Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

“great severities from the Frigidness”

John Jay, having been named minister plenipotentiary to Spain, sailed for Europe on October 20, 1779, accompanied by his wife Sarah. Their ship Confederacy met with severe weather and barely made it to Martinique where there was a considerable layover until another vessel could be secured. Catharine (Kitty) Livingston wrote, on 13 February 1780, to her sister from Philadelphia, expressing her concern.

How my dear sweet Sister was you supported in the hours of trial and danger; the appearance of death in so terrible a manner must have awaken[ed] every fear. You have indeed seen the wonders of the deep, and experienced in a remarkable manner the goodness and mercy of an indulgent providence. Your Friends have all reason to bless and thank God for his interposition in your favor, and it ought to console and encourage us to trust in the Author of your Salvation—For he spoke and it was done. he commanded and it stood fast.

Kitty continued, recounting details of the severe winter the country was enduring, envying (when she had thought Sarah was safely in Spain) “the temperance of your climate, whilst we were exposed to great severities from the Frigidness of ours.”

Our Winter set in earlier and with more Severity than is remembered by the Oldest liver among us. The year thirty five, and forty is agreed from circumstances not [to] be compared to this; in neither of those severe Seasons was the Chesapeake at & twenty Miles below Anopolis a firm bridge as is and has been a long time the case. In Virginia it has impeded all Trade, several of there Vessels have been cut to peices and sunk by the ice. The Merchants here think many of there Vessels that they expected in have perished on our coast, the last that got in was the Jay*; and that was in November, and she was much injured by the Ice and it was expected for several days that she and her cargo would be lost.

To the Eastward the Snow impeded all traveling to the State of New York—it cut of[f] Communication from Neighbour to Neighbour. The last accounts from Fish Kill it was four feet deep on a level. Numbers of Families in this City have suffered from its severity altho many among them made great exertions for their releif. In New York the want of fuel was never known like it, they cut down every stick of timber on Mr. Byard’s place** and would not permit [him] to keep any tho he offered to buy it. Several gentlemen went upon long Island and felled the trees, and after bringing it to town with their own horses it was seized for the Kings Troops [New York was occupied by the British], its reported of two families that the want of wood obliged them to lay a bed a week . . . .

You shall hear from me by every opportunity; at least I will write by every one. This letter is going to New London. I shall write to morrow by a Vessel that is to sail from Boston—till then I bid you adieu

* The ship, the Jay, was a Pennsylvania vessel of eighteen guns. There were three other vessels in the Continental service named Jay. One was Lady Jay. They saw action in the Revolution.
** William Bayard was a New York merchant who, initially sympathetic to the Patriot cause, ultimately became a firm Loyalist.

And we complain of the frigid weather and snow we have had recently (and, no doubt, more to come) when most of us are comfortable in our heated houses and can stay warm under our electric blankets!!

Kitty Livingston was not exaggerating in her description of the winter of 1779-80. George Washington, from his winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey, wrote to Lafayette in March 1780, “The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before.” There were twenty-six snow storms in New Jersey, six of which were blizzards. The illustration shows the type of hut soldiers encamped at Jockey Hill near Morristown occupied.

According to historian Ray Raphael, writing in the American History Magazine 2/4/2010:

In January 1780 . . . Mother Nature transformed America into a frigid hell. For the only time in recorded history, all of the saltwater inlets, harbors and sounds of the Atlantic coastal plain, from North Carolina northeastward, froze over and remained closed to navigation for a period of a month or more. Sleighs, not boats, carried cords of firewood across New York Harbor from New Jersey to Manhattan. The upper Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the York and James rivers in Virginia turned to ice. In Philadelphia, the daily high temperature topped the freezing mark only once during the month of January, prompting Timothy Matlack, the patriot who had inscribed the official copy of the Declaration of Independence, to complain that “the ink now freezes in my pen within five feet of the fire in my parlour, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Kitty’s letter is in The John Jay Papers in the Columbia Digital Library Collections and can be seen HERE.

posted February 12th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Maryland,Morristown, New Jersey,New York,Philadelphia,Virginia,Washington, George,Weather,Winter of 1780

” . . . . I think we may call our Jaunt an agreeable one”

New York City was occupied by the British from 1776, when George Washington’s campaign against the British failed, until 1783, the end of the war. In September 1776, a terrible fire, suspicious in origin, broke out and destroyed almost a quarter of the city. Large numbers of residents had already fled to avoid being caught in the fighting. (See post called “this deplorable cyte”.) Most Patriots departed when the the British occupied the city, while a few stayed to try to hold on to their property. Loyalist refugees flocked in as did escaped slaves who thought to obtain their freedom by fighting for the British. New York City became the command center of British military and political operations in North America. The wealthy and well connected, including British officers, restored a semblance of the social scene which featured plays and parties, dinners and dances.

On occasion members of certain families were allowed by the authorities to visit friends and relatives in New York City under a white flag of truce. CATHERINE ALEXANDER and her mother were granted this privilege. Catherine was the daughter of William Alexander, a major general in the American army who was called “Lord Stirling” because of his claim (never validated) to be a Scottish earl and Sarah Livingston. (Sarah’s brother was William Livingston, governor of New Jersey.) The couple had two daughters, Mary and Catherine. In 1776 Lord Stirling was in White Plains, following the American defeat in New York City. His wife and daughter Catherine called “Lady Kitty” joined him there and the two women obtained permission to enter New York City to visit the elder daughter Mary and her husband Robert Watts who were resident there, living quietly and trying to be neutral. “Lady Kitty” wrote the following letter to her father from New Jersey where she was visiting the family of her uncle William Livingston which had relocated from Elizabethtown to Persippany for safety’s sake. It gives some indication of what life was like in New York City during the British occupation.

I have made several attempts to perform an injunction [request], laid on me by my dear Pappa, in a letter to Genl. Maxwell but have always been interrupted, or entirely prevented by some trivial accident which tho’ important enough to prevent my writing are scarce worth mentioning to you, Coll. Livingstons [Brockholst, Kitty’s cousin, son of William Livingston] going to camp at last furnishes me with an opportunity of acquainting you with every thing that my memory retains of our Jaunt to N.York.

In the first place we had the satisfaction of being civilly treated by the British officers, one indignity indeed we receiv’d from Genl. Grant who order’d a Serjeant to conduct the Flag to town instead of an officer but we were so happy at getting permission to go on that we readily excused his want of politeness in that instance—our acquaintances in town were also, in general, very polite to us: many indeed were remarkably attentive—but whether it proceeded from regard to themselves or no, is hard to determine—the Truth is, they are a good deal alarmed at their situation, & wish to make as much interest as possible on our side. [T]he sentiments I really believe of a great number have undergone a thorough change since they have been with the British Army as they have had many opportunities of seeing flagrant acts of injustice & cruelty which they cou’d not have believed their freinds capable of; if they had not been witnesses to, & which convinces them that if they conquer we must live in abject slavery.

Mamma has I suppose mention’d to you the distressed situation, in which we found poor Mary, the alarms of the Fire & explosion added to her recent misfortune kept her for several days in a very weak state—but we had the satisfaction to leave her perfectly recovered. [T]he Child she now has is one of the most charming little creatures I ever saw— & by all accounts more likely to live than either of the others. Mr. Watts, I was very glad to find is among the number of those who are heartily sick of British Tyranny, & as to Mary, her political principles are perfectly Rebellious.

[S]everal Gentlemen of your former acquaintance in the British Army made particular enquiries after you . . . .

Upon the whole I think we may call our Jaunt an agreeable one, tho’ it was checkered with several unlucky circumstances[,] for my own part I liked it so well that I cou’d wish to repeat it in a few months if my Sister does not get permission to pay us a Visit—I left Mamma very well two days ago [at the family home in Basking Ridge, New Jersey] to pay a Visit to the Governors Family who sent the Coll down with an absolute command to fetch me—they all beg to be remember’d to you but believe me to be my dear Pappa with greater sincerity your
very affectionate D[aughte]r. C Alexander
Persipany Septr 6th. 1778

The New-York Historical Society, W. Alexander Papers, vol. II, #95, written in a small neat hand and including the red wax seal. The portrait is of Kitty after she had married William Duer in 1779. Source: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Lady Catherine Duer (Lady Catherine Alexander, daughter of Lord Stirling)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 19, 2018. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-2b5b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

posted January 18th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Alexander, William, Lord Stirling,British soldiers,Duer, Catherine Alexander "Lady "Kitty",New Jersey,New York

“that the majority of … Electors were for me is … pleasing “

Before leaving John Jay and his wife Sarah just after the result of the gubernatorial election of 1792 was known, I thought it would informative to present a letter from John to Sarah regarding his feelings about his loss.

East Hartford, 18th June, 1792My Dear Sally:
About an hour ago I arrived here from Newport, which place I left on Friday last. The last letters which I have received from you are dated the 2d and 4th of this month. The expectations they intimate have not, it seems, been realized. A Hartford paper, which I have just read, mentions the result of the canvass; after hearing how the Otsego votes were circumstanced, I perceived clearly what the event would be. The reflection that the majority of the Electors were for me is a pleasing one; that injustice has taken place does not surprise me, and I hope will not affect you very sensibly. The intelligence found me perfectly prepared for it. Having nothing to reproach myself with in relation to this event, it shall neither discompose my temper, nor postpone my sleep. A few years more will put us all in the dust; and it will then be of more importance to me to have governed myself than to have governed the State.

I cannot believe that Jay was quite so sanguine about his loss as he said he was. President Washington in 1794 designated Jay to negotiate a treaty with Britain at a time when many provisions of the Treaty of Paris were not being carried out and another war seemed imminent. Although the Jay Treaty was not popular because it was deemed to be too generous to the British it did postpone a war until a time when the United States was slightly better prepared—1812. It barely squeaked by the Senate and probably destroyed any chance that Jay might have had to be president of the United States. Upon Jay’s return to New York in 1795 he found that he had been elected governor of New York.

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 212-13.

posted April 13th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay Treaty 1794,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,New York

“the issue . . . is doubtful, rendered so by a Quibble.”

Sarah Jay continued to provide information on the outcome of the election for governor of New York State, an office for which her husband John was a candidate. John Jay was a Federalist and his opponent was an Anti-Federalist. Sarah is extremely knowledgeable about the election process and details for John the arguments taking place in Otsego County over which ballots should be accepted as legal. The outcome would decide the election.

New York 10th June 1792My dear Mr. Jay,
On friday myself & the Children had the pleasure of receiving your kind letters of the last of May & first of June, since which I hope you have recd. two packets from me sent to Judge Marchant’s care by Captn. Peterson & Captn. Cahoon. I intended to send this by to-morrow’s post, but I have just heard that Captn. Peterson is again to sail on tuesday, so that I think it best to postpone it ‘till then, as I can then send you the papers & give you decisive accounts relative to the election.

At present the issue of it is doubtful, rendered so by a Quibble. If the suffrages of the people are admitted, they give you a majority of 400 Votes, but if the County of Otsego are to lose their’s, Clinton will have the majority of a small number. Yesterday was published in Childs’s paper the opinion of 8 of the principal Lawyers of the City in favor of the legality of the return of the votes. I will send you the Gazettes that contain the discussions on that question. To-morrow I am inform’d are to be published the opinions of 8 or 9 on the other side & to be signed by them. Oh how is the name of Livingston to be disgraced! Brockholst [Sarah’d brother], Edward, William S. Maturin &c. are to be of the number: those shameless men, blinded by Malice Ambition & interest have conducted themselves with such indecency during the election & daily since the Canvassing of the votes, as to open the eyes of every one respecting their views in their opposition to you. It is said, & I believe it, that Brockholst & Ned first suggested the doubts on that subject.

The Canvassers of the votes are eleven, eight of whom are partizans of Clinton, & three are in favor of you. In order, as is supposed, to Cloak themselves, they Officially asked the Opinion of [Aaron] Burr & [Rufus] King. Their Opinions have not yet been printed, but I’m inform’d by good Authority that King’s is decidedly in favor of the Old Sheriff’s being intitled to act, until a new Sheriff was commissioned to succeed. Mr. Burr (as was suppos’d) was too sore to be unbiassed, he has therefore delivered in an Opinion which like a two edged sword cuts both ways, for he declares that there was no Sheriff: which, if admitted destroys the legality of the votes & casts an Odium on the Governor for suffering so important an Office to be vacant. Should the Canvassers be hardy enough to decide against the privileges of the People, & instead of suffering them to choose a Governor, take upon themselves to give them one, it will occasion great agitation throughout the State. I am satisfyed that the sentiments of the people are with you, whether you are, or are not Governor, it appears that you are the choice of the people. . . .

Monday evening.
Well! my dear Mr. Jay, the Canvassers have taken upon them to give the people a Governor of their election not the one the people preferred. When Governor Clinton was 108 votes a head, it was thought dangerous to examine the votes of Tioga County, it being reduced to a certainty that that County alone wd. give you a Majority independant of the Votes of Otsego. Another quibble was therefore invented, & they were likewise set aside. I am inform’d that the Recorder, Isaac Roosevelt, & Mr. Canzevort are determined to enter their protest, & likewise to publish the votes of those Counties which they think illegally thrown aside; & which if admitted would have given you a majority of a thousand votes.

The dejection, uneasiness & dissatisfaction that prevails, casts the darkest Odium upon our shameless Governor, while it makes your light shine still brighter than ever. One of the Clintonians told a gentleman of our acquaintance that he too was now convinced of the necessity of a change. Judge Hobart came last evening to Congratulate me on your triumph; I told him I really conceived it such. Peter Munro [John Jay’s nephew] is writing to you, & has promised to collect those papers which are most interesting. The hand-bill inclosed is Duer’s, but I think it best to conceal the Author’s name. Those Lawyers who had boasted their design of publishing their opinions against the votes, have taken care not to perform their promise.

Since you have so honorably lost your election, I could acquiesce in it with pleasure, did it not deprive me of the pleasure of seeing you soon & of enjoying your company for a great part of the year, but I will not dwell upon one disagreeable circumstance when so many agreeable ones concur to make me happy. Oh my dear Mr. Jay! What transport does it give me to hear the praises that are daily bestowed upon you. Much rather would I lose a Crown as you have lost the Office contended for, than gain an empire upon the terms Governor Clinton steals into his.

Tuesday Morng.
I find they have not yet announced in the paper the appointment of Governor. I am told that it is intended that it shd. be accompanied with the protests of Jones &c. There is such an ferment in the City that it is difficult to say what will be the consequence. I shall leave my letter unseal’d until evening shd. any thing occur in the interval that is interesting you shall be apprised of it. I am sitting in your room to write & at your table & have almost persuaded myself that I am making my communications verbally.

People are running in continually to vent their vexation. Poor Jacob Morris looks quite disconsolate. King says he thinks Clinton as lawfully Governor of Connecticut as of New York, but he knows of no redress.

Captn. Peterson is ready to sail as soon as the wind changes, I think it best therefore to close this letter & send it; I can again write to-morrow as that is Post-day if there is any thing worth writing. We are all well, & had been delighting ourselves with the prospect of seeing you soon. The Children therefore when they heard of the decision of the Canvassers exclaimed Oh! Mama then we shall not see Papa this great while. My only consolation is, that time has wings, & tho’ they will appear to me to be clogg’d, yet they will finally waft you back to us.

Till then my best beloved farewell!
S. Jay

Although John Jay last the election for governor of New York State in 1792, he won in the next election (1795) and served for two three-year terms during which time the state capital was moved from New York City to Albany. Subsequently Jay retired from public life to his farm in Bedford, New York, where he lived until 1829. Sadly, Sarah died in 1802 soon after they moved. Their home is now The John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, New York. A lovely farmhouse in a glorious setting, it is open to the public.

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 210-12. The portrait of Governor George Clinton is by Ezra Ames.

posted April 10th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clinton, George,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,New York

“Now for the elections”

All the talk in our country, recently, of “rigged” elections and illegal voters brings to mind the candidacy of John Jay for governor of New York State in 1792. Jay had been nominated to oppose the incumbent George Clinton. Back then, candidates “stood” for election, they did not “run.” There were attacks on Jay focused not on his integrity which was unimpeachable, but on his support of a strong central government and his advocacy of the abolition of slavery. Opponents claimed that it was John Jay’s particular wish “to rob every Dutchman of the property he possesses most dear to his heart, his slaves . . . [and] to oblige their masters to educate the children of those slaves.” Scurrilous pieces purported to have been written by Jay appeared in the newspapers but he denied any knowledge of them.

In fact, Jay did not campaign and showed very little interest in the outcome. At the time he was Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and was off riding circuit in New England. Letters between Jay and his wife, the lovely and intelligent Sarah Livingston, nevertheless contained references to and information about his candidacy and the course of the campaign. It took a month and a half for the contest to be decided after the votes were cast because ballots from each county had to be properly forwarded to the office of the secretary of the State, and there was a dispute over votes from Otsego County. Sarah claims she would be happy if John did not win. She wrote on June 2nd:

. . . . The Children as well as myself still enjoy health; the little miniature piece [Sarah Louisa, the youngest of the Jay children] continues good humor’d, healthy & sprightly. . . . So much for the home Department.

Now for the elections. How my Love will you bear the mortification of embarking on board a Rhode-Island Packet to return to New York, leaving to Judge Cushing the superlative pleasure of traversing the green woods, & attending learned disquisi[ti]ons at Bennington? Yet that I believe must be our deplorable fate unless something very unexpected should occur. I shall send you a news-paper from which you will perceive how the election stands, & this evening I will obtain an account of the examination of the votes this day. Judge Hobart is so sanguine, that he is sure of a majority for you, even tho’ the Otsego votes shd. be lost. You will doubtless be pleased at having a majority in the City of New York & County of West-Chester, as being the places in which you are most known. . . .

To morrow the packet is to sail & if any thing new takes place I shall have the pleasure of communicating it to you. It is expected that Votes will all be canvass’d by this day se’en night. If earlier you shall have immediate intelligence pr. post, Judge Hobart told me that he wd. write you if he did not depend upon me, but that it was unnecessary to make you pay double postage.

More on the election in the next post.

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 209-10. The print of Sarah is from the portrait collection at the New York Public Library. Jay is shown in his robes as Chief Justice; Portrait by Gregory Stapko after Gilbert Stuart, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C.

posted April 6th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clinton, George,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,New York

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