Archive for the ‘Lafayette, Marquis de’ Category

“. . . descended with him, without repining”

It is not fair to MARY WHITE MORRIS, or you the reader, to abandon her without giving some information about subsequent events in her life.

The Morrises were among the first families of Philadelphia after the Revolution, entertaining the nation’s leaders as well as distinguished visitors and diplomats from abroad. During the constitutional convention held there in 1787, George Washington stayed at the Morris House— Robert Morris made the motion for Washington to preside over the convention. After the Constitution was ratified, Morris was chosen by the Pennsylvania legislature to be one of its two senators in the new government.

Martha Washington did not attend her husband’s inauguration as president in April 1789 in New York City but subsequently made her way north, honored and feted along the way. She stayed for several days with Mary Morris in Philadelphia, who then accompanied her to New York where Mary was present at the first levée held by Mrs. Washington in May.

Robert Morris declined the position of Secretary of the Treasury which President Washington had offered him, preferring to tend to his personal business. When the capital of the United States was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, Morris gave up his house to the President and moved to an adjacent dwelling. The hot air balloon described in an earlier post was launched from his back garden in 1793. At the end of his second term in 1797, Washington gave a farewell dinner at which he presented Mrs. Morris with a portrait miniature of himself.

During this period Robert Morris’ financial troubles multiplied as a result of excessive spending and bad investments. He rashly speculated in western lands in several states and overextended himself right before the Panic of 1796-97. His creditors caught up with him and in 1798 he was sent to debtor’s prison in Philadelphia where he remained for more than three years. Mary, the loyal wife, visited her husband daily and often took dinner with him. Morris was released from prison in 1801 with the passage of a new bankruptcy law. Gouverneur Morris (no relation), perhaps the closest of their family friends, arranged for Mary to have an annuity of $1500 a year that allowed the pair to live in modest circumstances until Morris’ death in 1806.

Lafayette, touring the United States in 1824, visited Mary in Philadelphia and at his invitation she attended the ball given in his honor. Mary died in 1827 at the age of 78. This passage taken from her obituary describes her well: Morris’ “deceased widow, after having enjoyed with him without arrogance the wealth and the honours of the early and middle years of his life, descended with him, without repining, to the privation incident to the reverses of his fortune towards the close of it.”

The portrait of Mary White Morris was painted by John Trumbull in 1790 and hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A summary of the life of Mary White Morris is included in an ADDRESS delivered in 1877, which includes the obituary.

posted July 27th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Capital of the United States,Lafayette, Marquis de,Morris, Mary White,Morris, Robert,Philadelphia,Trumbull, John,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

Visit of the “Hermione”

In a previous post, mention was made by SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY in a letter to MARY WHITE MORRIS of a dinner she had attended at the Lafayettes. (The Jays dined there frequently.) Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis, had returned to France after the victory at Yorktown in 1781 and was much celebrated. Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, his wife, (pictured) had expressed a desire to visit America but she never did make that trip. Lafayette, however, returned to the United States in 1784 to visit George Washington. When he came back to Paris he became embroiled in the chaos of the French Revolution. He ordered the storming of the Bastille, sending the key of that prison as a souvenir to Washington.

Lafayette became the leader of the liberal aristocrats and favored a constitutional monarchy. For his views he, with many other aristocrats, were considered guilty of treason by the Radicals who had taken control of the Revolution. In the Reign of Terror that followed, he was seized and imprisoned in Austria. Since Adrienne came of an old aristocratic family, her mother, grandmother, and sister were guillotined. (Read a description of the execution recorded by their Catholic confessor here.) She was also arrested but her life was spared due to the intervention of prominent Americans. When Adrienne was released she, with two of her daughters, joined her husband in prison in Austria. (That sort of thing was done back then.) In 1797 Lafayette was freed and, with his family, returned to France. Sadly Adrienne died at age 47 in 1807. Lafayette made another trip to the United States in 1824. It was a triumphal tour.

We were reminded of his visit by an event that occurred this past weekend when a replica of the ship Hermione on which Lafayette sailed in 1824 arrived in New York. Passing Governor’s Island to the sound of celebratory cannon fire, the three-masted, 32-gun frigate docked at the South Street Seaport. On Sunday, accompanied by many private vessels, it sailed around the southern tip of Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River to the Intrepid. Returning to the East River it made its way to Greenport on Long Island. The Hermione resumes its journey northward along the coast this week, with stops at Newport (8-9); Boston (11-12); Castine, Maine (14-15); and Lunenberg/Halifax, Nova Scotia (18), before returning to France.

In honor of Lafayette’s visit to the New-York Historical Society in 1824, that institution currently has an exhibition which is worth seeing—“Lafayette’s Return: The ‘Boy General,’ the American Revolution and the Hermione;” it will run through August 16. See details here.

If your curiosity has been piqued you may want to read a new biography of Lafayette: The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio.

Presumed portrait of Adrienne Lafayette by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard painted in 1790.

posted July 6th, 2015 by Janet, comments (3), CATEGORIES: French Revolution,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Lafayette, Marquis de,Lafayette, Marquise Adrienne,Morris, Mary White,Washington, George

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