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“the relation of lover and mistress”

ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH was the sister of Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth, usually called Eliza or Betsy. They were the two eldest of the eight children—Angelica one year older than Eliza— of soldier and statesman Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer both of whose families were wealthy Dutch landowners. The Schuylers lived in Albany where the girls were educated by their mother and private tutors.

Alexander Hamilton met Eliza in Morristown, New Jersey, the Continental Army’s winter quarters, in 1780 where she had come to stay with relatives. Hamilton was smitten; he wrote to his friend John Laurens in March 1780:

I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good-hearted girl who, I am sure, will never play the termagant. Though not a genius, she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty she has fine black eyes, is rather handsome, and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy.

Hamilton married Eliza but he was also drawn to her sister Angelica whom he also met in 1780. Angelica was gay, witty, vivacious and interested in politics. In 1777 Angelica had married John Church, an Englishman who left for America under suspicious circumstances. Since her father did not approve of the match the pair eloped. Church made a fortune in the Revolution; after the war he and Angelica settled in London where John became a member of Parliament and Angelica established herself as a noted hostess. Angelica and Hamilton corresponded frequently during her stay abroad.

Angelica also made a friend of Thomas Jefferson who was serving as minister to France. Although they were on opposite sides of the political scene in America—Federalists vs Republicans—the two also corresponded. They had discussions about the appropriate roles for women, Jefferson expressing the view that “French ladies miscalculate their happiness when they wander from the true field of their influence into politics.” (Recall the exchanges Jefferson had had with Ann Willing Bingham on this subject here, here, and here. Angelica and Jefferson also corresponded in language that is quite intimate and flirtatious. They worked together to assist victims of the French Revolution.

Hamilton’s letters to Angelica in London were also intimate and flirtatious. Just after the Churches left in 1785 he wrote:

You have I fear taken a final leave of America and of those that love you here. I saw you depart from Philadelphia with peculiar uneasiness, as if foreboding you were not to return. My apprehensions are confirmed and unless I see you in Europe I expect not to see you again.
This is the impression we all have; judge the bitterness it gives to those who love you with the love of nature and to me who feel an attachment for you not less lively.

He wrote on December 6, 1787, thanking her for some information she had sent him.

. . . I can not . . . resist the strong desire I feel of thankg you for your invaluable letter by the last packet. Imagine, if you are able, the pleasure it gave me. Notwithstanding the compliment you pay to my eloquence its resources could give you but a feeble image of what I should wish to convey.
This you will tell me is poetical enough. I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress. It has a very inspiring effect. And in your case the dullest materials could not help feeling that propensity.

More about Hamilton and Angelica Church in the next post.

Sources for LETTER to John Laurens and Hamilton’s letters to Angelica: “From Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [3 August 1785] also Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [6 December 1787 Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 3, 1782–1786, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 619–620 and pp. 374–376.] The portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church, son Philip, and a servant is by John Trumbull (1785).

posted July 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Church, Angelica Schuyler,French Revolution,Friendship,Hamilton, Alexander,Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler,Jefferson, Thomas,Letter-writing,New York

“our Lady Presidentess”

After the death of her child in 1789, JUDITH SARGENT STEVENS MURRAY and her husband John embarked on a six-month journey, via horse-drawn carriage, from Gloucester to a Universalist convention in Philadelphia. She wrote letters to her parents describing her encounters along the way. In 1790 she wrote from New Rochelle, New York, describing a meeting with Martha Washington in New York City, which was then the capital of the United States. This is a repeat of a blog posted in 2011.

About Six O-clock we took a coach for the presence … Colonel Humphry’s, offering his hand, ushered us into the drawing room, a number of Ladies were with Mrs Washington, and her matronlike appearance, and Lady like condescension, soon dissipated every painful idea of distance—taking my hand she seated me by her side, and addressing herself particularly to me, as the only stranger present, she engaged me in the most familiar, and agreeable Chat—. … Mrs Washington’s face is an index of a good heart, and those Virtues which I am told she eminently possesseth, are impressed upon every feature—need I add, that her countenance is irresistibly prepossessing. … Thursday, very unexpectedly opened another scene—I was sitting in my little apartment, alone, and buried in thought—strange that I possessed not the smallest presentiment, of the distinction which awaited me—but so it was … Mrs Washington, and Mrs Lear [the wife of Tobias Lear George Washington’s secretary and friend] were immediately ushered in. If any thing could exceed my surprise, it was the charming freedom with which Mrs Washington took her seat—The unmeaning fopperies of ceremony seem to make no part of this Lady’s Character, inborn benevolence, beams upon her countenance, points her address, and dictates the most pleasing expressions to her lips—one whole hour she condescendingly devoted to me, and so much friendship did her salutations connect, so interesting and animated was our conversation, that a bystander would not have entertained an idea of the distance between us, would hardly have supposed, that we met but for the second time, thus benignly good, and thus adorned with social virtues is our Lady Presidentess, and I confess that in a way perfectly correspondent with my feelings, I have been most highly gratified. …”

Note the use of the word condescension” above. It has a pejorative connotation today, but in the eighteenth century its use was intended to be flattering, connoting the virtue of “generosity.” Judith Murray continued to speak out and write on social and political issues. She wrote plays that were performed at the Boston Theatre on Federal Street and she was the first woman to self-publish a book, The Gleaner, in 1798. After John Murray died Judith went to live with her daughter and her husband Adam Lewis Bingaman in Natchez. She died in 1820 at the age of 69.

This excerpt is from From Gloucester to Philadelphia in 1790: Observations, Anecdotes, and Thoughts from the 18th-Century Letters of Judith Sargent Murray, Bonnie Hurd Smith, ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Judith Sargent Murray Society and Curious Traveller Press, 1998), pages 246, 248-250, 254. Portrait from Phebe A Hanaford, Daughters of America (Augusta: True and Company, 1882), page 109,

posted June 16th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Murray, John,Murray, Judith Sargent Stevens,New York,Washington, Martha

“an insect in her ear”

Robert Lewis, one of George Washington’s nephews, served as his secretary from 1789 to 1791. He escorted Martha Washington and her grandchildren from Mount Vernon to New York in 1789 and helped them get settled. The following passage is taken from Dining with the Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertainments, and Hospitality from Mount Vernon, Stephen McLeod, Ed. (Chapel Hill: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, distributed by the University of North Carolina Press) p. 71. It includes a description of some amusing incidents which occurred during Mrs. Washington’s levées as recorded by Lewis in his diary.

As he came to the door to help several female guests out of their carriage, [Robert] Lewis heard “the screams and crys [of] a Lady who seemed to be in great distress.” The women reported that a member of their party had an insect in her ear. Lewis managed to get all the Ladies out of the carriage and into a private room in the president’s house, where, after pouring some oil in the sufferer’s ear, “the bug instantly run out—which was the cause of much rejoicing.”
Later, in his journal account of the evening, honesty compelled Lewis to record “another circumstance which has since cause much laugh[ter], when the bug ran out of . . . [the] . . . ear], it fell in her bosom and I plunged [my] hand into it involuntarily to catch the insect.” With all this excitement, one young lady . . . found herself “near fainting.” The young gallant was forced to “support her in my arms and to apply cold water to her face” in order to revive her. The ladies then rearranged their dresses, “which had been a good deal discomfited,” and went to make their greetings to Mrs. Washington,” who was all this while a stranger to what happened.” The story was told at the party, and Lewis was the hero of the evening. He also noted that “After . . . the company had nearly dispersed,” one of the female guests who “had observed my attention to the Lady whilst in distress invited me very politely to come and see her,” which Lewis thought he might do “so soon as time and opportunity will admit.”

Entry for Aug. 7, 1789, in R.L. diary (July 4—Sept.1, 1789, typescript, Library, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens).

posted February 18th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Lewis, Robert,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

“the ostrich feathers . . . took fire”

When the widowed Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington she brought her two children to live at Mount Vernon: John “Jacky” and Martha “Patsy.” Sadly, her daughter died of consumption in 1773. Jacky was a bit wild, married young, joined the army and died of camp fever shortly after the battle of Yorktown, leaving his wife and four children. The two oldest children stayed with their widowed mother. The other two—George Washington Parke Custis, called “Wash,” and his sister Eleanor Parke Custis called “Nelly”—came to live at Mount Vernon. George Washington officially adopted his two step grandchildren.

G.W.P. Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh and their daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the only one of four children who reached maturity, married Robert E. Lee. In 1826, GWP Custis admitted paternity of a child born to a slave who had once resided at Mount Vernon where she served Martha Washington. During his lifetime GWP Custis put down his recollections of George Washington and life at Mount Vernon. After his death his daughter published them in a volume that can be read online. Here is an anecdote he recounts that occurred at one of Martha Washington’s levees.

Mrs. Washington’s drawing rooms, on Friday nights, were attended by the grace and beauty of New York. On one of these occasions an incident occurred which might have been attended by serious consequences. Owing to the lowness of the ceiling in the drawing room, the ostrich feathers in the head-dress of Miss [Mary] McIvers, a belle of New York, took fire from the chandelier, to the no small alarm of the company. Major Jackson, aid-de-camp [sic] to the president, with great presence of mind, and equal gallantry, flew to the rescue of the lady, and, by clapping the burning plumes between his hands, extinguished the flame, and the drawing-room went on as usual.

Custis wrote that George Washington attended his wife’s drawing-rooms.

[He] paid his compliments to the circle of ladies, with that ease and elegance of manners for which he was remarkable. Among the most polished and well-bred gentlemen of his time, he was always particularly polite to ladies, even in the rugged scene of war; and, in advanced age, many were the youthful swains who sighed for those gracious smiles with which the fair always received the attentions of this old beau of sixty-five.

Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by his adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, with a Memoir of the author, by his Daughter (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1860), pp 395-96 and 409. I promise you will spend time reading other stories from the Memoirs online HERE.

posted February 15th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, "Jacky",Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Custis, George Washington Parke,Custis, Martha "Patsy",Custis, Mary Anna Randolph,Mount Vernon,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

Levees: “frivolities, fopperies, and expense” ??

The first capital of the United states under the Constitution was New York City. After his inauguration, the President and MARTHA WASHINGTON moved into a mansion on Cherry Street. George Washington, concerned to project a dignified public image of the presidency and the new government, held a formal reception for men only on Tuesday afternoons. Lady Washington, as she was called by many, adopted the practice of holding her own reception, called a levee, every Friday evening. It was a more informal affair. ABIGAIL ADAMS described one that she attended in a letter of August 9, 1789, to her sister Mary Cranch.

[Mrs. Washington] has fix’d on every fryday 8 oclock. I attended upon the last. . . . I found it quite a crowded Room. the form of Reception is this, the servants announce—& col [David] Humphries or mr [Tobias] Lear—receives every Lady at the door, & Hands her up to mrs washington to whom she makes a most Respectfull curtzey and then is seated without noticeing any of the rest of the company. the Pressident then comes up and speaks to the Lady, which he does with a grace dignity & ease, that leaves Royal George far behind him. the company are entertaind with Ice creems & Lemonade, and retire at their pleasure performing the same ceremony when they quit the Room.

William Maclay (see previous post), a senator from Pennsylvania, kept a journal or diary of what transpired during each meeting of that legislative body. A committed Anti-Federalist, Maclay’s feelings are clearly apparent in his writings. He was appalled that certain practices more associated with European monarchies were being adopted by the new republic. One of these was the levee. Here is what William Maclay had to say on the subject in his entry for June 5, 1789, a Friday.

About two o’clock the words “levee” and “adjourn” were repeated from sundry quarters of the House. Adjourn to Monday? The Vice-President caught hold of the last. “Is it the pleasure of the House that the adjournment be to Monday?” A single “No” would not be heard among the prevailing ayes. Here are the most important bills before us, and yet we shall throw all by for empty ceremony, for attending the levee is little more. Nothing is regarded or valued at such meetings but the qualifications that flow from the tailor, barber, or dancing-master. To be clean shaved, shirted, and powdered, to make your bows with grace, and to be master of small chat on the weather, play, or newspaper anecdote of the day, are the highest qualifications necessary. Levees may be extremely useful in old countries where men of great fortune are collected, as it may keep the idle from being much worse employed. But here I think they are hurtful. They interfere with the business of the public, and, instead of employing only the idle, have a tendency to make men idle who should be better employed. Indeed, from these small beginnings I fear we shall follow on nor cease till we have reached the summit of court etiquette, and all the frivolities, fopperies, and expense practiced in European governments. I grieve to think that many individuals among us are aiming at these objects with unceasing diligence.

The excerpt from Abigial’s letter can be found HERE.The passage by Maclay is in his journal entry for Friday June 5th. Read more about the Washingtons’ levees HERE.

posted February 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Maclay, William,New York,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

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