Archive for the ‘“feme covert”’ Category

“[My] wife . . . hath alienated her Affections from me”

Women during the eighteenth century were subject to the authority of men, whether father, brother, or husband. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, a text used in the training of American lawyers, had this to say about the relation of men and women in marriage. “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law, that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated in that of the husband, under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything.” The wife was a feme covert. Divorce was very difficult and wives in unhappy marriages or abusive relationships had few options. Some wives out of desperation chose to run away.
Notices were frequently published in local newspapers by husbands whose wives had left them, declaring that they would not be responsible for any debts incurred by them. Susannah Smalley left her children behind. She had no money and it is likely she became destitute. Esther Austin, on the other hand, took money and some belongings that her husband claimed were his. Neither woman could legally remarry.

William Nelson, Editor, Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, Volume XX (Trenton: Call Printing and Publishing Company, 1898), pp 435, 449. Courtesy of the New Jersey Historical Society, Date 1760.

posted November 14th, 2019 by Janet, Comments Off on “[My] wife . . . hath alienated her Affections from me”, CATEGORIES: "feme covert",Marriage,New Jersey

” A Woman’s Glory is to shine unknown”

MILCAH MARTHA MOORE must have thought the following extract from the travel diary of ELIZABETH GRAEME was worth recording, and perhaps pondering it. And no doubt discussing it with friends in her circle. This piece in which Graeme muses on her future life is touching especially when we know what actually happened to her. There is no mention of a man. Graeme was in fact courted by William Franklin, son of Benjamin. He proposed to her and she accepted. But he went to England and met someone there whom he married instead. She met her future husband at one of her “Attic evenings.” Graeme married Henry Hugh Fergusson, eleven years her junior and penniless, without the approval of her father, or the Society of Friends which expelled her.

I know not what my future State of life is to be, but was I to form a Wish it should not be I think Extravagant. I am not particularly attached to any Spot, but while some dear Friends live, I hope it to be in Philad[elphi]a. Health I look to be the Basis on which we found all earthly Blessings—A Conscience void of Offence as to gross Crimes (for as to Faults & Foibles, no Life is unsullied with them), A Society of Friends who Actions are guided by Affection, Chearfulness, Probity & Good-sense—perhaps if I go any further, you will think me unreasonable in Demands, but this writing diverts me, & I will go on.—The Article of Climate I will give up, we must supply the Deficiencies of that by Contrivance, but them Fortune must be favourable to furnish a warm good House in the Winter, & airy pretty Gardens in the Summer—The Garden for many Reasons I cannot give up, I do not wish for a fortune that would not require Oeconomy, he that saves in nothing is a mad man, he that saves in all Things a Fool—every Person has some particular Taste to gratify which others whose Turns do not lay the same way call Whims & Singularity, but the indulging these Whims & Singularitys, frequently constitute the greatest Pleasure of our Lives, & while they incommode nobody, are not to be restrained.—The Command of our Time is a pleasing Circumstance, but that depends so much on the Station we are placed in, that I dare not make it a Preliminary, however, our Sex have a greater Chance of obtaining it as the Public has no Demands on us, it is the noble Lordly Creature Man, whose Heart must glow, & Head toil for his Country for you know some Author says A Woman’s Glory is to shine unknown.

As for the Pleasure of relieving the distressed, & all that—People as frequently lose the Pleasure, as they obtain the Means, so that I shall say nothing on that Score—If you disapprove my Plan, write a better, in the mean Time I wish you all the above good Things.
31st of May 1765.

Perhaps “the Public has no demands on [women]” as Graeme claims but the demands she made on herself were substantial. She was intelligent and educated (at home), hosted one of the most famous literary salons in Philadelphia, wrote well-crafted petitions to the state of Pennsylvania to recover Graeme Park which had been confiscated as loyalist property, translated classic literature, wrote poetry, and maintained connections with other women.

Her political indiscretions during the Revolution saddened her friends and provided fuel for her enemies. She let herself be used by her loyalist husband Henry to deliver a letter to George Washington urging him to surrender. (Washington expressed his dismay at her involvement.) She also carried an offer of 10,000 guineas to Joseph Reed, an aide to Washington, for his help in obtaining a peace treaty favorable to Britain. When Her loyalist husband went to England she stayed behind to try to regain Graeme Park. She never saw him again. Although Graeme’s reputation was tarnished she continued to write and indeed produced a great body of work, among which was the poem “The Deserted Wife.”

Milcah Martha Moore’s Book: A Commonplace Book from Revolutionary America edited by Catherine La Courreye Blecki and Karen A. Wulf (University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 1997), pp 206-207.

posted August 6th, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on ” A Woman’s Glory is to shine unknown”, CATEGORIES: "feme covert",Fergusson, Elizabeth Graeme,Graeme Park,Moore, Milcah Martha

“one of the finest Sights in the Universe”

In her commonplace book MILCAH MARTHA MOORE transcribed the following passage from the travel journal that ELIZABETH GRAEME (1737-1801) kept in which she describes being at sea and seeing the setting sun. The complete journal has not been found.

Remarks—on the Passage from Phila:a. to Liverpool June 1764.

I could not help observing, that whatever way the Ship moved she appeared to be in the Centre of a Circle, for the Sea seems to be a perfect Circle, surrounded by the Clouds, that look as if they bent down at the Edges to join it, so that our own Eyes form the Horizon, & like Self-Love, we are always placing ourselves in the Middle, where all Things move round us.—I saw the Sun set clear, for the first Time, I was reading Priam’s Petition to Achilles, for the Body of Hector, I think my Eyes were engaged in one of the finest Sights in the Universe, & my Passions, interested in one of the most pathetic that History or Poetry can paint.—

Graeme was reading a passage from the Iliad. When she returned from England she took up residence at the family home, Graeme Park, outside of Philadelphia. A noted hostess she held literary “attic salons” where many noted Philadelphians gathered—she met her husband-to-be, Hugh Henry Fergusson, at one of these. Fergusson worked for the British during the occupation of Philadelphia. When the British evacuated the city he went to England and urged his wife to join him there. But she had inherited Graeme Park when her parents died and was loath to give it up. Unfortunately, according to colonial law of “feme covert,” a wife’s property became her husband’s after their marriage. Because Fergusson was a Loyalist, Graeme Park was confiscated by the Pennsylvania government. After two years of petitioning Elizabeth finally regained the family home in 1781. But the upkeep proved to be such a financial burden that she was obliged to sell. She lived with friends, writing and publishing poetry, translating classical works, and sharing commonplace books with other women. She died in 1801.

Milcah Martha Moore’s Book: A Commonplace Book from Revolutionary America edited by Catherine La Courreye Blecki and Karen A. Wulf (University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 1997), pp 200-201. Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s commonplace book can be examined HERE. Note the use of quotation marks for passages she has copied.

posted July 28th, 2018 by Janet, Comments Off on “one of the finest Sights in the Universe”, CATEGORIES: "feme covert",Fergusson, Elizabeth Graeme,Loyalists,Moore, Milcah Martha,Ocean Voyages

   Copyright © 2024 In the Words of Women.