Archive for the ‘Philadelphia’ Category

A Short Break

For the next few days I will be visiting the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It opened in April and I am anxious to see what steps have been taken to make the period more meaningful and accessible to young and old alike. I’m interested, of course, in how much attention has been paid to women and how they are represented. More fodder for this blog.

posted October 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Philadelphia,Primary sources

“My Heart is so sincerely afflicted. . . .”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL and George Washington exchanged letters in Philadelphia until he left for Mount Vernon in mid December 1798. Washington paid promptly for the articles that Powel had purchased for him. Clearly the two had a high regard for each other, certainly friendship and admiration, if not something more.

Tuesday 4th Decr 1798 My dear Madam,
Receive, I pray you, my best thanks for the Prints you had the goodness to send me; and my acknowledgments of your kind, and obliging offer to chuse some thing handsome, with which to present Miss Custis [Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis]. The difference between thirty & Sixty (or more) dollars, is not so much a matter of consideration, as the appropriate thing.

I presume, she is provided with a Muff; of a tippet I am not so certain; but a handsome Muslin, or any thing else, that is not the whim of the day, cannot be amiss. The cost of which, when furnished, you will please to announce to me. Is there any thing—not of much cost—I could carry Mrs Washington as a memento that she has not been forgotten, in this City? . . . .

My present expectation is, that We shall close the business which brought me here, by Friday—Saturday at farthest; when my journey will commence. But before my departure I shall, most assuredly, have the honor of paying my respects to you. With the greatest respect & Affecte. I am always Yours
Go: Washington

Elizabeth Willing Powel sent Washington a bill post haste.

[Philadelphia] Friday Decr 7th 1798 My dear Sir
The amount of the Articles purchased you will find to be Seventy Four dols. & a half. . . .

My Heart is so sincerely afflicted and my Idea’s so confused that I can only express my predominant Wish—that God may take you into his holy keeping and preserve you safe both in Traveling and under all Circumstances, and that you may be happy here and hereafter is the ardent Prayer of Your affectionate afflicted Friend
Eliza. Powel

Pasted onto the manuscript is a notation, in Elizabeth Willing Powel’s hand, indicating that she paid $65 for a “Piece of Muslin,” $2.50 for “A Doll,” and $7 for a “Thread Case.” The doll was for Eliza Law, the child of Elizabeth Parke Custis, Martha’s eldest grandchild, and her husband John Law. The marriage was not a happy one and ended in divorce. The thread-case, it seems, was for Martha. Illustrated is a thread-case that belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s wife Martha. George Washington replied to Powel immediately——sometimes these exchanges seem a lot like email today!

Philadelphia 7th Decr 1798 My dear Madam,
The articles you had the goodness to send me this forenoon (when it was not in my power to acknowledge the receipt of them) came very safe, and I pray you again, to accept my thanks for the trouble I have given you in this business.

Enclosed are Seventy five dollars, which is the nearest my present means will enable me to approach $74 50/100 the cost of them. . . .

For your kind and affectionate wishes, I feel a grateful sensibility, and reciprocate them with all the cordiality you could wish, being My dear Madam Your most Obedt & obliged Hble Servant
Go: Washington

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 3 December 1798,” “From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 4 December 1798,” “To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 7 December 1798,” “From George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powel, 7 December 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-03-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 242, 243–244, 246-47.]

posted October 5th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Philadelphia,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

George Washington: “one of my best Friends and Favorites”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL was a renowned hostess and the Powel home on Third Street in central Philadelphia was the gathering place for important political and social figures of Revolutionary America and the early republic. Elizabeth and her husband were close personal friends of George and Martha Washington. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, with Martha back in Mount Vernon, Washington was often in the company of the Powels. He particularly enjoyed conversing with Elizabeth who was brilliant, well educated, and outspoken in her opinions. In a letter Elizabeth wrote to Mrs. William [Ann Bolling Randolph] Fitzhugh in July 1786 she refers to George Washington as “one of my best Friends and Favorites.” Elizabeth Powel either wrote or copied verses which she sent to Washington on his birthday in 1792 beginning with the line: “No Peerage we covet, No Sceptres desire.”

In the following letter, dated 9 January 1792, Elizabeth Willing Powel informs George Washington that she is sending information about a possible treatment for his nephew George Augustine Washington who was suffering from tuberculosis. The preparation of the medicine koumiss, fermented mare’s milk, described by John Grieve was published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1788. Writing that it was “recommended as an almost universal remedy”— Elizabeth quickly anticipates Washington”s reaction—”which I know you will say proves too much and rather savours of Quackery; yet the Authorities appear so respectable and the Object of the Publication so benevolent, that I think it is entitled to considerable Confidence and Attention. . .” She then waxes philosophical, considering whether

the protracting human Life is adding to the Mass of Happiness. But what is this Life that we should be so over studious to prolong the Respiration of that Breath which may with so much Ease be all breathed out at once as by so many successive Millions of Moments? For surely there are more exquisite Pains than Pleasures in Life, and it seems to me that it would be a greater Happiness at once to be freed forever from the former than by such an irksome Composition to protract the Enjoyment of the latter. We must all die, and, I believe there is no Terror in Death but what is created by the Magic of Opinion, nor probably any greater Pain than attended our Birth. As I suppose at our Dissolution every Particle of which we are compounded returns to its proper original Element and that which is divine in us returns to that which is divine in the Universe.
I most sincerely wish you the two Extremes of Happiness—fullness of Joys in this Life and an immortal Series of Felicities in Heaven. I am dear Sir with Respect & Esteem your affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 9 January 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-09-02-0248. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 9, 23 September 1791 – 29 February 1792, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 419–420.] The photographs are from Wikimedia Commons. Use of the parlor photo was given to Wikipedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

posted August 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Friendship,Illness,Medicine,Philadelphia,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, George Augustine

A woman rediscovered in a false-bottomed trunk


ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL (1730-1830) and her husband Samuel entertained lavishly in Philadelphia during the late colonial and early national era. In the Mount Vernon digital encyclopedia Elizabeth is referred to as the city’s “premiere Saloniste.” She was a friend and confidante of George Washington and has figured in two posts in this blog: here and here.

Powel House in Philadelphia is open to the public courtesy of The Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks. In June the Society announced an amazing discovery: a cache of letters, receipts and accounts written by Elizabeth Powel found in the false bottom of a trunk belonging to her descendants. Rather than recount the details of this coup I refer you to this post of the Society. It is a rich and well written story conveying the excitement of finding new sources of information by and about a prominent woman. I could not do better.

I am grateful to Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway for bringing this story to my attention in their blog.

Some interesting correspondence between Elizabeth Willing Powel and George Washington to follow.

Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powel by John Wollaston, c. 1755-1759. Yale University Art Gallery, 1987.58.1.

posted August 21st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Mount Vernon,Philadelphia,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Primary sources,Research

“clanse the House from the garret to the sellers”

MARTHA WASHINGTON certainly knew exactly what she wanted to have done at Mount Vernon before she and the President arrived in the summer of 1792. The following letter to FANNY BASSETT WASHINGTON is full of instructions. The “Major” is George Augustine Washington, Fanny’s husband and the President’s nephew. He is obviously ill and, in fact, dies the next year, from tuberculosis it is thought. The couple have two children: Maria and Fayette. Martha’s spelling leaves a great deal to be desired but I expect readers will be able to grasp her meaning.

Philadelphia July the 1st 1792My Dear Fanny –

I am happy to hear of your letter of June the 25th that you and the children are well – and truly sorry you had not better accounts from the Major when you last heard from him – I hope in god that you have since had more favorable accounts from him – The President has fixed on the 12th to leave this place for Mount Vernon if nothing happens to prevent us – wish my dear Fanny that you would make Frank clanse the House from the garret to the sellers – have all the Beds aird and mended and the Bed cloths of every kind made very clean the Bed steads also well scalded – and the low bed steads put up to be ready to carry out of one room into another as you know they are often wanted. I have not a doubt but we shall have company all the time we are at home – I wish you to have all the chinia looked over, the closet clened and the glasses all washed and every thing in the closet as clean as can be than they will be ready when wanted with much less troable than to have them to look for when ever in hurry they may be wanted.

I do not wish to have the clouded cotten made into chear covers – nor the chares stuffed, or done anything to, till I come home as it is probable that the old covers will last as long as I shall stay home by a vessel that will live this in a day or two – I shall send several articles – that could not be had when we sent the last things round – I hope the major will not hurry him self back if he finds benefit from the mountain air it is of the greatest concequince that his health should be established and I hope he will be very careful in doing as the Doctors directs him – I shall be sorry not to see dear Little Maria if the jaunt is for her good – I must be content. I am glad that Fayette is recovered and hope I shall find you and the children quite well – impress it on the gardener to have every thing in his garden that will be nessary in the House keeping way as vegetable is the best part of our living in the country – I dare say you have made the table cloths as well as they can be done – as to the window curtain and bed curtain they may as well be put up – I shall send a carpit for our parlor so that it will be ready by the time I get there if the vessel lives this on tuesday as we expect

The President has given miss Harriot a guitarr – I have inclosed the key it is sent in the vessel with several other things – I shall be glad to have the little caps made and sent before I live this as I wish to give them to the ladie as soon as done we are all well – Mr & Mrs Lear intend a trip to the eastward when we set out for the southward – the weather is extremely warm hear and has been so for some days past – all hear join me in love to you and children – and believe me my dear

Fanny your most
affectionately
M Washington

Note the reference to the “guitarr” that the President gave to his niece Harriot. See POST.

Citation: Martha Washington, “Letter, to Fanny Bassett Washington, July 1, 1792,” online HERE, Item #462 (accessed July 19, 2017).

posted July 20th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Housekeeping,Lear, Frances "Fanny" Bassett Washington,Lear, Tobias,Mount Vernon,Philadelphia,Washington, George,Washington, George Augustine,Washington, Harriot,Washington, Martha

next page

   Copyright © 2017 In the Words of Women.