Tuesday, July 18, 2017

1784 Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, - Letter about French Women

Benjamin Blythe 1766 Portrait of Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) 

39 year-old Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) to 17 year-old Lucy Cranch
Sunday, 5 September 1784

Written from
Auteuil, Paris, Ville de Paris, Île-de-France, France

"This lady (Mme Helvétius) I dined with at Dr. Franklin's. She entered the room with a careless, jaunty air; upon seeing ladies who were strangers to her, she bawled out: “Ah! mon Dieu, where is Franklin? Why did you not tell me there were ladies here?” You must suppose her speaking all this in French. “How I look!” said she, taking hold of a chemise made of tiffany, which she had on over a blue lute-string, and which looked as much upon the decay as her beauty, for she was once a handsome woman; her hair was frizzled; over it she had a small straw hat, with a dirty gauze half-handkerchief round it, and a bit of dirtier gauze, than ever my maids wore, was bowed on behind. She had a black gauze scarf thrown over her shoulders. She ran out of the room; when she returned, the Doctor entered at one door, she at the other; upon which she ran forward to him, caught him by the hand: “Hélas! Franklin;” then gave him a double kiss, one upon each cheek, and another upon his forehead. When he went into the room to dine, she was placed between the Doctor and Mr. Adams. She carried on the chief of the conversation at dinner, frequently locking her hand into the Doctor's, and sometimes spreading her arms upon the backs of both the gentlemen's chairs, then throwing her arm carelesly upon the Doctor's neck.

"I should have been greatly astonished at this conduct if the good Doctor had not told me that in this lady I should see a genuine Frenchwoman, wholly free from affectation or stiffness of behaviour, and one of the best women in the world. For this I must take the Doctor's word, but I should have set her down for a very bad one, although sixty years of age, and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted, and never wish for an acquaintance with any ladies of this cast. After dinner she threw herself upon a settee, where she showed more than her feet. She had a little lap-dog, who was, next to the Doctor, her favorite. This she kissed, and when he wet the floor she wiped it up with her chemise. This is one of the Doctor's most intimate friends, with whom he dines once every week, and she with him. She is rich, and is my near neighbour, but I have not yet visited her. Thus you see, my dear, that manners differ exceedingly in different countries. I hope, however, to find amongst the French ladies manners more consistent with my ideas of decency, or I shall be a mere recluse."

Lucy Cranch was the daughter of Richard Cranch (1726–1811), a manufacturer, and his wife, Mary née Smith (1741–1811), sister of Abigail Adams. In 1791, she married her cousin John Greenleaf (1763–1848), a blind musician; they had 7 children.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802 (Mrs George Washington) & Slavery

1790s Christian Gullager 1759-1826 George Washington.

When George Washington took over Mount Vernon at age 22, there were 18 slaves. When he married he gained control of 200 more which technically belonged to the estate of his wife’s first husband. By 1786, he owned 216 slaves. (Flexner, p 114)

While George Washington was serving as president in Philadelphia, a Pennsylvania law was passed freeing slaves whose owners had been citizens of the state for six months. George Washington sent his two most valuable slaves home, telling them it was for his wife’s convenience. (Wilkins, p 76)

When George Washington left the presidency, he apparently left some house slaves behind in Philadelphia, knowing that under state law they would be quietly freed by having spent a certain amount of time in Pennsylvania. (Flexner)

When he died in 1799, his will called for his manservant William Lee to be freed immediately, and given a pension. The other slaves were to be freed when his widow died. Martha chose to free them two years later. According to Abigail Adams, this was because Martha Washington feared her life might be in danger, since her death meant freedom for the slaves. (Hirschfield p 214)

Neither George Washington nor Martha Washington could legally free the dower slaves which still belonged to the Custis estate.

1766: George Washington sent a “rogue and runaway” slave to the islands to be sold for rum, molasses, etc. (Flexner, p 114)

1774: George Washington said new British laws would make Americans "as tame and abject slaves as the blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway." (Flexner, p 114)

1778/9: George Washington was reluctant to buy or sell slaves, although he felt that: “If these poor wretches are to be held in a state of slavery, I do not see that a change of masters will render it more irksome, provided husband and wife, and parents are not separated from each other, which is not my intention to do." (Flexner, p 118)

1786 George Washington complained about a Quaker abolitionist society: “I can only say that no man living wishes more sincerely than I do to see the abolition of (slavery)…But when slaves who are happy & content to remain with their present masters, are tampered with & seduced to leave them… it introduces more evils than it can cure." (Hirschfield, p 187)

Before 1793: "The unfortunate condition of the people whose labors I in part employed has been the only unavoidable subject of regret. To make the adults among them as easy and comfortable as their actual state of ignorance and improvidence would admit; and to lay a foundation to prepare the rising generation for a destiny different from that in which they were born, afforded some satisfaction to my mind, and could not, I hoped, be displeasing to the justice of the Creator." (Flexner, p 121)

1793: As president George Washington signed the Fugitive Slave Act.

1793: George Washington hoped to rent and/or sell parts of his land, freeing the slaves to work as laborers. In a private letter he said his most powerful motive was: "to liberate a certain species of property which I possess very repugnantly to my own feelings, but which imperious necessity compels, and until I can substitute some other expedient by which expenses not in my power to avoid (however well disposed I may be to do it) can be defrayed." He was unable to find suitable renters or buyers and the plan fell through. (Flexner, p 113)

Approx 1794: One of George Washington’s slaves died: “I hope every necessary care and attention was afforded him. I expect little from (Overseer) McKoy, or indeed from most of his class, for they seem to consider a Negro much in the same light as they do the brute beasts on the farms, and often treat them as inhumanely.” (Wilkins, p83)

1796: Oney (or Ona) Judge ran away to New Hampshire.She was one of George Washington’s slaves – Martha’s personal servant. President George Washington asked the Treasury Secretary for help in getting her back: “I am sorry to give you, or any one else trouble on such a trifling occasion, but the ingratitude of the girl, who was brought up and treated more like a child than a Servant (and Mrs Washington’s desire to recover her) ought not to escape with impunity if it can be avoided.” (Wilkins,p82)

1796: A federal customs official in New Hampshire located George Washington’s runaway slave Oney Judge.George Washington asked him to “seize her and put her on board a Vessel bound immediately to this place or to Alexandria (Virginia).” The customs official warned that this would spark a riot.(Gerson )

In 1796, Oney (or Ona) Judge ran away to New Hampshire. She was one of the Washington’s slaves - Martha’s personal servant. President George Washington asked the Treasury Secretary and a customs agent for help in getting her back, by force, if necessary - but she never returned. (Wilkins. p 82. also: Gerson)

1796:, The customs official wrote that Oney Judge agreed to return if George Washington promised to free her in his will. George Washington wrote to the customs official: “I regret that the attempt you made to restore the Girl (Oney Judge as she called herself while with us, and who without the least provocation absconded from her Mistress) should have been attended with so little Success. To enter into such a compromise with her as she suggested to you is totally inadmissible, for reasons that must strike at first view: for however well disposed I might be to gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of People (if the latter was in itself practicable at this moment) it would neither be political or just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference; and thereby discontent before hand the minds of all her fellow-servants who by their steady attachments are far more deserving of favor.” Oney Judge remained free. (Wilkins, p82)

1799: George Washington complained that he had too many slaves. “To sell the overplus I cannot, because I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species. To hire them out is almost as bad, because they could not be disposed of in families to any advantage, and to disperse the families I have an aversion.What then is to be done? Something must or I shall be ruined…” (Hirschfield,p74)

1799: When George Washington died his will called for his manservant William Lee to be freed immediately, and given a pension. The other slaves were to be freed when his widow died. Martha chose to free them two years later. According to Abigail Adams this was because Martha Washington feared her life might be in danger, since her death meant freedom for the slaves. (Hirschfield p 214) Neither George Washington nor Martha Washington could legally free the dower slaves (which Martha brought to the marriage) because they still belonged to the Custis estate.

This research is done by librarian Rob Lopresti and may be found on his website here..

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, Disagrees with George Washington's Ownership of Slaves

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1800-1815. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth Bissell Miller, “Abigail Adams,” The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington

George Washington owned slaves from an early age, & held conflicting views about the institution of slavery throughout his life. Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, was impressed with Washington in general, but spoke of her disagreement with his position as a slaveholder. 

Throughout her life, Abigail Adams held steadfast to core principles: she was a humanitarian, activist, & leader with an acute sense of both America's successes & failures. Adams advocated for gender equality in public education & the need to pay attention to the social, political, & educational needs of women. She also firmly believed in the necessity for the emancipation of African Americans from slavery &, like her husband, firmly believed in dissolving the political union with Great Britain. In one final act of rebellion, Adams, a married woman whose property was controlled by her living husband, wrote a will & left the majority of her possessions to her female kin.

Frequently forsaking private joy for the greater public good, Adams voiced her views not only in quasi-political situations—such as during her appointment to the Massachusetts Colony General Court in 1775—but also to her husband during his numerous domestic & overseas diplomatic missions. It was in her role as unofficial advisor that she made her greatest contributions to the early American nation. It is believed that Abigail & John Adams exchanged more than 1,100 letters on topics ranging from government & politics to women's rights. Her firm views on American independence were succinctly expressed in a 1775 letter, explaining: "Let us separate, they are unworthy to be our Brethren. Let us renounce them..."


1792 George Washington before the Battle of Trenton by John Trumbull (1756-1843) 

Abigail Adams first met George Washington shortly after he took command of the Continental Army. Adams had initial hesitations regarding Washington as a slaveholder & member of the Virginia planter elite. However, after meeting, Adams wrote her husband that she was "struck with General Washington," & that his appointment was received with "universal satisfaction." Adams further explained that Washington was marked by "Dignity with ease. . .the Gentleman & Soldier look agreeably blended in him."

An ardent advocate for the cause of American liberty, Adams was uniquely able to express herself with eloquence at a time when women received little formal instruction. In a series of letters written beginning in 1776, Adams boldly argued for women’s rights. After learning that her husband would serve on the committee that would draft the Declaration of Independence, Adams admonished him to: "Remember the Ladies..." Although John Adams did not follow his wife's advice, ultimately his political agenda was shaped as much by his own opinions as by his valuable discourse with Abigail.

Abigail was John's all-encompassing aide-de-camp, chief of staff, & brain trust. However, her influence was not appreciated by all, particularly those who scathingly called her "Mrs. President." Abigail accompanied John to his diplomatic post in Paris in 1784. In 1785, she carefully handled the complex role of wife of the first United States Minister to Great Britain. And later she was wife of the first U.S. Vice President, & wife of the second U.S. President, serving as First Lady from March 4, 1797 to March 4, 1801.

A granddaughter of pre-revolutionary era politician John Quincy, & the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, Abigail married John Adams in October 1764 at the age of nineteen. Abigail's lifelong enjoyment of philosophy, theology, ancient history, government, & law, which was championed by her grandmother & other relatives, helped both Abigail & the young American nation chart a new course. Abigail played a vital role in America until her passing in 1818. She advocated for women's education, women's social & political needs, & the abolition of slavery.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) & John Adams

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) was a smart, independent woman who said what she believed. Although she had strong feelings about women having an equal voice in the new United States of America, women would not get the right to vote in national elections until 1920.  “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.” .Abigail Adams



Even though her husband did not agree with her call for women's sufferage, she maintained a great appreciation for his work & that of his fellow patriots in helping establish a new nation.  "These are times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or in the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues." Abigail Adams



Even though his wife was outspoken & did not feel the need to constantly agree with him, President John Adams (1735-1826) dearly loved his partner. In one of their many letters, he wrote,  "Miss Adorable, I hereby order you to give [me], as many kisses, and as many hours of your company...as [I] shall please to demand, and charge them to my account.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

John Adams writes to his wife Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) on Thomas Paine & the coming Revolution

Thomas Paine. Painting by Auguste Millière (1876), based on an engraving by William Sharpe, based on a painting by George Romney, 1792.

"In the Course of this Winter appeared a Phenomenon in Philadelphia a Star of Disaster Disastrous Meteor, I mean Thomas Paine. He came from England, and got into such company as would converse with him, and ran about picking up what Information he could, concerning our Affairs, and finding the great Question was concerning Independence, he gleaned from those he saw the common place Arguments concerning Independence: such as the Necessity of Independence, at some time or other, the peculiar fitness at this time: the justice of it: the Provocation to it: the necessity of it: our Ability to maintain it &c. &c. Dr. Rush put him upon Writing on the Subject, furnished him with the Arguments which had been urged in Congress an hundred times, and gave him his title of common Sense. In the latter part of Winter, or the early in the Spring he came out, with his Pamphlet. The Arguments in favour of Independence I liked very well: but one third of the Book was filled with Arguments from the old Testiment, to prove the Unlawfulness of Monarchy, and another Third, in planning a form of Government, for the seperate States in One Assembly, and for the United States, in a Congress. His Arguments from the old Testiment, were ridiculous, but whether they proceeded from honest Ignorance, and or foolish [Superstition] on one hand, or from willfull Sophistry and knavish Hypocricy on the other I know not. The other third part relative to a form of Government I considered as flowing from simple Ignorance, and a mere desire to please the democratic Party in Philadelphia, at whose head were Mr. Matlock, Mr. Cannon and Dr. Young. I regretted however, to see so foolish a plan recommended to the People of the United States, who were all waiting only for the Countenance of Congress, to institute their State Governments. I dreaded the Effect so popular a pamphlet might have, among the People, and determined to do all in my Power, to counter Act the Effect of it. (Autobiography, Winter 1776).

"At this day it would be ridiculous to ask any questions about Tom Paines Veracity, Integrity or any other Virtue. (Autobiography).

"You ask, what is thought of Common sense. Sensible Men think there are some Whims, some Sophisms, some artfull Addresses to superstitious Notions, some keen attempts upon the Passions, in this Pamphlet. But all agree there is a great deal of good sense, delivered in a clear, simple, concise and nervous Style.

"His Sentiments of the Abilities of America, and of the Difficulties of a Reconciliation with G.B. are generally approved. But his Notions, and Plans of Continental Government are not much applauded. Indeed this Writer has a better Hand at pulling down than building.

"It has been very generally propagated through the Continent that I wrote this Pamphlet. But although I could not have written any Thing in so manly and striking a style, I flatter myself I should have made a more respectable Figure as an Architect, if I had undertaken such a World. This Writer seems to have very inadequate Ideas of what is proper and necessary to be done, in order to form Constitutions for single Colonies, as well as a great model of Union for the whole."

 (John Adams to Abigail Adams, 19 March 1776).


Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1800-1815. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Portrait of an 18C American Woman

1795 Mrs. Joseph Anthony Jr. (Henrietta Hillegas) Gilbert Stuart (American, 1755–1828)

The Met tells us that Mrs. Joseph Anthony Jr., born Henrietta Hillegas in 1766, was one of ten children of Michael and Henrietta Hillegas of Philadelphia. Her father made his fortune in sugar refining and iron manufacturing, and served as the first treasurer of the United States. Henrietta married Joseph Anthony in 1785. As with many of Stuart’s portraits of Philadelphia society women, Mrs. Anthony’s likeness is endowed with an individuality and a sensuousness rare in American portraiture.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802 (Mrs George Washington) - Portraits 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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

18C Portrait of an American Woman

Mrs Sylvanus Bourne 1766 John Singleton Copley (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1738–1815 London)  The Metropolitan Museum of Art tells us that Mercy Gorham (1695–1782) was born and raised on Cape Cod, in the colony of Massachusetts. In 1718, she married Sylvanus Bourne, a prosperous merchant, and 2 years later they settled in the port town of Barnstable. The couple had 11 children. Copley painted Mrs. Bourne 3 years after her husband’s death, when she was 71 years old. She holds a book in her lap.

Friday, June 9, 2017

18C Portrait of an American Woman

Mrs. Jonathan Pinkney, Jr. (Elizabeth Munroe) 1798 by James Peale (American, Chestertown, Maryland 1749–1831 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) The Metropolitan Museum of Art tells us that she lived in Annapolis, Maryland.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

18C Portrait of an American Woman

Mrs. Francis Brinley (1698–1761) and Her Son Francis (1729–1816).  1729 by John Smibert (American, Edinburgh, Scotland 1688–1751 Boston, Massachusetts) The Metropolitan Museum of Art tells us that she was born Deborah Lyde,  & that Mrs. Francis Brinley (1698–1761) was the daughter of Edward and Catherine Lyde and the granddaughter of Judge Nathaniel Byfield. When she married Francis Brinley in 1718, she was a woman of wealth and social prominence. An entry in Smibert's notebook dated May 1729 identifies the infant as the Brinley's son Francis (1729–1816). Mrs. Brinley holds a sprig of orange blossoms, a gesture which may have been taken from an 18C print by Sir Peter Lely. The white orange blossom symbolizes both marriage and purity, while the fruit, a sign of fertility, emphasizes Mrs. Brinley's role as a mother. Orange trees, although fashionable in Europe, were expensive rarities in the colonies. The presence of one here reinforces the sitter's wealth.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Betty Washington (Mrs Fielding Lewis) 1733-1797 George Washington's Sister & The Revolution

Rebecca A. Johnson, “Betty Washington Lewis,” The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, 

Betty Washington Fielding Lewis 1733-1797

Betty Washington Lewis was more than just the only sister of George Washington to survive to adulthood; she was also a patriot. Lewis & her husband, Fielding, contributed a considerable amount of their personal wealth & time toward the American Revolution. Their devotion & loyalty to the wartime effort & to its leader, George Washington, inadvertently led them to financial hardship.

Born on June 20, 1733, Betty Washington was the 2nd child & only surviving daughter of Augustine & Mary Ball Washington. Christened as Elizabeth, Betty was most likely named after her mother’s beloved half-sister, Elizabeth Johnson Bonhum. Along with her eventually famous older brother George, Betty had 3 other brothers, Samuel, John (Jack), & Charles, & a sister, Mildred, who died in infancy. From her father’s 1st marriage, she also had 3 half-brothers, Butler, Lawrence, & Augustine, only 2 (Lawrence & Augustine) of whom survived to adulthood, & a half-sister, Jane, who died when a child.1

Betty Washington was born at the family estate on Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County. In 1735, the Washingtons moved to a property on the Upper Potomac, known at the time as Little Hunting Creek but eventually renamed Mount Vernon. In 1740, the family moved to Ferry Farm, overlooking the Rappahannock River, across from the town of Fredericksburg.2

Like many Virginia girls among the gentry, young Betty Washington no doubt received some practical & ornamental education. She learned to ride a horse at an early age & most likely became an expert horsewoman. Like all young Virginians, she must have learned to dance. Her mother taught her the domestic arts, such as sewing, knitting, & embroidery. Along with her 4 brothers, Betty attended a school taught by Reverend James Marye, a scholarly Huguenot. Betty & her family regularly attended Falmouth Church in Brunswick Parish, which contributed to her lasting faith & regular attendance at services in St. George’s Parish in the latter part of her life.3

Colonel Fielding Lewis (1725-1781)

Betty Washington was 16, when she married the widower Fielding Lewis, who was 8 years her senior, on May 7, 1750. The couple not only shared the same acquaintances & circulated in the same social circles, they were also 2nd cousins through their maternal grandmothers, who were sisters. Marriage between kin was common in 18C Virginia. Fielding Lewis’ 1st wife, Catharine Washington, was also a cousin. Betty Washington’s marriage settlement of £400 & 2 female slaves, left to her in her father’s will, along with Fielding Lewis’ wealth, enabled the newly married couple to live comfortably.4

In 1752, Fielding Lewis purchased 1,300 acres on the outskirts of Fredericksburg & asked his brother-in-law, George Washington, to survey the 861-acre portion that would be the site of Kenmore, the Lewises’ exquisite house.5 Together, Betty & Fielding Lewis had a total of 11 children, 6 of whom survived to adulthood. Betty Lewis also had 2 stepchildren, from Fielding's 1st marriage. It was at Kenmore where Betty & Fielding Lewis resided & raised their family during their 31 years of married life.6

Kenmore where Betty & Fielding Lewis resided

Kenmore was a Georgian-style 2 story home that consisted of 8 rooms, a full cellar, 12-foot high ceilings, & 4,000 square feet of living space.7  Many people lived & worked at Kenmore, including 80 slaves, whose quarters were among the many outbuildings on the estate. Records indicate it took several years to build the house, in part because the disruption of trade during the imperial crisis prevented the Lewsises from obtaining necessary supplies from England. Decorative plasterwork on the ceilings & mantles were added as late as 1775.8

Kenmore where Betty & Fielding Lewis resided

Fielding Lewis was often away from Kenmore due to his involvement in public life. He was a vestryman of St. George’s Church, a colonel in the Spotsylvania County militia, & from 1760 to 1768 served as a member of the House of Burgesses. In 1773, he joined Virginia’s pre-revolutionary Committee of Correspondence.9 Fielding’s absence left Betty in charge of running & maintaining their estate.  Although she had many slaves to do manual tasks, like other plantation mistresses, she supervised their work. She also oversaw the management of her gardens, spent much of her time attending to her children, offered hospitality to guests, & hosted various social gatherings. Betty’s brother George was one of Kenmore's many frequent visitors.10

Betty & Fielding Lewis were strong supporters of the Revolution, & their loyalty to the cause cost them financially. The Lewises owned a store, which originally belonged to Fielding’s father. During the war, Fielding supplied salt, flour, bacon, & clothing to patriot forces. Herbs & other produce from Betty’s gardens became teas & ointments that Fielding also supplied to the army. In July 1775, the Virginia assembly passed an ordinance providing for a “Manufactory of Small Arms in Fredericksburg, Va.” & named Fielding Lewis & four other men as its Commissioners. Appropriations of £25,000 were distributed & land was secured near Hunter’s Forge for the construction & operation of the gunnery. However, the appropriations ran out, & Betty & Fielding Lewis used £7,000 from their personal accounts to maintain the gunnery. They later borrowed between £30,000 & £40,000 to provide saltpeter, sulfur, gunpowder, & lead for the manufacture of ammunition during the war. Kenmore was heavily mortgaged to meet the costs of these patriotic endeavors.11

Betty Lewis handled family affairs for her brother George, while Fielding managed many of his financial concerns. Fielding collected outstanding debts for George, & he also handled several land transactions for his brother-in-law.12 Meanwhile, when George & Betty’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, died in 1789, shortly after he had left for New York to assume the presidency, George asked his sister to take care of their mother’s estate, providing her with detailed instructions, which she followed.13 In 1790, at George’s request, Betty cared for their niece Harriot Washington, the daughter of their deceased brother Samuel. Harriot resided at Mount Vernon, & her uncle George was her guardian.  Beginning in October 1792, due to the responsibilities of the presidency in Philadelphia, there were no women living at Mount Vernon to watch over her, so George Washington instructed Betty Lewis to move Harriot to Kenmore, which she did.14

When Fielding Lewis died December 1781, just two months after the American victory at Yorktown, the Commonwealth of Virginia still owed the Lewises some £7,000. In widowhood at age 49, Betty struggled financially & sometimes hired out her slaves to raise money. She also tried running a small boarding school at Kenmore, though she had to sell land in order to keep the school & Kenmore afloat.15  Betty Lewis remained at Kenmore fourteen years before she went to live with her daughter, Betty Carter, in Culpepper County. On March 31, 1797, she died at her daughter’s home, Western View, & was buried on the property.16 Eighteen days after she died, Kenmore & its contents were sold. The Lewis descendants were never compensated for Betty & Fielding Lewis’ enormous expenditures in support of the revolutionary cause.

Notes:

1. Fitzpatrick, John, ed. The Writings of George Washington (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing, 1939), 28.

2. Charles Moore, The Family Life of George Washington (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926), Internet Archive, 12-13; Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 19.

3. Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 20-21, 37-38; Moore, The Family Life of George Washington, 206-7.

4. Fielding Lewis, “Genealogical notes of the Fielding Lewis family,” Fred W. Smith National Library, Mount Vernon, General Collection; Eugene Scheel, “Kenmore House One of the Finest Examples of American Colonial Architecture;” “Augustine Washington, April 11, 1743, Will,” American Memory, The Library of Congress, Source: George Washington Papers 1741-1799, Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697-1799, Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division; “Augustine Washington’s Will,”

5. “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 23 April 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 10, 21 March 1774?–?15 June 1775, ed. W. W. Abbot & Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), 343–344; Vivian Minor Fleming, The Story of Kenmore (Fredericksburg, VA: Kenmore Association, 1927), 6.

6. Paula S. Felder, Fielding Lewis & the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg, VA: American History Company, 1998), 163.

7. Though Kenmore is the more commonly known name of the home of Colonel Fielding Lewis & Betty Washington Lewis, it was first called “Millbrook.” The name was changed to Kenmore by Samuel Gordon who purchased Kenmore in 1819. According to tradition, the Gordons named the house "Kenmore" after their ancestral Scottish home of Kenmuir.

8. Scheel, “Kenmore House;” “Historic Kenmore Plantation;” Fleming, Story of Kenmore, 6; Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 36, 68-69.

9. William Pitt Palmer, & Sherwin McRae, eds., Calendar of Virginia State Papers & Other Manuscripts, 1652-1781, vol. 1 (Richmond: R. F. Walker, Superintendent of Public Printing, 1875), Internet Archive, 406; Scheel, “Kenmore House;” Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 62-65.

10. Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 50; Felder, Fielding Lewis & the Washington Family, 164-165; Moore, Family Life of George Washington, 12-13.

11. “Fielding Lewis Store: The Oldest Retail Building in America?,” Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, 2005; “Fielding Lewis;” Palmer, & McRae, eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 456, 502-3; Duke, Kenmore & the Lewises, 94-96; Fleming, Story of Kenmore, 9; “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 14 November 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 2, 16 September 1775?–?31 December 1775, ed. Philander D. Chase (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), 371–373. 

12. “From George Washington to Fielding Lewis, 20 April 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 9, 8 January 1772?–?18 March 1774, ed. W. W. Abbot & Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 221–224; “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 8–9 May 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: ibid., 229–230. “To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 24 May 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: ibid., 235. 

13. “From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 13 September 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789?–?15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 32–36. 

14. “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 2 April 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 5, 16 January 1790?–?30 June 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig, Mark A. Mastromarino, & Jack D. Warren (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996), 310–311; “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 25 September 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 11, 16 August 1792?–?15 January 1793, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2002), 155–156; “From George Washington to Betty Washington Lewis, 7 October 1792,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: ibid., 201-202. 

15. “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 24 September 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 14, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. David R. Hoth (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2008), 131–132. 

16. Moncure Daniel Conway, ed. George Washington & Mount Vernon: A Collection of Washington’s Unpublished Agricultural & Personal Letters, vol. 4. (Brooklyn: Long Island Historical Society, 1889), lix; Fleming, Story of Kenmore, 10-11.

Bibliography:

Duke, Jane Taylor. Kenmore & the Lewises. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1949.

Felder, Paula S. Fielding Lewis & the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg, VA: American History Company, 1998.

Fleming, Vivian Minor. The Story of Kenmore. Fredericksburg, VA: Kenmore Association, 1927.

Kierner, Cynthia A. Beyond the Household: Women’s Place in the Early South, 1700-1835. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Moore, Charles. The Family Life of George Washington. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926. Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/familylifeofgeor008680mbp

Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Ithaca, NY & London: Cornell University Press, 1980.

Monday, June 5, 2017

18C Portrait of an American Woman

 Mrs. John Dart, Henrietta Isabella Sommers (1750–1783).  1772 Jeremiah Theus (American, Chur, 1716–1774 Charleston, South Carolina)  The Metropolitan Museum of Art tells us that Henrietta Isabella Sommers (1750–1783) was the daughter of Humphrey Sommers, a successful building contractor in Charleston, South Carolina. She was married to John Dart. The costume in this portrait was probably based on a print, since it is unlikely that Mrs. Dart possessed an ermine-trimmed robe. Theus probably painted her face from life and the clothing in his studio, with a mezzotint before him.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Friday, June 2, 2017

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams - The Adams' Home at Braintree, Massachusetts

Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the 2nd child of Elizabeth Quincy Smith & the Reverend William Smith. Her father was pastor of Weymouth's North Parish Congregational Church. Abigail's mother, Elizabeth, spent much of her time visiting the sick & distributing food, clothing, & firewood to needy families. Young Abigail accompanied her mother on these visits putting into practice the lessons her father taught at church.  Abigail educated herself in her father's library.
Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818), Mrs. John Adams, by Gilbert Stuart, ca. 1800-1815. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

When she was 18, Abigail met John Adams, a young lawyer from nearby Braintree. During their 2 year courtship, the young couple spent long periods apart & relied upon writing letters to keep in touch. On October 25, 1764, Abigail's father presided over their wedding. The young couple moved into the small house John had inherited from his father in Braintree to begin their life together.  Abigail proved to be exceptionally capable of managing the family's finances & household. Meanwhile, John's began to ride the court circuit (traveling from one district to another) building a successful law career.  On July 14, 1765,  John & Abigail's 1st child, Abigail, was born."Nabby," as she was called, was followed by son John Quincy Adams on July 11, 1767, Susanna (who died just after her 1st year), Charles, & Thomas Boylston.  The young couple continued to live on John's small farm at Braintree or in Boston as his practice expanded. In ten years she bore three sons & two daughters; she looked after family & home; when he went traveling as circuit judge. "Alas!" she wrote in December 1773, "How many snow banks divide thee and me...."

John Adams decided to move his family to Boston, because his work was located there. The Adamses friends inlcuded John's cousin Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, & Joseph Warren. Long separations kept Abigail from her husband while he served the country they loved, as delegate to the Continental Congress, envoy abroad, elected officer under the Constitution. Her letters--pungent, witty, & vivid, spelled just as she spoke--detail her life in times of revolution. They tell the story of the woman who stayed at home to struggle with wartime shortages & inflation; to run the farm with a minimum of help; to teach 4 children when formal education was interrupted. Most of all, they tell of her loneliness without her "dearest Friend."

The Boston Massacre occured on March 5, 1770. At the risk of his own popularity & career, John Adams chose to defend 8 British soldiers & their captain, accused of murdering 5 Americans.  Although John was an ardent patriot & favored independence, he felt the soldiers had acted properly & been provoked into firing by an unruly mob. Also, he felt it was important to prove to the world that the colonists were not under mob rule, lacking direction & principles, & that all men were entitled to due process of law. Most Americans, driven by emotion, were angry with Adams for defending the hated "redcoats," but throughout the ordeal Abigail supported her husband's decision. In the end, Adams was proved correct & all 9 of the men were acquitted of the murder charges. While the verdict diffused this crisis, far greater ones were destined for the colonies.


1798 Watercolor of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by E. Malcom  The Old House, built in 1731, became the residence of the Adams family for 4 generations from 1788 to 1927.

In 1774 John traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a delegate to the First Continental Congress; where America made its first legislative moves toward forming a government independent of Great Britain. Abigail remained in Braintree to manage the farm & educate their children. Again, letter writing was the only way the Adamses could communicate with each other. Their correspondence took on even greater meaning, for Abigail reported to her husband about the British & American military confrontations around Boston. Abigail took her son John Quincy to the top of Penn's Hill near their farm to witness the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

Not all Americans shared the Adamses' vision of an independent nation. To those that wavered, Abigail argued, "A people may let a king fall, yet still remain a people: but if a king lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a king. And this is most certainly our case, why not proclaim to the world in decisive terms, your own independence?" John agreed with his wife; & in June 1776, was appointed to a committee of five men to prepare a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain.


1820 Sketch of the Mansion by Abigail Adams Smith who lived with her grandfather John Adams in the Old House from 1818-1829

Abigail's vision of independence was broader than that of the delegates. She believed all people, & both sexes, should be granted equal rights. In a letter to John she wrote, "I wish most sincerely that there was not a slave in the province. It always seemed to me to fight ourselves for what we are robbing the Negroes of, who have as good a right to freedom as we have."  Later Abigail added that John & his fellow delegates should "remember the ladies, & be more generous & favorable to them than you ancestors" when they enact new codes of law. Her views were far too progressive for the delegates of the Continental Congress. 

John soon was appointed president of the Board of War & turned to Abigail for advice on carrying out his job.  Throughout his career, Adams had few confidants. Thus Abigail advised her husband, & John valued her judgment so much that he wrote his wife, "I want to hear you think or see your thoughts."


1828 A drawing of The Adams Seat in Quincy by Mrs. George Whitney

In 1778,  John Adams was sent to Paris on a special mission to negotiate an alliance with France. He remained in Europe from 1778 to 1787, through a succession of different appointments, except for a 3 month rest at home; during which time he drafted the Massachusetts Constitution.  Separated from her husband by the Atlantic Ocean, Abigail continued to keep their farm running, paid their bills, & served as teacher to their children. She particularity labored to develop the great abilities of her son John Quincy, who had joined his father in Europe. In one letter to her son, she inspired him to use his superior abilities to confront the challenges before him: "These are times in which a genius would wish to live. . . . Great necessities call out great virtues."


John Adams by William Joseph Williams, C. 1797.

In 1784, with independence & peace secured from Great Britain, Abigail sailed to Europe to join her husband & son. Abigail spent 4 years in France & England, while her husband served as U.S. minister to Great Britain. As the wife of a diplomat, she met & entertained many people in Paris & London. While never at home in these unfamiliar settings, Abigail did her best to enjoy the people & places of both countries. Abigail was pleased, when the time came to return home to Braintree in 1788.


1846 Woodcut of the Residence of John Quincy Adams

The next year, John Adams was elected the 1st vice president of the United States. During the course of the next 12 years as John Adams served 2 terms as vice president (1789-1797) & 1 term as president (1797-1801), he & Abigail moved back & forth between Braintree (the "Old House") & the successive political capitals of the United States: New York, Philadelphia, & then, briefly, at the unfinished White House in Washington, D.C.


Portrait of John Adams by William Winstanley, 1798.

Abigail had recurring bouts of rheumatism that forced her frequently to retreat to the peace of Braintree recover. After 1791, poor health forced her to spend as much time as possible in Quincy. Illness or trouble found her resolute; as she once declared, she would "not forget the blessings which sweeten life."  In 1796, John Adams was elected to succeed George Washington as president of the United States.  Party lines were forming. John Adams faced dissent in his cabinet & the vice president, Thomas Jefferson, was head of the opposition party. John realized the problems he faced & wrote to his wife, who was in Quincy recovering from a rheumatic bout, that "I never wanted your advice & assistance more in my life."  Abigail rushed to her husband's side & maintained a grueling schedule to perform all her duties as first lady. She entertained guests & visited people in support of her husband. The first lady had a limited budget to carry out her duties, but she compensated for this with her attentiveness & charm.


1849 Daguerreotype of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by John Adams Whipple

Meanwhile, Great Britain was at war with France, & popular opinion held that America should jump in to aid Great Britain, especially after France insulted the United States by demanding bribes. The president felt that war would weaken the United States & decided on the unpopular course of neutrality. During this time many of Adams' opponents used the press to criticize his policies. Abigail was often referred to as "Mrs. President," for it was widely believed that the president's decisions were heavily influenced by his wife. In reality Abigail disagreed with her husband's stand of neutrality; but people believed she was setting his policies, & this weakened John Adams politically.


1849 Painting of the Old House of John & Abigail Adams by G. Frankenstein

In 1798, with John Adams' approval, Congress passed the Alien & Sedition Acts, which were aimed at restricting foreign influence over the United States & weakening the opposition press. Abigail supported these measures, because she felt they were necessary to stop the press from undermining her husband. The acts proved very unpopular, with Thomas Jefferson & James Madison leading the protest against them. Adams' support of these acts undermined his popular support, already suffering from his courageous but unpopular stand on war with France, & led to his failure to be reelected in 1800.


 1852 View of the Adams Mansion at Quincy by Mallory, C. 1852 from “Gleasons’ Pictorial Drawing Room Companion” Volume 3, August 21, 1852.

In March 1801, John & Abigail retired to Quincy. During her last years, Abigail occupied herself with improving her home & entertaining visiting children, grandchildren, nieces, & nephews. The proud mother watched as her son John Qunicy Adams distinguished himself as a U.S. senator, minister to Russia, & secretary of state. In October 1818, Abigail contracted typhoid fever. Surrounded by family members, she died on October 28. John Adams & his wife had shared 54 years of happiness & companionship, & John wrote, "I wish I could lay down beside her & die too."


Portrait of John Adams at age 88 by Jane Stuart, after Gilbert Stuart, 1824.

See National Park Service Adams House

Thursday, June 1, 2017

18C Portrait of an American Woman

Mrs. John Winthrop 1773 John Singleton Copley (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1738–1815 London)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art tells us that Hannah Fayerweather (1727–1790) was the daughter of Thomas and Hannah Waldo Fayerweather. She was baptized at the First Church in Boston in February 12, 1727. She was married twice, in 1745 to Parr Tolman and in 1756 to John Winthrop, a professor of mathematics and natural history at Harvard University and a noted astronomer. Although this portrait has traditionally been dated 1774, a receipt dated June 24, 1773, places its execution in the previous year. The portrait is one of a number in which Copley prominently featured a beautifully reflective tabletop.

Wednesday, May 31, 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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802 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).