Archive for the ‘Primary sources’ Category

“the horses might repine for want of their Coach”

Here is the first page of the letter (in his own hand) that George Washington wrote to ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL describing the horses she proposed to buy. His care and concern for the animals is clear. As is his sense of humor! Powel took delivery of the six horses (previous post) but did not purchase the carriage. A transcription of the complete letter follows.

My dear Madam,

I accept your offer for my coach horses, to be delivered after the third of March in good order.

I bred them myself, and therefore cannot be mistaken in their ages; — ten and eleven is the extent. — No horses of true spirit can be more gentle; and never having received a fright are afraid of nothing. — One of them was a little unwell about a month ago, but is now perfectly recovered, and is used (as you may have perceived) whenever the carriage is out. —

No horses are better broke—none go quieter when drove by a person on the box, and I dare say would go as well with a Postilion (being perfectly good tempered) but as I never used them in that way, this is conjectural. As the leader of four (in hand) and as Pole enders with six, they are equally docile and steady. —

As the Coach would be lonesome without the horses — and the horses might repine for want of their Coach (having been wedded together seven years) you had better take both. — It is a very easy and convenient carriage for the City, but too heavy for the Road — thence I part with it; — and will let it go cheap.
Truly & affectionately
I have the honor to be
Your Most obed’t & obliged
Go Washington

Monday afternoon
6th February 1797

When six horses were used with a carriage two were the leaders, the second two were “pole enders,” and the ones nearest the carriage were “wheelers.” Washington frequently referred to his state carriage as a “chariot.”

Washington’s letter appears HERE.

posted September 14th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Primary sources,Washington, George

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

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

“My Dearest Friend”

I’m putting off writing about Alexander Hamilton’s friendship(?) with his sister-in-law until next time because I want to draw your attention to a performance of an opera based on the letters of Abigail and John Adams called My Dearest Friend to be performed this weekend (July 2) at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts. I wish I were able to go but since I cannot I am hoping that some of my readers might. I have always loved the Adams correspondence and compliment Patricia Leonard for using selected letters as lyrics. Featured will be soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer as Abigail and baritone Charles Taylor as John. I was alerted to this performance by J. L. Bell’s excellent blog Boston 1775.
When my colleagues Louise North and Landa Freeman and I were mulling over titles for our book about the correspondence between John Jay and his wife Sarah Livingston Jay, we decided on My Dearest Best of Friends, a salutation frequently used in their letters. Our publisher sadly nixed it opting for the rather dull and academic Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay. We always thought that the Jay letters rivaled the Adams correspondence, a close second perhaps. Maybe someone will do an opera based on the Jay correspondence.

posted June 30th, 2016 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Letter-writing,Primary sources

Research Rapture

When Louise North, Landa Freeman and I assembled, selected, and edited the letters for our first book, Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005), we spent an enormous amount of time in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University which housed the bulk of the Jay Papers. Each of us focused on a particular person and received manuscript letters we requested, in file folders, three at a time. Sitting side by side at long tables we transcribed those we thought were especially interesting, at first with pencil on paper, later using early generation laptop computers. The puzzle of an undecipherable word was usually solved by a whispered conference as were decisions as to whether a letter was upper or lower case. Of course, we tracked down other materials and physically visited the libraries and historical societies where they were located. Our final selections were made in weekly meetings where we read promising letters aloud. (We were having one such meeting at my house on the morning of September 11, 2001, when having been alerted by a phone call, we turned on the television set and watched in horror the attack on the World Trade Center.)

Reading a recent column in The New York Times Book Review titled “Under No Certain Search Terms” by Janice P. Nimura brought back memories of our research experience. Nimura speaks of “‘research rapture’—the rare and ecstatic moment when you slip the bonds of the present and follow a twinkling detail into the past.” I know it well. A letter written by Sarah Jay to her mother that made its way across the Atlantic from Spain to Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1780, containing the news that the child she had recently given birth to had died produced tears on first reading, and still does today. Marveling over a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to John Jay from Paris in 1789 describing the various wines he was sending him after a tour of French vineyards, I could barely wrap my head around the thought that both men had touched the page I was reading. John Jay always noted on the top left corner of the reverse side the date on which he received the letter and when or if he responded to it. It was difficult to call a halt to the research process, as anyone who has written a thesis or book will admit.

Our experience in producing our next book, In the Words of Women, was rather different. I’ll write about that in the next post.

posted March 3rd, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Jay, John,Jay, Sarah Livingston,Primary sources,Reading old documents

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