“it is as quiet as Charleston”

On January 26, 1797, the Pinckneys were ordered to leave France; they moved to Amsterdam to await further instructions from home. MARY STEAD PINCKNEY, in a letter to her niece Mary, reflects on the change of abode.

Amsterdam March 16th 1797. . . . I should be glad to amuse you with something new of Amsterdam, but . . . . I cannot but be surprised to find your uncle, Eliza & myself sitting quietly by the fire side in Amsterdam as if we were all at home [in Charleston, S.C.]. And yet this is really the case. I cannot describe to you the difference of my feelings here and at Paris. I find it difficult to explain it to myself. In the latter city I had always something in view, something to see. I was ever on the wing, and always amused. Here I am seated as tranquilly with our botanical books, or work, or ink-stand before me as if I had resided here all my life, & had seen everything. . . . There does not seem to be any bustle in this great city; it is as quiet as Charleston. . . .

A month later, Mrs. Pinckney seems to have decided to be “on the wing” again for she, accompanied by her husband and some friends, decided to visit Haarlem, as she wrote her niece, Eliza Izard.

. . . . The country is even more flat than that of Carolina, but the beautiful green meadows, the number of country seats with their neat gardens, bridges & summer houses, the numerous windmills, the trees with the buds, some opening into leaf render’d the view so agreeable that we forgot hills were necessary to form a perfect landscape. After an hour’s ride we crossed the Haarlem meer, or lake of Haarlem, & had it on each side with its numerous sails, during the greater part of the distance to Haarlem. If you will take the trouble of looking on the map you will see that we crossed it from east to west, & that Amsterdam appears quite close to its east side and Haarlem immediately opposite on the west. We drove through Haarlem, which is so clean that you might eat off the stones, & has many handsome houses and canals border’d with trees running through the principal streets, to [our] lodgings . . . .

The next morning . . . . [w]e called on professor [Martin] Van Marum, a gentleman of extensive knowledge great modesty and politeness who conducted us to ye Tylerean [Teylers] Museum, where we saw many curious objects, which it would take me too long to describe—among others the largest electrical machine ever made—it frightened me almost to look at it, but as the day was damp, the hall large & no fire place, he shewed us the experiments with a very powerful, but much smaller machine in a dry room. We all took many sparks. He was also so obliging as to perform a very curious chemical experiment, generating water out of 2 different kinds of air, & then he shewed us how to decompose
it. . . .

Mary Stead Pinckney’s last letter was written from The Hague on August 23rd, 1797. The Pinckneys returned to Paris the following month; General Pinckney, now assisted by John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry, attempted to come to an understanding with France but their efforts ended in failure. The Pinckneys left Paris in April 1798 to return to America.

(Land was reclaimed from the Haarlemmer Meer in mid-nineteenth century. Martin van Marum was the first director of the Teylers Museum; his electrostatic generator was built in 1784.)

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. 60-61, 66-68. See also In the Words of Women, pp. 325-6. The aquatint of “Haarlem Meer from the Amsterdam Road” is by Samuel Ireland from his Picturesque tour through Holland, Brabant and part of France made in the autumn of 1789. Read about the electrostatic generator HERE.

posted June 21st, 2018 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amsterdam, Haarlem Meer, Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth, Pinckney, Mary Stead

“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.

“The house was new and pretty”

Brought up in the high society of the French court at Versailles; married at 17 to an aristocrat and soldier, with a promising diplomatic career ahead of him; serving the Queen as a lady-in-waiting; HENRIETTE-LUCY DILLON GOUVERNET DE LA TOUR DU PIN (1770-1853) could not have imagined that she, her husband Frédéric-Séraphin and their two children Humbert and Séraphine, would be fleeing for their lives to America in 1794. Disembarking in Boston after a 60-day journey, the emigrants traveled to Troy, New York, where they boarded with the nearby van Buren family to “learn American ways” before acquiring property of their own.

In September, my husband opened negotiations with a farmer whose land lay . . . on the road from Troy to Schenectady. It was on a hill overlooking a wide stretch of country, and we thought it a very pleasant situation. The house was new and pretty, and in good condition. Only a part of the land was in cultivation. There were 150 acres under crops, a similar area of woodland and pasture, a small kitchen garden of a quarter of an acre filled with vegetables, and a fine orchard sewn with red clover and planted with ten-year-old cider apple trees, all in fruit. We were told that the price was twelve thousand francs, which General [Philip] Schuyler thought not excessive. The property was four miles from Albany . . . .

As soon as we had the house to ourselves, we used some of our money to set it in order. It consisted of only a ground floor, raised five feet above the ground. The builders had begun by sinking a wall six feet down, leaving only two feet above ground level. This formed the cellar and the dairy. Above this, the remainder of the house was of wood, . . . The gaps in the wooden frame were filled with sun-dried bricks so that the wall was compact and very warm. We had the inside walls covered with a layer of plaster into which some colour had been mixed, and the whole effect was very pretty. . . .

. . . [O]n the day I moved into the farm, I adopted the dress worn by the women on the neighbouring farms—the blue and black striped woolen skirt, the little bodice of dark calico and a coloured handkerchief, and I parted my hair in the style fashionable today, piling it up and holding it in place with a comb. In summer, I wore cotton stockings and shoes. I only wore a gown or stays when I was going into town. . . .

Many of our neighbours made a habit of passing through our yard on the way to Albany. As we knew them, we never objected. Besides, in talking to them, I always learned some fresh piece of news. As for them, they enjoyed talking of the old country. They also liked to admire our small improvements. What excited most admiration was an elegant small pigsty made out of wood by M. de Chambeau [a friend] and my husband. It was a masterpiece of carpentering, but the admiration was couched in such pompous terms that it always amused us: ‘Such a noble hog sty’.

Because funds were tight, Henriette-Lucy made and sold butter, stamped with the family monogram; it “was much in demand.” She had eight cows and several slaves to assist on the farm. Then, she was dealt “the most cruel blow that any mortal could endure”: her daughter Séraphine was suddenly taken ill and died within a few hours.

In April, 1796, Henriette-Lucy, Frédéric, and Humbert, and their friend Monsieur de Chambeau, having come to America with valid passports, were able to return to France after the Revolution to take possession of their properties. Henriette-Lucy had been happy in America but had “a presentiment that I was embarking on a fresh series of troubles and anxieties.”

From Memoirs of Madame de La Tour du Pin, trans. by Felice Harcourt, (NY:The McCall Publishing Company, 1969), pp. 242, 253, 266, 282. See also In the Words of Women, pp.307-313. Illustration: watercolour on ivory (c.1802) in a private collection.

“Our company heartily tired & sick of the boat”

In the previous post SUSAN LIVINGSTON described settling in Ohio after her marriage to John Cleves Symmes. Where did she live while the new house to her design was being built? There are no records of what she found when she arrived in North Bend. Clues may be gleaned perhaps in a novel Susan Anne L. Ridley wrote years later. On the first page of The Young Emigrants, a footnote states: “It may not be superfluous to say, that much of the matter of the Following Tale, has been supplied by personal observation.” The story features a young girl who, in early November 1794, travels with her aunt and uncle from New York City to their new home on the Ohio. The description must be close to what Susan Livingston Symmes first encountered:

It was a cabin of about sixteen feet square, formed of unhewn timber, filled in with ‘chinking’ of clay, some of which had fallen out, and admitted both light and cold. The creaking door, hung on wooden hinges, was fastened with a wooden latch, and opened in the same inartificial manner as that of Red Riding-hood’s grandmother. So rude in all respects was the workmanship of the room, that it might be questioned if a single nail had been expended on it. The floor was formed of unplaned boards, that had been employed in the construction of arks, which, after conveying the emigrants, had been converted into their habitations. . . . Mrs. Stanley look around despairingly, . . . at seeing what she was given to understand was the best room in the house . . .

Mrs. Symmes had a difficult time adjusting to her new abode but she became close with members of her husband’s family. Nonetheless, she missed her own friends and relatives. In late April 1798, she decided to make her first trip back east to visit her family but also to reunite her niece, Susan Anne Ridley with her mother. Moreover, the young girl’s further education needed to be considered, and Aunt Susan probably felt that the wilds of Ohio were no longer suitable.

The 24th. April 1798-at 3oClock P.M.I embarked at Cincinnati in Mr. Goudy’s keel boat to ascend the Ohio to Pittsburgh on my way to the City of New York—the Passengers Mrs. Gillman, Mrs. Zeigler & Miss Greene & Mr. Simmons bound for Marietta, Mrs. Chambers for Chambersburg, her son in Law mr. Israel Ludlow accompanies us. My Niece Susan Anne L. Ridley who came out to the Miamis with me, I now take back to her Mother to be educated in N.Y.—we reached no farther than Columbia the 24th a settlement 6 miles above Cin[cinnati]: half a mile below the mouth of the little Miami—this first night Susan Ann & myself lodged at Major Stites’s, the rest of the Party at Kibby’s Inn. . . .

25th. April wednesday morning at 11 oClock left Columbia; gained only 6 miles the river being very high, encamped on the Kentucky side, a heavy shower came on at the time we had supped & pitched our tent which did not cast off the rain so we were considerably soaked, it continued raining all night—our Health did not suffer in consequence of it.

26th. thursday A high contrary wind this day obliged us to lie still, until the afternoon, when we advanced only 7 miles, & encamped in the woods again that night.

27th. friday—Reached Mr. Walters Cabbin, tolerably accommodated.

28th Saturday—Nothing remarkable; at night encamped in the Forest.

29th Sunday—Reached Limestone [later Maysville] in the evening 65 miles from Cin: supped & lodged at Mr. Martins Inn—a disagreeable Town, tho one of the most considerable Landings in Kentucky. Our Company heartily tired & sick of the boat [it] being amazingly crowded, very dirty, & no convenient place for preserving our provisions—the river being full, the boat keeps us near as possible to the shore, so that [we] are greatly incommoded by the limbs of trees that . . . tear down the awning, break the [posts] that support it, often endanger our heads . . . ; the boat heavy laden, weakly manned, the men making too free with Whiskey; all these circumstances combine to retard our progress, & promise a tedious passage.

30th Monday morning left Limestone, could not make our Stage at a Cabbin, had our usual resource the woods—a little above Massy’s Station, & the 3 Islands, which present a beautiful & picturesque view, Massy’s Station occupies a beautiful bottom on the Indian side, at the point of the lowest of the 3 islands – we had an agreeable walk on the bank opposite this settlement—we find our daily rambles in the woods very refreshing, & a prodigious releif [sic] from the boat, we walked . . . faster than the boat moved. . . .

Susan Anne Ridley (1788-1867) married Theodore Sedgwick, Jr. (1780-1839), and became a well-known novelist of children’s literature, e.g., The Young Emigrants (1830).

In her later years, Susan Livingston Symmes lived with the Sedgwicks in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Her tombstone states first that she was the daughter of William Livingston, and second, the ‘relict’ (widow) of John C. Symmes.

From “Some notes of Mrs. Symmes passage up the Ohio 1798”, fragmentary pages in the William Livingston Papers, at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The illustration is from The Young Emigrants.

“a Paradise something like it might be made”

There are many reasons to move from one place to another: adventure; new job opportunities; fleeing a hostile environment; joining relatives to make a fresh start; marriage. These certainly accounted for many who made the trek westward after Congress passed a series of ordinances to survey, divide, and offer at public auction any lands ceded to the Confederation.

It was a proposal of marriage that determined SUSAN LIVINGSTON’s move from the East Coast to a spot on the Miami River in Ohio. The eldest daughter of thirteen children born to Susannah French and William Livingston, the first elected governor of New Jersey, Susan (“Sukey”) was well-educated by her parents, witty, courageous, and politically astute. She had sometimes assisted her father as his secretary; had undertaken the education of her young nephew Peter Augustus Jay while his parents, John and Sarah Jay, were in Europe during the Revolutionary War; had taken care of her parents at the end of their lives (1790); and after, had moved in with her widowed sister Kitty Ridley (Catharine Livingston) and her family in Baltimore.

It must have been quite a surprise to her relatives when she suddenly married John Cleves Symmes in September 1794. Accompanied by her 6-year old niece Susan Anne Ridley, Susan Livingston Symmes and her husband John set out for Ohio. How Susan coped with the move is hinted at in a letter to her sister Sarah Jay and her niece Maria Jay, a year and a half later.

March 3d 1796 N.BendMy dear Sister
I had the pleasure of a letter from you last Novr. it ought to have been attended to long before this, but having nothing material to write, I delayed from time to time until I feel very much ashamed of myself. We have no news here. We lie snug beyond the tempests of Politicks & the gay Circle of pleasure. Each one is engaged in cultivating his Plantation. At present the whole Country is busy in making Sugar from the maple Tree . . . we have too much business on hands to make any ourselves. . . .

Our house would probably have been nearly finished could we have pleased ourselves with a Site, we have a beautiful one on the Ohio, but too many conveniences must have been sacrificed to perspectives. The Miami is a contemptible stream compared with the Ohio, yet we have concluded to build on it 3 quarters of a mile from the Ohio, the Village occupies this space; we have the Miami river in front on a western view, to the North we have a mile of beautiful level bottom land, along the east bank of the Miami about 200 Acres; this bottom is skirted along the east by a range of hills covered with timber, & from which 3 rivulets descend & cross the bottom; between the house & the Miami are about 10 acres perfectly level, on the left or rather South of which is a wood divided by a never failing small stream of water which passes by the east end of our house, at the distance of 40 feet with the addition of a very fine Spring, about 10 feet beyond the brook, or 50 feet from the house, this brook as it divides the wood on its way leaves about 3 acres of the grove a perfect level, next to the intended Garden & Courtyard; this small wood, & the brook terminating in the Miami. You will from this description think it a Paradise something like it I assure you might be made. I only wish we were on the spot which I do not expect to be until late in the autumn. . . .

. . . . I have a good house building 4 rooms below & 4 abo[ve] with a kitchen adjoined to it by a Linto 30 feet long, stone Cellars under the whole, the house is 44 by 40 feet, the Passage only half way thro the house so that the 44 feet is divided into 2 rooms, it’s a plan of my own I do not know how it will answer; I have suffered much from the want of a good house in this Country, it was a great transition from your Papa’s house [the Jays’ house in New York City] to Cabbins. . . .

John C. Symmes (1742-1814) was a justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and had been a member of that state’s constitutional convention as well as a member of the Continental Congress. In 1788, Symmes had been named a judge in the Northwest Territory, settling in North Bend, Ohio. That year, he and some friends created a company and purchased over 311,000 acres from Congress. President Washington signed the patent on October 30, 1794 conveying the land, known as Symmes Purchase, for $225,000. There was much controversy over this purchase at the time as well as afterwards.

Susan and John Symmes had serious financial disagreements about her right to control her money even before their marriage. No doubt his financial difficulties and speculating irregularities played a large role in her decision to leave him for good in 1807. The house burned in 1810.

For more on Susan Livingston Symmes see posts HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

This letter is at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

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