a merchant—he owned four ships. In addition he owned several parcels of land and at least forty slaves. When he came upon hard times and was denied “immunity from debts,” he sold most of his assets and relocated to Funchal in Madeira where he tried to build a business in the wine trade. He eventually prospered sufficiently to repay his creditors and make a comfortable living.

Hill and his wife had ten children. Hannah, his eldest daughter, at age fifteen married the grandson of his wife’s sister, Dr.Samuel Preston Moore. She and her husband lived in Philadelphia where Hannah became the surrogate mother to her siblings who did not accompany their parents to Madeira. Her sister Sarah married George Dillwyn, a Quaker preacher; they lived at Green Bank (Burlington), New Jersey. Another sister, Margaret, married William Morris Jr., a dry-goods merchant, who died in 1765, less than eight years after their marriage, leaving his wife with three children and expecting a fourth. The following letter written by SARAH DILLWYN to MARGARET MORRIS contains, to me, a very sad passage. (See the many other posts about Margaret Morris here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

Green Bank, August, 1764Mr Dear Sister:—
I was rejoiced yesterday to hear from under thy own hand, that thy precious little one was on the recovery; but, my dear creature, don’t be too secure—try to give her up freely—still—and whether she lives or not, thee will be rewarded with peace of mind. Sister [Rachel] Wells found it the best way to be quite resigned, though it was hard work for her. . . .
I intend to send a few apples for the children; tell me if acceptable, and I’ll send often.
In much love to all,
Thy sincerely attached sister,
S. H. Dyllwin

Sarah is cautioning her sister not to become too attached to her child as the little one may be taken from her by illness at any time. She should prepare herself for this possibility in advance, resign herself to her loss as the will of God. (Their sister Rachel had a child in July 1763; he died in August of that year.) This may have been sensible advice at a time when the death rate among infants was high but it is not the way we look at our children today. The letter is painful to read—and to realize how often mothers lost their babies.

Sources: John Jay Smith, ed., Letters of Doctor Richard Hill and His Children 1798-1881 (Philadelphia: 1854),196. Also John W. Jordan, Colonial And Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania (New York, 1911) 43-46. The portrait of Sarah Dillwyn and her husband is at the Library Collection of Philadelphia.

posted January 30th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Children,Death,Dillwyn, Sarah,Morris, Margaret Hill

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