” … Nancy is much puzzled between Otto & Livingston.”

In 1778, two events changed the character of the Revolution. The British left Philadelphia for the Tory stronghold of New York which became the center of British power in America and was occupied until the end of the war. Also during that year France signed a Treaty of Alliance with the United States, bolstering its war effort with supplies, troops and naval vessels. Congress returned to Philadelphia, now in the hands of American forces under the command of General Benedict Arnold, and with elaborate ceremony welcomed the French minister to the United States.

Although her husband was still in the field and her son at school, Alice Shippen was once more back in her own home with her daughter Nancy, now fifteen, educated, “finished,” and more than ready to take her place in society. And to be courted. One of her suitors was Colonel Henry B. Livingston, a member of the wealthy New York Livingstons, who had served with valor during the war. Another was the secretary of the French Minister to the United States, Louis Guillaume Otto (on the left). Nancy Shippen. He soon became enamored of her to the point of composing music for her, exchanging poems with her, passing by her house on a regular basis, eventually visiting her frequently and playing the harpsichord with her. Nancy’s father, Dr. William Shippen, wrote this letter to his son Thomas who was back at school in Maryland after the new year festivities. He summarizes the situation nicely.

… Nancy is much puzzled between Otto & Livingston. She loves ye first & only esteems the last. On Monday she likes L & his fortune. On Tuesday even when O comes he is the angel. L will consummate immediately. O not these 2 years. L has solicited the Father & Mother. O is afraid of a denial. In short, we are all much puzzled. L has 12 or 15,000 hard. O has nothing now, but honorable expectations hereafter. A Bird in hand is worth 2 in a bush. They are both sensible. O handsome. What do you think of it?

Dr. Shippen’s letter appears in Nancy Shippen Her Journal Book, compiled and edited by Ethel Armes, page 101. The image of Otto, watercolor on ivory, ca. 1780, was painted by Charles Wilson Peale and is at the Smithsonian American Art Institute.

posted June 20th, 2013 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Capital of the United States, Courtship, France, Philadelphia


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