Archive for the ‘Friendship’ 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

George Washington: “one of my best Friends and Favorites”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL was a renowned hostess and the Powel home on Third Street in central Philadelphia was the gathering place for important political and social figures of Revolutionary America and the early republic. Elizabeth and her husband were close personal friends of George and Martha Washington. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, with Martha back in Mount Vernon, Washington was often in the company of the Powels. He particularly enjoyed conversing with Elizabeth who was brilliant, well educated, and outspoken in her opinions. In a letter Elizabeth wrote to Mrs. William [Ann Bolling Randolph] Fitzhugh in July 1786 she refers to George Washington as “one of my best Friends and Favorites.” Elizabeth Powel either wrote or copied verses which she sent to Washington on his birthday in 1792 beginning with the line: “No Peerage we covet, No Sceptres desire.”

In the following letter, dated 9 January 1792, Elizabeth Willing Powel informs George Washington that she is sending information about a possible treatment for his nephew George Augustine Washington who was suffering from tuberculosis. The preparation of the medicine koumiss, fermented mare’s milk, described by John Grieve was published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1788. Writing that it was “recommended as an almost universal remedy”— Elizabeth quickly anticipates Washington”s reaction—”which I know you will say proves too much and rather savours of Quackery; yet the Authorities appear so respectable and the Object of the Publication so benevolent, that I think it is entitled to considerable Confidence and Attention. . .” She then waxes philosophical, considering whether

the protracting human Life is adding to the Mass of Happiness. But what is this Life that we should be so over studious to prolong the Respiration of that Breath which may with so much Ease be all breathed out at once as by so many successive Millions of Moments? For surely there are more exquisite Pains than Pleasures in Life, and it seems to me that it would be a greater Happiness at once to be freed forever from the former than by such an irksome Composition to protract the Enjoyment of the latter. We must all die, and, I believe there is no Terror in Death but what is created by the Magic of Opinion, nor probably any greater Pain than attended our Birth. As I suppose at our Dissolution every Particle of which we are compounded returns to its proper original Element and that which is divine in us returns to that which is divine in the Universe.
I most sincerely wish you the two Extremes of Happiness—fullness of Joys in this Life and an immortal Series of Felicities in Heaven. I am dear Sir with Respect & Esteem your affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 9 January 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 9, 23 September 1791 – 29 February 1792, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000, pp. 419–420.] The photographs are from Wikimedia Commons. Use of the parlor photo was given to Wikipedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

posted August 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Friendship,Illness,Medicine,Philadelphia,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George,Washington, George Augustine

“the relation of lover and mistress”

ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH was the sister of Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth, usually called Eliza or Betsy. They were the two eldest of the eight children—Angelica one year older than Eliza— of soldier and statesman Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer both of whose families were wealthy Dutch landowners. The Schuylers lived in Albany where the girls were educated by their mother and private tutors.

Alexander Hamilton met Eliza in Morristown, New Jersey, the Continental Army’s winter quarters, in 1780 where she had come to stay with relatives. Hamilton was smitten; he wrote to his friend John Laurens in March 1780:

I give up my liberty to Miss Schuyler. She is a good-hearted girl who, I am sure, will never play the termagant. Though not a genius, she has good sense enough to be agreeable, and though not a beauty she has fine black eyes, is rather handsome, and has every other requisite of the exterior to make a lover happy.

Hamilton married Eliza but he was also drawn to her sister Angelica whom he also met in 1780. Angelica was gay, witty, vivacious and interested in politics. In 1777 Angelica had married John Church, an Englishman who left for America under suspicious circumstances. Since her father did not approve of the match the pair eloped. Church made a fortune in the Revolution; after the war he and Angelica settled in London where John became a member of Parliament and Angelica established herself as a noted hostess. Angelica and Hamilton corresponded frequently during her stay abroad.

Angelica also made a friend of Thomas Jefferson who was serving as minister to France. Although they were on opposite sides of the political scene in America—Federalists vs Republicans—the two also corresponded. They had discussions about the appropriate roles for women, Jefferson expressing the view that “French ladies miscalculate their happiness when they wander from the true field of their influence into politics.” (Recall the exchanges Jefferson had had with Ann Willing Bingham on this subject here, here, and here. Angelica and Jefferson also corresponded in language that is quite intimate and flirtatious. They worked together to assist victims of the French Revolution.

Hamilton’s letters to Angelica in London were also intimate and flirtatious. Just after the Churches left in 1785 he wrote:

You have I fear taken a final leave of America and of those that love you here. I saw you depart from Philadelphia with peculiar uneasiness, as if foreboding you were not to return. My apprehensions are confirmed and unless I see you in Europe I expect not to see you again.
This is the impression we all have; judge the bitterness it gives to those who love you with the love of nature and to me who feel an attachment for you not less lively.

He wrote on December 6, 1787, thanking her for some information she had sent him.

. . . I can not . . . resist the strong desire I feel of thankg you for your invaluable letter by the last packet. Imagine, if you are able, the pleasure it gave me. Notwithstanding the compliment you pay to my eloquence its resources could give you but a feeble image of what I should wish to convey.
This you will tell me is poetical enough. I seldom write to a lady without fancying the relation of lover and mistress. It has a very inspiring effect. And in your case the dullest materials could not help feeling that propensity.

More about Hamilton and Angelica Church in the next post.

Sources for LETTER to John Laurens and Hamilton’s letters to Angelica: “From Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [3 August 1785] also Alexander Hamilton to Angelica Church, [6 December 1787 Founders Online, National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, [Original source: The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 3, 1782–1786, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962, pp. 619–620 and pp. 374–376.] The portrait of Angelica Schuyler Church, son Philip, and a servant is by John Trumbull (1785).

posted July 14th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Bingham, Anne Willing,Church, Angelica Schuyler,French Revolution,Friendship,Hamilton, Alexander,Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler,Jefferson, Thomas,Letter-writing,New York

Before They Became Sister-in-laws: Louisa and Nabby

Interesting in the light of the subsequent connection between Louisa Catherine Johnson and Abigail “Nabby” Adams as sister-in-laws is their relationship before the family tie was even dreamed of. In 1783 the Johnsons returned to London where Louisa’s father became the American consul. Nabby married Colonel William Stephens Smith in London in 1786, and when she and her husband, after an absence, returned to London in 1792, they socialized with the Johnsons, and Nabby and Louisa became good friends. See a post by Nabby Adams here.

Our acquaintance was enlarged and I will say improved—the very familiar footing on which we lived made their society delightful to us. Whenever the Col dined from home Mrs. S. would bring her Children early in the morning and pass the day with us and as this happened very frequently it brought us together continually—It was my delight to dress her and I was often employed in making up Articles of Millinery which I used to insist upon her wearing and in which she looked beautiful—She was one of the most placid quiet beings I ever saw; very cold in her general manners; but when she laughed or entered into the spirit of gaiety which was very often, she seemed to be the life of the party—She would romp or dance and partake of all the jokes like one of us and she was perfectly adored by the family—The Col’s manners . . . were irrisistable and we seldom sat down to our favorite Suppers without him—

Thus years rolled on and we were too happy to think of the lapse of time. In the Summer the Col and my father took a house between them at Brighton where we lived together six weeks but the air disagreed so much with my Mother we were obliged to leave it and we all returned to Town together—

Mrs. Smith was one of the most really amiable women I ever saw, and under the appearance of coldness and reserve was very affectionate in her disposition—. . . . I loved her then and still better after I became her Sister [in-law]. At that period we had little idea that such a circumstance would ever happen—

The information and quoted passages are from A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C. James Taylor (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), pages 19-20. The illustration of Louisa was created between 1834 and 1860 and is from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a16702.

posted October 6th, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Louisa Catherine,Americans Abroad,Children,Clothes,Friendship,London,Smith, Abigail "Nabby" Adams

“I have stood long in the vineyard”

One of the last letters Mercy Otis Warren wrote to Sarah Cary follows. (See previous post here.) In it she contemplates her death and counts her life’s blessings:

February 7th 1802 This day counts up to twelve months since I have been able to read a page or take up my pen. You who can contemplate the wisdom and goodness of divine dispensation, who have health and vigour both of body and mind, cannot be indisposed to write and haste to strengthen the mental views of a friend, whose outworks are weakened and corporeal sight darkened. But you have cares, lovely cares, a family who I hope promises to reward every attention that occupies the time of so good a mother. I, too, have had the important charge committed to me, of educating youth of the best disposition, and regret that it has not been executed in a more perfect manner, yet hope I have not lived in vain.

I have stood long in the vineyard and seen many, many indeed, drop around me younger than myself and perhaps better qualified for useful labour. You my dear, Mrs. Cary are almost the only female friend I have left, to whom I can without restraint pour out the flow of thoughts as they arrive, amidst the chequered hue of my span of life. But the first friend of my heart still lives, and enjoys as much health and happiness, as any one who has seen such a variety of change, who has consigned to the grave three dutiful and amiable sons, as accomplished friends in the zenith of usefulness & capacity that fed the fondest hopes of the parent. I will be silent on the theme,—and consider, the sovereign Lord of all who lent, “has took but what he gave.”

I have two sons yet left to smooth the pillow of age, who I hope will be spared to fill up a useful life, after they have closed the eyes of their affectionate parents.

Tell me in your next if there is not a probability, if we should both stand a year or two longer, that we may have another interview before we mix with our departed friends and innumerable rational existences, inhabitants of worlds unknown. I hope you do not think I write in a gloomy style. I do not feel as if I did. I tread down the remnant of life with a tolerable degree of chearfulness—my days are tranquil, my nights not wearisome: I wake in the morning with a mind [filled?] with gratitude that it is as well with me as it is.

Richards, Jeffrey H. and Sharon M. Harris, eds., Mercy Otis Warren Selected Letters (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2009), ONLINE, page 250.

posted June 23rd, 2014 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children,Friendship,Warren, Mercy Otis

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