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.