Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

“We had a lovely passage in a beautiful new ship. . . .”

MARTHA “PATSY” JEFFERSON accompanied her father to Paris in 1785 when he was appointed minister to France. She was enrolled for her schooling at the prestigious Abbaye Royale de Panthemont convent. There she penned a letter to Elizabeth House Trist whose mother kept a boarding house in Philadelphia where Thomas Jefferson regularly stayed. Patsy, too, had lived there where she received some schooling. In her letter she describes her sea voyage; it is a nice follow-up to Abigail Adams’s account. The passage across the English Channel was typically difficult as Patsy’s letter attests. The rest of the letter is charming, Patsy describing all of the confusion of setting up house in a new and foreign city, being groomed to appear in French society, getting adjusted to life in the convent school. Although Martha devoted part of her letter to the voyage and early days in France, it is certain that a year at least had elapsed before she wrote it. (I have created paragraphs to make for easier reading.)

de l’abbey royale de Panthemont a Paris
[after 24 Aug. 1785]
My dearest friend
Your letter put an end to the inquietude that your silence had caused us. Be assured that I will remember you as long as I live. I am very happy in the convent and it is with reason for there wants nothing but the presence of my friends of America to render my situation worthy to be envied by the happiest. I do not say kings, for far from it. They are often more unfortunate than the lowest of their subjects. I have seen the king and the queen but at too great a distance to judge if they are like their pictures in Philadelphia. We had a lovely passage in a beautiful new ship that had only made one voyage before. There were only six passengers, all of whom papa knew, and a fine sun shine all the way, with the sea which was as calm as a river. I should have no objection at making an other voyage if I could be sure it would be as agreable as the first. We landed in England where we made a very short stay.
The day we left it we set off at six a clock the evening, and arived in France at 7 the next morning. I can not say that this voyage was as agreable as the first, tho it was much shorter. It rained violently and the sea was exceedingly rough all the time, and I was allmost as sick as the first time, when I was sick two days. The cabane was not more than three feet wide and about four long. There was no other furniture than an old bench which was fast to the wall. The door by which we came in at was so little that one was obliged to enter on all four. There were two little doors at the side of the cabane was the way to our beds, which were composed of two boxxes and a couplle of blankets with out eather bed or matras, so that I was obliged to sleep in my cloathes. There being no winder in the cabane, we were obliged to stay in the dark for fear of the rains coming in if we opended the door.
I fear we should have fared as badly at our arival for papa spoke very little french and me not a word, if an Irish gentleman, an entire stranger to us, who seeing our embarrassment, had not been so good as to conduct us to a house and was of great service to us. It is amazing to see how they cheat the strangers. It cost papa as much to have the bagadge brought from the shore to the house, which was about a half a square apart, as the bringing it from Philadelphia to Boston. From there we should have had a very agreable voyage to Paris, for havre de grace is built at the mouth of the seine, and we follow the river all the way thro the most beautiful country I ever saw in my life, it is a perfect garden if the singularity of our cariage had not atracted us the attention of all we met, and when ever we stopped we were surounded by the beggars. One day I counted no less than nine while we stopped to change horses. We saw a great number of chalk hills near Rouen, where we saw allso a church built by William the conqueror, and another at Ment which had as many steps to go to the top as there are days in the year. There are many pretty statues in it. The architectures is beautiful. All the winders are died glass of the most beautiful colours that form all kinds of figures.
I wish you could have been with us when we arrived. I am sure you would have laughfed, for we were obliged to send imediately for the stay maker, the mantumaker, the milliner and even a shoe maker, before I could go out. I have never had the friseur but once, but I soon got rid of him and turned down my hair in spite of all they could say, and I differ it now as much as possible, for I think it allways too soon to suffer.
I have seen two nuns take the veil. I’ll tell you about that when I come to see you. I was placed in a convent at my arival and I leave you to judge of my situation. I did not speak a word of french, and no one here knew english but a little girl of 2 years old that could hardly speak french. There are about fifty or sixty pensioners in the house, so that speaking as much as I could with them I learnt the langauge very soon. At present I am charmed with my situation. I am afraid that you will be very much disapointed if you expect to see me perfect, for I have made very little progres. Give my love to Mrs. House. . . .
Tho you have a great deal of patience I am afraid that this scrawl will tire it. But if you knew the pleasure I take in writing to you and receiving letters from you, you would pardon me. Pray write me very long letters by evry occassion. I should be very glad to write for papa, but I am sure that he could not have an occupation which gives him more pleasure than that. How ever when he cant leave his business I will do it with pleasure. I do not know when we shall come. Pardon this letter, being so badly written for I have not the time at present. There comes in some new pensionars evry day. The classe is four rooms excedingly large for the pensionars to sleep in, and there is a fith and sixth one for them to stay in in the day and the other in which they take their lessens. We were the uniform which is crimson made like a frock laced behind with the tail like a robe de cour hoocked on muslin cufs and tuckers. The masters are all very good except that for the drawing. I end here for I am sure my letter must tire you. Papa sends his most affectionate compliments to you and Mrs. House and begs you not to forget that you are indebted a letter to him. . . . Adieu my dear freind, be assured that I am and ever will be yours affectionately,
Martha Jefferson

“Martha Jefferson to Eliza House Trist, [after 24 August 1785],” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 436–439.] The illustration is from the Library Company: Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 219. First ed., 1855.

posted November 11th, 2019 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,English Channel,Fashion,Jefferson, Martha "Patsy",Ocean Voyages,Paris,Travel,Trist, Elizabeth House

“full expectations of seeing better days”


Returning to the United States, here is another woman’s account of a search for a new home.

MARY COBURN DEWEES kept a journal of her journey from Philadelphia to Kentucky to share with family and friends. Accompanied by her brother Judge Coburn, Mary, her husband Samuel, and their children Rachel, about 5 years old, and Sallie, about 3, started off in the late afternoon of September 27, 1788. They traveled on foot, by wagon, and, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by boat. On the trip down the Ohio River, they, like Susan Livingston Symmes, also stopped at Limestone [Maysville, Kentucky] and had a similar reaction to the town.

November 26th [1788]. At 4 o’clock A.M. woke up by a hard gale of wind, which continued until breakfast time, when we had both wind and tide in our favour. At ½ past 9 we came to the Three Islands 12 miles from Limestone; at ½ past one hove in sight of Limestone; at 3 o’clock landed safe at that place, where we found six boats. The place very indifferent, the landing the best on the river; there are at this time about 100 people on the bank looking at us and enquiring for their friends. We have been nine days coming from McKee’s Island, three miles below Pittsburgh.

November 27th. As soon as it was light my brother set off for Lexington without company, which is far from safe, so great was his anxiety to see his family.

November 28th. Left Limestone at 9 o’clock there being thirty odd boats at the Landing, the chief of which arrived since yesterday 3 o’clock. We got to a little town call’d Washington . . .

November 29th. We left Washington before light, and got to Mary’s Lick at 12 o’clock; left there and reached the North Fork where we encamped, being 15 or 20 in Company. We made our bed at the fire, the night being very cold, and the howling of the wolves, together with its being the most dangerous part of the road, kept us from enjoying much repose that night.

. . . . on the first of December arrived at Lexington . . . We were politely received and welcomed by Mrs. Coburn. We all stay’d at my brother’s . . .

Jany.1 1789. We Still continue at my Brothers and . . . mean to go down to south elk horn as soon as the place is ready-Since I have been here I have been visited by the genteele people in the place and receivd several Invitations both in town & Country, the Society in this place is very Agreeable and I flatter myself I shall see many happy days in this Country. Lexington is a Clever little Town with a court house and Jail and some pretty good buildings in it, Chiefly Log my abode I have not seen yet a discription of which you shall have by and by.

29th. I have this day reached South Elk horn, and am much pleased with it. ’Tis a snug little Cabbin about 9 Mile from Lexington on a pretty Asscent surrounded by Sugar trees, a Beatifull pond a little distance from the door, with an excellent Spring not far from the Door. I can assure you I have enjoyed more happiness the few days I have been here than I have experienced these four or five years past. I have my little family together And am in full expectation of seeing better days. Yours &c MD

See another post about Dewees HERE. Life for the Dewees family apparently was “better” in Kentucky. Although Mary Coburn Dewees mentioned that she was ‘very sick’ at the beginning of her Journal, the subject does not occur again for the rest of the journey. It turns out that she was pregnant, and gave birth to Eliza on April 3, 1789. Two more children were born after that; all five reached adulthood. Samuel died c.1808 and Mary Dewees on June 30, 1809.

Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library; see also In the Words of Women, pp. 283-86. Map from Zadok Cramer, The Navigator, 8th Edition, first printed 1801.

posted June 28th, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Dewees, Mary Coburn,Maps,Travel

Henrietta Marchant Liston

LOUISE NORTH, readers may recall, is the co-editor, with Landa Freeman and myself, of two published books: In the Words of Women—The Revolutionary War and the Birth of the Nation, 1765-1799 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011) and Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005). We three had a wonderful time reading and selecting the letters and other writings of our subjects. One of the women we came across in our research, Henrietta Marchant Liston, so entranced Louise that she struck out on her own to publish a book of her writings. The result is The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2014). Henrietta was the wife of the second British minister plenipotentiary to the new United States, Robert Liston. The pair traveled for more than twelve months during their stay of four-and-a-half years: throughout the eastern seaboard from Charleston, SC to Quebec. Henrietta kept a journal and her observations are a delight to read. See posts here, here, here, and here. Her curiosity is limitless and her language is full of zest.

Louise’s research took her to the National Library of Scotland which is the repository for the Liston materials. On International Woman’s Day last month the Library posted two links, one to a short video about Henrietta Liston and the other of some digital images of her journals. They are really well done and I am certain you will enjoy them even if you have not read Louise’s book. In fact you may wish to read the book after you view them. Louise hopes that will be the case.

posted April 4th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Primary sources,Travel

“Mountains—They call them Nobs here”

SUSAN LIVINGSTON SYMMES wrote again to her sister Sarah Jay in New York City describing continuing difficulties in reaching Pittsburgh where the party was to lay over for the winter, proceeding to North Bend, Ohio in the spring.

Monday 24 Novr 1794Mr dr Sister
We are thus far on our way, have come over dreadful roads & for our comfort what remains is still worse—The House where we now are & expect to remain to-day as the Horses want shoeing & is filled with Officers, they behave to us with the greatest politeness, & are in excessive spirits to be on their return, they have endured amazing hardships this campaign owing to the inclemency of the weather, & the faults in the Quarter masters Department. Gen. Frelinghuysen is to take charge of this as far as he goes & then to deposit it in the Post-Office—He says this Country looks as if the Deity had thrown all the Rocks & Stones in the whole World here & employed all the Devils to raise them into Mountains—They call them Nobs here, but to be sure the Nobs are such mountains as you never have & I hope never will see—A Gentleman who lately travelled to Pitts. said he had heard that it was hill & dale all the way, but he thought it was hill &hill & no dale. If nature had made a Gap for roads as well as for Rivers it would have been an accomodating circumstance—5 or 6 miles in advance of this we expect to strike into a different road from that which the Army is travelling, it would never do for us to encounter 500 waggons & 17000 troops, it is an important object to avoid the Army—At Morris [town, New Jersey] we took a ride of only 4 miles & broke the Axle tree of our Carriage & in all this length of way & bad-ness of roads no accident has as yet befallen us. I shall be extremely glad to write you the same from Pittsburgh—Mr. Symmes drives with great judgment, & where he thinks it most dangerous we get out of the Carriage—
I am anxious to hear from you, the accounts from mr. Jay must now be very interesting, I mean to the Public, they are always so to his friends.
God bless you all—
Our dr Susey is in perfect health, I am infinitely more uneasy on her account than my own, if it was not for her, I should travel on horseback, I can’t trust her in the Carnage without myself—This is the 4th scrawl I have forwarded to you since our journey commenced—
Nancy begs to be remembred, she is a very amiable girl, & a great comfort to me—My best love to Sister Ridley [Kitty Livingston Ridley] & our dr Nancy [Sarah’s Jay’s daughter Ann] & beleive me with the truest Affection yours—
Susan Symmes

We have a very strict Negro fellow in our retinue that shall carry Susey over the worst places—

The letter is part of the Jay Papers, Columbia Rare Books & Manuscripts Order no. 402136C.

posted November 10th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Ohio,Pennsylvania,Symmes, Susan Livingston,Travel

“that retiring grace, which awes whilst it enchants”

ABIGAIL ADAMS finishes her long letter to her sister Mary Cranch in which she described their experiences and the impressions she had of the places they stopped at and the people they met. The map of Devon shows these towns they visited: Axbridge, Exeter, Plymouth, and Kingsbridge. I have included Abigail’s description of members of the Cranch family because of the comments she makes about their place in British society and because she compares the class system in England to social status in the United States. Note Abigail’s comments on women: she was very critical of the behavior of upper class women in England and thought it appropriate that women affect a “retiring grace.”

Our next movement was to Kingsbridge. . . . the chief resort of the Cranch family. We arrived at the inn about six o’clock on Saturday evening. About eight, we were saluted with a ringing of bells, a circumstance we little expected. Very soon we were visited by the various branches of the Cranch family, both male and female, amounting to fifteen persons ; but, as they made a strange jumble in my head, I persuaded my fellow traveller to make me out a genealogical table, which I send you. Mr. and Mrs. Burnell, and Mr. and Mrs. Trathan, both offered us beds and accommodations at their houses; but we were too numerous to accept their kind invitations, though we engaged ourselves to dine with Mr. Burnell, and to drink tea with Mr. Trathan, the next dav. Mrs. Burnell has a strong resemblance to Mrs. Palmer. She is a genteel woman, and easy and polite. We dined at a very pretty dinner, and after meeting drank tea at the other house, Mr. Trathan’s. Their houses are very small, but every thing neat and comfortable. Mr. Burnell is a shoemaker, worth five thousand pounds; and Mr. Trathan a grocer, in good circumstances. The rest of the families joined us at the two houses. They are all serious, industrious, good people, amongst whom the greatest family harmony appears to subsist.

The people of this county appear more like our New England people than any I have met with in this country before; but the distinction between tradesmen and gentry, as they are termed, is widely different from that distinction in our country. With us, in point of education and manners, the learned professions, and many merchants, farmers and tradesmen, are upon an equality with the gentry of this country. It would be degrading to compare them with many of the nobility here.

As to the ladies of this country, their manners appear to be totally depraved. It is in the middle ranks of society, that virtue and morality are yet to be found. Nothing does more injury to the female character than frequenting public places; and the rage which prevails now for the watering-places, and the increased number of them, are become a national evil, as they promote and encourage dissipation, mix all characters promiscuously, and are the resort of the most unprincipled female characters, who are not ashamed to show their faces wherever men dare to go. Modesty and diffidence are called ill-breeding and ignorance of the world; an impudent stare is substituted in lieu of that modest deportment, and that retiring grace, which awes whilst it enchants. I have never seen a female model here of such unaffected, modest, and sweetly amiable manners as Mrs. Guild, Mrs. Russell, and many other American females exhibit.
Having filled eight pages, I think it is near time to hasten to a close. Cushing and Folger are both arrived; by each I have received letters from you. A new sheet of paper must contain a reply to them. This little space shall assure you of what is not confined to time or place, the ardent affection of your sister,
A. A.

Abigail’s letter is from the volume Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840.

posted August 15th, 2016 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Britain,Cranch, Mary (Smith),Travel

next page

   Copyright © 2019 In the Words of Women.