“a thought came over me to write a few lines every night”

Like many other young women of her time, SARAH EVE (1749/50-1774) decided to keep a journal. She was one of thirteen children born to Oswell Eve and Anne Moore, seven of whom died in infancy. Her father, a sea captain, suffered a series of financial setbacks and in 1768 took two of Sarah’s brothers with him to set up a business abroad, it is thought in the West Indies. During his absence of five years, Sarah and her mother lived in a house near Philadelphia in fairly comfortable circumstances. The red-headed Sarah, always fashionably dressed, spent a good deal of time visiting friends. In the excerpt below she gives her reasons for beginning a journal. She has the charming habit of writing as if she were speaking to herself.

December 13th, 1772. — Sitting before the fire this evening, a thought came over me to write a few lines every night, of what sort of weather we have, whether we go out or not, who comes to see us, and how we spend our time summer and winter. I flatter myself that this will be the last winter that we shall spend here; and I think that from this Journal, altho’ unentertaining as it will be, my dear Father may form a pretty just idea of the melancholy winters that we have had since he went away. I wish I had thought of this sooner, or at least on the first of this month, but as that was not the case, think it would be ingratitude not to remark the extreme pleasant weather we have had since the month began. Not a cloudy day, every morning a fine white frost, so that one might say . . . it is so warm that if the calendar did not call it winter, one would be ready to swear it was the opening of spring. This morning I went to the opening of the New Meeting House, heard Mr. Sprout preach, the house much crowded — Query, the motive? — Novelty or Religion?

On December 23 Sarah wrote “The weather still fine.” After spending the day with friends, “Returned in the evening, and wrote a letter to my father by Capt. Gilbert. Read the ‘Fashionable Lover,’ a prodigious fine comedy wrote by Cumberland.”

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 5.

posted January 5th, 2020 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Eve, Sarah, Philadelphia

“we past Christmas day very agreeably”

HENRIETTA MARCHANT LISTON arrived in the United States in 1796 with her husband Robert who had been appointed British ambassador to the new nation. They took up residence in Philadelphia, the capital. Genuinely curious about the New World, they began an extended trip from Philadelphia to Charleston, South Carolina in the fall of 1797. (See previous posts about their journeys here and here.) Henrietta documented their trip in her journal, noting facts that she found interesting, the foods they ate, and their astonishment at the natural beauties, particularly the flora, of the countryside. Traveling on the east coast of North America was a challenge but one that the 45-year-old Mrs. Liston and her 55-year-old husband met with aplomb, courage, and even laughter.

The first night after leaving Mr. Jones’s Hospitable roof, we were obliged to take up our quarters, in what was called an Inn, Consisting of one room containing two Beds, one for the family, the other for Strangers; there were two young Men travelling on Horseback, besides several Inferior Guests, & I found that all the Party, except our Servants who were in a ruinous outKitchen, must lodge in this Chamber. the doors being all open warming oneself was out of the question … although there was a roaring fire….

One of the Group around the fire appearing intoxicated, & seemingly disposed to amuse himself with a Pistol, I took the Daughter of the House aside, & declared our readiness to be contented with any place, in order to Sleep in a separate apartment from these Men. She regretted that there was nothing but an empty Garrat, used for keeping Corn, without fire or door, & an open window. it was frost & snow, but we had taken our resolution, & we repaired to an old flat Bed, that happened to be in this miserable Place &, indeed, we were within a very little of being frozen to Death, notwithstanding an Eddadown [Eiderdown] Green silk Bedcover with which we travelled, & it was with some difficulty the Girl, next morning, could prevail on the Savages to let me approach the fire so as to thaw my fingers.

On Christmas eve, the Listons reached Fayetteville, named after the Marquis de Lafayette who had fought on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

[I]t is a flourishing Town, upon a Branch of the Capefear River & nearly at the head of the navigation—before the [Revolutionary] War it was called Cross Creek. We were visited by a Scotch Gentleman, named [Robert] Donaldson, with whose family we passed Christmas day very agreeably.

No doubt they were happy to spend the day with a fellow Scot, but Mrs. Liston does not give any details of the festivities. However, she does describe a particular meal she and her husband enjoyed en route.

[O]ur most frequent food, & infinitely the best of its kind, was Pork & Corn bread, it happened to be the Season for killing Pork, it was fresh & most excellent meat, . . . always broiled upon the Coals, & when we happened to get a few fryed Eggs to it, it was the best food possible & with Corn bread—no other is known—baked upon a hoe, in general, & call[ed] hoe cake.

On New Year’s Eve, Henrietta and her husband arrived in Charleston, South Carolina where they spent a week before returning to Philadelphia, receiving “very marked attentions” from the “polished Society” that characterized the city. There was no specific mention of how they spent New Year’s day.

Excerpts are taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” in The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, Louise V. North, pp 26, 27, 28, 30.

“I keept Christmas at home this year”

Young Anna Green Winslow, whose parents lived in Nova Scotia, was being schooled in Boston and living with her aunt. In these excerpts she describes the weather on Christmas Eve 1771, how she spent Christmas itself, as well as January 1.

Decr 24th.— … today is by far the coldest we have had since I have been in New England. (N.B. All run that are abroad.) Last sabbath being rainy I went to & from meeting in Mr. Soley’s chaise. … Every drop that fell froze. … The walking is so slippery & the air so cold, that aunt chuses to have me for her scoller [scholar] these two days. And … tomorrow will be a holiday, so the pope and his associates have ordained. … *

Decr 27th.—This day, the extremity of the cold is somewhat abated. I keept Christmas at home this year & did a very good day’s work. …

1st Jany 1772—I wish my Papa, Mama, brother John Henry, & cousin Avery & all the rest of my acquaintance … a Happy New Year. I have bestow’d no new year’s gift as yet.** But have received one very handsome one … [a book]. In nice Guilt and flowers covers. This afternoon being a holiday I am going to pay my compliments in Sudbury Street.

* Anna’s remarks reflect the Puritan dislike for Christmas.
** Gift-giving, if it prevailed at all in Puritan New England, took place on New Year’s Day.
For another excerpt from Anna’s journal, click here.

These excerpts are from a reprint of The Diary of Anna Green Winslow—A Boston School Girl of 1771, edited by Alice Morse Earle (Bedford, Massachusetts: Applewood Books, originally in 1894), pages 9-10, 13. The image is of a miniature owned by Elizabeth C. Trott, Niagara Falls, New York.

posted December 23rd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Boston, Christmas, Holidays, Weather, Winslow, Anna Green

“Accept the Compts: of the season . . .”

I am taking this opportunity to revisit several posts about the Christmas and New Year holidays. I hope you will find them as interesting and charming as I do.

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY and her husband John were apart during the holiday season of 1778-1779, John being in Philadelphia serving in the Continental Congress, and Sarah in New Jersey with their son Peter Augustus. Sally (as she was called), whose health was always fragile, was unwell and depressed by the absence of her husband. However, she assured him that “The company of your dear little boy proved a great consolation to me since you’ve been absent.” She ended her letter to him: “Accept the Compts: of the season,” the lovely expression typical of the time, adding to it “& may we repeat the same to each other fifty years hence.” Sadly, Sarah Jay did not live to fulfill her hope.

Christmas was not a widely celebrated holiday in the colonies. Its observance was generally prohibited in New England by Calvinists and other Protestant sects, and by the Quakers in Philadelphia and elsewhere. On the other hand, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Moravians did celebrate the Christmas season with both religious services and secular festivities. Generally these groups were in the Middle colonies and the South. If there was any decoration at all in homes it was likely to be garlands of natural greens, a few sprigs of holly and, perhaps, some mistletoe.

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 56. Read articles on the celebration of Christmas in the colonies HERE and HERE.

posted December 22nd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas, Jay, John, Jay, Peter Augustus, Jay, Sarah Livingston

“Our souls are by nature equal to yours”

JUDITH SARGENT MURRAY (1751-1820) was born to a ship-owning family in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Although her younger brothers were tutored at home to prepare for college, Judith received no formal education. Self-taught, she read books from her father’s library and boldly pursued the intellectual life as essayist, poet and playwright, writing on topics like politics and religion.
In her essay On the Equality of the Sexes she argued that women should have the opportunity to receive an education equal to that of men. She was also one of the few women of her time to save her letter books; most women did not think their letters serious enough to be worth saving. In 1984, 20 volumes of 5,000 letters by Murray were discovered in Natchez, Miss. in a house near her daughter’s where she died.
While Murray did not—indeed could not—lead the charge for equality of the sexes in the male-dominated society of the time, she was an inspiration to the many who would follow in her footsteps.
To celebrate its one-hundredth anniversary the Sargent House Museum in Gloucester has joined with the Cape Ann Museum and the Terra Foundation of American Art to present a special exhibition Our Souls Are by Nature Equal to Yours (September 28, 2019 — March 31, 2020). The John Singleton Copley painting (pictured above) on loan from the Terra Foundation will be on view. On January 25, 2020, at 3pm, Judith Sargent Murray biographer Sheila Skemp of the University of Mississippi will give a talk titled First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence.

Bonnie Hurd Smith is an author and the founder of The Judith Sargent Murray Society. She describes the contributions of Judith Sargent Murray in this VIDEO. See other posts about Murray HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

posted December 10th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Murray, Judith Sargent

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