Archive for the ‘Washington, George’ Category

“A lock of the General’s hair”

On February 22, just in time for George Washington’s birthday, an article in the newspaper announced that an archivist at Union College (Schenectady, NY) library had found an uncatalogued volume, its brown pages frayed, on the shelves. A ho-hum moment you may think, but, upon closer examination, it seems that the book, an almanac from 1793, had belonged to Philip J. Schuyler, son of General Philip John Schuyler, a Revolutionary War hero and a founder of the College. Hidden inside the pages was an envelope with the words “Washington’s Hair”—indeed there was a lock of hair! Although we may view this type of souvenir as a bit odd today, in the 18th century, hair clippings were commonly taken as souvenirs to be placed in rings or lockets. They were tokens of friendship as well as remembrance.

When John Jay was named minister plenipotentiary to Spain in late September 1779, his wife Sarah Livingston Jay was determined to accompany him even though she would be leaving her family, her young son Peter Augustus, and her home, perhaps never to return. (Ocean travel, especially in time of war, was not for the faint of heart.) The Jays and George Washington were friends but Sarah may also have been showing her patriotic support when she wrote General Washington a letter requesting a lock of his hair. Washington had a good head of hair as can be seen in Gilbert Stuart’s portrait. He replied:

West-point Octobr 7th 1779General Washington presents his most respectful compliments to Mrs. Jay. Honoured in her request . . . he takes pleasure in presenting the inclosed,* with thanks for so polite a testimony of her approbation & esteem. He wishes most fervently, that prosperous gales an unruffled Sea & every Thing pleasing & desirable, may smooth the path she is about to walk in.

*Sarah noted on the letter, “A lock of the General’s hair.”

Sarah probably took the lock with her to Europe but we don’t know in what. In a frame, or even an almanac? John Jay had the lock of hair incorporated into a pin while in London in 1784.

The General was generous with gifts of his hair during his lifetime. When he retired from the presidency in 1797, Elizabeth Stoughton Wolcott, wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Oliver Wolcott, requested a lock of his hair as a memento. The story is that Martha Washington took out a pair of scissors then and there and cut off not only a lock of her husband’s hair but also of her own to give Mrs. Wolcott.

From Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge, Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), p. 61. Pin with hair, John Jay Homestead, Katonah, N.Y. Lock of hair in a locket, at Mt. Vernon Collections, W-1150. Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828), unfinished, 1796, Boston MFA.

posted March 12th, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Fashion,Friendship,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Washington, George,Washington, Martha,Wolcott, Elizabeth Stoughton

“great severities from the Frigidness”

John Jay, having been named minister plenipotentiary to Spain, sailed for Europe on October 20, 1779, accompanied by his wife Sarah. Their ship Confederacy met with severe weather and barely made it to Martinique where there was a considerable layover until another vessel could be secured. Catharine (Kitty) Livingston wrote, on 13 February 1780, to her sister from Philadelphia, expressing her concern.

How my dear sweet Sister was you supported in the hours of trial and danger; the appearance of death in so terrible a manner must have awaken[ed] every fear. You have indeed seen the wonders of the deep, and experienced in a remarkable manner the goodness and mercy of an indulgent providence. Your Friends have all reason to bless and thank God for his interposition in your favor, and it ought to console and encourage us to trust in the Author of your Salvation—For he spoke and it was done. he commanded and it stood fast.

Kitty continued, recounting details of the severe winter the country was enduring, envying (when she had thought Sarah was safely in Spain) “the temperance of your climate, whilst we were exposed to great severities from the Frigidness of ours.”

Our Winter set in earlier and with more Severity than is remembered by the Oldest liver among us. The year thirty five, and forty is agreed from circumstances not [to] be compared to this; in neither of those severe Seasons was the Chesapeake at & twenty Miles below Anopolis a firm bridge as is and has been a long time the case. In Virginia it has impeded all Trade, several of there Vessels have been cut to peices and sunk by the ice. The Merchants here think many of there Vessels that they expected in have perished on our coast, the last that got in was the Jay*; and that was in November, and she was much injured by the Ice and it was expected for several days that she and her cargo would be lost.

To the Eastward the Snow impeded all traveling to the State of New York—it cut of[f] Communication from Neighbour to Neighbour. The last accounts from Fish Kill it was four feet deep on a level. Numbers of Families in this City have suffered from its severity altho many among them made great exertions for their releif. In New York the want of fuel was never known like it, they cut down every stick of timber on Mr. Byard’s place** and would not permit [him] to keep any tho he offered to buy it. Several gentlemen went upon long Island and felled the trees, and after bringing it to town with their own horses it was seized for the Kings Troops [New York was occupied by the British], its reported of two families that the want of wood obliged them to lay a bed a week . . . .

You shall hear from me by every opportunity; at least I will write by every one. This letter is going to New London. I shall write to morrow by a Vessel that is to sail from Boston—till then I bid you adieu

* The ship, the Jay, was a Pennsylvania vessel of eighteen guns. There were three other vessels in the Continental service named Jay. One was Lady Jay. They saw action in the Revolution.
** William Bayard was a New York merchant who, initially sympathetic to the Patriot cause, ultimately became a firm Loyalist.

And we complain of the frigid weather and snow we have had recently (and, no doubt, more to come) when most of us are comfortable in our heated houses and can stay warm under our electric blankets!!

Kitty Livingston was not exaggerating in her description of the winter of 1779-80. George Washington, from his winter quarters in Morristown, New Jersey, wrote to Lafayette in March 1780, “The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before.” There were twenty-six snow storms in New Jersey, six of which were blizzards. The illustration shows the type of hut soldiers encamped at Jockey Hill near Morristown occupied.

According to historian Ray Raphael, writing in the American History Magazine 2/4/2010:

In January 1780 . . . Mother Nature transformed America into a frigid hell. For the only time in recorded history, all of the saltwater inlets, harbors and sounds of the Atlantic coastal plain, from North Carolina northeastward, froze over and remained closed to navigation for a period of a month or more. Sleighs, not boats, carried cords of firewood across New York Harbor from New Jersey to Manhattan. The upper Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and the York and James rivers in Virginia turned to ice. In Philadelphia, the daily high temperature topped the freezing mark only once during the month of January, prompting Timothy Matlack, the patriot who had inscribed the official copy of the Declaration of Independence, to complain that “the ink now freezes in my pen within five feet of the fire in my parlour, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

Kitty’s letter is in The John Jay Papers in the Columbia Digital Library Collections and can be seen HERE.

posted February 12th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Livingston, Catharine "Kitty",Maryland,Morristown, New Jersey,New York,Philadelphia,Virginia,Washington, George,Weather,Winter of 1780

“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

Washington’s Encampment at Verplanck 1782

Having recently visited the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and written about it in this post, I am tempted to return to see a special limited-run exhibit there from January 13 to February 19. On display will be a newly discovered seven-foot-long watercolor painting of Washington’s Encampment in Verplanck, New York, on the banks of Hudson River in 1782. The meticulously detailed painting by Pierre Charles L’Enfant shows the tents of various regiments and on a hilltop the only known wartime depiction of George Washington’s traveling canvas headquarters tent. The actual tent is a prize artifact at the Museum of the American Revolution. Below is the part of the panoramic painting that shows Washington’s tent.

Read about the discovery of this painting in this New York Times article.

I am excited about this painting not only because the Verplanck Encampment is in the Lower Hudson Valley where I live but also because it is directly across from the Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site of which my friend Julia Warger is the manager. She is over the moon about this discovery and she and her staff are poring over a highly enlarged reproduction of a section of the watercolor she received from the Philadelphia Museum.

Stony Point is the scene of the battle in which Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, on July 16, 1779, led his troops in a daring midnight attack on the British garrison seizing its fortifications and taking the soldiers and camp followers prisoners. The site is also the location of the Hudson River’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1826. Presently decommissioned it’s worth seeing if only for the spectacular view it affords up and down the river.

posted December 4th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Art,Battles,L'Enfant, Pierre Charles,Museums,Primary sources,Stony Point Battlefield,Verplanck Encampment,Washington, George,Wayne, Brigadier General Anthony

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