” … [our] dress and lips were put in order for conquest … “

With the British threatening Philadelphia in 1777, Sarah “Sally” Wister and her siblings had been taken by their parents for safety to a relative in North Wales, Pennsylvania. The well-educated sixteen-year-old was delighted when General William Smallwood of Maryland, asked to use the house as his headquarters. Unable to post letters because of the fighting, she chronicled her flirtations and other news in a journal for her best friend Deborah Norris in Philadelphia to read later.

To Deborah Norris.
Tho’ I have not the least shadow of an opportunity to send a letter, if I do write, I will keep a sort of journal of the time that may expire before I see thee, the perusal of it may some time hence give pleasure in a solitary hour. …
5th day septm 26th … our cousin Jesse heard that Gen Howe’s Army had move down towards Philadelphia, Then my dear our hopes & fears were engage’d for you however my advice is summon up all your resolution, call Fortitude to your aid, dont suffer your spirits to sink, my dear; theres nothing like courage, tis what I stand in need of myself but unfortunately have little of it in my composition. …

Oct the 19th 1777 [20th] seconday. … [in] the afternoon Cousin Prissa [Priscilla] and myself were sitting at thee door I in a green skirt dark short gown, &c. Two genteel men of the military order rode up to the door. Your servant ladies, &c ask’d if they cou’d have quarters for Genl Smallwood. Aunt [Hannah] Foulke thought she cou’d accommodate them … one of the officers dismounted and wrote Smallwoods quarters over the door which secur’d us from straggling soldiers. After this he mounted his steed and rode away. When we were alone [our] dress and lips were put in order for conquest and the hopes of adventures gave brightness to each before passive countenance. … I feel in good spirits tho surrounded by an Army, the house full of officers, yard alive with soldiers, very peaceable sort of men tho’, they eat like other folks, talk like them, and behave themselves with elegance, so I will not be afraid of them. That I wont. Adieu I am going to my chamber to dream, I suppose, of bayonets and swords, sashes, guns, and epaulets. …

Third day [Oct. 28] . … when will sallys admirers appear? ah that indeed. Why Sally has not charms sufficient to pierce the heart of a soldier, but I won’t dispair.
Who knows what mischief I yet may do. …

Surprisingly, Sally never married.

These excerpts are from In the Words of Women, Chapter 4, pages 116-17. Sarah Wister’s silhouette is in the Portrait Collection of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

posted December 12th, 2011 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Amusements, Daily life, Military Service, Norris, Deborah, Philadelphia, Wister, Sally

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