Archive for the ‘Powel, Elizabeth Willing’ Category

“I have lost a much valued Friend.”

MARTHA WASHINGTON and ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL did not have a great deal in common though they were fast friends and faithful correspondents. One thing that did bind them together was grief. They had both suffered losses: Martha of her first husband and her four children, and Powel of her husband (in September 1793 as a result of the yellow fever epidemic which had devastated Philadelphia) and her only offspring, two infant sons.

The sudden death of “the General” on Dec. 14, 1799 grieved both women. Ten days after the “late melancholy Event,” Elizabeth assured Martha that “tho’ the Season is far advanced, and the Roads bad, I would most certainly pay a Visit to your House of Mourning, could I afford to you the smallest consolation under this seemingly hard dispensation of Pro[v]idence; but I too well know that no Consolation can be effected by human Agency. . . . the healing Hand of Time, and pious resignation to the inscrutable decrees of God can alone tranquilize your Soul.” Concluding her letter she wrote: “I have lost a much valued Friend.”

Elizabeth Willing Powel never remarried, remaining a widow for thirty-six years. The portrait is of her in old age. As she had no direct heirs she formally adopted her nephew, John Powel Hare, the one for whom she had purchased Washington’s six coach horses. Hare changed his name to John Hare Powel. Elizabeth Willing Powel died on January 17, 1830 at the age of 87. She was by all accounts a truly extraordinary woman.

Portrait courtesy American Gallery. Mary V. Thompson, In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2008); LETTER from Elizabeth Willing Powel to Martha Washington, Dec. 24, 1799, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. This LINK provides a self-guided very informative tour of the Powel House in Philadelphia.

posted October 9th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“My Heart is so sincerely afflicted. . . .”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL and George Washington exchanged letters in Philadelphia until he left for Mount Vernon in mid December 1798. Washington paid promptly for the articles that Powel had purchased for him. Clearly the two had a high regard for each other, certainly friendship and admiration, if not something more.

Tuesday 4th Decr 1798 My dear Madam,
Receive, I pray you, my best thanks for the Prints you had the goodness to send me; and my acknowledgments of your kind, and obliging offer to chuse some thing handsome, with which to present Miss Custis [Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis]. The difference between thirty & Sixty (or more) dollars, is not so much a matter of consideration, as the appropriate thing.

I presume, she is provided with a Muff; of a tippet I am not so certain; but a handsome Muslin, or any thing else, that is not the whim of the day, cannot be amiss. The cost of which, when furnished, you will please to announce to me. Is there any thing—not of much cost—I could carry Mrs Washington as a memento that she has not been forgotten, in this City? . . . .

My present expectation is, that We shall close the business which brought me here, by Friday—Saturday at farthest; when my journey will commence. But before my departure I shall, most assuredly, have the honor of paying my respects to you. With the greatest respect & Affecte. I am always Yours
Go: Washington

Elizabeth Willing Powel sent Washington a bill post haste.

[Philadelphia] Friday Decr 7th 1798 My dear Sir
The amount of the Articles purchased you will find to be Seventy Four dols. & a half. . . .

My Heart is so sincerely afflicted and my Idea’s so confused that I can only express my predominant Wish—that God may take you into his holy keeping and preserve you safe both in Traveling and under all Circumstances, and that you may be happy here and hereafter is the ardent Prayer of Your affectionate afflicted Friend
Eliza. Powel

Pasted onto the manuscript is a notation, in Elizabeth Willing Powel’s hand, indicating that she paid $65 for a “Piece of Muslin,” $2.50 for “A Doll,” and $7 for a “Thread Case.” The doll was for Eliza Law, the child of Elizabeth Parke Custis, Martha’s eldest grandchild, and her husband John Law. The marriage was not a happy one and ended in divorce. The thread-case, it seems, was for Martha. Illustrated is a thread-case that belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s wife Martha. George Washington replied to Powel immediately——sometimes these exchanges seem a lot like email today!

Philadelphia 7th Decr 1798 My dear Madam,
The articles you had the goodness to send me this forenoon (when it was not in my power to acknowledge the receipt of them) came very safe, and I pray you again, to accept my thanks for the trouble I have given you in this business.

Enclosed are Seventy five dollars, which is the nearest my present means will enable me to approach $74 50/100 the cost of them. . . .

For your kind and affectionate wishes, I feel a grateful sensibility, and reciprocate them with all the cordiality you could wish, being My dear Madam Your most Obedt & obliged Hble Servant
Go: Washington

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 3 December 1798,” “From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 4 December 1798,” “To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 7 December 1798,” “From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 7 December 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-03-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 242, 243–244, 246-47.]

posted October 5th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Philadelphia,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“a fashionable Muff & Tippet”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL kept up her correspondence with George Washington in 1798. She delivered to him a set of prints from a friend that she added to. She also did some shopping for him.

Market Street [Philadelphia] Decemr 3d 1798My dear Sir
I have the Pleasure to send the Book of Prints that you were so obliging as to accept from your Friend. I have also taken the liberty to add a few that I admire on a presumption that the Mind capable of tracing with Pleasure the military Progress of the Hero whose Battles they delineate will also have the associate Taste and admire fine representations of the Work of God in the human Form.

As you wish to take Miss Custis a Testimonial of your recollection of her, I really know not of any Thing more appropriate at this Season, than a fashionable Muff & Tippet; and such may be procured for less than Thirty Dollars, a Pattern of Muslin for a Dress such as you would choose to present will I find cost Sixty dols. at least——a Pattern for a half or undress may be bought for 23 dols.; but let me know what will be most agreeable to you and I will purchase it with Pleasure and pack it up in a manner the least inconvenient for you.

I hope you have suffered no inconvenience from your long unpleasant Walk in the Rain on Sunday last. My best wishes ever attend you as I am always Your sincere Affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

The image shows a fur muff on the left and a fur tippet on the right, popular during the 1790s. Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis was Martha Washington’s granddaughter.

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 3 December 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-03-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 242.]

posted October 2nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Fashion,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

“I had no love letters to lose”

The letter in this post is the response of George Washington to the previous one from ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL in which she informs him that she had found a bundle of letters in one of the drawers of his writing desk which she had purchased and was returning it to him with three wax seals to be certain it would not be tampered with. The letters turned out to have been from Martha Washington to George. He makes light of the incident although he is pleased that Powel had found the letters not someone more “inquisitive,” although the reader would have been disappointed because they contained more evidence of friendship than amorous love. Hmmm. Perhaps. But we cannot confirm this as the letters were destroyed either by Washington himself or by Martha after his death.

Mount Vernon 26th Mar. 1797My dear Madam,
A Mail of last week brought me the honor of your favor, begun the 11th, and ended the 13th of this instant.

Had it not been for one circumstance, which by the bye is a pretty material one—viz.—that I had no love letters to lose—the introductory without the explanatory part of your letter, would have caused a serious alarm; and might have tried how far my nerves were able to sustain the shock of having betrayed the confidence of a lady. But although I had nothing to apprehend on that score, I am not less surprized at my having left those of Mrs Washington in my writing desk; when as I supposed I had emptied all the drawers; mistaken in this however, I have to thank you for the delicacy with which they have been treated. But admitting that they had fallen into more inquisitive hands, the corrispondence would, I am persuaded, have been found to be more fraught with expressions of friendship, than of enamoured love, and, consequently, if the ideas of the possessor of them, with respect to the latter passion, should have been of the Romantic order to have given them the warmth, which was not inherent, they might have been committed to the flames.

As we shall not relinquish the hope of seeing you in Virginia whenever it may suit your inclination & convenience, I am about to fulfil the promise I made, of giving you an Account of the Stages on the Road. . . .

Washington concluded by giving Powel the promised detailed account of his trip through the south as president of the United States.

“From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 26 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0039. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 51–53.]

posted September 25th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“I found a large Bundle of Letters”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL not only purchased six coach horses from George Washington when he was preparing to move back to Mount Vernon from Philadelphia in 1797, she also bought his writing desk (at auction). The following letter reveals that she found an interesting packet in a drawer of the desk.

Phila. 11 [–13] th March 1797My very dear Sir
Like a true Woman (as you will think) in the Moment of Exultation, and on the first Impulse (for you know we are never supposed to act Systematically or from attentive Consideration,[)] I take up my Pen to address you, as you have given me a complete Triumph on the Subject of all others on which you have I suppose thought me most deficient, and most opposite to yourself; and what is still more charming—your Candor shall preside as Judge, nay you shall pass Sentence on yourself, and I will not appeal from your Decision. Suppose I should prove incontestably that you have without Design put into my Possession the love Letters of a Lady addressed to you under the most solemn Sanction; & a large Packet too. What will the Goddess of Prudence and Circumspection say to her favorite Son and Votary for his dereliction of Principles to which he has hitherto made such serious Sacrifices. Was the Taste of your Sex predominant in your Breast; and did the Love of Variety so preponderate, that because you had never blundered as President, was you determined to try its Delights as a private Gentleman; but to keep you no longer in Suspense, tho’ I know that your Nerves are not as irritable as a fine Ladies, yet I will with the Generosity of my Sex relieve you, by telling you—that upon opening one of the Drawers of your writing Desk I found a large Bundle of Letters from Mrs Washington bound up and labled with your usual Accuracy. Mr Lear was present, I immediately desired him to take Charge of the Package which he declined—alleging that he thought it was safer in my Hands, at least for some Time—at first I urged it; but finding him Inflexible as I suppose from Motives of Delicacy I sealed them up And I trust it is unnecessary for me to add that they will be keept Inviolably until I deliver them to him or to your Order. As Mr Lear has been connected both with you and Mrs Washington, and as it is probable that some family Circumstances may have been mingled into her Communications to you, to save his Feelings I have sealed the Package with Three Seals bearing the Impression of my blessed Friends Arms, such as that I myself use. Should Mrs Washington appear to have any unpleasant Sensations on this Subject you will I am certain remove them by reminding her—that tho’ Curiosity is supposed to be a prominent feature of the female Mind, yet it will ever be powerfully counteracted when opposed by native Delicacy, or sense of Honor, and I trust a pious Education.

I shall my good Sir give to Mr Lear 245 Dollars which I find was the first Cost of the writing Desk. In my Estimation its Value is not in the least diminished by your use of it; nor from its having been the Repository of those valuable Documents that originated with you during your wise and peaceful Administration for Eight Years. I am sensible many true & handsome Compliments might be paid to you on this Occasion; but as they have been resounded with Elegance & Sincerity through the Whole Continent, and will be re-echoed by Posterity, as you must be conscious they are just and as you are not a Man of Vanity, I will not in my blundering Way attempt a Theme that I feel myself totally inadequate to, as Blundering would not have to me even the Charm of variety to recommend it.

And now let me return you Thanks for your Tributes of Affection. Mr Lear has sent me in your Name a Pair of Lamps & Brackets with the Appendages. From you they are acceptable tho from no other Being out of my own Family would I receive a pecuniary Favor, nor did I want any inanimate Memento to bring you to my Recollection. I most sincerely hope to hear that you are all well and safely arrived at Mount Vernon long before you will receive this Scrawl. Be pleased to present my best Wishes to Mrs Washington & Miss Custis. Truly & affectionately I have the Honor to be, Sir Your most Obedt & Obliged
Eliza. PowelN.B. March 13th Mr Lear dined with me Yesterday. I desired him not to mention the Circumstance alluded to in the first ⟨Para⟩-graph of this Letter, therefore Mrs W. need not be informed of it unless you choose to tell her yourself. E.P.

Only four letters between Washington and his wife have survived. The others were almost certainly destroyed, either by Washington before his death, or by Martha later. Tobias Lear in a letter to Powel (March 9) indicated that the original cost of the desk was 98£ in New York Currency. He also listed the gifts from Washington Powel refers to in her letter as “a token of his respectful & affectionate remembrance.”

Information about the desk:
“George Washington’s presidential desk, usually exhibited at Mount Vernon, was on display Feb. 17-20, 2006 at the Atwater-Kent Museum of Philadelphia. The desk is attributed to New York cabinetmaker Thomas Burling and is modeled on a French style called bureau à cylinder. The desk, purchased by Washington on November 21, 1789, in New York City for £98 New York currency, was brought to Philadelphia in 1790. It is made of mahogany, pine, mahogany veneer, and maple inlay. The desk stands 66″ high, 62″ wide, and 35″ deep and is estimated to weigh 350 pounds. The legs and finials are replacements. A mechanism retracts the roll top, when the writing surface is extended. When Washington returned to Mount Vernon at the end of his presidency in 1789, he left the desk to be sold at auction. Elizabeth Willing Powell purchased it for $245 on March 10, 1797, and placed it in her home at 244 South 3rd Street. The desk was in her family until 1867, when it was donated to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania by Charles Hare Hutchinson.

Information…provided by the Atwater-Kent Museum. Pictures ©2014 ushistory.org”

In the next post Washington’s reply to Powel’s discovery.

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 11–13 March 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0020. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 28–30.] Details about the desk were found HERE.

posted September 21st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Furnishings,Lear, Tobias,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

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