Archive for the ‘Capital of the United States’ Category

” … Nancy is much puzzled between Otto & Livingston.”

In 1778, two events changed the character of the Revolution. The British left Philadelphia for the Tory stronghold of New York which became the center of British power in America and was occupied until the end of the war. Also during that year France signed a Treaty of Alliance with the United States, bolstering its war effort with supplies, troops and naval vessels. Congress returned to Philadelphia, now in the hands of American forces under the command of General Benedict Arnold, and with elaborate ceremony welcomed the French minister to the United States.

Although her husband was still in the field and her son at school, Alice Shippen was once more back in her own home with her daughter Nancy, now fifteen, educated, “finished,” and more than ready to take her place in society. And to be courted. One of her suitors was Colonel Henry B. Livingston, a member of the wealthy New York Livingstons, who had served with valor during the war. Another was the secretary of the French Minister to the United States, Louis Guillaume Otto (on the left). Nancy Shippen. He soon became enamored of her to the point of composing music for her, exchanging poems with her, passing by her house on a regular basis, eventually visiting her frequently and playing the harpsichord with her. Nancy’s father, Dr. William Shippen, wrote this letter to his son Thomas who was back at school in Maryland after the new year festivities. He summarizes the situation nicely.

… Nancy is much puzzled between Otto & Livingston. She loves ye first & only esteems the last. On Monday she likes L & his fortune. On Tuesday even when O comes he is the angel. L will consummate immediately. O not these 2 years. L has solicited the Father & Mother. O is afraid of a denial. In short, we are all much puzzled. L has 12 or 15,000 hard. O has nothing now, but honorable expectations hereafter. A Bird in hand is worth 2 in a bush. They are both sensible. O handsome. What do you think of it?

Dr. Shippen’s letter appears in Nancy Shippen Her Journal Book, compiled and edited by Ethel Armes, page 101. The image of Otto, watercolor on ivory, ca. 1780, was painted by Charles Wilson Peale and is at the Smithsonian American Art Institute.

posted June 20th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Capital of the United States,Courtship,France,Philadelphia

More About Beautiful Nelly

In the hope that readers might enjoy some additional information about Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, herewith the following. A family portrait with Eleanor and her brother George Washington Parke Custis on the left.

Since Nelly was raised at Mount Vernon she knew her step grandfather’s habits firsthand.

He rose before sunrise, always wrote or read until 7 in summer or half past seven in winter. His breakfast was then ready—he ate three small mush cakes (Indian meal) swimming in butter and honey, and drank three cups of tea without cream.

Dubbed “hoecakes,” the Indian meal pancakes were so named because they were made on a griddle or hoe. Nelly even included the recipe in a letter she wrote.

The bread business is as follows if you wish to make 2 1/2 quarts of flour up-take at night one quart of flour, five table spoonfuls of yeast & as much lukewoarm water as will make it the consistency of pancake batter, mix it in a large stone pot & set it near a warm hearth (or a moderate fire) make it at candlelight & let it remain until the next morning then add the remaining quart & a half by degrees with a spoon when well mixed let it stand 15 or 20 minutes & then bake it – of this dough in the morning, beat up a white & half of the yolk of an egg – add as much lukewarm water as will make it like pancake batter, drop a spoonful at a time on a hoe or griddle (as we say in the south). When done on one side turn the other – the griddle must be rubbed in the first instance with a piece of beef suet or the fat of cold corned beef …

A modern adaptation of this recipe can be found here.

Nelly was a well educated young lady, taught mostly by tutors, although she did attend a fashionable school for a time in New York City when the family resided there during George Washington’s presidency. She received lessons in music and art and was expected to play this harpsichord for guests at Mount Vernon. She wrote to Elizabeth Bordley in 1797:

When my Harpsichord comes, I shall practice a great deal, & and make my Sister sing your parts of our Duetts. I think you had better come here to sing them with me. I do not despair of seeing you, & I shall be very much disappointed if you do not visit us.

When Nelly married Lawrence Lewis, Washington gave the couple some property on the grounds of Mount Vernon on which their home Woodlawn was built. Expanded to more than 2,000 acres, the plantation at one point had 100 workers of whom at least 90 were slaves. In 1952, the house and 126 acres became the first historic site owned by the National Trust.

Washington at Home lithograph, 1867, engraved by Henry Bryan after painting by Alonzo Chappel in the George Washington Collection of Washington College; recipe and photograph for hoecakes is at Mount Vernon; Nelly Custis’s harpsichord can be seen at Mount Vernon; the photograph of Woodlawn can be found here.

posted February 18th, 2013 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Capital of the United States,Education,Food,New York,Recipes,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

The Presidents House

Washington became the capital of the United States in the summer of 1800. In November of that year President John Adams and his wife Abigail took up residence in that city and the house built for the president. Abigail described her new surroundings in a letter to her daughter Nabby.

Washington, 21 November, 1800city, which is only so in name. Here and there is a small cot[tage], without a glass window, interspersed amongst the forests, through which you travel miles without seeing any human being. In the city there are buildings enough, if they were compact and finished, to accommodate Congress and those attached to it; but as they are, and scattered as they are, I see no great comfort for them.

The [President’s] house is upon a grand and superb scale, requiring about thirty servants to attend and keep the apartments in proper order, and perform the ordinary business of the house and stables; an establishment very ill proportioned to the President’s salary. The lighting the apartments, from the kitchen to parlours and chambers is a tax indeed; and the fires we are obliged to keep to secure us from daily agues is another very cheering comfort. … if they will … let me have wood enough to keep fires, I design to be pleased. I could content myself almost anywhere three months; but surrounded with forests, can you believe that wood is not to be had because people cannot be found to cut and cart it? … We have, indeed, come into a new country.

You must keep all this to yourself, and, when asked how I like it, say that I write you the situation is beautiful, which is true. The house is made habitable, but there is not a single apartment finished. … We have not the least fence, yard, or other convenience, without, and the great unfinished audience-room I made a drying-room of, to hang up the clothes in. The principal stairs are not up, and will not be this winter. Six chambers are made comfortable; two are occupied by the President and Mr. Shaw*; two lower rooms, one for a common parlour, and one for a levee-room. Upstairs there is the oval room, which is designed for the drawingroom, and has the crimson furniture in it. It is a very handsome room now; but, when completed, it will be beautiful. If the twelve years, in which this place has been considered as the future seat of government, had been improved, as they would have been if in New England, very many of the present inconveniences would have been removed. It is a beautiful spot, capable of every improvement, and the more I view it, the more I am delighted with it. …
Affectionately, your mother
* William Smith Shaw, the son of Abigail Adams’s sister Elizabeth, was the president’s private secretary.

In early November John, already in Washington, sent a note to Abigail expressing the hope that “none but honest and wise men [shall] ever rule under this roof.”

The letter appears in The White House: A History of the Presidents by Kenneth W. Leish, pages 138-139. The painting is by William Birch ca. 1800.

posted October 25th, 2012 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Capital of the United States

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