“my assembly’s adventure”

Eliza Southgate Bowne was born in Scarborough, Maine, in 1783. Her father was a doctor who, because he was familiar with the law, was eventually appointed a judge. Her mother, Mary King, came from a wealthy Maine family. Mrs. Southgate’s brother was Rufus King who played an important role in the Revolution and early years of the nation.

Eliza’s correspondence is a delightful collection of letters to family and friends during her lifetime, including the years in which she attended Susannah Rowson’s Young Ladies Academy in Boston (Rowson deserves attention for herself: she was an actor, a writer, and an educator. In 1791, she wrote America’s first best-selling novel Charlotte Temple.) Eliza’s letters to her cousin Moses Porter, the son of one of her mother’s sisters, are some of the most delightful. In this one Eliza describes a winter storm which does not deter her from attending an assembly (a ball). I hope you get a chuckle out of this.

Such a frolic! Such a chain of adventures I never before met with—nay, the page of romance never presented its equal. ’Tis now Monday—but a little more method, that I may be understood. I have just ended my assembly’s adventure; never got home till this morning. Thursday it snowed violently—indeed for two days before it had been storming so much that the snow-drifts were very large; however, as it was the last assembly, I could not resist the temptation of going, as I knew all the world would be there.

About seven I went down-stairs and found young Charles Coffin, the minister, in the parlor. After the usual inquiries were over, he stared a while at my feathers and flowers, asked if I was going out. I told him I was going to the assembly. “Think, Miss Southgate,” said he, after a long pause, “Do you think you would go out to meeting in such a storm as this?” Then assuming a tone of reproof, he entreated me to examine well my feelings on such an occasion. I heard in silence, unwilling to begin an argument that I was unable to support. The stopping of the carriage roused me; I immediately slipped on my socks and coat and met Horatio and Mr. Motley in the entry. The snow was deep, but Mr. Motley took me up in his arms and sat me in the carriage without difficulty. I found a full assembly, many married ladies, and every one disposed to end the winter in good spirits.

At one we left dancing and went to the card-room to wait for a coach. It stormed dreadfully; the hacks were all employed as soon as they returned, and we could not get one till three o’clock. . . . It was the most violent storm I ever knew, there were now twenty in waiting, the gentlemen scolding and fretting, the ladies murmuring and complaining. One hack returned; all flocked to the stairs to engage a seat. So many crowded down that ’twas impossible to get past; luckily I was one of the first. . . . None but ladies were permitted to get into the carriage; it presently was stowed in [so] full that the horses could not move. . . . The carriage at length started. . . . When we found ourselves in the street, the first thing was to find out who was in the carriage, and where we were all going, who first must be left. Luckily, two gentlemen had followed by the side of the carriage, and when it stopped took out the ladies as they got to their houses. . . . We at length arrived at the place of our destination. . . . the gentlemen then proceeded to take us out. My beau, unused to carrying such a weight of sin [and] folly, sunk under its pressure, and I was obliged to carry my mighty self through the snow, which almost buried me. Such a time! I never shall forget it. My great-grandmother never told any of her youthful adventures to equal it.

The story continues in the next post.

The miniature is by Edward Greene Malbone (1777-1809); Eliza poised for her portrait in New York City on June 18th, 1803, the year of her marriage to Walter Bowne.

posted February 6th, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Amusements, Bowne, Eliza Southgate, Education, Fashion, Weather


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