Archive for the ‘Reed, Esther De Berdt’ Category

“I never knew how much I loved her till I lost her”

Esther Reed wrote to her husband on 26 August, 1780:

My dear friend:
. . . . I wonder I have not heard from you since you wrote. It is now near a week and I have not a line. My time passes heavily when I hear no tidings of you. Are you so much engaged with your dear family that you have not had leisure for us. . . . Our dear little family are pretty well. Washington [the baby] has been unwell these two or three days but is better. Denny is very happy and there is seldom a day passes but he talks of you. Do you not sometimes wish to see the circle you have left behind? When you have a little cessation from the great concerns you are engaged in and your thoughts take their natural bias, I know you think of us, and when you have been embarrassed with difficulties, do you not wish to loose your cares on a bosom that is ever ready to share and relieve all your troubles. . . . You can expect nothing from me but family circumstances, and of these I shall continue to inform you because I know how much your welfare contributes to your happiness. Adieu, my dear friend, with the tenderest affection
Your ever faithful
E. Reed

When Joseph Reed finally came home a a few weeks later, he found his wife on her deathbed. Surrounded by her husband, her mother, and her children, the oldest of whom was eight, Esther died on 18 September. Joseph Reed was crushed, though he rallied somewhat out of concern for his children. He wrote to Esther’s brother Dennis, more than a year after her death: “I never knew how much I loved her till I lost her for ever. I have sought resignation of philosophy and religion. I have endeavoured to reason myself into a proper submission to the Divine Will, but with little success. I must have the aid of time to feel as I ought to feel.”
Esther was buried in Philadelphia’s Arch Street cemetery. Her body was later moved to Laurel Hill. Her husband composed this epitaph:

In memory of Esther, the beloved wife of Joseph Reed,
President of this State, who departed this life
On the 18th of September, A. D. 1780. aged 34 years.
Reader! If the possession of those virtues of the heart
Which make life valuable, or those personal endowments which
Command esteem and love, may claim respectful and affectionate
Remembrance, venerate the ashes here entombed.
If to have a cup of temporal blessings dashed
In the period and station of life in which blessings
May be best enjoyed, demands our sorrow, drop a tear, and
Think how slender is that thread on which the joys
And hopes of life depend.

Joseph Reed died a a little more than four years after his wife.

William B. Reed, Esther De Berdt, afterwards Esther Reed, of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: C. Sherman Printer, 1853), 332-33. The photo of the tombstone can be found here.

posted November 5th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Death,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Reed, Joseph

“a reward for past services”

Acknowledging Esther Reed’s letter describing the success of the subscription, George Washington requested that, rather than giving cash to the soldiers [which he thought would be squandered on drink or worse], the “fair associates” use the funds to buy linen to make shirts instead. Although shirts were not the gift that Esther Reed had in mind, indeed she questioned whether they were in fact needed at that time, she nevertheless agreed.

Banks of the Schuykill, July 31st, 1780Sir,
Ever since I received your Excellency’s favour of the 20th of this month, I have been endeavouring to procure the linen for the use of the soldiers . . . I have been informed of some circumstances, which I beg leave to mention, and from which perhaps the necessity for shirts may have ceased; one is the supply of 2000 sent from this State to their line, and the other, that a considerable number is arrived in the French fleet, for the use of the army in general. Together with these, an idea prevails among the ladies, that the soldiers will not be so much gratified, by bestowing an article to which they are entitled from the public, as in some other method which will convey more fully the idea of a reward for past services, and an incitement to future duty. Those who are of this opinion propose the whole of the money to be changed into hard dollars, and giving each soldier two, to be entirely at his own disposal. This method I hint only, but would not, by any means wish to adopt it or any other, without your full approbation. If it should meet with your concurrence, the State of Pennsylvania will take the linen I have purchased, and, as far as respects their own line, will make up any deficiency of shirts to them, which they suppose will not be many after the fresh supplies are received. If, after all, the necessity for shirts, which, though it may cease, as to the Pennsylvania Troops, may still continue to other parts of the army, the ladies will immediately make up the linen we have, which I think can soon be effected, and forward them to camp. . . .
I have the honour to be, dear Sir, With the highest esteem,
Your obedient servant, E. Reed

The material quoted is taken from In the Words of Women, pages 132-33.

posted November 2nd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Washington, George

“The Sentiments of an American Woman”

Continuing the story of Esther De Berdt Reed: Esther was able to return to her home in Philadelphia in 1778 after the British left. She wrote to her brother Dennis in England in September 1779: “[A]fter danger’s past, how sweet is safety and peace—peace, I mean, as to own dwelling; and we are no longer obliged to leave our houses, or stay there with constant dread and apprehension. These are now past, I hope never to return. . . . ”
In May 1780, Esther Reed’s last child was born; he was named George Washington. While she was pregnant, concerned with the welfare of the troops, Esther suggested the idea of a subscription for the relief of the Continental soldiers and orchestrated a network of women to solicit sufficient funds for this purpose. Furthermore, to forestall any possible criticism of this undertaking, she published “The Sentiments of an American Woman” in which she reviewed the brave deeds of women throughout history and extolled the courage and self-sacrifice of the men in the Continental Army.

On the commencement of actual war, the Women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country. Animated by the purist patriotism, they are sensible of sorrow at this day, in not offering more than barren wishes for the success of so glorious a Revolution. They aspire to render themselves more really useful; and this sentiment is universal from the north to the south of the Thirteen United States. Our ambition is kindled by the fame of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good. . . .

Who knows if persons disposed to censure, and sometimes too severely with regard to us, may not disapprove our appearing acquainted even with the actions of which our sex boasts? We are at least certain, that he cannot be a good citizen who will not applaud our efforts for the relief of the armies which defend our lives, our possessions, our liberty? The situation of our soldiery has been represented to me; the evils inseperable from war, and the firm and generous spirit which has enabled them to support these. But it has been said, that they may apprehend, that, in the course of a long war, the view of their distresses may be lost, and their services be forgotten. Forgotten! never; I can answer in the name of all my sex. Brave Americans, your disinterestedness, your courage, and your constancy will always be dear to America, as long as she shall preserve her virtue.

We know that, at a distance from the theatre of war, if we enjoy any tranquility, it is the fruit of your watchings, your labours, your dangers. If I live happily in the midst of my family, if my husband cultivates his field, and reaps his harvest in peace; if, surrounded with my children, I myself nourish the youngest, and press it to my bosom, without being affraid of seeing myself seperated from it, by a ferocious enemy; if the house in which we dwell; if our barns, our orchards are safe at the present time from the hands of those incendiaries, it is to you that we owe it. And shall we hesitate to evidence to you our gratitude? Shall we hesitate to wear a cloathing more simple; hair dressed less elegant, while at the price of this small privation, we shall deserve your benedictions. Who, amongst us, will not renounce with the highest pleasure, those vain ornaments, when she shall consider that the valiant defenders of America will be able to draw some advantage from the money which she may have laid out in these; that they will be better defended from the rigours of the seasons, that after their painful toils, they will receive some extraordinary and unexpected relief; that these presents will perhaps be valued by them at a greater price, when they will have it in their power to say: This is the offering of the Ladies. . . .
by An American Woman

Mary Morris wrote to her friend Catharine Livingston about the plan and her part in it:

I dare say you have heard of the Ladys plan for raiseing a Subscription for the Army. I will enclose you one of them but there is an Alterration taken place instead of waiting for the Donations being sent the ladys of each Ward go from dore to dore & collect them. I am one of those, Honourd with this business. Yesterday we began our tour of duty & had the Satisfaction of being very Successful. There were two ladys that were very liberal One 8000 dollars & 10000. . . .

Many men were scandalized by women soliciting door to door, deeming it unseemly. Many made fun of the effort. But it seemed to have worked wonderfully well. By July 4, 1780, Esther Reed wrote General Washington that the ladies had raised “200,580 dollars, and £625 6s. 8d. in specie, which makes in the whole in paper money 300,634 dollars.” She was also proud of the fact that the contributors were from all levels of society: from a black woman, Phillis, to Adrienne de Noailles, Marquise de Lafayette.
Read about Washington’s reaction in the next post.

The material quoted is taken from In the Words of Women, pages 131-32.

posted October 29th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Lafayette, Marquise Adrienne,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Morris, Mary White,Patriots,Philadelphia,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Washington, George

“the loss I have sustained in my little circle”

It is truly amazing how women during the 18th century managed to deal with their frequent pregnancies as well as the frequent deaths of their children. Multiple pregnancies were to be expected in marriage. And the deaths of infants and children, so commonplace, were supposed to be accepted as the will of God, or so religion dictated. More easily said than done. (Studies have found that between 10 and 30 percent of newborns died in the first year of life. Now only seven out of 1,000 die before age one.)
Joseph and Esther De Berdt Reed lost a child, a little girl nearly two, to smallpox in May 1778. Esther gave birth to another son the day before the girl’s death. Earlier that year she had written to her friend Mrs. Cox (whose husband had been appointed Deputy Quarter-master general to General Nathaniel Greene) about the low-spirited state she was in because of her pregnancy and the dread of delivering another child in strange surroundings. “The fears of my approaching hour, sometimes so depress me, that my whole fortitude avails me nothing. You will not wonder so much at this, when I tell you that I must be entirely in the hands of strangers, nor know I what assistance to procure.”
In June, after the death of her daughter and the birth of her son, she again wrote to Mrs. Cox of what she considered neglect on her part over the death of her little girl. This excerpt is painful to read.

I was intending to sit down and write to you the very time I received your kind, acceptable letter, truly welcome in the sympathizing words of my dear friend, much do I stand in need of them; the loss I have sustained in my little circle I find sits very heavy upon me, and I find, by experience, how hard a task it is to be resigned. Therefore I must make yet larger demands on you, and beg you will continue to apply every argument which will tend to make me more perfectly acquiesce in the Divine pleasure, concerning me and mine. Surely my affliction had its aggravation, and I cannot help reflecting on my neglect of my dear lost child. Too thoughtful and attentive to my own situation, I did not take the necessary precaution to prevent that fatal disorder when it was in my power [a reference, I assume, to the smallpox inoculation]. Surely, my dear friend, I ought to take blame to myself. I would not do it to aggravate my sorrow, but to learn a lesson of humility, and more caution and prudence in future. Would to God I could learn every lesson intended by the stroke. I think sometimes of my loss with composure, acknowledging the wisdom, right, even the kindness of the dispensation. Again I find it overcome me, and strike to the very bottom of my heart, and tell me the work is not yet finished, I’ve much yet to do; assist me, therefore, my dear friend, with your counsels, and teach me to say, that God does all things well. . . . for God has given, as well as taken away, and the loss of one should not make me unmindful of the blessings I have left, and those newly given.
I am pretty well recovered, but my strength is not so much recruited as usual in the same time. My dear little boy grows very fast; his name is Dennis De Berdt; he has as few complaints as any child of his age I ever saw; my fresh duty to him greatly tends to relieve my thoughts, and divert my too melancholy reflections.

William B. Reed, Esther De Berdt, afterwards Esther Reed, of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: C. Sherman Printer, 1853), pages 284, 290-92.

posted October 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Childbirth,Children,Death,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Smallpox

“we are struggling for our liberties”

In a letter to her brother dated 28 October 1775, Esther De Berdt Reed, back in Philadelphia, expanded on the mood of the times.

It is with particular pleasure I now sit down to write to my dear Dennis, as I am free from the fear of any prying intruder; the thought that my late letters have been subjected to such curiosity has been a painful restraint upon me, and perhaps I have not been cautious enough in what I have written, but so it is, and if I have committed treason, it must remain. . . . [Mr. Reed’s] service has proved of so much consequence in the councils of the Camp, that he has devoted himself to the service of the public, and I doubt not it will give him as much pleasure in the recollection as any occurrence in his life; —indeed, my dear Dennis, the cause in which he is engaged is the cause of Liberty and virtue, how much soever it may be branded by the names of rebellion and treason. But I need not vindicate or explain the motives of our conduct to you. . . . It seems now to depend on the reception of our last Petition from the Congress to the King, if that should be so considered as to lay a foundation for negotiation, we may be again reconciled,—if not, I imagine WE SHALL DECLARE FOR INDEPENDENCE, and exert our utmost to defend ourselves. This proposition would have alarmed almost every person on the continent a twelvemonth ago, but now the general voice is, if the Ministry and Nation will drive us to it, we must do it, rather than submit, after so many public resolutions to the contrary. In this case . . . no trade can be carried on between the two countries. . . .
My dear little girl . . . has again recovered her usual health, but she is of so delicate a constitution, that she often droops and alarms me. My son Joseph and daughter Hetty are both well. Mama keeps her health and spirits amazingly. Mr. Reed has recovered his by his journey to the Camp. Everybody tells me he is grown so fat I should hardly know him on his return, which I expect will be one day this week. He has been gone from home above four months; his business has suffered not a little, but in such times like these every person must sacrifice something. . . . Adieu, my dear Dennis,—think of us often; remember we are struggling for our liberties and everything that is dear to us in life.
I am ever, most affectionately,
Yours, E. Reed

Joseph Reed gave up a lucrative law practice in Philadelphia to become the secretary and aide-de-camp to General George Washington. He held the rank of colonel.

The letter can be found on pages 96-97 of In the Words of Women. Reed’s portrait is by Charles Willson Peale, engraved by John Sartain.

posted October 22nd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Britain,Patriots,Philadelphia,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Reed, Joseph,Resistance to British,Washington, George

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