Friday, May 31, 2019

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

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

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 Roger Sherman was the only American to sign four signficant historical documents: The Continental Association of 1774; the Declaration of Independence; The Articles of Confederation; and The Federal Constitution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Sherman remarried Anna Tucker, ten years younger than Rebecca, in September 4, 1794, at Canton, Massachusettes. John Sherman had two more children with his new wife. Sherman supported his new family as a shopkeeper in Canton. He died 8 years later, his widow lived until 1858.
1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795), John Sherman (1750-1802) Christies NY 2006
1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795) Maria Sherman (Mrs. Ira Hart) 1774-1857. Christies NY 2006.
1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795) David Austin Sherman (1781-1843) Christies NY 2006.
1787 Sherman Limner fl 1785-90 (perhaps Abraham Delanoy 1742-1795). John Sherman II. Christies 2006.

On Divorce in the American Colonies & Early Republic


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

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

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1763 a John Singleton Copley 1738-1815 Mrs Jerathmael Bowers 1763 Met

Mary Sherburne (1735–1799) was the daughter of Joseph Sherburne (23.143) by his marriage to Mary Watson in 1734. As her father's sole heir, she received a substantial fortune. In 1763, she married Jerathmael Bowers, a wealthy and prominent Quaker living in Swansea, Massachusetts. They had one son and three daughters. This portrait is based on a British mezzotint by James McArdell, after a portrait of Lady Caroline Russell painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1759. Copley followed this model with precision, substituting the face of the sitter for that of Lady Russell. Tradition has it that the portrait was painted about the time of the sitter's marriage in 1763.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802 Tends to her husband George during the Revolutionary War

1796 James Peale ( 1749-1831). Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802)  (Daniel Parke Custis) (George Washington)

What did she think of these stays? In a Dec. 30, 1775 letter to Elizabeth Ramsay, Martha described the conditions of her first visit. “I have waited some days to collect something to tell, but allas there is nothing but what you will find in the papers – every person seems to be cheerfull and happy hear, - some days we have a number of cannon and shells from Boston and Bunkers Hill, but it does not seem to surprise any one but me; I confess I shudder every time I hear the sound of a gun – I have been to dinner with two of the Generals, Lee and Putnam and I just took a look at pore Boston & Charlstown – from prospect Hill Charlestown has only a few chimneys standing in it, thare seems to be a number of very fine Buildings in Boston but god knows how long they will stand; they are pulling up all the warfs for firewood – to me that never see any thing of war, the preparations, are very terable indeed, but I endever to keep my fears to myself as well as I can.”

Martha Washington to Elizabeth Ramsay, Dec. 30 1775, in Joseph E. Fields, comp. "Worthy Partner’: The Papers of Martha Washington,” [1994], 164. Image courtesy of NYPL The New York Public Library.
Washington Taking Command of the American Army at Cambridge, MA July 3, 1775
Washington's Headquarters at Cambridge.  In support of her husband, Martha Washington visited and stayed at army headquarters nearly every year during the Revolutionary War. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1762-63 Joseph Blackburn fl 1752-1778 Mrs Samuel Cutts Met

Artist Joseph Blackburn, a British immigrant, worked in the Boston area for only 9 years before returning to England. Companion portraits of Samuel Cutts (1726–1801), a prosperous merchant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Anna Holyoke (1735–1812) of Boston, were executed around the time of their marriage. They seem to have been among the last works Blackburn painted in this country. Anna's husband was a representative to the New Hampshire General Court and a member of the New Hampshire Provincial Congress.  They were married at Cambridge, Massachusetts, December 8, 1762. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802 at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the original article here.

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

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks(1752-1837) Virginia Herbal Doctor

Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks(1752-1837) Virginia Planter & Herbal Doctor 1752 - 1837 Collection of the University of Virginia Art Museum.  Painted by John Toole, 1815-1860.

Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks made an indirect but important contribution to the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s outcome. Meriwether Lewis’s extensive knowledge of herbs, wild plants and their medicinal properties led her to be renowned for her herbal doctoring. And she passed what she knew along to her son. She encouraged young Meriwether’s interest in plants and wildlife.

Lucy Thornton Meriwether was born in Albemarle County on February 4, 1752.  She was the daughter of Col. Thomas and Elizabeth Thornton Meriwether. Thomas Meriwether's (1714-1756)  home was at “Clover Fields." Thomas continued to purchase land to add to the land gifted to him by his grandfather, until his total land holdings were 9,000 acres spread over several estates.  He married Elizabeth Thornton in 1735 and that same year, “he had 11 slaves, 2 horses, a plow and farm implements, 18 head of cattle and over 100 hogs, sows and pigs on his Totier Creek property. His wife, Elizabeth Thornton (1717-1794). Together, they had 11 children. Following her husband’s death, Elizabeth married Robert Lewis of “Belvoir” who later became Lucy’s father-in-law as well as her step-father.

In 1768 or 1769, when Lucy was either 16 or 17, she married her step-brother and first cousin-once-removed 35 year old William Lewis. William Lewis (1735 - 1779) had grown up in great prosperity as his father owned 21,600 acres in the Albemarle County area as well as an interest in 100,000 acres in Greenbrier County (now West Virginia. Upon his father’s death in 1765, William Lewis inherited “Locust Hill” and 1,896 acres on Ivy Creek (600 of which he later sold) and the slaves to work it. He probably built the house during the 3 years between his inheritance and his marriage.William Lewis was a lieutenant in the Virginia militia and served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.* Thus, like many of the men in Lucy’s family, he was away from home for long periods, leaving Lucy to manage his plantation of over 1,600 acres. William Lewis died in the autumn of 1779. On his way home from army duty, he crossed the Rivanna River when it was in flood and his horse was swept away and drowned. He swam ashore and managed to get to “Clover Fields”, the Meriwether family home, but as a result of the ordeal, he came down with a bad chill and died of pneumonia. He was buried at “Clover Fields.”

Within six months after her husband’s death, Lucy Meriwether Lewis married Capt. John Marks (1740 – 1791) on May 13, 1780. A number of planters from Albemarle County, including John Marks, Francis Meriwether, Benjamin Taliaferro and Thomas Gilmer immigrated to land along the Broad River in Wilkes County, Georgia in 1784. In 1791, John Marks died of causes unknown, and Lucy became a widow for the 2nd time.  Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks gave birth to Jane Meriwether Lewis, Meriwether Lewis, Lucinda Lewis (who died in childhood) and Reuben Lewis while married to William Lewis and John Marks and Mary Garland Marks while married to Captain John Marks. Both Reuben and John (II) grew up to become doctors. She was 39 years old decided to return to “Locust Hill.”

Lucy was locally famous as a “yarb” or herb doctor. Lucy’s type of doctoring was called “Empiric” and based on practical experience. She was folk practitioner – a job often filled by women.  She traveled throughout Albemarle County by horseback caring for the sick well into her early eighties. Perhaps she learned medicine from her father, also known as a healer, and her brother Francis, who was a “Regular” or formally-trained doctor. Lucy may have grown medicinal plants in her garden at “Locust Hill” and collected them in the wild as well. Her famous son, Meriwether Lewis, relied on the skills he had learned from his mother when he treated himself and others on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Her son John attended medical school. Some accounts also refer to her son Reuben as a doctor, though it is likely that he was “yarb” doctor like Lucy rather than a “regular” doctor like his brother John. Lucy remained active in her doctoring into her eighties, according to family accounts, even in old age, she continued to ride on horseback around the countryside visiting the sick, both slave and free.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Life of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington 1731-1802

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the website of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1762 Joseph Blackburn (fl in the colonies 1754-1763). Anne Saltenstall San Antonia Museum of Art.

The San Antonio Museum of Art tells us that Anne Saltonstall was 22 years old when she posed for Joseph Blackburn, a British artist who spent a little over a decade working in the Colonies. Blackburn emphasizes her youth and vivacity through the delicate pinks that adorn his pretty sitter, from the blushes on her cheeks to the stomacher that peeps out from her elegant ivory bodice to the overwrap that falls off her left shoulder. The artist, who likely worked as a drapery painter in his native London before coming to the Colonies, was particularly skillful in rendering sumptuous clothing. Sitters like Anne Saltonstall became frothy fashion plates and helped Blackburn secure commissions on the island of Bermuda, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Newport, Rhode Island; Boston; and Connecticut, where he likely painted at least five of Anne’s family members. After the younger, native-born John Singleton Copley’s realism began to curry more favor with potential clients, Blackburn returned to England.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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

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.

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.

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1761 Jos Blackburn Eliz Browne Rogers Reynolda House Winston

Reynolda House tells us that Joseph Blackburn completed his portrait of Elizabeth Browne Rogers in 1761 during the period of time that he spent in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Portsmouth, a bustling seaport with several wealthy merchants, was Elizabeth’s home; her father was a prominent Anglican rector there. Blackburn’s portrait was most likely commissioned to mark Betsey’s wedding to Major Robert Rogers, a dashing military hero who had swept Betsey off her feet during a visit to Portsmouth.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Robert Rogers was, in fact, fruitful (they had one son, Arthur), but it was not happy. Rogers was often absent on military assignments and expeditions, leaving Elizabeth with her parents in Portsmouth. In 1766, Elizabeth took the drastic step of traveling west all the way to Rogers’s post at Fort Michilamakanac in present-day Michigan. Her time, there, though, was markedly unhappy; she accused Rogers of ignoring and mistreating her. In 1767, the couple’s problems were compounded, when Rogers was accused of treason to the British crown. Elizabeth and Robert were again separated during his prison term while he awaited trial in Montreal. Although he was later acquitted, the accusations of treason and Elizabeth’s suspicions of her husband’s infidelities had taken their toll. In 1778, she appealed to the colony of New Hampshire for a divorce from her husband. It was granted later that year.  See: Wambeke, Ann Marie. “Robert and Elizabeth Rogers: The Dissolution of an Early American Marriage,” in Brunsman, Denver, and Joel Stone, eds., Revolutionary Detroit: Portraits in Political and Cultural Change, 1760-1805. Detroit: Detroit Historical Society [2009]

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1761 John Singleton Copley 1738-1815 Mrs Samuel Quincy Hannah Hil Boston Mus of Fi

Sunday, May 19, 2019

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.
Common sense : addressed to the inhabitants of America, on the following interesting subjects. I. Of the origin and... by Thomas Paine

"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.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

1761 Jeremiah Theus 1716-1774 Polly Ouldfield of Winyah Smithsonian

The Smithsonian tells us thatPolly Ouldfield was born into a life of privilege. Her father was a member of the Commons House of Assembly in London, and records indicate that he owned land in Georgetown in 1752. Polly's husband was a landowner from Charleston, South Carolina, who served as Commissary of Militia in the Georgetown District during the Revolutionary War. In this portrait the landscape beyond the window suggests the Ouldfields' significant landholdings, and Polly's luminous, lace-trimmed silk dress embellished with decorative pearls also conveys the richness of planter society. Jeremiah Theüs often showed his subjects lit from above, as in this portrait.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Abigail Smith Adams (1744-1818) & John Adams on Womens Sufferage

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, May 16, 2019

Portrait of 18C American Women

Jean Dick (Mrs. Anthony Stewart) by John Hesselius 1728-1778

When Jean Dick was born on March 14, 1742, at All Hallows Parish, Anne Arundel, Maryland, her father, James (1705-1762), was 36, and her mother, Margaret Dundus (1709-1766), was 33. Jean married Anthony Stewart (1728-1791), born in Edinburgh,Scotland on March 15, 1764. They had nine children in 18 years. She died in June 1786, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, at the age of 44.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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

1757 John Wollaston (1710-1775) Martha Dandridge Custis Washington (1731-1802)  (Daniel Parke Custis) (George Washington)

When George Washington took over Mount Vernon at age 22, there were 18 slaves. When he married Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802)  (Daniel Parke Custis), he gained control of 200 more which technically belonged to the estate of his wife’s 1st 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 6  months. George Washington sent his 2 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 2 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 of her 1st husband.

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 2 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..

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Monday, May 13, 2019

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.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Portrait of 18C North American British Women

1750s Joseph Blackburn fl 1752-1778 Mrs John Pigott  LA County Mus Art

Before settling in New England for a decade (1753-63), artist Joseph Blackburn visited Bermuda, which had come under British domination in 1684 and was closely connected to the American mainland by trade routes. Here he painted at least 17 portraits, 7 devoted to the members of the family of Francis Jones, governor of the colony. Fannie, Francis Jones’s daughter, married Captain John Pigott by, a customs collector, in 1745. The British considered Bermuda an exotic locale, as Blackburn shows in this portrait of Mrs. Pigott by posing her in front of a palmetto with native bird perched on her finger.

Joseph Blackburn (1700-1780) was taught painting in the English Rocco portrait style & his specialty was painting elegant fabrics & fashions on gracefully portrayed sitters. Before he came to the British American colonies, he sailed first to Bermuda, where he spent 2 years painting portraits. He sailed from Bermuda searching for a broader client base in the growing Atlantic towns of the British American colonies.  He was painting actively in the colonies from 1754-1763. He arrived in Newport from Bermuda in 1754, and then traveled to Boston (1755-58), and on to Portsmouth (1758-62). He sailed for London in 1763. He arrived in his first colonial American port town with a letter of introduction from a locally known and respected member of genteel society. The 1754 letter of introduction from a family member of one of Blackburn's former clients addressed to friends in the artist's next port-of-call encourages both Blackburn's social acceptance and his employment.Joseph Blackburn's letter of introduction to Newport society, "I hope youl excuse the liberty I shall now take of recommending the bearer Mr Blackburne to your favor & friendship, he is late from the Island of Bermuda a Limner by profession & is allow’d to excell in that science, has now spent some months in this place, & behav’d in all respects as becomes a Gentleman, being possess’d with the agreeable qualities of great modesty, good sence & genteel behaviour he purposes if suitable encouragements to make some stay in Boston, and will be an entire stranger there...shall therefore be obliged to you or friends for any civilities you are pleased to shew him, my best Compliments...to your good lady Miss Sucky and Miss Nancy & who’s Pictures I expect to see in Boston drawn by the above Gent[lema]n."