“they say she rules the Roost . . .”

ANN BLAIR wrote to her sister MARTHA BLAIR BRAXTON (portrayed) telling her about the goings-on in Williamsburg, Virginia, in August 1769. Ann obviously has a sense of humor and, in addition, uses some phrases that need explanation or sound modern to our ears. In the first line “I nick’t it” means “I just hit the right moment”. Later Ann says Governor Tryon’s Lady “rules the Roost,” calling this a “pity.” The expression is an old one dating to the 15th century when it referred to the person in charge of the kitchen who therefore “rules the roast.” In the mid-1700s, “roast” morphed into “roost.”

Well! I just nick’t it, governor Tryon [of North Carolina], his lady, and Mr. Edward’s [Tryon’s secretary] was to drink Tea at our House the day we came to Town . . . so that I had an opportunity of hearing the Conversation of this fine accomplish’d Lady. You may remember we heard she took not notice of the ladies; I therefore, resolved in myself to have nothing to say to her, and accordingly took my Seat as far distant from her as the room would permit; but with all my resolution I could hold no longer; the Lady had unfortunately scall’d [scalded] three of her Fingers (I say unfortunately, for else she wou’d have play’d the Spinnet) so that the speediest method of cure became now the Topick; the company agreed it would heal sooner for having ye Skin cut off the Blisters; Mr. Edwards and self as yet, had said nothing about it——to be sure your opinions was necessary——so the Lady call’d first [page torn] who judged it best to let ye Skin remain; next cones the latter, and having view’d the Wound with all the Sagacity of a Surgeon——agreed with Mr. Edwards (as he was singular) in every thing he said exactly. She reply’d with a smile that notwithstanding there was two to one of the opposite opinion, yet her inclination consided much with us; for to own a truth, she was so far a Coward she did not like her Skin to be cut. Thus much for her Fingers; and as to ye Lady herself, I think what was heard to her disadvantage, proves from a little acquaintance to advantage; they say she rules the Roost, it is a pity, I like her Husband vastly; they have a little Girl with them that is equally to be pitied, this poor thing is stuck up in a Chair all day long with a Cotter on [something to hold her in place], nor dare she even to taste Tea, fruit Cake, or any little Triffle offer’d her by ye Company, but to return to ye Lady’s Finger’s——the old Gentleman squeezed her Hand a little too hard in handing her to the Coach (for one of her Delicacy) she, however, had so far the command of herself as not to fall in a Fit till she got to my Lord’s: Pasteur [William Pasteur, a distinguished surgeon of Williamsburg] immediately was Call’d in. who did in one Minute, what had just before caused us a debate of half an Hour long——he perform’d ye so much dreaded operation of Cuting the Skin after wch he was presented with a Guinea he laugh’d & said, he had no objection to be squeezed into another.

I have a letter from Sisr Cary, telling me I ought to have been at Hampton, instead of King & Queen [William and Mary], for that there had been the Viper sloop of War Commanded by one Cap: Linsey, a Bror. of Mr. Hood’s. a most agreeable Gentleman; the first Lieut: Mr. Frederick, a relation of the Dutchess of Beaufort——extremely cleaver——and several others equally as much so. She thinks it advisable to go down in readiness for ye next that come’s . . . perhaps if I go down I may be as lucky as Bett, other way’s I most shrewdly suspect I very reluctantly shall join that set of animals destined to lead apes.

Don’t you like Ann’s reference to William and Mary as “King & Queen”? Her comment in the last line means that she may end up an old maid, a reference to an expression common at that time that says in hell bachelors are turned into apes and are led by women who die as maids. More to come.

William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XVI, 1908, 174-76. The portrait of Martha Braxton by John Wollaston is in the collection of the College of William and Mary..

posted May 25th, 2017 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Blair, Anne, Braxton, Mary Blair, Virginia


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