“The roads surpass all description”

SUSAN LIVINGSTON married John Cleves Symmes in 1794. Susan was his third wife, the first two having died. Symmes had been a member of the Continental Congress, active in the military during the Revolution, an associate judge of the New Jersey supreme court, and in 1785 he was named judge for the newly designated Northwest Territory. In 1788, lured by the prospect of money to be made in land speculation there, Symmes and some associates contracted to buy a substantial amount of land in Ohio—known as the Symmes Purchase—to be paid for in part with notes issued by Congress to raise money to finance the Revolution. Symmes settled in North Bend, Ohio near Cincinnati and proceeded to subdivide and sell parcels of land.

In 1794 he persuaded his wife Susan to come to Ohio, promising that she could return frequently to visit her family in New Jersey. Traveling with Symmes was his wife; a daughter by a previous marriage, nineteen-year-old Anne Tuthill Symmes called Nancy; and the daughter of Susan’s sister Kitty Livingston also named Susan (Kitty had married Matthew Ridley in 1787). Susan Livingston Symmes described the early part of the trip in a letter to her sister Sarah Livingston Jay who was in New York City.

22d Novr 1794 2 oClockMy dr Sister
We have just crossed the Junietta, the return of the Army [from settling the Whisky Rebellion in western Pennsylvania] impedes our progress very much, we have been detained on the opposite side of the river since yesterday, owing to the number of Waggons to be ferryed over—we do not proceed above 10 miles a day, & to-day we shall not get about—The roads surpass all description, no one can have an idea of any thing half so bad, such a season as this has not been known these10 years, while the army was passing it rained a fort-night, the teams cut up the roads most dreadfully—it is one succession of mountains from Straasburgh to Pittsburgh,we have yet 2 very considerable ones to pass, the Allegeny & Lawrel—Col.Hamilton [Alexander, who was with the troops] breakfasted at the Inn this morning where we lodged—he looked a little weather-beaten as well as ourselves—We are so happy as to be preserved in Health—expect to winter at Pittsburgh. it will make the journey less heavy—we shall be sufficiently tired by the time we reach that—An officer that’s now here proposes to leave this in the Post-Office at Phila—Remember me affecly to my dr Kitty [her sister Kitty Livingston Ridley], & your little flock, Nancy [Symmes] also desires to be remembred—Susan [the daughter of Kitty] keeps in good heart, we are in tolerable spirits & should be in better were the roads better—Mr Symmes has been unwell for many days, indeed ever since we left Morris [town], he is just beginning to recover his spirits—I find Col. Hamilton has not much expectation of mr. Jays return before Spring—I long to hear what accounts you have of him [John Jay was in England negotiating a treaty with Britain of which Hamilton approved]—I received a letter from my dr Maria dated the 15th of Novr & was happy to find she was content with her situation [Maria Jay was at school in the Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania]—We are yet 114 miles from Pittsburgh—I will write again in a day or 2, this is the third letter—I would travel on Horseback, but I do not know what to do about Susy, I do not like to leave her in the carriage without me neither would she be contented—
I am my dr Sister unalterably Yours
S.L

The letter is part of the Jay Papers at the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library: Order no. 402136C.


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