” . . . how long . . . am [I] . . . to remain in a state of widowhood”

It’s time for a return visit to one of my favorite Revolutionary War women—SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY. The intelligent and beautiful Sarah, daughter of William Livingston, the governor of New Jersey, was the wife of John Jay of New York. The couple’s first child, Peter Augustus, was born in 1776. On December 10, 1778, John Jay was elected president of the Second Continental Congress, the highest office in the government at that time, replacing Henry Laurens whose term had come to an end. A few days later, in a letter William Livingston wrote to Nathaniel Scudder in Philadelphia, he included this: “P.S. Please to give my respects to your new President, & to tell him that his present office appears rather obstructive of the performance of the promise he has made me of using his best endeavours to get me another Grandson as soon as possible.”

Writing to her husband from Persipiney, New Jersey on December 28th, SARAH JAY seems to be rather put out by having read about her husband’s new position in a newspaper. And she is a bit miffed at not hearing from him frequently enough. Note the typically formal salutation of wife to husband. Classical references were common in the correspondence of educated people of that time. The manuscript letter can be viewed here.

My dear Mr. Jay,
I should have troubled you a second time, & have wrote you by the last Post had I not entertained the hope that it wou’d not be long before I should have the pleasure of acknowledging at least one favor from you. I have been disappointed, ‘tis true, but still I will not relinquish the pleasing idea of being affectionately remembered by my beloved friend. To prevent future mortifications of the like tender to nature, permit me to remind you that there is a Post that takes letters from Morris-Town for Philadelphia & returns every week.
I had the pleasure of finding by the news-paper that you are honor’d with the first office on the Continent, and am still more pleased to hear this appointment affords general satisfaction. Will you be so kind as to inform me whether our State has prolonged your stay beyond the first of March or not? As by your present Appointment your personal attendance upon Congress I imagine can’t be dispensed with, I am very solicitous to know how long I am still to remain in a state of widowhood; upon my word I sincerely wish these three months may conclude it; however, I mean not to influence your conduct, for I am convinced that had you consulted me as some men have their wives about public measures, I should not have been Roman Matron enough to have given you so intirely to the public, & of consequence your reputation & claim to the gratitude of your country would have been as much diminished as theirs who have acted so imprudent tho’ tender a part.
It will give you pleasure to be informed that your son & myself are still favored with health, & if you can spare time to give me the same grateful tidings of yourself, you can hardly imagine what happiness you’ll confer upon your
affecte. Wife
Sa. Jay

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 54-55. The portrait is by Robert Edge Pine; it appears HERE.

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