Archive for the ‘Virginia’ Category

” to be united with a gentleman of respectable connexions”

In 1796, when HARRIOT WASHINGTON was twenty years old, she caught the eye of Andrew Parks, a young merchant. He wrote to George Washington on April 1 seeking his consent to marry Harriot and asked Harriot’s Aunt Betty, with whom she was still living, to do the same.

I have made my addresses to her and she has refered me to you, whose consent I am to acquire, or her objections to a Union with me are I am assur’d insuperable, having therefore no hope of possessing her, unless I should be so fortunate as to obtain your assent, and as my happiness measurably depends upon your determination, I shall endeavour by stating to you my situation and prospects in Life, to merit and induce your approbation. . . . ”

Washington replied to Parks on the 7th that he would give the matter serious consideration warning the young man that

My neice Harriot Washington having very little fortune of her own, neither she, nor her friends, have a right to make that (however desirable it might be) a primary consideration in a matrimonial connexion. . . . My wish is to see my niece happy; one step towards which is, for her to be united with a gentleman of respectable connexions, and of good dispositions; with one who is more in the habit (by fair and honorable pursuits) of making, than in spending money—and who can support her in the way she has always lived.

Washington also wrote to his sister regarding the proposal; he was nothing if not thorough and told her that he would look into the young man’s background and asked her to do the same.

Altho’ she has no right to expect a man of fortune, she certainly has just pretensions to expect one whose connexions are respectable, & whose relations she could have no objection to associate with. How far this is, or is not the case with Mr Parks, I know not for neither his own letter, or yours give any acct of his family nor whether he is a native or a foreigner—& we have his own word only for his possessing any property at all altho’ he estimates his fortune at £3000. A precarious dependance this when applied to a man in Trade.

Interestingly, Washington said he wished that Harriot could have remained single and settled at Mount Vernon to which he expected to return after the end of his presidency “because then she would have been in the way of seeing much company, and would have had a much fairer prospect of matching respectably than with one who is little known—and of whose circumstances few or none can know much about.”

Parks wrote back to Washington at the end of April giving him the name of a reference (his brother-in-law and business partner), describing his financial situation and what he had to offer Harriot.

I hope I possess most of the requisites, necessary to make your Niece happy[,] I have been for several Years, accustom’ed to Business, which has, I am persuaded, kept me clear of a temper, for vicious dispositions; my connexions, are respectable generally, inasmuch as they are people of Business, and mostly in good circumstances. I have described to your Niece, as nearly as I could, what my Situation would afford, in the style of living; which wd not be more than genteel, and comfortable, this she sais, will perfectly satisfy her, and render her happy, provided you can think it sufficient.

After further assessments of Parks’ suitability and his sister’s remark that Harriot was “Old Enougf now to make choice for her self, and if they are not happy I believe it will be her one falt, he bars the Best caracter of any young Person that I know.” Washington gave his consent to the marriage which occurred on July 16, 1796. Washington footed the bill and invited the young couple to Mount Vernon when business would allow. They did pay a visit in September of 1798.

Information on this segment of Harriot Washington’s life can be found HERE, April 5, 2017. Sources for quoted passages of letters: “To George Washington from Andrew Parks, 1 April 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00396. “From George Washington to Andrew Parks, 7 April 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00413. “From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 April 1796,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00411. “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 5 July 1796,” http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00691. All are from Founders Online National Archives and were last modified on June 29, 2017. They are Early Access documents from The Papers of George Washington and are not the authoritative final versions.

posted July 6th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Courtship,Lewis, Betty Washington,Marriage,Parks, Andrew,Virginia,Washington, George,Washington, Harriot

“the thing’s that were sent are very pretty”

The year 1794 found HARRIOT WASHINGTON writing once more to her uncle, George Washington, who had promised his deceased brother Samuel to look after her, asking for money to buy a few articles of clothing. Harriet had been living with George Washington’s sister Betty Washington Lewis at her home Kenmore in Fredericksburg, Virginia, when she received an invitation in November of 1793 from Betty’s married daughter, Betty Lewis Carter, to visit with her in Culpeper, Virginia. Preparing to return to Fredericksburg Harriot wanted something new to wear for the celebration of Washington’s birthday.

Culpeper [Va.] January [7, 1794]I hope My dear Uncle will excuse my troubling him so soon again, but as he is the only Freind, on earth that I can apply to, for any thing I am induced to think that my necesity will apologize for me. I have spent the winter in Culpeper with Cousin Carter, in a very retired manner, we have scarcely seen a person since we came up, and as I am just a going to return to Fredericksburg, I shall be thousand time’s oblieged to My dear Uncle, if he will give me as much money as will get me a silk jacket and a pair of shoes to wear to the birth night as that will be the first Ball I shall have been to this winter.

Cousin Carter join’s me in love to you and Aunt Washington. I am My dear Uncle Your affectionate Neice
Harriot Washington

Harriot thanked her uncle in a letter of February 9 for “the bundle” she received, noting that “the thing’s that were sent are very pretty,” and “there could not be any procured here as handsome.” According to two entries dated 11 March 1794 in George Washington’s Household Accounts, he paid $19.19 for “sundry articles” sent to Harriot and 25 cents for the freight to Fredericksburg of the box containing these articles. It is interesting that Harriot received clothing rather than money.

Citation: “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 7 January 1794,” and “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 9 February 1794,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-15-02-0038. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 15, 1 January–30 April 1794, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, pp. 49–50, p. 206.]

posted June 29th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Lewis, Betty Washington,Virginia,Washington, George,Washington, Harriot,Washington, Martha

“to-morrow is Dancing day”

Although this excerpt of the letter of ANNE BLAIR to her sister MARTHA BLAIR BRAXTON appeared in an earlier post it seems appropriate to revisit it as it follows the previous post chronologically and is worth repeating. Anne in Williamsburg is describing the education and antics of her sister’s daughter Betsey who is in her charge.

August 21, 1769.. . . . Betsey is at work for you. I suppose she will tell you to-morrow is Dancing day, for it is in her thought by Day & her dreams by night. Mr. Fearson [the dancing master] was surprized to find she knew much of the Minuet step, and could not help asking if Miss had never been taught, so you find she is likely to make some progress that way. . . . her Reading I hear twice a day and when I go out she is consign’d over to my Sister Blair: we have had some few quarrels, and one Battle; Betsey & her Cousin Jenny [Jane Blair, daughter of Judge John Blair] had been fighting for several days successively, and was threaten’d to be whip’d for it as often, but as they did not regard us——her Mama & self thought it necessary to let them see we were in earnest——if they have fought since [I] have never heard of it——she has finished her work & Tucker, but the weather is so warm, what with all ye pains I can take with clean hand’s [sic], and so forth she cannot help dirtying it a little. I do not observe her to be fond of Negroes Company now nor have I heard lately of any bad Word’s [sic]; chief of our Quarrel’s is for eating of those Green apples in our Garden, & not keeping the Head smooth. I have had Hair put on Miss Dolly, but find it is not in my power of complying with my promise in giving her silk for a Sacque & Coat; some of our pretty Gang, broke open a Trunk in my absence and has stolen several thing’s one of wch the Silk makes a part——so immagine Betsey will petition you for some.

Instruction in dancing was commonly given to girls (and boys) from wealthy families as it was considered a social asset and also played a role in the courtship ritual. It is not clear whether the remark about not being fond of the company of Negroes is intended to be positive or negative. The word “now” may indicate that Betsey had enjoyed the company of Negroes and perhaps this was not considered a “good” thing.

More from Anne in the next post including some modern-sounding words.

William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XVI, 1908, 177.

posted June 1st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Blair, Anne,Braxton, Mary Blair,Education,Virginia

“they say she rules the Roost . . .”

ANN BLAIR wrote to her sister MARTHA BLAIR BRAXTON (portrayed) telling her about the goings-on in Williamsburg, Virginia, in August 1769. Ann obviously has a sense of humor and, in addition, uses some phrases that need explanation or sound modern to our ears. In the first line “I nick’t it” means “I just hit the right moment”. Later Ann says Governor Tryon’s Lady “rules the Roost,” calling this a “pity.” The expression is an old one dating to the 15th century when it referred to the person in charge of the kitchen who therefore “rules the roast.” In the mid-1700s, “roast” morphed into “roost.”

Well! I just nick’t it, governor Tryon [of North Carolina], his lady, and Mr. Edward’s [Tryon’s secretary] was to drink Tea at our House the day we came to Town . . . so that I had an opportunity of hearing the Conversation of this fine accomplish’d Lady. You may remember we heard she took not notice of the ladies; I therefore, resolved in myself to have nothing to say to her, and accordingly took my Seat as far distant from her as the room would permit; but with all my resolution I could hold no longer; the Lady had unfortunately scall’d [scalded] three of her Fingers (I say unfortunately, for else she wou’d have play’d the Spinnet) so that the speediest method of cure became now the Topick; the company agreed it would heal sooner for having ye Skin cut off the Blisters; Mr. Edwards and self as yet, had said nothing about it——to be sure your opinions was necessary——so the Lady call’d first [page torn] who judged it best to let ye Skin remain; next cones the latter, and having view’d the Wound with all the Sagacity of a Surgeon——agreed with Mr. Edwards (as he was singular) in every thing he said exactly. She reply’d with a smile that notwithstanding there was two to one of the opposite opinion, yet her inclination consided much with us; for to own a truth, she was so far a Coward she did not like her Skin to be cut. Thus much for her Fingers; and as to ye Lady herself, I think what was heard to her disadvantage, proves from a little acquaintance to advantage; they say she rules the Roost, it is a pity, I like her Husband vastly; they have a little Girl with them that is equally to be pitied, this poor thing is stuck up in a Chair all day long with a Cotter on [something to hold her in place], nor dare she even to taste Tea, fruit Cake, or any little Triffle offer’d her by ye Company, but to return to ye Lady’s Finger’s——the old Gentleman squeezed her Hand a little too hard in handing her to the Coach (for one of her Delicacy) she, however, had so far the command of herself as not to fall in a Fit till she got to my Lord’s: Pasteur [William Pasteur, a distinguished surgeon of Williamsburg] immediately was Call’d in. who did in one Minute, what had just before caused us a debate of half an Hour long——he perform’d ye so much dreaded operation of Cuting the Skin after wch he was presented with a Guinea he laugh’d & said, he had no objection to be squeezed into another.

I have a letter from Sisr Cary, telling me I ought to have been at Hampton, instead of King & Queen [William and Mary], for that there had been the Viper sloop of War Commanded by one Cap: Linsey, a Bror. of Mr. Hood’s. a most agreeable Gentleman; the first Lieut: Mr. Frederick, a relation of the Dutchess of Beaufort——extremely cleaver——and several others equally as much so. She thinks it advisable to go down in readiness for ye next that come’s . . . perhaps if I go down I may be as lucky as Bett, other way’s I most shrewdly suspect I very reluctantly shall join that set of animals destined to lead apes.

Don’t you like Ann’s reference to William and Mary as “King & Queen”? Her comment in the last line means that she may end up an old maid, a reference to an expression common at that time that says in hell bachelors are turned into apes and are led by women who die as maids. More to come.

William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XVI, 1908, 174-76. The portrait of Martha Braxton by John Wollaston is in the collection of the College of William and Mary..

posted May 25th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Blair, Anne,Braxton, Mary Blair,Virginia

“I give . . . to my daughter Anne my negro Girl Fanny”

The next post will include a letter from ANNE BLAIR to her sister MARY BLAIR BRAXTON. For this post I am including several provisions of the will of the girls’ father, John Blair Sr, written in October of 1771 and recorded in November of that year in York County court records. Blair, Sr. was a member a prominent Virginia family; he served on the Virginia Council and was for a time acting royal governor. His uncle, James Blair, was a founder of the College of William and Mary. John Blair’s wife had died before him and so, according to his will, Blair’s children, including Anne and Mary, were provided for. All were married except for Anne.

Item. I give and bequeath to my Daughter Anne Blair one thousand Pounds Current Money part of my stock in trade with John Prentis and Company with the profits thereof from the Division made in August one Thousand Seven hundred and Sixty Nine and to my Son James Blair the like Sum of One thousand Pounds part of the said with the profits thereof as to my daughter.

Item. I give to my Daughter Mary Braxton my Negro Gurl called Sall Cooper to my daughter Sarah my negro Wench called Great Hannah and her child Kate to my son James my Negro Barbary and her Child Johnny to my daughter Anne my negro Girl Fanny to each of them and their Heirs forever. . . .

Item. It is my will and Desire that all my Slaves and Stocks of all kinds (including my Horses) not before Disposed of be divided into five equal parcels three of which parcels I give and devise to my Son John Blair and his Heirs forever and the other two parcels to my Son James Blair and his Heirs forever. I have given the Greater proportion of my Slaves and Stocks to my Son John he being my Eldest Son and having already a family and several Children.

I have quoted from Blair’s will because I am constantly jarred by the fact that slaves were commonly bequeathed to family members. I am also distressed at the way they are referred to——the females as “wenches”——and how they are casually listed along with horses and other stock. Slaves were often given as wedding presents: when a slave called Oney Judge found out she was to be given by her mistress, Martha Washington, to her granddaughter Elizabeth Custis upon her wedding, Oney ran away. It was also common practice for a child to be given a slave of the same age as a “present,” perhaps for a birthday.

Source for the will is John Blair House Report, Block 22 Building 5 Lot 36 Originally entitled:
“John Blair House Colonial Lot 36 Block 22,” Mary A. Stephenson, 1963, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series—1493, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1990.

posted May 22nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Blair, Anne,Blair, Sr., John,Braxton, Mary Blair,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Virginia,Washington, Martha

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