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
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.