A New England Bride in New York

I hope, dear reader, you are as enamored as I am with Elizabeth Southgate (1783–1809). See previous post and others here, here, here, here, and here. She married Walter Bowne, a wealthy Quaker from Flushing, Long Island, in 1803. (See post describing her first meeting with him.) Following is a letter she wrote to her sister Octavia describing her impressions of New York City, the fashions, and her happiness in her marriage.

New York 6 June, 1803.I have so much to say, where shall I begin? My head is most turned, and yet I am very happy. I am enraptured with New York. You cannot imagine anything half so beautiful as Broadway, and I am sure you would say I was more romantic than ever, if I should attempt to describe the Battery—the elegant water prospect—you can have no idea how refreshing in a warm evening. The gardens we have not yet visited—indeed we have so many delightful things ’twill take me forever, and my husband declares he takes as much pleasure in showing them to me as I do in seeing them; you would believe it if you saw him. . . .
Caroline and I went a-shopping yesterday, and ’tis a fact that the little white satin Quaker bonnets, cap-crowns, are the most fashionable that are worn—lined with pink or blue or white—but I’ll not have one, for if any of my old acquaintance should meet me in the street they would laugh; I would if I were they. I mean to send sister Boyd a Quaker cap, the first tasty one I see. Caroline’s are too plain, but she has promised to get me a more fashionable pattern. ’Tis the fashion, I see nothing new or pretty—large sheer-muslin shawls . . . are much worn; they show the form through, and look pretty. Silk nabobs, plaided, colored and white, are much worn—very short waists—hair very plain . . . .
Last night we were at the play—“The way to get married.” Mr. Hodgkinson in Tangent is inimitable. Mrs. Johnson, a sweet, interesting actress, in Julia, and Jefferson, a great comic player, were all that were particularly pleasing. House was very thin—so late in the season. . . .
As to house-keeping, we don’t begin to talk anything of it yet. Mr. Bowne says not till October—however, you shall hear all our plans. I anticipate so much happiness—I am sure if anybody ought to, I may. My heart is full sometimes when I think how much more blest I am than most of the world. . . .
Thursday morning—I have been to two of the gardens; Columbia, near the Battery—a most romantic, beautiful place—’tis enclosed in a circular form and little rooms and boxes all round—with tables and chairs—these full of company; the trees all interspersed with lamps twinkling through the branches; in the centre a pretty little building with a fountain playing continually. The rays of the lamps on the drops of water gave it a cool sparkling appearance that was delightful…. Here we strolled among the trees and every moment met some walking from the thick shade unexpectedly—and come upon us before we heard a sound—’twas delightful. We passed a box that Miss Watts was in; she called us, and we went in and had a charming, refreshing glass of ice-cream—which has chilled me ever since. They have a fine orchestra, and have concerts here sometimes. I can conceive of nothing more charming than this must be.
We went on to the Battery. This is a large promenade by the shore of the North River—very extensive; rows and clusters of trees in every part, and a large walk along the shore, almost over the water, gives you such a fresh, delightful air that every evening in summer [it] is crowded with company. Here, too, they have music playing on the water in boats of a moonlight night.
Last night we went to a garden a little out of town—Mount Vernon Garden. This, too, is surrounded by boxes of the same kind, with a walk on top of them—you can see the gardens all below—but ’tis a summer playhouse—pit and boxes, stage and all, but open on top; from this there are doors opening into the garden, which is similar to Columbia Garden, lamps among the trees, large mineral fountain, delightful swings, two at a time. I was in raptures, as you may imagine, and, if I had not grown sober before I came to this wonderful place, ’twould have turned my head. . . . I have so much to tell you, and of those that have called on me, I have no room to say half. . . . Adieu; I am expecting to hear from you every day. Mr. Bowne is out, would send a great deal of love if he were here. . . . Our best love to my father and mother—Horatio, Isabella and all. I mean to write as soon as I am settled a little—adieu.

From A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vol. IV: Literature of the Republic, Part I., Constitutional period, 1788–1820
, Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. By permission of Mr. Walter Lawrence, from Letters copied from the originals by his mother, Mrs. Mary King Bowne Laurence appearing online HERE.

posted April 20th, 2015 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Amusements, Bowne, Eliza Southgate, Bowne, Walter, Fashion, Marriage, New York


zero comments so far

Please share your thoughts with us; leave a comment below.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


   Copyright © 2021 In the Words of Women.