Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Rebecca Austin Sherman's (1753-1830) messy Divorce from her Revolutionary War husband

1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795). Rebecca Austin Mrs John Sherman & son Henry (1789-1817).


Rebecca Austin (1753-1830) married John Sherman (1750-1802) on August 28, 1771. He seemed to be a young man of great promise. They both came from good families. He was 21, she was 18. John Sherman was born in New Milford, New Haven, Connecticut, the son of Roger Sherman, a respected attorney at the Continental Congress who helped draft the Articles of Confederation. Thomas Jefferson referred to young John Sherman's father as "Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, who never said a foolish thing in his life;" and John Adams called the elder Sherman, "an old Puritan, as honest as an angel." Roger Sherman was the only American to sign four signficant historical documents: The Continental Association of 1774; the Declaration of Independence; The Articles of Confederation; and The Federal Constitution.

Rebecca's father David Austin was also prominent in the New Haven community. He was named the first president of the New Haven Bank on Dec 22, 1795. He served as deacon of the North Church for 43 years and an alderman under Mayor Roger Sherman. From 1793 to 1801 he was the Collector of Customs.

Rebecca Austin and John Sherman had children John, born 1772; Maria, born 1774; Harriet, born 1776 died 1795; Elizabeth, born 1778; David Austin, born 1781; Charles Sherman born 1783; and Henry Sherman was born in 1785. Although John Sherman served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, he apparently returned home occasionally.

John Sherman was not a foot soldier, he was assigned to headquarters. He enlisted in 1776; and by January 1, 1777, he was Paymaster for the 6th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel Butler. On October 7, 1777, he received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant; and on May 10, 1780, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. On June 1, 17781, he was transferred to the 4th Connecticut Regiment under the command of Colonel Samuel Whiting. He served in "Booth's Company" under Captain James Booth, until he was detached to the 11th Connecticut Regiment (by order of Brigader General Sillick Silliman) as part of the "Short Levy" of 1782. On January 1, 1783, he was again transferred to the 2nd Connecticut Regiment, where he served until June of 1783; when he left the army at the rank of Captain in Colonel Gideon Burt's Massachusetts Regiment. He received his Captain's commission by brevet at the close of the war.

When he returned home in the summer of 1783, John Sherman tried his hand at business in New Haven for several years; but by 1788, he decided it was time to move on.


In 1788, John Sherman determined to leave his wife and family, wrote to his father on December 8, "Most respected Parent, My departure from this is absolutely necessary on Account of my entering into business; the Trade of this City at present is not an Object of Importance, & and scarcely of Support, I am now in the prime of life, I hope my Friends will not think me lost, my determinations are Just, that is to pay all their dues and owe no one anything, in consequence of which I shall advise you & Esq Austin, likewise Mrs. Sherman the place of my residence, the Settlement of my Public Accounts will be attended to by me as soon as the Public are ready to make me payment for my Services, otherwise I should have left the United States for a few years, & this is only what prevents. I most probably shall fix my residence at Charles Town, or Savannah, unhappy it is tho past. I did not take your advice, it would not have obliged me to take the present measure (I think the most unfeeling Heart would not wish to distress Mrs. Sherman & the Children in my absence) (I leave them to your care you will please to assert their rights & be their Just protector, & may the most Cordial Friendship ever subsist betwixt you & Esq. Austin. I wish each of you the length of days & that your usefulness may be preserved to the last & and that each of your Families may be happy (my own unhappiness is proceeds from myself only.) I am with every respect, Your son John Sherman."
(Baldwin Family Papers, #55, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.)


Just a year before John Sherman decided to leave the family, he had portraits of the family painted in 1787, by the Sherman Limner, whose name derives from these portraits. The portraits are of John Sherman; his wife Rebecca holding baby Henry; John's daughter Maria (1774-1857); his son John II; and his son, David Austin (1781-1843), whose portrait is signed on the reverse Jany 2d 1787.
Rebecca filed for divorce in 1792 claiming he drank excessively and became violent when drinking and that he was adulterous. In 1792, there was a motion for the continuance in the plea for divorce of Rebecca Austin Sherman vs John Sherman, New Haven 1792. The family portraits apparently became a focus of John's anger with the dissolution of his marriage. (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)


On December 10, 1792, son David Austin wrote to his grandfather Roger Sherman that his father, "then catched down any likenesses and Swore it should not be in the house and that he woyld throw it into the street, I told him if he did not like to see it, I would take it away but he must not throw it into the street and ruin it as I was at the expense of the drawing and I did not choose it should not be destroyed." (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)

A fragment of a letter from the husband John Sherman to Simeon Baldwin exists from December 19, 1792. John Sherman wrote about his wife, "she means to bring in her cut portrait as an Evidence the whole of them were made at my Expense to flatter her Vanity & if the original had been present I should not have done it." The portrait of Rebecca Sherman and her son Henry was slashed. (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)

On January 21, 1793, John Sherman's daughter Maria and her two sisters wrote a letter to their grandfather Roger Sherman. Honored and much respected Grandfather, We sincerely lament the unhappy necessity, which had seperated our Parents. We hope it will not be the means of depriving us of your parental regard and protection. We shall ever retain a grateful remembrance of your past kindness, and hope you will ever continue it to us. The mortifiyig and disagreeable situation we are in, we hope will apologize for the freedom we have taken in addressing you. Our father not satisfied with heaping disgrace and sorrow upon his children, has stripped us of all the Furniture he ever purchased, not even excepting out Portraits, and the arms of the Family from which we are descended, which we would wish to retain. as a remembrance of the family from which we are descended. The Carpet Mama thinks she ought to have, as he made a present of it to her, on his return from the Army before Evidences, as a reward for her faithfulness and Industry. He has likewise taken the Desk, Tea Urn, Silver Handled Knives & Forks, best Bed and Bedding, Chairs, Tables &c., which Mama is very willing he should have. He has been here, & with Roger taken account of all the Provisions, & Stores we have in the House, which are very considerable, and threatened taking them away. He has also given orders to Mr. Baldwin, to receive all the Money due to us from our Boarders, when they return at the end of Vacation. We intreat you Sir, to interpose in our affair, & not suffer him to add affliction, to his already afflicted Children. We shall do everything in our power to assist Mama in the maintenance of the Family , and endeavor to be as little burden to our Friends as possible. We rejoice dear Sir, in the prospect of your speedy return, and hope to find in you an indulgent Father, & unfailing Friend. We hope our future conduct will be such as to merit your approbation and esteem. With the greatest respect Dear Sir, we subscribe ourselves your dutiful & Affectionate Grandchildren, Maria Sherman Betsey Sherman Harriet Sherman (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)

In 1793, Sherman wrote that if "A bill of divorce is granted to Mrs. Sherman & and all connections on my part with the Family ceases forever...I am disposed to render them every assistance so far as it respects the children that Humanity & and reason can demand." (Baldwin Family Papers, #55 Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library)


Apparently the court determined that Rebecca Austin Sherman's allegations were true, and the divorce was finalized in January 1794. Rebecca Austin Sherman raised her children by running a boarding house, until she died in 1830.

John Sherman remarried Anna Tucker, ten years younger than Rebecca, in September 4, 1794, at Canton, Massachusettes. John Sherman had two more children with his new wife. Sherman supported his new family as a shopkeeper in Canton. He died 8 years later, his widow lived until 1858.


1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795), John Sherman (1750-1802) Christies NY 2006


1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795) Maria Sherman (Mrs. Ira Hart) 1774-1857. Christies NY 2006.


1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795) David Austin Sherman (1781-1843) Christies NY 2006.

1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795). John Sherman II. Christies 2006.

On Divorce in the American Colonies & Early Republic


In colonial New England, the legal aspects of marriage differed from mother England, where marriage was an indissoluble religious sacrament. Anglican church courts could order separations of unhappy spouses without right of remarriage; and, by the 18th century, rich men in England could buy private legislative acts authorizing their divorces, if they could prove, in one way or another, their wives' adultery.

The first American couple obtained a divorce in a Massachusettes Puritan court in 1639. In 18th century New England, marriage was a civil contract, and divorces were granted after a judicial proceeding, when a wife's or husband's misconduct was proved. Divorces were occasionally granted elsewhere in colonial North America, but other colonial legislatures did not pass laws allowing divorce before the American Revolution. Because the colonies were more open than the mother country and in a state of constant flux, many unhappy spouses just ended their unbearable marriages by disappearing and marrying again elsewhere.

By the early 19C, each new American state, except South Carolina, enacted laws authorizing divorce under limited circumstances. A full divorce with right of remarriage for the "innocent" party could be granted if adultery of the "guilty" spouse were proved. In some states, such as New Hampshire, a variety of other grounds, including incest, bigamy, abandonment for 3 years, and extreme cruelty, would also justify a divorce decree. In many states, only the innocent party was set free from the "bonds of matrimony," leaving the guilty party unable to remarry during the lifetime of the innocent spouse who retained the right to inherit land or other property from the guilty one. In most of the new states, courts heard divorce cases; but in Maryland a divorce required a private bill of divorce by the state legislature.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Life of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington was born at Chestnut Grove in New Kent County, Virginia, June 2, 1731. Her father, John Dandridge (1700/1701 — 1756), emigrated to Virginia from England with his older brother William when John was 13 or 14 years old. He settled in New Kent County and became county clerk in 1730, the year he married Martha's mother, Frances Jones (1710 — 1785) of York County.


The Family of George Washington by Edward Savage

Frances Jones Dandridge's widowed mother lived in Williamsburg with her second husband, watchmaker John Flournoy. Her grandfather Rowland Jones (Martha's great-grandfather) was the first rector of the newly formed Bruton Parish Church from 1674 until his death in 1688.

Martha was the eldest of three brothers and five sisters, the youngest of whom was born when Martha was 25 and already had four children of her own. She married Colonel Daniel Parke Custis in 1750 and lived in his Pumunkey River mansion, White House. Custis managed the large New Kent County plantation of his father, Councillor John Custis, who lived at the brick house known as Custis Square in Williamsburg.

Martha and Daniel Custis had four children: Daniel, born in 1751; Frances, born in 1753; John (Jacky) born in 1755; and Martha (Patsy), born in 1756 or 1757. Daniel died at the age of three, and Frances died at four years of age. July 26, 1757, when Martha Custis was only 26 years old, her husband died suddenly.

Martha married Colonel George Washington (1732 — 1799) January 6, 1759. Washington had been commander of the First Virginia Regiment in the French and Indian War and had been elected a burgess representing Frederick County in 1758. He had acquired Mount Vernon by lease from the widow of his half-brother Lawrence in 1754. (He inherited the plantation upon her death in 1761.) Before his marriage, Washington had increased the size of Mount Vernon from the original one-and-one-half-story dwelling to a two-and-one-half story home. George and Martha Washington and her children Jacky and Patsy moved to Mount Vernon in April 1759.

Mount Vernon remained George and Martha's home until their respective deaths, although they spent much time elsewhere during the war and presidential years. June 19, 1773, Martha's teenage daughter Patsy died at Mount Vernon. The following year, Martha's son John Parke Custis married Eleanor Calvert at her home, Mount Airy, in Prince George County, Maryland. George Washington attended the wedding, but Martha was so grief-stricken over Patsy's death, she was unable to make the trip. John and Eleanor had five children before his death from "camp fever" (probably typhoid fever) November 5, 1781.

Although Martha remained at Mount Vernon when George went to Philadelphia as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, she often accompanied him to his headquarters during the war years. She spent the winter of 1775 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in the spring of 1776, she followed him to New York. In the spring of 1777, she arrived at his headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, but she returned to Mount Vernon for the summer. The next winter she joined her husband at Valley Forge, and later she stayed with him during campaigns in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Martha and George Washington raised two of their grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis (Nelly) and George Washington Parke Custis (called "Wash" or "Tub") at Mount Vernon. When Martha's son's widow Eleanor remarried Dr. David Stuart in 1783, she and her two eldest daughters lived at the Stuart home in Abingdon, while the two youngest children continued to live at Mount Vernon. In 1784, Martha's 15-year-old niece, Frances Basset, came to live at Mount Vernon. She married George's nephew, Major George Augustine Washington, in 1785.

George Washington was inaugurated president on April 30, 1789. As the wife of the president, Martha lived with her husband and grandchildren Nelly and Wash in Philadelphia until they returned to Mount Vernon March 15, 1797. George Washington died at Mount Vernon December 14, 1799. Martha was widowed for two and one-half years until she, too, died at Mount Vernon May 22, 1802

From the website of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Paintings of Martha Washington made during her lifetime

1757 John Wollaston, Martha Dandridge Custis (later Mrs George Washington)

This is the biography of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington from the White House website:

"I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else, there is certain bounds set for me which I must not depart from..." So in one of her surviving letters, Martha Washington confided to a niece that she did not entirely enjoy her role as first of First Ladies. She once conceded that "many younger and gayer women would be extremely pleased" in her place; she would "much rather be at home."

1789-96 Edward Savage (1761-1817). The Washington Family (detail)

But when George Washington took his oath of office in New York City on April 30, 1789, and assumed the new duties of President of the United States, his wife brought to their position a tact and discretion developed over 58 years of life in Tidewater Virginia society.

1790 Edward Savage (1761-1817). Martha Washington.

Oldest daughter of John and Frances Dandridge, she was born June 2, 1731, on a plantation near Williamsburg. Typical for a girl in an 18th-century family, her education was almost negligible except in domestic and social skills, but she learned all the arts of a well-ordered household and how to keep a family contented.


1791-2 Archibald Robertson (1765-1835). Martha Washington.

As a girl of 18--about five feet tall, dark-haired, gentle of manner--she married the wealthy Daniel Parke Custis. Two babies died; two were hardly past infancy when her husband died in 1757.

1793 John Trumbull (1756-1843). Martha Washington.

From the day Martha married George Washington in 1759, her great concern was the comfort and happiness of her husband and children. When his career led him to the battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War and finally to the Presidency, she followed him bravely. Her love of private life equaled her husband's; but, as she wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, "I cannot blame him for having acted according to his ideas of duty in obeying the voice of his country."

As for herself, "I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances."

1795 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Martha Washington.

At the President's House in temporary capitals, New York and Philadelphia, the Washingtons chose to entertain in formal style, deliberately emphasizing the new republic's wish to be accepted as the equal of the established governments of Europe. Still, Martha's warm hospitality made her guests feel welcome and put strangers at ease. She took little satisfaction in "formal compliments and empty ceremonies" and declared that "I am fond of only what comes from the heart."

Abigail Adams, who sat at her right during parties and receptions, praised her as "one of those unassuming characters which create Love and Esteem."

1796 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Martha Washington

In 1797 the Washingtons said farewell to public life and returned to their beloved Mount Vernon, to live surrounded by kinfolk, friends, and a constant stream of guests eager to pay their respects to the celebrated couple. Martha's daughter Patsy had died, as had her son Jack at 26, but Jack's children figured in the household. After George Washington died in 1799, Martha assured a final privacy by burning their letters; she died of "severe fever" on May 22, 1802. Both lie buried at Mount Vernon, where Washington himself had planned an unpretentious tomb for them.

1796 James Peale ( 1749-1831). Martha Washington.


1796 James Sharples (1751-1811). Martha Washington.


1800 Unidentified Artist, Martha Washington

Martha Washington at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78

Martha Washington at the 1777-78 Valley Forge Encampment

Nancy K. Loane, author of Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment, writes that Martha Washington was a spiffy dresser, assertive, and definitely a woman of independent means.[1]  And she was a woman who followed her man. 
This miniature portrait, painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale, is the earliest depiction of Martha after her marriage to George Washington.

(After Washington left Mount Vernon in 1775, to lead the military fighting the American Revolution, he would not return again for over 6 years. Every year, during the long winter months when the fighting was at a standstill, the General asked Martha to join him at his winter encampment. She stayed with him for months at a time. During the period from April 1775, until December 1783, Martha was able to be with her husband for almost half the time he was away.)

Each year, once the Continental Army settled in for the winter, Gen. George Washington wrote for his wife to join him at military camp. Each year after receiving the request Martha Washington—although she delighted in being at Mount Vernon with her large, extended family, and was lonely and anxious when away from Virginia—dutifully packed up her bags, got into the carriage, and started north. Martha Washington, determined and diminutive at five feet tall, had kept close to home before the Revolution began; once the hostilities started, she traveled thousands of miles to be with her husband. (Martha Washington journeyed to the General because she supported the cause of freedom and also because, as General Lafayette once observed, she loved “her husband madly”).[2]

After George Washington accepted the position of commander in chief, the woman who loved hearth and home left both to join her husband at military encampments in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.  The Continental Army marched into Valley Forge, the third of the eight winter encampments of the Revolution, on December 19, 1777. Martha Washington traveled ten days and hundreds of miles to join her husband in Pennsylvania. Her carriage and entourage left Mount Vernon on January 26 and, according to Gen. Nathanael Greene, Martha arrived at headquarters the evening of February 5, 1778.[3] Primary documents of the Revolutionary period give us some idea of what Lady Washington did when she got there.

Martha’s main role, of course, was to care for General Washington. “Poor man,” Gen. Nathanael Greene wrote of his commander, “he appears oppressed with cares and wants some gentle hand free from deceit to soothe his cares.”[4] That soothing “gentle hand” belonged to Martha Washington. She also assumed her familiar role of hostess at camp. On April 6, Mrs. Elizabeth Drinker and three friends arrived at Valley Forge to plead with General Washington to release their husbands from jail; the men, all Quakers, had refused to swear a loyalty oath to the United States. Because the commander was not available when the ladies arrived from Philadelphia, they visited with Mrs. Washington who Mrs. Drinker thought to be a “a sociable pretty kind of Woman.” General Washington was unable to assist Mrs. Drinker and her friends, but he did invite them to dine at headquarters that day. Elizabeth Drinker found the 3:00 p.m. dinner with General and Mrs. Washington and about fifteen of the officers to be “elegant” but also “soon over,” and afterwards the four ladies then “went with ye General’s Wife up to her Chamber, and saw no more of him.”[5]

Mrs. Washington also socialized with the wives of the senior officers at Valley Forge. Years later, Pierre DuPonceau, an aide to Baron von Steuben, recalled that in the evenings the ladies and officers at camp would meet at each other’s quarters for conversation. During these social evenings each lady and gentleman present was “called upon in turn for a song” as they sipped tea or coffee.[6] The officers and their ladies could do little during these social evenings but talk and sing, for Washington, with the enemy camped nearby in Philadelphia, prohibited both dancing and card-playing at Valley Forge.

On February 16, 1778, Charles Willson Peale painted a miniature of Washington—for which he charged his usual “56 Dollars”—and presented it to Martha.[7] Peale made several other miniatures of Washington at camp; John Laurens, one of Washington’s aides, thought them “successful attempts to produce the General’s likeness.”[8] Peale’s brush was busy at Valley Forge, as he captured some fifty officers and their wives on canvas that winter.

Lady Washington happily participated in the camp’s joyous May 6 celebration of the formal announcement of the French-American alliance. The day began early for General and Mrs. Washington and they, along with several officers and their wives, first attended services with the New Jersey brigade. Revered Mr. Hunter preached the sermon, said to be a “suitable discourse.”[9] Soon after the thunderous feu de joie (thousands of soldiers fired off the muskets consecutively in a “fire of joy”), His Excellency and Lady Washington received in the center of a large marquee fashioned from dozens of officers’ tents. Although there is no record of Mrs. Washington’s attire on that august day, General Washington, usually so staid and proper, was said to have worn “a countenance of uncommon delight and complacence.”[10]

Five days later, on May 11, Martha Washington and the commander attended the camp production of Cato, a theatrical favorite of the General’s. The Joseph Addison tragedy was performed by the staff officers for a “very numerous and splendid audience,” including many officers and several of their wives. The play was received with enthusiasm, and one officer wrote that he found the performance “admirable” and the scenery “in Taste.”[11] There is, however, no record of what either General or Mrs. Washington thought of the production.

But then on June 8, six days after celebrating her forty-seventh birthday at Valley Forge, Lady Washington got into her carriage and started out for Mount Vernon. She left camp with a hopeful heart, for the French had officially joined with America in the battle against the British. Surely, she thought, the war would soon be over and she would not be asked to endure any more army encampments. But five more times during the Revolution Martha Washington packed up her belongings, climbed into her carriage, and headed north from Mount Vernon to join with her husband in America’s fight for freedom.

1 Loane, Nancy K. Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment. Potomac Books, Inc., Washington, D.C., 2009. 
2 Lafayette to Adrienne de Noailles de Lafayette, January 6, 1778, in Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution, ed. Stanley J. Idzerda (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 1: 225.
3 Nathanael Greene to Gen. Alexander McDougall, February 5, 1778, in The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, ed. Richard K. Showman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 2:276.
4 Nathanael Greene to Catharine Greene. July 8, 1779, in Greene Papers, 4:212.
5 Elizabeth Sandwith Drinker, The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, ed. Elaine Foreman Crane (Boston: Northeastern University press, 1991), 1:297.
6 “Autobiographical Letters of Peter S. DuPonceau,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography XL (1916): 181.
7 Charles Willson Peale, The Selected Papers of Charles Willson Peale and His Family, ed. Lillian B. Miller (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 1: 266.
8 John Laurens to Henry Laurens, March 9, 1778, in The Army Correspondence of Colonel John Laurens in the Years 1777-1778. (New York: The New York Times and the Arno Press, 1969), 139.
9 Mark E. Lender and James Kirby Martin, Citizen Soldier: The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield. (Newark: New Jersey Historical Society, 1982), 134.
10 John F. Reed, Valley Forge: Crucible of Victory (Monmouth Beach: Peter Freneau Press, 1969), 56.
11 William Bradford, Jr. to Rachel Bradford, May 14, 1778, in Joseph Lee Boyle, Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 2001), 2:125.

Read the original article here.

Nancy K. Loane, Ed.D., a former seasonal ranger at Valley Forge National Historical Park, has studied more than five hundred Revolutionary War–era diaries, journals, letters, returns, orderly books, and records. She is the author of Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment (Potomac, 2009). A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Speaker (2006–2007), she has presented nearly 200 American Revolution-related lectures throughout the country, including at the Library of Congress, and was featured in C-SPAN's recent series on the first ladies (in the program on Martha Washington). Dr. Loane is a founding member of the American Revolution Round Table of Philadelphia and an honorary lifetime member of the Society of the Descendants of Washington’s Army at Valley Forge.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Martha Washington's life as 1st Lady in Philadelphia.

1793 John Trumbull (1756-1843). Martha Washington (1731-1802). 

Although he was sworn in as the first President of the United States of America on April 30, 1789; it wasn't until 1790, that arrangements were being finalized for a residence for the First Family (certainly not called the "first family" in those days, sorry) in Philadelphia. In 1790, George Washington finally was able to begin making plans to move Martha and her two nearly teenaged grandchildren up from Virginia to live in the house of Robert Morris in Philadelphia.


Her grandchildren's father was Martha's deceased son John Parke Custis (1755-1781). Eleanor "Nelly" Parke Custis (1779-1852) was about 12, when she arrived in Philadelphia; and her little brother George Washington "Washy, Wash, or Tub" Parke Custis (1781-1856) was 2 years younger. Both children remained at Mount Vernon, after their widowed mother remarried. Their grandmother Martha Dandridge Custis Washington also had been widowed by the death of her 1st husband Daniel Parke Custis only 7 years after their 1750 marriage. She married George Washington 2 years later.


Washington's Philadelphia Residence on High Street.


Washington wrote to his secretary Tobias Lear (1760-1816) describing the house in which they would all live on September 5, 1790. Tobias Lear & his new bride would also live in the house. Lear had just married Mary (Polly) Long (1766-1793), his childhood sweetheart. While living in the President's house, they would have a baby boy; but Polly would die in 1793, during the Philadelphia yellow fever epidemic that claimed nearly 5,000 people "The house of Mr R. Morris had, previous to my arrival, been taken by the Corporation [the city of Philadelphia] for my Residence. — It is the best they could get. — It is, I believe, the best Single house accommodation of my family. — These, I believe will be made.  "The first floor contains only two public Rooms (except one for theupper Servants). — The second floor will have two public (drawing) Rooms & with the aid of one Room with a partition in it, in the back building, will be sufficient for the accommodation of Mrs Washington & the children & their maids — besides affording me a small place for a private study & dressing Room. — The third story will furnish you & Mrs Lear with a good lodging Room — a public Office (for there is no place below for one) and two Rooms for the Gentlemen of the family [Washington's office staff]. — The Garret has four good Rooms which must serve Mr and Mrs Hyde [the steward and his wife] (unless they should prefer the Room over the wash House), — William [Osborne, Washington's valet] — and such Servants as it may not be better to place in the addition (as proposed) to the Back building. — There is a room over the Stable (without a fireplace, but by means of a Stove) may serve the Coachman & Postillions; — and there is a smoke House, which possibly may be more useful to me for the accommodation of Servants, than for the Smoking of Meat. — The intention of the addition to the Back building is to provide a Servants Hall, and one or two (as it will afford) lodging Rooms for the Servants, especially those who are coupled. — There is a very good Wash House adjoining the Kitchen (under one of the Rooms already mentioned). — There are good Stables, but for 12 Horses only, and a Coach House which will hold all of my Carriages..."In a fortnight or 20 days from this time, it is expected Mr Morris will have removed out of the House. — It is proposed to add Bow Windows to the two public Rooms in the South front of the House, — But as all the other apartments will be close & secure the sooner after that time you can be in the House, with the furniture, the better, that you may be well fixed and see how matters go during my absence."


Detail with Slave 1789-96 Edward Savage (1761-1817). The Washington Family. 


It was apparent that Washington felt he needed his personal, house slaves from Mount Vernon to meet the needs of his family and entourage in Philadelphia, at a time when slavery was under grave scrutiny in that Northern city.


Tobias Lear, Washington's protective secretary, wrote to George Long trying to fend off any anticipated criticism, "[Washington's] negroes are not treated as blacks in general are in this Country, they are clothed and fed as well as any labouring people whatever and they are not subject to the lash of a domineering Overseer — but still they are slaves." (Probably not political spin that would have worked today.)


Foreign visitors from privileged backgrounds, such as Viscount de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), were surprised at the lack of security and informality at the President's house in Philadelphia. "September 14, 1791 — A small house built in the English style, and resembling the other houses in its neighborhood, was the palace of the President of the United States; no guards, not even footmen.  
I knocked, a young servant girl opened the door. I asked her if the general was at home; she said that he was. I told her I had a letter to hand him. The girl asked my name, difficult to pronounce in English, and which she did not succeed in retaining.  She then told me gently, 'Walk in, sir,' and she led the way through one of those narrow corridors which serve as vestibules in English houses, introduced me into the parlor and begged me to wait the general's coming."

The first floor of the President's Philadelphia house was constantly a buzz with drop-in & invited visitors, both foreign and native, sometimes very native. In his diary, John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) reported on July 11, 1794, "By the invitation of the President, I attended the reception he gave to Piomingo and a number of other Chickasaw Indians. Five Chiefs, seven Warriors, four boys and an interpreter constituted the Company.  
As soon as the whole were seated the ceremony of smoking began. A large East Indian pipe was placed in the middle of the Hall. The tube which appeared to be of leather, was twelve to fifteen feet in length.  The President began and after two or three whiffs, passed the tube to Piomingo; he to the next chief, and so all around ..."

Supreme Court Justice John B. Wallace described a more sedate, traditional audience with the President, "Washington received his guests, standing between the windows in his back drawing-room. The company, entering a front room and passing through an unfolding door, made their salutations to the President, and turning off, stood on one side."


George Washington did not particularly like surprises and was most comfortable with a set routine which he had practiced and memorized. William Sullivan wrote of the regular formal levee. President Washington, "devoted one hour every Tuesday, from three to four, to these visits...The place of reception was the dining room in the rear, twenty-five of thirty feet in length, including the bow projecting into the garden. At three o'clock, or at any time within a quarter of an hour afterwards, the visiter was conducted to this dining room, from which all seats had been removed for the time.  On entering he saw the manly figure of Washington clad in black velvet; . . . holding a cocked hat with a cockade in it, and the edges adorned with a black feather about an inch deep. He wore knee and shoe buckles; and a long sword, with a finely wrought and polished steel blade, and appearing from under the folds behind. The scabbard was white polished leather.  The visiter was conducted to him, and he required to have the name so distinctly pronounced, that he could hear it. He received the visiter with a dignified bow, while his hands were so disposed of as to indicate that the salutation was not to be accompanied with shaking hands.


As visiters came in, they formed a circle around the room. At a quarter past three, the door was closed, and the circle was formed for the day. He then began on the right, and spoke to each visiter, calling him by name, and exchanging a few words with him.
When he had completed his circuit, he resumed his first position, and the visiters approached him in succession, bowed and retired. By four o'clock this ceremony was over."

1790 Edward Savage (1761-1817). Martha Washington (1731-1802). 


During Washington's presidency, family affairs remained important to Martha Washington. In 1786, the president's nephew George Augustine Washington (1758-1793), who was acting as Washington's estate manager & living at Mount Vernon, had married Martha Washington's favorite niece Frances Bassett (1767-1796) of Eltham, who also was living at Mount Vernon.


George Augustine Washington died in 1793, & his widow Fanny Bassett Washington subsequently married Washington's secretary Tobias Lear, a widower with a young son. Before she accepted Lear's proposal, Fanny sought the advice of George & Martha Washington. Martha wrote her on 29 August 1794,

"My dear Fanny, I wish I could give you unerring advise in regard to the request contained in your last letter; I really dont know what to say to you on the subject; you must be governed by your own judgement, and I trust providence will derect you for the best; it is a matter more interesting to yourself than any other.
The person contemplated is a worthy man, esteemed by every one that is aquainted with him; he has, it is concieved, fair prospects before him;--is, I belive, very industri[ous] and will, I have not a doubt, make sumthing handsome for himself.--  As to the President, he never has, nor never will, as you have often heard him say, intermeddle in matrimonial concerns. he joins with me however in wishing you every happyness this world can give.--you have had a long acquaintance with Mr Lear, and must know him as well as I do.--he always appeared very attentive to his wife and child, as farr as ever I have seen; he is I believe, a man of strict honor and probity; and one with whom you would have as good a prospect of happyness as with any one I know; but beg you will not let anything I say influence you either way.  The President has a very high opinion of and friendship for Mr. Lear; and has not the least objection to your forming the connection but, no more than myself, would wish to influence your judgement, either way--yours and the childrens good being among the first wishes of my heart. "


Fanny married Lear in the summer of 1795, but died in March of 1796. After her death, Tobias Lear moved to Washington's River Farm on the Potomac with his own young son & with the 2 children of George Augustine & Fanny Washington, George (1792-1867) & Anna (1788-1816) . Lear married again, this time to the young Frances Dandridge Henley (1779-1856). His new wife was also nicknamed Fanny and was also a niece of Martha Washington.


Martha Washington met and entertained visitors as well. Henry Wansey (1752-1827) wrote in his journal."Friday, June 6 [1794]. Had the honor of an interview with the President of the United States, to whom I was introduced by Mr. Dandridge, his secretary. He received me very politely, and after reading my letters, I was asked to breakfast...
Mrs. Washington herself made the tea and coffee for us. On the table were two small plates of sliced tongue, dry toast, bread and butter, etc., but no broiled fish, as is the general custom. Miss Custis, her grand-daughter, a very pleasing young lady, of about sixteen, sat next to her, and her brother, George Washington Custis, about two years younger than herself.
There was little appearance of form: one servant only attended, who had no livery; a silver urn for hot water, was the only article of expense on the table."

1791-2 Archibald Robertson (1765-1835). Martha Washington (1731-1802). 


Charlotte Chambers (1768-1821) daughter of General James Chambers (1743-1805) wrote to her mother Katherine Hamilton Chambers (1737-1820) on February 25, 1795, describing the February 22 birthday celebration for President George Washington where she met the President and his wife.


The morning of the 'twenty-second' was ushered in by the discharge of heavy artillery. The whole city was in commotion, making arrangements to demonstrate their attachment to our beloved President. The Masonic, Cincinnati, and military orders united in doing him honor. Happy republic! great and glorious! . . . Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, with Dr. Spring, called for me in their coach. Dr. Rodman, master of ceremonies, met us at the door, and conducted us to Mrs. Washington. She half arose as we made our passing compliments. She was dressed in a rich silk, but entirely without ornament, except the animation her amiable heart gives to her countenance. Next her were seated the wives of the foreign ambassadors, glittering from the floor to the summit of their head-dress. One of the ladies wore three large ostrich-feathers. Her brow was encircled by a sparkling fillet of diamonds; her neck and arms were almost covered with jewels, and two watches were suspended from her girdle, and all reflecting the light from a hundred directions. Such superabundance of ornament struck me as injudicious; we look too much at the gold and pearls to do justice to the lady. However, it may not be in conformity to their individual taste thus decorating themselves, but to honor the country they represent...


The seats were arranged like those of an amphitheatre, and cords were stretched on each side of the room, about three feet from the floor, to. preserve sufficient space for the dancers. We were not long seated when General Washington entered, and bowed to the ladies as he passed round the room.  'He comes, he comes, the hero comes!' I involuntarily but softly exclaimed. When he bowed to me, I could scarcely resist the impulse of my heart, that almost burst through my bosom, to meet him. The dancing soon after commenced... Next morning I received an invitation by my father from Mrs. Washington to visit her, and Col. Hartley politely offered to accompany me to the next drawing-room levee...On this evening...The hall, stairs, and drawing-room of the President’s house were well lighted by lamps and chandeliers. Mrs. Washington, with Mrs. Knox, sat near the fire-place. Other ladies were seated on sofas, and gentlemen stood in the centre of the room conversing. On our approach, Mrs. Washington arose and made a courtesy—the gentlemen bowed most profoundly—and I calculated my declension to her own with critical exactness.


Less than a month later, Charlotte wrote to her mother again on March 11, 1795.  


In a previous letter, I wrote of being at the President’s, and my admiration of Mrs. Washington. Yesterday, Col. Proctor informed me that her carriage was at the door, and a servant inquiring for me. After the usual compliments and some conversation, she gave me a pressing invitation to spend the day with her; and so perfectly friendly were her manners, I found myself irresistibly attached to her. On taking leave, she observed a portrait of the President hanging over the fire-place, and said 'She had never seen a correct likeness of General Washington. The only merit the numerous portraits of him possessed was their resemblance to each other.'


Martha Washington often attended state dinners as the only female in the company. Massachusettes Congressman Theophilus Bradbury (1739-1803) wrote to his daughter Harriet of Christmas Dinner at the Philadelphia President's House in 1795, "In the middle of the table was placed a piece of table furniture of wood gilded, or polished metal, raised only about an inch, with a silver rim round it like that round a tea board; in the centre was a pedestal of plaster of Paris with images upon it, and on each end figures, male and female, of the same. It was very elegant and used for ornament only.  
The dishes were placed all around, and there was an elegant variety of roast beef, veal, turkeys, ducks, fowls, hams &c.; puddings, jellies, oranges, apples, nuts, almonds, figs, raisins, and a variety of wines and punch.  We took our leave at six, more than an hour after the candles were introduced. No lady but Mrs. Washington dined with us.  We were waited on by four or five men servants dressed in livery."

Isaac Weld, Jr. (1774-1856) reported that on the President's birthday in February of 1796, the President received company in the two first floor parlors, while Martha Washington received the female guests in the second floor drawing room, On General Washington's birthday, which was a few days ago, this city was unusually gay; every person of consequence in it, Quakers alone excepted, made it a point to visit the General on this day.  
As early as eleven o'clock in the morning he was prepared to receive them, and the audience lasted until three in the afternoon.  The society of the Cincinnati, the clergy, the officers of the militia, and several others, who formed a distinct body of citizens, came by themselves separately.  The foreign ministers attended in their richest dresses and most splendid equipages.  Two large parlours were open for the reception of gentlemen, the windows of one of which towards the street were crowded with spectators on the outside.  The sideboard was furnished with cake and wines, whereof the visitors partook.  I never observed so much cheerfulness before in the countenance of General Washington; but it was impossible for him to remain insensible to the attention and compliments paid to him on this occasion.  The ladies of the city, equally attentive paid their respects to Mrs. Washington, who received them in the drawing-room up stairs. After having visited the General, most of the gentlemen also waited upon her.

A public ball and supper terminated the rejoicings of the day.

Robert E. Gray, who had grown up in Philadelphia, remembered that after such state entertaining, the President "always smiled on children! He was particularly popular with small boys...After his great dinners he used to tell the steward to let in the little fellows, and we, the boys of the immediate neighborhood, who were never far off on such occasions, crowded about the table and made quick work of the remaining cakes, nuts and raisins."

Visiting Englishman Thomas Twining (1735-1804), who was accustomed to traveling from one country to the next, was also surprised at the lack of security and the spartan decoration on the interior public rooms at the President's Philadelphia house. "May 13, 1796: [I] was shown into a middling-sized, well-furnished drawing room on the left of the passage. Nearly opposite the door was the fireplace, with a wood-fire in it. The floor was carpeted. On the left of the fireplace was a sofa, which sloped across the room.


There were no pictures on the walls, no ornaments on the chimneypiece. Two windows on the right of the entrance looked into the street."


1795 Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Martha Washington (1731-1802). 


Elizabeth Bordley Gibson (1777-1863) was more impressed by Martha Washington's attention to her grandchildren in the midst of her state entertaining obligations, "Mrs. Washington was in the habit of retiring at an early hour to her own room, unless detained by company, and there, no matter what the hour, Nellie attended her.  
One evening, my father's carriage being late in coming for me, my dear friend invited me to accompany her to grandmama's room.  There, after some little chat, Mrs. Washington apologized to me for pursuing her usual preparations for the night, and Nellie entered upon her accustomed duty by reading a chapter and a psalm from the old family Bible, after which all present knelt in evening prayer;  Mrs. Washington's faithful maid then assisted her to disrobe and lay her head upon the pillow; Nellie then sang a verse of some sweetly soothing hymn, and then, leaning down, received her parting blessing for the night, with some emphatic remark on her duties, improvements, etc.  The effect of these judicious habits and teachings appeared in the granddaughter's character through life."

One of those grandchildren, George Washington Parke Custis remembered the formal levees and processessions with joy. "On the great national days of the fourth of July and twenty-second of February, the salute from the then head of Market street (Eighth street) announced the opening of the levee.  
Then was seen the venerable corps of the Cincinnati marching to pay their respects to their president-general, who received them at headquarters and in the uniform of the commander-in-chief.... [Each veteran] gave in no name — he required no ceremony of introduction — but, making his way to the family parlor, opened the general gratulation by the first welcome of Robert Morris.  "A fine volunteer corps, called the light-infantry, from the famed light-infantry of the Revolutionary army, commanded by Lafayette, mounted a guard of honor on the national days.  When it was about to close, the soldiers, headed by their sergeants, marched with trailed arms and noiseless step through the hall to a spot where huge bowls of punch had been prepared for their refreshment, when, after quaffing a deep carouse, with three hearty cheers to the health of the president, they countermarched to the street, the bands struck up the favorite air, "forward" was the word, and the levee was ended."

In a letter to Jared Sparks from Woodlawn in 1833, grandaughter Nelly Custis recalled how Sundays were spent during Washington's presidency and reflected on her grandparent's religious beliefs, In New York and Philadelphia he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition.  The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company. Sometimes an old and intimate friend called to see us for an hour or two; but visiting and visitors were prohibited for that day [Sunday]. No one in church attended to the services with more reverential respect.  My grandmother, who was eminently pious, never deviated from her early habits. She always knelt. The General, as was then the custom, stood during the devotional parts of the service.  On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother...I had the most perfect model of female excellence [Martha Washington] ever with me as my monitress, who acted the part of a tender and devoted parent, loving me as only a mother can love... approving in me what she disapproved of others.  She never omitted her private devotions, or her public duties...She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity.


President and Mrs. Washington and the grandchildren, to escape the yellow fever epidemics, spent part of two summers (1793 & 1794) in the hills of Germantown, nearly 10 miles from the city. Ironically, the house they stayed in had been headquarters for British General William Howe after the American defeat at the Battle of Germantown.


1793-4. The Washington Family's Temporary Residence in Germantown, Pennsylvania.


George Washington's term as President ended on March 4, 1797. Bishop William White (1748-1836) wrote of the Washington family's final days in Philadelphia, "On the day before his leaving of the Presidential chair a large company dined with him. Among them were the foreign ministers and their ladies, Mr. and Mrs. Adams, Mr. Jefferson, with the other conspicuous persons of both sexes.  
During the dinner much hilarity prevailed; but on the removal of the cloth it was put an end to by the President: certainly without design.  Having filled his glass, he addressed the company, with a smile on his countenance, as nearly as can be recollected in the following terms: 'Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink your health as a public man. I do it with sincerity, and wishing you all possible happiness.' "

1796 Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Martha Washington (1731-1802). 


Private citizen George Washington, his wife Martha, and their grandchildren returned to Mount Vernon, where they continued to receive visitors on a daily basis, finally and happily relieved of the burden of the office.


Benjamin Latrobe visited the couple at their Virginia home in 1796, writing that Martha Washington, retains strong remains of considerable beauty, seems to enjoy very good health, & to have as good humor. She has no affectation of superiority in the slightest degree, but acts completely in the character of the mistress of the house of a respectable and opulent country gentleman.


1796 James Peale ( 1749-1831). Martha Washington (1731-1802).

Monday, January 16, 2017

South Carolina's Martha Laurens Ramsay (1759-1811) - the exemplar for Republican Motherhood

Martha Laurens (daughter of Henry and Eleanor Laurens). John Wollaston c 1767


Martha Laurens Ramsay (1759-1811), South Carolina gentry wife & mother & exemplar of dutiful womanhood, was born in Charleston.  Her posthumous memoir, edited & expanded by her husband, was published in 1812, as a model for American women, especially mothers, in the 19C.  A perfect guide for Republican Motherhood.


Her father, Henry Laurens, was of French Huguenot descent, the grandson of Andre’ Laurens, a saddler, who had arrived in Carolina during the 1690’s.  Her mother was Eleanor Ball, daughter of Elias Ball, a planter, who had come from Devonshire, England.  Active in the rice & slave trades after 1747, Henry Laurens had accumulated one of the largest Carolina fortunes by 1762, when he turned planter, buying plantations totaling some 20,000 acres & preparing to live off his wealth invested in land & slaves. Martha was the 5th daughter & the 8th of his 13 children.  
As a child Martha Laurens demonstrated great eagerness for learning. She could read easily at age 3 & soon learned French, English grammar, geography, arithmetic, & some geometry.  Her father approved of her studious habits but cautioned her that a knowledge of housewifery was the 1st requisite in female education.  In her 12th year she “began to be the subject of serious religious impressions.”  

By the time of their mother’s death in 1770, however, only 5 children survived.  Martha herself, it is said, was thought to have succumbed to smallpox as a baby & had been laid out for burial when an ocean breeze revived her. After her mother’s death, her upbringing fell largely to her aunt & uncle, Mary & James Laurens.  Left in their care in 1771, along with a younger sister, when her father took her brothers abroad for schooling, she lived with them for 11 years, at first in Charleston, & then abroad, where James Laurens had gone for his health.  They spent several years in England, from 1775 to 1778, & then went to live at Vigan in the south of France.  Much of this time Martha served as nurse for her ailing uncle.  

She continued an earnest course of reading.  First came the Bible & then the old divines of the 17C & 18C, especially Philip Doddridge; in divinity, her husband later wrote approvingly, she read “much of what was practical, but rarely looked into any thing that was controversial.”  Of historians she knew Plutarch, Charles Rollin, & William Robertson; of philosophy, not more that Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding.  She read the modern English & French works of genius, taste, & imagination. She studied botany; dipped into the Archbishop of Cambray’s Dissertation on Pure Love; committed most of Edward Young’s Night Thoughts to memory; & learned to sing Dr. Isaac Watts’ “divine songs” by heart.  Education & religion remained her twin concerns, for when her uncle willed her 500 guineas, she provided for the distribution of Bibles to the people of Vigan & then set up a school for the young there, which she endowed with a teacher.  


In the fall of 1782, to her great joy, her father joined them in France, after his service as president of the Continental Congress, diplomat, & prisoner of war.  Though reluctant to leave her dying uncle, she considered at this point marrying a French suitor (a M. de Vernes), but her father thought him an aged fortune hunter, & in obedience she gave up the match.  She spent most of 1783 & 1784 with her father, who hoped to cure his gout at Bath.  Laurens sailed home in the summer of 1784; Martha & her sister followed early in 1785.  


Her father’s ill health brought Martha in touch with the Charleston physician David Rumsay (1749-1815), a former member of the Continental Congress; & on Jan. 23, 1787, she became his 3rd wife.  Her father would have approved. With her husband in the state legislature, her sister married to another public figure, Charles Pinckney, & her brother Henry to a daughter of John Rutledge, Martha Ramsay lived in the center of public affairs.  It was, however, in the private sphere that she excelled.  She believed that a woman’s proper role was to provide strength for the man in her life to perform on that public stage.

In 16 years, she bore her husband 11 children, Eleanor Henry Laurens (1787), Martha H.L. (1789), Frances H.L. (1790), Katharine H.L. (1792), Sabine Elliot (1794, who became the 2nd wife of her 1st cousin Henry Laurens Pinckney), David (1795), Jane Montgomery (1796), James (1797), a 2nd Jane Montgomery (1802).  A letter of 1797 to his wife gives David Ramsay’s view of childbearing assuring her that one couple in his neighborhood had 23 children all alive.  “This I fear is beyond our mark.  May God bless these he has given us & as many more as he in his kind providence pleases & also give you strength & health to bring them up which if done by you I am sure will be well done.” Eight of her 11 children survived childhood.


Martha Ramsay had read Rousseau of the care of the young, but she preferred the teachings of Locke & the Presbyterian divine Dr. John Witherspoon, combined with “the prudent use of the rod.”  She taught herself Latin & Greek, so that she could educate her sons, whom she prepared for college.  She home-schooled her female children & “carried her daughters at home through the several studies taught in boarding schools.”  Her children learned to read their Bibles in conjunction with Mrs. Sarah Trimmer’s prints of scripture history; Watts’ short view of the whole scripture history; & later Newton on the prophecies.

Mrs. Ramsay had grown up in the Church of England, of which her father was an active communicant.  Her private “covenant with God,” 1st made at the age of 14, she renewed many times.  All of her children, with one exception, received baptism publicly.  Her deep commitment to religion was important, but it was not a commitment to any one denomination.  A quotation appended to her memoirs by David Ramsay reflects the views of husband & wife:  “The experimental part of religion has generally a greater influence than its theory.”  Through persons such as the countess of Huntingdon, whom she knew, & other figures in England’s evangelical revival, she adopted evangelical views; & through the influence of the Charleston ministers William Hollinshead & Isaac Stockton Keith, she became & remained a member of the Congregation Church.  But her religion was always “the warm, vital, active, unaffected religion of the Bible.”  She died in Charleston in 1811, at the age of 51, & was buried in the Congregational churchyard there.

Her historical importance rests primarily upon her husband’s publishing her brief memoirs as the Memories of the Life of Martha Laurens Ramsay.  They were published the year after her death, sold widely, & portrayed her as a model of proper womanhood in a new & growing nation.  She had read Mary Wollstonecraft’s fiery Vindication of the Rights of Woman, but “in conformity to the positive declarations of holy writ” she “yielded all pretensions” to equality with men.  Her highest ambition was to embody Christianity's ideals through all crises, including death, a conviction that characterized her entire approach to life, domestic & political. 


This posting based in part on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971

Also see

Gillespie, Joanna Bowen. The Life and Times of Martha Laurens Ramsay, 1759-1811. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

Gillespie, Joanna Bowen. "1795: Martha Laurens Ramsay's "Dark Night of the Soul" The William and Mary Quarterly Third Series, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jan., 1991), pp. 68-92 Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

Gillespie, Joanna Bowen. "Many Gracious Providences: The Religious Cosmos of Martha Laurens Ramsay".(1759-1811). COLBY LIBRARY QUARTERLY XXV (Sp. Issue: WOMEN AND RELIGION) #3, September 1989, 199-212.

Middleton, Margaret Simons . "David and Martha Laurens Ramsay" Carlton Press, 1971.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

18C Women & Children Fascinated by Pet Birds

1718 Nehemiah Partridge (American artist, 1683-1737) Portrait of Catherine Ten Broeck with Bird

We know that native North American birds fascinated men & women alike in 18C British American colonies. Colonials kept cages for their birds. Some even built larger bird-keeping areas called aviaries.


1721 Attributed to Nehemiah Partridge (American artist, 1683-1737) Sara Gansevoort (1718-1731) with a bird

An aviary is an enclosed area, often in a garden & larger than a traditional birdcage, meant for keeping, feeding, and hopefully breeding birds.  Aviaries in South Carolina sometimes contained two-story bird houses.


1725 Charles Bridges (American artist, 1670-1747). Detail of William Byrd II & Lucy Parke daughter Evelyn Byrd and a bird in the tree.

Mark Catesby (1682-1749) sailed to Virginia in 1712, and stayed in the British Atlantic colonies for 7 years, sketching & compiling The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands for publication upon his return to England. In his monumental work, he described birds he had seen in the colonies in cages. Thomas Jefferson had a copy of Catesby's History in his library.

Between 1739 and 1762, South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney (c 1722-1793) kept a letterbook in which she wrote, "Airry Chorristers pour forth their melody...the mocking bird...inchanted me with his harmony." By this time, enterprising Southerners caged red birds and even exported cages of mockingbirds to England.

The New York Journal published a poem of a woman imagining her ideal garden entitled A Wish of a Lady in 1769.

"...Just under my window I'd fancy a lawn,
Where delicate shrubs shou'd be planted with taste,
And none of my ground be seen running to waste.

Instead of Italians, the Linnet and Thrush
Wou'd with harmony greet me from every bush;
Those gay feather'd songsters do rapture inspire!
What music so soft as the heav'nly choir..."

1733 Gerardus Duyckinck (American artist, 1695-1746). Detail David and Phila Franks with bird.

And 18C portrait painters in America depicted men, women, & children with birds from the beginning of the century to the end. The question is whether the birds are being used as symbols or are actually birds that they might have owned.


1750 John Hesselius (American colonial artist, 1728-1778) Ann & Sarah Gordon

Birds were kept as pets around Charleston, South Carolina, when an ad in the South-Carolina Gazette in January of 1753 noted, "ANY Persons willing to try the cultivation of Flax and Hemp in this province, may have gratis a pint of Hemp Seed, and half a pint of Flax Seed, at Mr. Commissary Dart's store in Tradd-Street.—But it's hoped ladies will not send for any Hemp Seed for birds."

1755 John Wollaston (American artist, 1710-1775). Detail Elizabeth Page & Mann Page, children of Mann & Ann Corbin (Tayloe) Page of Rosewell, Gloucester County, with bird.

In February of 1768, James Drummond announced in Charleston's The South Carolina and American General Gazette that he had "just imported...from L(ondon), a large and compleat (Assortment) of GOODS, Among which are the following... men and womens white Italian gloves... corks, an sortment of watchmaker's tools...a bird cage."


1755 Joseph Badger (American artist, 1708-1765). Detail of Elizabeth Gould with bird.

James McCall advertised in the 1771 South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal the he had "just received...a great Variety of Garden Seeds, Pease and Beans; Hemp, Canary, Rape, and Moss Seed for Birds."

1758 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail Anne Fairchild (Mrs. Metcal Bowler) with bird in birdcage.

In 1772, the South-Carolina Gazette carried an ad for a plantation to be rented "on the Ashley River near Charleston" with "two well-contrived aviaries." A year later, the same paper noted a lot in Charlestown which contained, "a very good Two-Story Birds House."

1758 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail Thomas Aston Coffin with two birds.

Baroness Von Riedesel traveling through the British American southern colonies with her officer husband during the American Revolution wrote, "I had brought two gorgeous birds with me from Virginia. The main bird was scarlet with a darker red tuft of feathers on his head, about the size of a bull-finch, and it sang magnificently. The female bird was gray with a red breast and also had a tuft of feathers on its head."


The Baroness continued, "They are very tame soon after they are caught and eat out of one's hand. These birds live a long time, but if two male birds are hung in the same room they are so jealous of each other that one of them dies soon afterwards."


1760 Joseph Badger (American artist, 1708 - 1765). Detail of Jemima Flucker with bird.

She related that she, "saw black birds in Virginia of the same size, which always cry 'willow.' This amused us very much because one of my husband's aides was named Willoe."

1763-65 Henry Benbridge (American artist, 1743-1812). Detail of Gordon Family with bird.

The Baroness stated, "One of my servants discovered a whole nest of these red birds and fed and raised them. Knowing how much I loved them, he left Colle with two cages full on his back, but they all died before he reached me, much to our sorrow."

1766-67 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail of Mary Boylston (Mrs Benjamin Hallowell) with bird.

William Faris (1728-1804) was a silversmith & clockmaker living in Annapolis, Maryland, for over 50 years. He kept journals & a diary of his life there, on & off, during the last quarter of the 18th century. On October 25, 1793, Faris noted, "Last night the 2 yallow Birds died." Earlier, he had written that his "poor Mocking Bird" had died. Although these are the only references to birds in the diary he kept during the 1790s, his 1804 inventory listed eleven bird cages

Although it is difficult to find descriptions of 18th century aviaries in the British American colonies, we find the the books flowing into the colonies from England were replete with references to aviaries & descriptions of them.

1766 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Detail of Elizabeth Ross (Mrs. William Tyng) with bird. 

We know that Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, &  author, did not like aviaries, or so he wrote in his 1625 Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall in the essay entitled Of Gardens. "For Aviaries, I like them not, except they be of that largeness as they may be turfed, and have living plants and bushes set in them; that the birds may have more scope and natural nestling, and that no foulness appear in the floor of the aviary."

1767 John Singleton Copley (American artist, 1738-1815). Young Lady with a Bird and Dog

One of England's earliest agricultural writers, John Worlidge's (1640-1700) Systema Horticulturae published in 1677, noted that, "One of the pleasures belonging to a Garden, is an Aviary, which must be near your house, that you may take some delight in it there, as well as in your Garden, and that you may in all seasons take care of its Inhabitants."  Actually, Worlidge dreamed of "an Aviary at large, that the whole Garden with its Groves and Avenues may be full of these pretty Singers, that they may with their charming Notes, rouze up our dull Spirits, that are too intent upon the Cares of this World, and mind us of the Providence, the great God of the Universe hath over us, as well as these Creatures."

1770-1775 James Peale (American artist, 1749-1831). Girl with bird.

In 1701, when Charles Smith (1715-1762) published his Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork, he noted that "also nearer Cork Mr. John Dennis Merchant has a good house and neat gardens with an aviary."

1770 Daniel Hendrickson (American artist, 1723-1788). Detail of Catharine Hendrickson surrounded by birds.

The most widely read 18C gardening writer &  the chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden, Philip Miller's (1691-1771) The Gardeners and Florists Dictionary of 1724, noted that "Mr. J. B. The Author of the Hereford/hire Orchards enumerates the Benefits of Orchards, that besides their Profit, they sweeten and purify the ambient Air, and by that Means, he thinks, conduce to the Health...and afford Shade and Shelter in the Heat of Summer, but harbour a constant Aviary of sweet Singers without Wires."  Philip Miller was widely read throughout the British American colonies. His Dictionary was owned by Benjamin Franklin, Lady Jean Skipwith of Virginia, & Thomas Jefferson.


1770s Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827). Detail Mary Tilghman &  sons with bluejay.

By 1733, garden designer & writer and an early exponent of the English style landscape garden, Stephen Switzer (1682-1745) was instructing his readers on aviaries in his Practical Husbandman and Planter. In the month of June he wrote that the aviary requires the "Assistance of the Person who looks after it, by the bruising and Emulsion of the cool Seeds of Melon and Cucumbers, in their watering Pans; as also, by the giving of them the leaves of Succory, Beets...and fresh Gravel and Earth, to cure them of their Sicknefs in Moulting-Time, being now sick of their old Feathers. And now young Partridges, Indian Hens, Pheasants, Partridges, &c. begin to require a little looking after to preserve them from the griping Hawk, constantly digging up of Ant-hills for the Pecking and Support of the little chirping Brood."


One of the classic books in Thomas Jefferson's library, The Builder's Dictionary: or, Gentleman and Architect's Companion explained in 1734, that an avairy was a "House or Apartment for the keeping, feeding, and breeding of Birds." The book covers all aspects of building design, construction, and finishes. In its time, the Dictionary was considered the most complete summary available for use by English architects & members of the construction trades.


1788 Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827). Detail of Mrs. Richard Gittings with bird in cage.

In 1721, Richard Bradley, a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1712, and about to become Professor of Botany at Cambridge University, wrote a treatise, New Improvements in Planting and Gardening both Philosophical and Practical. Bradley's work New Improvements... also noted that orchards "harbour a constant Aviary of sweet Singers, which are here retained without the Charge or Violence of the Italian Wires." In the British American colonies, Thomas Jefferson also owned a copy of Bradley's New Improvements.


1790 Denison Limner Probably Joseph Steward (American artist, 1753-1822). Detail of Miss Denison of Stonington, CN possibly Matilda with bird and squirrel.

William Derham (1657-1735), was an Anglican clergyman, Canon of Windsor Castle, &  natural philosopher. He was the first man known to measure the speed of sound. As a member of the Royal Society, he edited the correspondence between Eleasar Albin (1708-1742) &  John Ray helping publish a Natural History of Birds which was illustrated by Albin between 1731-38, and which noted the Gamboa Grossbeake. "This Bird was brought from Gamboa on the Coast of Guinea and was in the Possession of his Grace the Duke of Chandos in an Aviary at his Grace's Country Seat at Edgeworth," where Albin went to draw it.

The juvenile edition of Spectacle de la Nature, Or Nature Display'd recommended  the joys of communing with the birds in an aviary. Although the book influenced many to become naturalists, it was a work of popularization, not of science.  In the book, the Duchess character explains that in the "Bower which the Count has inclosed with a Lattice of Brass Wire. I think I have seen, in this charming Aviary, all imaginable Sorts of little Birds, as well as those of a middling Size... this Aviary boafts a little of my Invention, and I commonly undertake the Management of it; but my Pains are requited by Pleasures that vary every Day. The Contentions of these little Creatures, their Endearments, their Melody, and Labours, and the obliging Civilities I receive from the Generality, when I pay them a Visit, are extremely entertaining to me. I carry my Work to them, and am never alone. One may pass whole Hours and Afternoons there."


1790 Rufus Hathaway (American artist, 1770 - 1822). Detail of Molly Wales Fobes with Birds.

In the 1760 Short Account, of the Principal Seats and Gardens, in and about Twickenham, female writer Joel Henrietta Pye (Jael Henrietta Mendez Pye) (1737-1782) tells of The Earl of Lincoln's Seat. "About a Mile beyond Weybridge, situated in the midst of a noble Park. The Gardens contain 150 Acres, and are divided by a fine Canal. The whole is laid out in the modern Taste, of Flowering Shrubs, Lawns, Clumps ...an Aviary of every kind of Singing-Birds, who are, so concealed by the Trees, that tho' they fillthfe Garden with their Harmony, it is impossible to discover whence it proceeds."

Christopher Smart, Oliver Goldsmith, &  Samuel Johnson reported in a compilation of their writings called, World Displayed: or, A Curious Collection of Voyages and Travels published in 1750, that in Mexico, "Montezuma had, besides the palace in which he kept his court, several magnificent pleasure houses, one of which was a noble building, supported by pillars of jasper. In this edifice he had an aviary of those birds that are most remarkable on account of their singing or feathers, and these were so numerous, that 300 men were said to be employed in attending them." Both George Washington &  John Adams owned a copy of this book.
1790s Ellen Sharples (American artist, 1769-1849). Detail of Theodosia Burr of New Jersey with bird.

Arthur Young's (1741-1820) accounts of his travels throughout Great Britain were imported into the colonies as soon as they were published. In his 1778-1770, A Six Months Tour Through the North of England, he wrote, "From hence a walk winds to the aviary, which is a light Chinese building of a very pleasing design; it is stocked with Canary and other foreign birds, which are kept alive in winter by means of hot walls at the back of the building."

1793 Rufus Hathaway (American artist, 1770-1822). Detail of Church Sampson of Duxbury, MA. with bird and birdcage.

English Architect William Chambers (1723-1796) also wrote of what he hoped would be a strong Asian influence on English gardening. In his 1772, A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening, he noted that in China, "The saloons generally open to little enclosed courts, set round with beautiful flower-pots, of different forms, made of porcelain, marble or copper, filled with the rarest flowers of the season: at the end of the court there is generally an aviary."  Chambers' book was found in libraries across the new American republic.


1796 Charles Willson Peale (American artist, 1741-1827). Thomas Elliott &  Granddaughter Deborah Hibernia with white bird.

In England, the 1773 Encyclopaedia Britannica, offered its readers practical advice. "AVIARY, a place set apart for feeding and propagating birds. It Should be so large, as to give the birds some freedom of flight; and turfed, to avoid the appearance of foulness on the floor." These folks had obviously read Francis Bacon's essay Of Gardens!  John Charnock (1756-1807) wrote in his 1794 Biographia Navalis that the retired "Admiral (George) Churchill (1654-1710) ...had constructed the most beautiful aviary in Britain, which he had, at an incredible expence, filled with a most rare and valuable collection of birds."

In America, the New-York Magazine; or, Literary Repository of 1792, was advising its readers that, "A Goldfinch must never be let loose in an aviary, for he destroys the nests and breaks the eggs of the other birds."


The next year, William Marshall's (1745-1818) Planting and Rural Ornament critically explained that "An Aviary Of Foreign Birds appears to be equally ill placed, in such a situation: exotic birds are apt accompaniments to exotic plants; and a shrubery, rather than a sequestered dell, seems to be the most natural situation for an aviary." George Washington &  many other early Americans owned a copy of this book.

1790s Unknown American artist, Mary Ann Elizabeth Thum of Philadelphia with bird.

Isaac Weld (1774-1856) noted in his 1800 Travels through the States of North America that at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia, "A large apartment is laid out for a library and museum, meant to extend the entire breadth of the house, the windows of which are to open into an extensive greenhouse and aviary."

By the early 19th century, John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) was eager to share his knowledge of aviaries with readers of his Encyclopedia of Gardening. He explained that originally apiaries were common at the country houses of the Romans, where they were used primarily as safe-keeping for birds destined to be eaten. Loudon notes that singing-birds, however, also were kept by the Persians, Greeks, & Romans in wicker-cages. Larger cages of songbirds more permanently set in gardens followed. The Chinese built actual house-like structures for their birds.  In 1808, the last of the great 18C English landscape designer Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) re-popularized aviaries with his Design for an Aviary and Pergola in the Chinese Style


1790 Ralph Earl (American artist, 1791-1801) Jerusha Benedict (Ives)

However, Loudon explains that Varro built an elegant & spacious aviary, at his country house, near Casinum. Varro wrote that there were two sorts of aviaries, one for containing birds intended for the table, and the other for birds kept for their song or plumage. The former sort were built entirely for use, but the latter were often beautiful pavilions, with an apartment or saloon in the center, for guests to sit in and enjoy the melodies of the feathered songsters.


According to Loudon, his fellow countryman, John Evelyn (1620-1706) mentioned in his Kalendarium Hortense: or, the Gardner's Almanac the parrots in the aviary of the Marquis of Argyll at Sayes Court. Loudon explained that a parrot aviary was built with a glass roof front and ends covered with shades & curtains to protect it from the sun &  frost, and a flue for winter heating. In these aviaries artificial or dead trees with glazed foliage were fixed in the floor. Sometimes cages hung on them, and at other times the birds allowed to fly free within the aviary. Early Americans (Increase (1639-1723) & Cotton Mather (1663-1728) and New Yorker Lewis Morris (1726-1798) owned Evelyn's Kalendarium.)

1805 John Brewster Jr (American artist, 1766-1854)  Francis O Watts with Bird

Loudon revealed that a special canary aviary was set in an opaque-roofed greenhouse or conservatory, by enclosing it with a partition of wire; and furnishing the greenhouse with...branches suspended from the roof for the birds to perch on.  In another type of aviary...a net or wire curtain was thrown over the tops of trees. Here songbirds could sing on the trees; aquatic birds could glide on the water; & pheasants could stroll over the lawn. For severe seasons, discreet houses & cages would offer them refuge.


 1805 Michele Felice Corne (American artist, 1752-1845) Two Children at Play with White Bird

Loudon noted that in England, portable netted enclosures, from 10 to 20 feet square, were distributed over areas of the lawn to display a curious collection of domestic fowls. In each enclosure was a small wooden box for sheltering the animals during night or in severe weather, and for breeding. Loudon even suggested that "Curious varieties of aquatic fowls might be placed on floating aviaries on a lake or pond."  He explained that birds from the hot climates were sometimes kept in hot-houses among their native plants with doors & openings for giving air covered with wire cloth. Loudon proposed that grouping birds together geographically would give rise to an educational aviary containing specimens of the native birds of a particular country...promoting the knowledge of their names, classification, climates, & habits. Loudon noted that the emperor Napoleon kept a large aviary with species of birds from all over the globe.


1810 Cephus Thompson (American artist, 1775-1856) Girl with a Dove

In America, we finally do get an eyewitness account of an aviary in New York City. Grant Thorburn's (1773-1863) early 19th-century Horticultural Repository on John Street in New York City had an avaiary, when Thomas Green Fessenden (1771-1837) visited. He wrote of it in the Horticultural Register and Gardener's Magazine, "The aviary...is filled with many beautiful birds which fill the air with their sweet songs--the native mockingbird, canary & all exerting their sweet voices in mingled harmony, and fluttering as merrily as in their native woods."

As the 19th century saw American towns & industry grow and homeowners' property size decrease, caged birds became more popular. Pennsylvania attorney Henry Beck Hirst (1813-1874) wrote, "And what man lives, who, as he passes by the cottage of the humble labourer, and observes the wicker habitation of the well tended Canary suspended at the door, does not form a favorable idea of the taste of those who dwell within its walls...And oh! in the crowded cities, with the hum of business &  the rattle of wheels sounding ever around, is it not pleasant to the ear...to hear the voice of some lone bird...and the melancholy warbler is converted into the many voiced choir of the forest."