“Lodgings now are hardly to be had”

Continuing the topic of “searching for a new home”, compare the experience of MARY STEAD PINCKNEY in Paris.

Upon arriving on December 5, 1796, Mary Stead Pinckney and her husband, General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney were far less fortunate in their reception in a new country than the family de la Tour du Pin had been in the United States! President Washington had appointed the General as minister plenipotentiary to France to replace James Monroe. The relations between the United States and France were at a low ebb: the former desperately seeking to maintain its neutrality in the war between England and France, the latter outraged by, what it viewed, as the failure of the United States to adhere to the terms of the Franco-American Treaty of 1778. Until those grievances were addressed, France’s Directoire refused to acknowledge Pinckney’s diplomatic status or even to talk with him.

Mary Stead Pinckney, born in Charleston, South Carolina c. 1751, had moved to London at an early age, and had lived in England or on the continent from 1776 until 1783, when she returned to the U.S. In 1786, she married the widower Charles C. Pinckney and eagerly joined him on his mission. She described their arrival in Paris to her cousin, Mrs. Margaret Manigault, a daughter of South Carolina Senator Ralph Izard and his wife Alice DeLancey Izard.

Paris, Tuesday Decr. 13th 1796Here is such a concourse of strangers, such an influx of ministers, my dear cousin, from all the Kingdoms and Principalities of Europe that I have no favorable report to make you of the expence of an establishment in this city. Lodgings now are hardly to be had, houses scarce & high, every article of furniture dear, china excessively so, and the articles of dress, though more moderate than in our country, by no means to be called cheap. . . . I should not have been thus precipitate in giving so general & unfavorable a report . . . had it not been probable . . . that that time will not now arrive, the executive of this republic having notified yesterday to Mr. Monroe that they would not receive a minister from ours till the grievances of which they complain are redressed. As this event has been so lately announced I can give you no account of what is to become of ourselves—whether we are immediately to leave Paris, or to finish our winter in it . . . We pay for 5 indifferent rooms, two of which smoke dreadfully, 25 louis a month or 8 p week, and we are obliged to hire them from week to week. They are at the hotel des Tuileries, Rue Honoré, and very near the gardens, tho’ they do not look into them. . . . Since the first 3 mornings we have had our own tea equipage, and have found our own breakfast, milk and bread excepted, & our traiteurs [restaurant owner] bill for dinner for five days supper for one (the evening we arrived, for we eat no supper) and breakfast for three, amounts to 601 livres or 25 louis, and we have had no company only one day, and then only three persons in addition to our own party of five—we pay 18 louis a month for a carriage, and three livres a day besides for the coachman. . . . Then there is wood, which, as we were not here to lay it in during the summer months, stand us in 79 livres for 2 voyes—a voye is less than a cord. . . . In two days we shall know whether wee are to remain here this winter or wander further in quest of peace.

The “party of five” consisted of the General’s youngest daughter, Eliza; Ralph S. Izard, Mrs. Pinckney’s nephew; a black maid, Auba; and a servant, James. They kept busy sightseeing, attending the theater or the opera, going shopping, and visiting with James Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, and other Americans, but they had no contact with the French. Moreover, what was to be done about Eliza’s and Ralph’s education? Could they go to school in Paris? Mrs. Pinckney, who spoke French, was vexed that family members were not able to improve their French due to their isolation by the Directoire.

More about the Pinckneys in Europe in the next post.

Mary S. Pinckney’s letterbook is at the Library of Congress. Excerpts from Letter-book of Mary Stead Pinckney, November 14th, 1796 to August 29th, 1797 (N.Y.: The Grolier Club, 1946), pp. 28-30. The painting is Charles Cotesworth Pinckney is at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.


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