Monday, March 25, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1755 Jeremiah Theus 1716-1774 Mrs. Thomas Lynch (Elizabeh Allston Lynch) Reynolda House

Renolda House Museum tells us the daughter of a prominent South Carolina family, Elizabeth Allston married Thomas Lynch, a well-connected South Carolinian, in 1745. At age 17, she became the mistress of Hopsewee Plantation, where the Lynch family slaves cultivated rice & indigo. As was typical of southern plantations, Hopsewee was located on a river. The river ensured transport of the plantation’s crops to market, where indigo was much in demand as a dye for the woolen industry. The Lynch family enjoyed rosperity.

Jeremiah Thëus, Charleston’s foremost portrait painter, often visited wealthy families at their plantations in order to execute commissions for portraits...The stiffness of Elizabeth’s figure may be attributed to the fact that Thëus borrowed the pose & costume details such as the nosegay & taffeta shawl from a mezzotint of about 1752 depicting the Duchess of Hamilton Brandon after a painting by English artist Francis Cotes.  It was fairly common for colonial artists to use European mezzotints as sources for poses & costumes.  Heightening the artificiality of the image is the fact that the dress is not typical of 18C colonial British America.

Elizabeth Allston Lynch died sometime around 1755, shortly after Thëus painted this portrait. Elizabeth gave birth to three children: Sabina in 1747, Esther in 1748, & Thomas in 1749. Her son Thomas Lynch, Jr. signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Nearly 27-year-old James Monroe 1758-1831 Marries 17-year-old Elizabeth Kortright 1768-1830

On January 16, 1786, future President 27-year-old James Monroe (1758-1831) married 17-year-old New York beauty named Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830).  Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830) was the eldest daughter of 5 children of Laurence Kortright, a wealthy New York merchant of late 17C Flemish descent, & his wife, Hannah (Aspinwall) Kortright. Her father’s fortune, much enlarged by privateering during the French & Indian War, was greatly reduced during the Revolutionary War, but Elizabeth Kortright was reared in the exclusive & formal atmosphere of New York mercantile society.  Considered one of the great beauties of the city, she first met James Monroe in 1785, when he was a Virginia delegate to the Confederation Congress sitting in New York.
Detail of a Miniature of Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830).

They were married on Feb. 16, 1786, at New York’s Trinity Episcopal Church.  After a brief honeymoon out on Long Island, the newlyweds rode back to New York City to live with her father, until the Continental Congress adjourned. The Monroes returned to Virginia, where he had graduated from the College of William & Mary, & promptly started a family. They settled first in Fredericksburg & then in Albemarle County, Va.  There Monroe practiced law & pursued a political career which found him successively United States Senator, minister to France, governor of Virginia, minister to Great Britain, Secretary of State, &, ultimately, president of the United States.  In keeping with the custom of the day, Monroe shielded his private life from public view, by the & his wife were devoted to each other, & they were rarely separated.  Three children were born to them: Eliza in 1787; a son in 1799 who died in infancy; & Maria Hester, in 1801 or 1802, who was married in the White House in 1820 to Samuel L. Gouverneur.
James Monroe (1758-1831)

Elizabeth & her daughter followed Monroe to Paris, when President George Washington appointed him ambassador to France in 1794. There, he & Elizabeth became enthusiastic Francophiles. Elizabeth, with her sophisticated social graces, adapted easily to European society. The French aristocracy referred to her as "la belle americaine."  The violent fallout of the French Revolution marred the Monroes' sojourn in France.  They acquired a lasting appreciate of French manners & styles which was later reflected in the furnishing they purchased for the White House.  Both spoke French fluently.  Members of the aristocracy whom the Monroes befriended were increasingly falling prey to the rebels' guillotine. In 1795, Elizabeth succeeded in obtaining the prison release of the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. When he learned that the wife of America’s great friend the Marquis de Lafayette, the dashing Frenchman who had served on Washington's staff during the American Revolution, had been imprisoned by Robespierre & was in danger of being executed, Monroe, believing that direct appeals to the Committee of Public Safety would be of no avail, arranged for his wife to visit her.  The tearful meeting of the women at the gate of the prison drew a large & sympathetic crowd, & the demonstration was sufficient to secure Madame de Lafayette’s release. 
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830) by John Vanderlyn

When Monroe's term as ambassador ended in 1796, he brought his family back to America & settled on the Oak Hill plantation in Virginia. For the next 15 years, he shuttled his family between stints in Virginia political office & the occasional foreign appointment. In 1811, Monroe accepted President James Madison's offer to serve as U.S. secretary of state. Six years later, Monroe himself was elected president from 1817-1825.

 After her husband’s appointment as Secretary of State in 1811 & his elevation to the presidency in 1817, Mrs. Monroe was constantly in the public eye.  No accounts of her as a person, however, survive, although her regal bearing & distinguished appearance often inspired comment.  “Her dress was superb black velvet,” one presidential guest recalled; “neck & arms bare & beautifully formed; her hair in puffs & dressed high on the head & ornamented with white ostrich plumes; around her neck an elegant pearl necklace” (quoted in Daniel Coit Gilman, James Monroe, 1883, pp. 182-83).  She seems to have been easy & affable in small groups, but her public manner was marked by a formality & reserve which some labeled haughtiness.

During their 1st year in Washington, the Monroes lived in temporary lodgings until the White House, which had been destroyed by the British during the War of 1812, was repaired. As first lady, Elizabeth, usually very social, deferred to her husband's wishes to minimize White House social events. He & Elizabeth both deplored the opulent displays of the previous first lady, Dolley Madison, preferring more private, stately affairs modeled after European society. 

As First Lady she was inevitably compared with her predecessor, the warm & open-hearted Dolley Madison, who had elevated presidential receptions above the dull level of official functions. In a rapidly growing Washington, the Monroes introduced a new formality, & White House receptions took on an austerity reminiscent of George Washington’s administration, with Monroe & his wife receiving guests but manifesting little personal solicitude.  In her 1st year Mrs. Monroe appeared only infrequently at White House dinners, & consequently ladies were seldom invited.  She further announced that she would not make or return any calls, although it had been Mrs. Madison’s custom not only to return all calls but to pay her respects to visiting ladies.  Many women, particularly the wives of Senators, took offense at the new rule, but Mrs. Monroe, supported by Louisa Catherine Adams, whose husband was then Secretary of State, prevailed, & the new policy became firmly set.  Mrs. Monroe’s French-educated & somewhat formidable daughter Eliza (Mrs. George Hay) shared her social duties at the White House, where social life was also curtailed by Elizabeth's declining health. Washingtonians, eager to being seen with the powerful even back then, mistook the lack of White House social events for snobbery.
James Monroe (1758-1831) by Gilbert Stuart

During her husband’s 2nd term Mrs. Monroe’s always delicate health failed rapidly, & her public appearances became more rare.  She preferred to spend as much time as possible at Oak Hill, their country home in Loudoun County, Va., some 20 miles from the capital, where she was joined by Monroe upon his retirement in 1825.  She died at Oak Hill in 1830 & was buried there.  Of her death the aged ex-President wrote to James Brown, “After having lived with the partner of your life, in so many vicissitudes…& afforded to each other comforts which no other person on earth could do…to have her snatched from me…is an affliction which none but those who feel it, can justly estimate” (Dec. 9, 1830), John Deposit, University of Virginia Library).  According to the family, Monroe burned 40 years' worth of their correspondence. 
James Monroe (1758-1831) painted by Rembrandt Peale about 1824-1825

Upon Elizabeth's death in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City, to live with his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur who had married Samuel L. Gouverneur.  Monroe’s death occurred the next year.  In 1903 Elizabeth Monroe’s body was re-interred beside that of her husband in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1755 Jeremiah Theus 1716-1774 The sitter is Rebecca Brewton (1737 -1816), the honorable Jacob Mottes, 2nd wife, whom he married in 1758. Theus also painted Jacob Motte Jr. in miniature (date and location unknown). Until now, the traditional identification of the sitter had been Elizabeth Martin (1710-1757), Motte's 1st wife. Met

Rebecca Brewton Motte (1737–1815) was a plantation owner in South Carolina & townhouse owner in its chief city of Charleston. She was known as a patriot in the American Revolution, supplying continental forces with food & supplies for 5 years. By the end of the war, she had become one of the wealthiest individuals in the state, having inherited property from both her older brother Miles Brewton, who was lost at sea in 1775, & her husband Jacob Motte, who died in 1780.

In 1780, Motte left Charleston after the British occupied it, living with her family at the Mt. Joseph plantation about 95 miles away, along the Congaree River. It became known as Fort Motte after the British occupied & fortified it; she moved with her family from the big house to the overseer's house. To help patriots take over the property, she agreed to have the big house burned down.

Rebecca was the daughter of Robert Brewton, a successful goldsmith in Charleston, South Carolina, & his wife, the widow Mary Loughton, née Griffith. In this period, goldsmiths were closely tied to banking & the financial community. Among her siblings was older brother Miles (1731-1775), who married Mary Izard, daughter of planters, & became a wealthy slave trader, owning eight ships; & sister Frances (b. 1733), who married Charles Pinckney.

At the age of 19, Rebecca married Jacob Motte (1729–1780) in 1758. Also born in Charleston, Jacob was a townsman & planter, involved in politics.  By 1758 Motte already owned a townhouse in Charleston & Fairfield Plantation (Charleston County, South Carolina) on the South Santee River outside the city. Their family thrived, & they had 7 children. Two died when young; infant mortality was high in that era. They also reared Susanna Smith Elliott, who had been orphaned, when both her parents died. Rebecca treated her like one of her own daughters.

In 1779, their daughter Elizabeth (Betsey) Motte (1762-1795) married Thomas Pinckney, an attorney & planter. He served in the Revolutionary War. After she died, he married again in 1797, to her younger sister Frances, who had by then become widowed herself. Pinckney served also in the War of 1812, & became a prominent politician in South Carolina. He was elected as governor. Frances & Thomas built what is now known as the Middleton-Pinckney House in Charleston, noted as a historic home on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rebecca's older brother Miles Brewton (1731–1789) gained property by a good marriage, & later owned up to 8 ships after becoming South Carolina's largest slave trader & one of the wealthiest men in the province. In 1765. he had started construction of his lavish townhouse in King Street in Charleston. It is preserved as the Miles Brewton House. By the time of the Revolutionary War, he also owned numerous plantations (growing rice & indigo), including Mt. Joseph, in what is today Calhoun County. He & his family died in 1775, lost at sea as they were traveling to Philadelphia, where he was to serve as a delegate at the Second Continental Congress. Rebecca Brewton Motte & her sister Frances inherited his townhouse & plantations.

Jacob Motte was among the men who fought in the Battle of Fort Moultrie. On June 13, 1776, the women of Charleston presented the 2nd regiment of the Continental Army with "a pair of silken colors, one of blue, one of red, richly embroidered by their own hands..." Susanna Smith Elliott presented the flags to officers Moultrie & Motte, saying, "Your gallant behavior in defense of liberty & your country entitles you to the highest honors; accept these two standards as a reward justly due to your regiment; & I make not the least doubt, under heaven's protection, you will stand by them as long as they can wave in the air of liberty." 

The Motte family supported the American Revolution & supplied troops with rice, beef, pork, corn, & fodder from 1778-1783. During the war, Rebecca Motte & her children were living for a period at the Charleston town house she inherited from her late brother Miles. It was commandeered in 1780 as British headquarters & housing for Henry, one of the high-ranking officers of the British Army after they occupied the city.

Rebecca Motte took her family out of Charleston to the comparative safety of her late brother's Mt. Joseph plantation on the Congaree River, about 95 miles from the city. Her husband Jacob died of illness that year in 1780. Motte inherited the townhouse in Charleston, as well as Fairfield plantation & their 244 slaves.

In June 1780, the British had occupied Belleville Plantation along the Congaree. Although the nearby Mt. Joseph plantation had a more commanding view of the river, the British avoided it because of a suspected smallpox outbreak at the property.

By December 1780 Rebecca & her daughters, including Elizabeth Motte Pinckney (wife of Thomas Pinckney) with her infant, domestic slaves, & others had settled at Mt. Joseph. The British allowed Thomas Pinckney on parole to recuperate there, as he had been wounded & taken prisoner in August fighting at the Battle of Camden with General Gates.

In January 1781, Thomas Pinckney left for Charleston, then Philadelphia, along with other captured & paroled patriot officers, where they were to await possible exchange by the British. His wife & infant accompanied him. Shortly after, the British left Belleville & encamped at the Mt. Joseph plantation, where they began to fortify the big house & surrounds. Because Rebecca Motte was living there, they referred to the property as Fort Motte. Motte & her remaining family & household slaves moved to the overseer's house.

In May 1781, patriots Brigadier General Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion & Lt. Col. Henry Lee III of Virginia were sent by General Nathaneal Greene to capture Fort Motte. In what became known as the Siege of Fort Motte, they arrived with about 400 men & an artillery piece. After five days of attack without dislodging the British, Marion & Lee decided to burn the mansion, which had a dry wood shingle roof. Rebecca Motte did not hesitate to "burn her home" & provided the patriot forces with some arrows from East India that were designed to light on impact. The mansion burned down, forcing the British out to surrender.

The widow Rebecca Brewton Motte had inherited considerable property from her late brother & husband. She was considered one of (if not the) wealthiest individuals in South Carolina in the Revolutionary War era, but in the 1790s, Motte had to pay off her family's war debts.

She & son-in-law Thomas Pinckney developed the rice plantation, Eldorado on the South Santee River, downstream from "Fairfield." There Brewton Motte lived with her daughter Frances & her family for the rest of her life. Some of her grandchildren remembered that she hung an old arrow quiver from the back of her chair to hold her knitting needles explaning that the quiver represented Motte's contributions during the Revolutionary War.

Friday, March 22, 2019

In Business - Lighthouse Keeper Hannah Thomas 1731-1819

Lighthouse at Plymouth (Gurnet), now Saquish Beach, MA.  

The Gurnet, a 27 acre peninsula forming the northern boundary of Plymouth Bay, is located a few miles northeast of Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims knew the land as “the gurnett’s nose,” apparently naming the area for similar headlands in the English Channel, where the gurnet fish flourished along Devonshire’s shores. When Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1606, to map the Gurnet and Clark’s Island, he found thick pine forests & Native Americans fishing for cod using lines made of tree bark with wooden fish hooks to which a spear-shaped bone was attached.

The Gurnet became part of Plymouth on January 7, 1638. By the 1770s, 75 fishing vessels were based in the area, and at one point, Duxbury was one of the world’s leading shipbuilding enters. Under the direction of the Massachusetts Legislature, the first Plymouth Lighthouse, a wooden keeper’s dwelling measuring 15 by 30 feet, equipped with a lantern at each end of its roof, was completed in September 1768 at a cost of £660. The twin lights, exhibited at a height of 86 feet above the sea, distinguished the station from the single light used at Boston.
Gen John Thomas (1724-1776) Husband of Hannah Thomas (1731-1819). He was born in 1724. Marshfield Plymouth County Massachusetts, & died Jun. 2, 1776. Chambly Monteregie Region Quebec, Canada.

The lighthouse was built on land rented for 5 shillings a year from Dr John & Hannah Thomas. Hannah Thomas was born on April 20, 1731, in Middleborough, Plymouth, Massachusetts. She married Dr John Thomas in 1761.  Originally, the lighthouse built on their property had 2 towers which were first lit in 1769. Dr John Thomas was appointed the keeper of both lighthouses, since the towers were constructed on his land.  John, a surgeon, the 1st keeper served, until he joined the Continental Army. He recruited a regiment of volunteers from Plymouth County to help repel the British in the Siege of Boston, & then served as a major general leading troops in Quebec, where he died of small pox on June 2, 1776. Along with raising their 3 children, his widow Hannah took over John’s lighthouse post, making her the first woman lighthouse keeper in America.  

It is said that in 1776, after Fort Andrew was erected at Gurnet Point, the H.M.S. Niger reportedly sailed around the Gurnet toward Plymouth Harbor, exchanging fire with the fort’s 6-cannon battery and, many believe, destroying one of the lighthouse beacons in the process.

Plymouth’s worst shipwreck occurred in 1778, when the American privateer General Arnold was trapped in a blizzard less than a mile from Plymouth Light. Choosing to forego the risk of entering Plymouth’s inner harbor without a pilot, the captain dropped anchor hoping to ride out the storm. As the gale rose to hurricane force, the vessel drug anchor running aground on White Flats. Before residents of the Gurnet could construct a causeway over the ice to reach the stranded vessel, 72 of the its crew of just over 100 froze to death in view of the light.

After the American Revolution, the lighthouse was refurbished & put back in service with Hannah Thomas as keeper.  The prevailing work at a lighthouse included tending the light; cleaning lighthouse instruments & buildings; & keeping records of supplies; all traditional women’s work. Women had long been associated with maintaining the lights & fires within a home. This female task was noted in ancient Greece where the goddess “Hestia stays at home on Mount Olympus to keep the fires alight.” During the Early American Republic, women continued the practice of maintaining fires for cooking & warmth, as well as candles & lamps for illumination.

Hundreds of American women have kept the lamps burning in lighthouses since Hannah Thomas tended Gurnet Point Light from 1776-1786 in Plymouth, MA, staying at their posts for periods ranging from a few years to half a century. Caring for a lighthouse was a continuous occupation, making it necessary for the keeper to live where she worked. Thus, the light station was not just a government job, but also a way of life.  Most of these women served in the 19C, when the keeper lit a number of lamps in the tower at dusk; replenished their fuel or replaced them at midnight; and every morning polished the lamps & lanterns to keep their lights shining brightly. 

Several of these women were commended officially for their courage in remaining at their posts through severe storms & hurricanes. The power of ferocious storms & rushing water affected the physical structures, & took a heavy toll on the keeper, at times causing the death of the keeper or a family member. On 13 March 1832, a ferocious ice sweeping down Hudson River during spring breakup destroyed the Stuyvesant Light. Keeper Volkert Witbeck & some family members were able to survive, but Elizabeth, aged 11, and Harriet, aged 13, perished.

A few female lighthouse keepers went to the rescue of seamen, when ships capsized or were wrecked.
Ida Lewis (1842 –1911) was an American lighthouse keeper noted for her heroism in rescuing people from the seas.

Hannah Thomas, who had served since 1776, hired Nathaniel Burgess (or Burges) to act as keeper in 1786, and that same year a coasting sloop traveling from Boston to Plymouth struck a sand bar near the Gurnet. Two of the seamen from the vessel trudged 7 miles through a bitter snowstorm to reach Gurnet Lighthouse. Keeper Burgess fed & warmed them beside the fire, dispatching his assistant, perhaps Hannah’s son John, to bring in the rest of the crew.  

In 1790, the light was ceded to the U.S. government, & Hannah Thomas' son John Thomas took over as keeper. His salary of $200 per annum was lower than at other lighthouses, because the Gurnet was deemed an acceptable place to live with ample fishing & land with good soil to garden.
1843 photo of the twin Plymouth Lights. Photo from US Navy

After the lighthouse was completely destroyed in a fire on July 2, 1801, the merchants of Plymouth and Duxbury funded the construction of a temporary beacon. On April 6, 1802, Congress voted to repay them $270 and appropriated $2,500 to rebuild the lighthouse on the Gurnet. The Thomas family was paid $120 for the land on which twin, 22' tall lighthouses, spaced 30 feet apart, were built in 1803.

During the late 18C - early 19C, the US federal lighthouse service furnished some provisions, but almost all keepers found it necessary to have a garden & some livestock. Kate Moore described in the New York Sunday World, in 1889, the extra care necessary for survival at Black Rock Harbor Light in Connecticut: "I had a lot of poultry & 2 cows to care for, & each year raised 20 sheep, doing the sheering myself - and the killing when necessary. You see, in the winter you couldn’t get to land on account of the ice being too thin, or the water too rough. Then in the summer I had my garden to make and keep. I raised all my own stuff, and as we had to depend on rain for our water, quite a bit of time was consumed looking after that." Kate’s family moved to the lighthouse in 1817, her father had a paralyzing stroke in 1819, & Kate kept the lighthouse functioning until his death in 1871, becoming the official head keeper from 1871-1878.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1755 Benjamin West 1738-1820 Mary Bethel  Mrs Samuel Boude Nat Gal Art

Mary Bethel was from Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She was born about 1732, the daughter of Samuel Bethel and Sarah Bethel (Blunston) and the sister of Elizabeth Bethell; William Bethel; Edward Bethell; Samuel Bethel, II and Sythe Hammett.  In 1717, her grandfather William Bethel bought about 100 acres on the Conestoga Creek near Lancaster City, & in 1730 he was licensed to keep a public-house or a tavern in Lancaster city. Between 1737-38, he was Lancaster County treasurer.  At the age of 17, Mary married Dr.Samuel Boude,an eminent physician & druggist, and was the mother of Gen. Thomas Boude; Sarah Bethel Barber; Mary Bethel Barber: Elizabeth Lewis; Henrietta Boude and 2 others. She died after 1761.