Archive for the ‘Powel, Elizabeth Willing’ Category

“I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else”

It was not only George Washington who gave money, advice and assistance to various members of his extended family—see previous posts about Harriot Washington—but also his wife MARTHA WASHINGTON who did the same for her needy relatives.

FRANCES “FANNY” BASSETT was Martha’s niece, the daughter of her sister Anna Maria Dandridge and Burwell Bassett. When Anna Maria died in 1777 Martha offered to take Fanny in as her sister had requested if she died before Fanny grew up. Martha wrote to Burwell “If you will lett her come to live with me, I will with the greatest pleasure take her and be a parent and mother to her as long as I live.”

It was not until the mid 1780s that Fanny would come to live at Mount Vernon. Indeed she was like a daughter to Martha, especially since her own Patsy had died at the age of seventeen in 1773. Martha wrote to her friend Elizabeth Willing Powel of Philadelphia, Fanny “is a child to me, and I am very lonesome when she is absent.”

George Augustine Washington, the nephew of George Washington who was at that time living at Mount Vernon, soon became smitten with Fanny and the two married in 1785. They were invited, with their children, to make Mount Vernon their home; George Augustine managed the estate and Fanny took care of the household. Martha wrote to Fanny from the then capital of the United States, New York City, in 1789.

I have by Mrs Sims sent you a watch it is one of the cargoe that I have so long mentioned to you, that was expected, I hope is such a one as will please you it is of the newest fashon, if that has any influence on your tast—The chain is of Mr [Tobias] Lears* choosing and such as Mrs Adams the vice Presidents Lady and those in the polite circle wares. It will last as long as the fashon—and by that time you can get another of a fashonable kind—I send to dear Maria a piece of Chino to make her a frock—the piece of muslin I hope is long enough for an apron for you, and in exchange for it, 1 beg you will give me the worked muslin apron you have like my gown that I made just before I left home of worked muslin as I wish to make a petticoat of the two aprons—for my gown—Mrs Sims will give you a better account of the fashons than I can—I live a very dull life hear and know nothing that passes in the town—I never goe to the publick place—indeed I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from – and as I can not doe as I like I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal—

The President set out this day week on a tour to the eastward . . . my dear children** has had very bad colds but thank god they are getting better My love and good wishes attend you and all with you . . . kiss Maria I send her two little handkerchiefs to wipe her nose

I am my dear Fanny yours
most affectionately
M Washington

* Tobias Lear was Washington’s friend and secretary.
** Grandchildren Eleanor Parke Custis (Nelly) and George Washington Parke Custis, called “Wash.”

Martha sounds as if she would have preferred to be at Mount Vernon rather than New York. She is clearly uncomfortable as first lady. Indeed she did not journey northward for her husband’s inauguration but arrived later. Washington was finding his way in a new role and so was she. It took her some time to figure out how she should behave and what was expected of her.

Sources: See Mount Vernon HERE and HERE. The portrait of Fanny was painted in 1785 by Robert Edge Pine and is at Mount Vernon. The miniature, watercolor on ivory, of Martha Washington is by Charles Willson Peale, 1772, and is held by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

posted July 10th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, George Washington Parke,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Mount Vernon,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, George Augustine,Washington, Martha

“black & white riding hats are equally worn”

A few days later, SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY wrote another letter to MARY WHITE MORRIS. (See previous posts here and here.) The topic is again fashion, a subject of great interest. It was common for women from America to ask their friends in Europe to keep them informed about the current styles, indeed not only to send them fabric and trimmings but also to have clothes made for them according to measurements provided. When sending packages, and even letters, it was usual to note the captain of the ship that carried them. Correspondence and shipments were geared to the departure dates of vessels bound for America.

Paris 25th Novbr. 1782My dear Madam
It was not without regret that I heard of Captn. Barney’s leaving Paris without having those things in charge, which you had requested might be sent by him; but I hope my dr. friend will acquit me of indolence when I assure her that I never recd. the commission with which I was honor’d till two days before the Captain’s departure, & one of those was Sunday, on which you know business could not be transacted: Mr. Le Couteulx still flatters me that the box may arrive at the port in time to be taken on board.
The measure of yr. gown, cannot it seemd be found; but it is of less consequence as Mr. Ridley has sent out for Mrs. Powel two habits: a sultana & an English habit which you can see before you have yours made. The Pistache & rose colour were most fashionable last Autumn, but what will succeed them in the spring is difficult yet to divine; the trimming is made by the first miliner, & will either suit a sultana or habit, with both of which dresses they wear the petticoat of a different colour. You’ll pardon the liberty I’ve taken in adding an handkerchief: for as it was new, & consequently admir’d, I could not resist the inclination: its to be ty’d on before the gown, & then pinned down to the stays & when the gown is on to be put under the shoulder straps & then the tippet is put round the edge of it & renders a tucker unnecessary—I can’t imagine why it’s call’d a Chemise, for I cannot discover any resemblance that it bears to that part of dress.—The hat & Cloak are fashionable at all seasons of the year, tho’ in the Winter the Cloak is only worn in dress. Your stays, tho’ made according to yr. direction is perfectly the mode, stiff ones having long since been laid aside—but you forget that your waist has length as well as breadth, & therefore you’ll be obliging as to pardon yr. Taylor if he has not guessed right—am I at liberty to draw any inference from yr. partiality?
As black & white riding hats are equally worn, I’ve sent both, the one trimm’d in the present taste the other without ribbon that your own may be consulted—they are likewise very much worn of a morning with the hair dress’d without a cushion as for riding.
Should I have been so fortunate as to give satisfaction in the choice of the things, I shall think myself vastly happy, & always proud in being honor’d with your commands. May I flatter myself, that this scarce legible scrawl will as well as come former ones, meet with your indulgence. With my best wishes for Mr. Morris & mr dear Kitty, I remain
my dr. Madam your very sincere & affectionate friend
S. Jay

English-born Matthew Ridley moved to Baltimore in 1770 and became the manager of the Maryland branch of a London mercantile firm. He became a supporter of the Revolution and went to Paris in 1781 as the agent for the state of Maryland with the intention of soliciting a loan for the state. While abroad he fulfilled requests for clothing from American friends. After the death of his first wife he married Sarah Livingston’s sister Catharine (Kitty).
Elizabeth Willing Powel was the wife of Samuel Powel, the mayor of Philadelphia until the Revolution. Mrs. Powel maintained a French-style salon frequented by the political and social elite of the city.
A sultana is the name (of exotic origin) given to causal but elegant at-home wear. A loose wrapping gown, it was worn without stays and therefore was comfortable. One could receive visitors in sultanas, and they were favored attire for portraits. A tucker is a detachable yoke made of lace or other fabric, to cover the breast when wearing a low-cut dress. A tippet is a small piece of fabric that goes around the neck and hangs down a little on either side, somewhat like a stole.

The letter is from the Robert Morris Collection, Henry E. Huntington Library. For those interested in the fashion of the period, a very good source for the names of various kinds of clothing and the parts they consist of is the Glossary of 18th Century Costume Terminology.

posted July 2nd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Clothes,Fashion,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Morris, Mary White,Paris,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Ridley, Matthew

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