Archive for the ‘Duer, Catherine Alexander “Lady “Kitty”’ Category

“I put your letter into his hands . . . “

For this post I am opting out of my mission of bringing readers the words of women from the American Revolution and the early national period. Instead I am posting a letter that Alexander Hamilton wrote not to Lady Kitty Alexander Duer (see previous post) but to another Kitty, this one CATHARINE LIVINGSTON (1751-1813), daughter of the Governor of New Jersey, sister of Sarah Livingston Jay and cousin to Lady Kitty. Coincidentally, Kitty Livingston, like her cousin, was concerned with a flag of truce, not for herself but for some friends who wanted to leave British occupied New York City to pay a visit to New Jersey. Kitty Livingston made her appeal to her friend Alexander Hamilton, who gave it to General George Washington for whom he was an aide de camp. Hamilton was instructed by Washington to reply to Kitty’s letter. His response is mildly flirtatious, flattering, fanciful, and wordy. In fact it is the longest letter I have come across that can be summed up as “No”. There was an exception, as you will discover.

Headquarters, March 18, 1779.I can hardly forgive an application to my humanity to induce me to exert my influence in an affair in which ladies are concerned, and especially when you are of the party. Had you appealed to my friendship or to my gallantry, it would have been irresistible. I should have thought myself bound to have set prudence and policy at defiance, and even to have attacked wind-mills in your ladyship’s service. I’m not sure but my imagination would have gone so far as to have fancied New York an enchanted castle—the three ladies so many fair damsels ravished from their friends and held in captivity by the spells of some wicked magician— General Clinton, a huge giant, placed as keeper of the gates—and myself, a valorous knight, destined to be their champion and deliverer.

But when, instead of availing yourself of so much better titles, you appealed to the cold, general principle of humanity, I confess I felt myself mortified, and determined, by way of revenge, to mortify you in turn. I resolved to show you that all the eloquence of your fine pen could not tempt our Fabius [Washington] to do wrong; and, avoiding any representation of my own, I put your letter into his hands and let it speak for itself. I knew, indeed, this would expose his resolution to a severer trial than it could experience in any other way, and I was not without my fears for the event, but if it should decide against you, I anticipated the triumph of letting you see your influence had failed. I congratulated myself on the success of my scheme; for, though there was a harder struggle upon the occasion between inclination and duty, than it would be for his honor to tell; yet he at last had the courage to determine that, as he could not indulge the ladies with consistency and propriety, he would not run the risk of being charged with a breach of both.

This he desired me to tell you, though, to be sure, it was done in a different manner, interlaced with many assurances of his great desire to oblige you, and of his regret that he could not do it in the present case, with a deal of stuff of the same kind, which I have too good an opinion of your understanding to repeat. I shall, therefore, only tell you that whether the Governor and the General are more honest or more perverse than other people, they have a very odd knack of thinking alike; and it happens in the present case that they both equally disapprove the intercourse you mention, and have taken pains to discourage it. I shall leave you to make your own reflections upon this, with only one more observation, which is that the ladies for whom you apply would have every claim to be gratified, were it not that it would operate as a bad precedent.

But, before I conclude, it will be necessary to explain one point. This refusal supposes that the ladies mean only to make a visit and return to New York. If it should be their intention to remain with us, the case will be altered. There will be no rule against their coming out, and they will be an acquisition. But this is subject to two provisos—1st that they are not found guilty of treason or any misdemeanor punishable by the laws of the State, in which case the General can have no power to protect them; and 2dly, that the ladies on our side do not apprehend any inconvenience from increasing their number. Trifling apart, there is nothing could give me greater pleasure than to have been able to serve Miss Livingston and her friends on this occasion, but circumstances really did not permit it. I am persuaded she has too just an opinion of the General’s politeness not to be convinced that he would be happy to do anything which his public character would justify in an affair so interesting to the tender feelings of so many ladies. The delicacy of her own ideas will easily comprehend the delicacy of his situation;— she knows the esteem of her friend.

A. Hamilton.

The General and Mrs. Washington present their compliments.

Hamilton’s letter can be found HERE. Portrait from Find A Grave.

posted February 1st, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Duer, Catherine Alexander "Lady "Kitty",Hamilton, Alexander,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Washington, George

“a fine woman . . . with most accomplished manners”

More on “LADY” KITTY ALEXANDER (see previous post). Kitty was married to Colonel William Duer on July 17, 1779, at the family home in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, with George Washington in attendance. After the war, the Duers made their home on Broadway, in New York City, not far from Wall Street. William Duer was an investor, stockbroker, and speculator always looking to turn a quick profit. The couple were active in the social life of the city and Lady Kitty was a popular hostess. After attending a dinner party at the Duers in 1787, the Reverend Manasseh Cutler noted:

Lady Kitty, for so she is called . . . is a fine woman, though not a beauty, very sociable, and with most accomplished manners. She performed the honors of the table most gracefully, was constantly attended by two servants in livery, and insisted on performing the whole herself. Colonel Duer . . . lives in the style of a nobleman. I presume he had not less than fifteen different sorts of wine at dinner, and after the cloth was removed, besides most excellent bottled cider, porter, and several other kinds of strong beer.

When George Washington became president in 1789, he and his family occupied the Samuel Osgood house at 2 Cherry Street in New York City, the nation’s first capital. Lady Kitty was one of the women consulted on the decor and furniture. Sarah Franklin Robinson, in a long letter to her cousin Catharine Wistar, wrote: “Aunt [Mary] Osgood & Lady Kitty Duer had the whole management of it.”

I went the morning before the General’s arrival to take a look at it—the best of furniture in every room—and the greatest Quantity of plate and China that I ever saw before—the whole of the first and secondary Story is paperd and the floors Coverd with the richest Kind of Turkey and Wilton Carpets—the house realy did honour to my Aunt and Lady Kitty; they spared no pains nor expense on it—thou must Know that Uncle [Samuel] Osgood and [William] Duer were appointed to procure a house and furnish it—accordingly they pitchd [settled] on their wives as being likely to do it better—

Unfortunately Kitty’s husband’s speculations caught up with him in 1791 and 1792 and involved the sale of stock in the newly formed Bank of the United States. Promises of huge dividends and a guarantee that the bank could not fail because of its political connections led to a buying frenzy, causing prices to skyrocket. Bankers, in an attempt to stabilize the market began to cut credit to investors eventually resulting in a crash—the Panic of 1792. Having borrowed large sums of money that he could not repay, Duer found himself in debt to the tune of $3,000,000. He landed in debtors’ prison where he would die in 1799. In greatly reduced circumstances Kitty moved with her children to a small house on Chambers Street where she took in boarders. Her subsequent marriage to William Neilson produced several more children. She died in 1826.

One of the positive results of the Panic that Duer and friends had precipitated was a meeting of a group of concerned bankers and investors who pledged to conduct their securities business in an honest way. This was the beginning of the New York Stock Exchange.

Information about Kitty Duer, as well as Cutler’s observation, can be found HERE. Details concerning Washington’s relocation to New York City can be found HERE. The excerpt of Sarah Franklin Robinson’s letter can be found on pages 296-97 of In the Words of Women. A description of Duer’s part in the Panic of 1792 can be found HERE.

posted January 25th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Duer, Catherine Alexander "Lady "Kitty",Duer, William,Panic of 1792,Washington, George

” . . . . 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

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