Archive for the ‘Primary sources’ Category

“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

“Niagara Falls: the grandest sight imaginable”

The article I wrote for the online Journal of the American Revolution has appeared. “Niagara Falls: the grandest sight imaginable” is in the August issue and can be found here. I enjoyed doing it as it involved more research into primary sources—I had to include the observations of a few men in addition those of the women (which I already had as a result of my work on the book In the Words of Women). Do have a look. You might want to subscribe to this Journal which is relatively new; it has a number of interesting articles in each issue. I’m searching for another topic on which to write a piece.

The illustration is a watercolor of Niagara Falls from the Canadian side painted by Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim Graves Simcoe in 1791.

posted August 27th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Ashby, George,Izard, Ralph,Niagara Falls,Powell, Ann,Primary sources,Research,Schieffelin, Hannah Lawrence,Simcoe, Elizabeth,Weld, Isaac Jr.

Look for … “The fall . . . is the grandest sight imaginable”

Do check out the online Journal of the American Revolution. An article I wrote about Niagara Falls titled “The fall . . . is the grandest sight imaginable” will be published in the August edition. It includes descriptions of the Falls by several visitors, both men and women (among them Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin, Anne Powell, and Elizabeth Simcoe) who journeyed to see the cataract that was already famous in the eighteenth century. I’m sure you will find other items to pique your interest.

posted July 23rd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Niagara Falls,Powell, Ann,Primary sources,Schieffelin, Hannah Lawrence,Simcoe, Elizabeth

“Ninteenth Century Fantasy vs Eighteenth Century Reality”

Nancy K. Loane, the author of the book Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment (see previous post) has an essay in the appendix called “Making the Myth of Martha Washington.” It deals with the untruths and inaccuracies which over time have grown up around Martha Washington and the role she played as the wife of George Washington, particularly in the winter encampments of the Continental Army, both at Valley Forge and elsewhere. At issue is whether Mrs. Washington personally met with and gave solace and assistance to ordinary soldiers. Part of the problem is due to the fact that Martha destroyed almost all of her correspondence with her husband and there is little in her correspondence with others that confirms such contact. Those who have attributed such a role to her have depended on the writings of others, on oral histories which are suspect, or, indeed, have made up stories out of whole cloth. Examining various sources that make reference to such a role for Martha, Ms. Loane can find not one that is credible. The clincher for the author is that “the concept of the benevolent lady out among the poor and suffering soldiers belongs to the Romantic nineteenth century not the tradition-bound eighteenth century.”

As for Martha Washington’s appearance, I did like the impression Elizabeth Schuyler (she became the wife of Alexander Hamilton) had of her at Morristown, where Martha’s main contacts were the wives of other generals and her husband’s aides.

She received [my aunt and me] so kindly, kissing us both, for the general and papa were very warm friends. She was then nearly fifty years old, but was still handsome. She was quite short; a plump little woman with dark brown eyes, her hair a little frosty, and very plainly dressed for such a grand lady as I considered her. She wore a plain, brown gown of homespun stuff, a large white handkerchief, a neat cap,and her plain gold wedding ring, which she had worn for more than twenty years. She was always my ideal of a true woman.

Schuyler’s description is in Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment, page 190, taken from Hugh Howard, Houses of the Founding Fathers (New York: Artisan, 2007), page 147. The portrait of Martha Washington is by Gilbert Stuart, 1796.

posted May 1st, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Patriots,Primary sources,Valley Forge,Washington, Martha

next page

   Copyright © 2017 In the Words of Women.