Tuesday, January 24, 2017

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

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


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 Roger Sherman was the only American to sign four signficant historical documents: The Continental Association of 1774; the Declaration of Independence; The Articles of Confederation; and The Federal Constitution.

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

On Divorce in the American Colonies & Early Republic


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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Also see

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 14, 2017

18C Women & Children Fascinated by Pet Birds

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Indian Captive Quaker Frances Slocum 1773-1847

Frances Slocum (1773-1847), called Maconaquah, "The Little Bear," an adopted member of the Miami tribe, was taken from her family home by the Lenape in Pennsylvania, on November 2, 1778, and raised in the area that became Indiana. Frances was born into a family of early Quaker settlers of the Wyoming and Lackawanna Valleys, near Wilkes Barre. Her parents, Jonathan Slocum and Ruth Tripp, came to Pennsylvania from Warwick, Rhode Island. Frances had 11 siblings, among them brothers Ebeneezer and Benjamin. These brothers found her 59 years later living on an Indian Reservation near Peru, Indiana. Despite the pleadings of her brothers, Frances refused to leave her family. She had been married twice and was the mother of four children.

Painting of Frances Slocum by Jennie Brownscombe, from the book, Frances Slocum; The Lost Sister of Wyoming, by Martha Bennett Phelps, 1916.

"I can well remember the day when the Delaware Indians came suddenly to our house. I remember that they killed and scalped a man near the door, taking the scalp with them. They then pushed the boy through the door; he came to me and we both went and hid under the staircase.

"They went up stairs and rifled the house, though I cannot remember what they took, except some loaf sugar and some bundles. I remember that they took me and the boy on their backs through the bushes. I believe the rest of the family had fled, except my mother.

"They carried us a long way, as it seemed to me, to a cave, where they had left their blankets and traveling things. It was over the mountain and a long way down on the other side. Here they stopped while it was yet light, and there we staid all night. I can remember nothing about that night, except that I was very tired, and lay down on the ground and cried till I was asleep.




"The next day we set out and traveled many days in the woods before we came to a village of Indians. When we stopped at night the Indians would cut down a few boughs of hemlock on which to sleep, and then make up a great fire of logs at their feet, which lasted all night.

"When they cooked anything they stuck a stick in it and held it to the fire as long as they chose. They drank at the brooks and springs, and for me they made a little cup of white birch bark, out of which I drank. I can only remember that they staid several days at this first village, but where it was I have no recollection.

"After they had been here some days, very early one morning two of the same Indians took a horse and placed the boy and me upon it, and again set out on their journey. One went before on foot and the other behind, driving the horse. In this way we traveled a long way till we came to a village where these Indians belonged.

"I now found that one of them was a Delaware chief by the name of Tuck Horse. This was a great Delaware name, but I do not know its meaning. We were kept here some days, when they came and took away the boy, and I never saw him again, and do not know what became of him.

"Early one morning this Tuck Horse came and took me, and dressed my hair in the Indian way, and then painted my face and skin. He then dressed me in beautiful wampum beads, and made me look, as I thought, very fine. I was much pleased with the beautiful wampum.

"We then lived on a hill, and I remember he took me by the hand and led me down to the river side to a house, where lived an old man and woman. They had once several children, but now they were all gone—either killed in battle, or having died very young. When the Indians thus lose all their children they often adopt some new child as their own, and treat it in all respects like their own. This is the reason why they so often carry away the children of white people.

"I was brought to these old people to have them adopt me, if they would. They seemed unwilling at first, but after Tuck Horse had talked with them awhile, they agreed to it, and this was my home. They gave me the name of We-let-a-wash, which was the name of their youngest child whom they had lately buried. It had now got to be the fall of the year (1779), for chestnuts had come.

"The Indians were very numerous here, and here we remained all the following winter. The Indians were in the service of the British, and were furnished by them with provisions. They seemed to be the gathered remnants of several nations of Indians. I remember that there was a fort here.

"In the spring I went with the parents who had adopted me, to Sandusky, where we spent the next summer; but in the fall we returned again to the fort—the place where I was made an Indian child—and here we spent the second winter, (1780).

"In the next spring we went down to a large river, which is Detroit River, where we stopped and built a great number of bark canoes. I might have said before, that there was war between the British and the Americans, and that the American army had driven the Indians around the fort where I was adopted. In their fights I remember the Indians used to take and bring home scalps, but I do not know how many.

"When our canoes were all done we went up Detroit River, where we remained about three years. I think peace had now been made between the British and Americans, and so we lived by hunting, fishing, and raising corn...

"The reason why we staid here so long was, that we heard that the Americans had destroyed all our villages and corn fields. After these years my family and another Delaware family removed to Ke-ki-ong-a (now Fort Wayne). I don't know where the other Indians went.

"This was now our home, and I suppose we lived here as many as twenty-six or thirty years. I was there long after I was full grown, and I was there at the time of Harmar's defeat. At the time this battle was fought the women and children were all made to run north. I cannot remember whether the Indians took any prisoners, or brought home any scalps at this time. After the battle they all scattered to their various homes, as was their custom, till gathered again for some particular object. I then returned again to Ke-ki-ong-a. The Indians who returned from this battle were Delawares, Pottawatamies, Shawnese and Miamis.

"I was always treated well and kindly; and while I lived with them I was married to a Delaware. He afterwards left me and the country, and went west of the Mississippi. The Delawares and Miamis were then all living together.

"I was afterwards married to a Miami, a chief, and a deaf man. His name was She-pan-can-ah. After being married to him I had four children—two boys and two girls. My boys both died while young. The girls are living and are here in this room at the present time.

"I cannot recollect much about the Indian wars with the whites, which were so common and so bloody. I well remember a battle and a defeat of the Americans at Fort Washington, which is now Cincinnati. I remember how Wayne, or ' Mad Anthony,' drove the Indians away and built the fort.

"The Indians then scattered all over the country, and lived upon game, which was very abundant. After this they encamped all along on Eel River. After peace was made we all returned to Fort Wayne and received provisions from the Americans, and there I lived a long time.

"I had removed with my family to the Mississinewa River some time before the battle of Tippecanoe. The Indians who fought in that battle were the Kickapoos, Pottawatamies and Shawnese. The Miamis were not there. I heard of the battle on the Mississinewa, but my husband was a deaf man, and never went to the wars, and I did not know much about them."


George Winter 1810-1876 Francis Slocum

At the conclusion of this account of her capture, life and wanderings with the Indians for so many years, there was a pause for a few minutes. Every one present seemed deeply impressed with the story and the simple, artless manner in which it was related. In a short time the conversation was resumed:

"We live where our father and mother used to live, on the banks of the beautiful Susquehanna, and we want you to return with us; we will give you of our property, and you shall be one of us and share all that we have. You shall have a good house and everything you desire. Oh, do go back with us!"


George Winter 1810-1876 Francis Slocum and daughter 

"No, I cannot," was the sad but firm reply. " I have always lived with the Indians; they have always used me very kindly; I am used to them. The Great Spirit has always allowed me to live with them, and I wish to live and die with them.

Your wah-puh-mone [looking glass] may be longer than mine, but this is my home. I do not wish to live any better, or anywhere else, and I think the Great Spirit has permitted me to live so long because I have always lived with the Indians. I should have died sooner if I had left them.

My husband and my boys are buried here, and I cannot leave them. On his dying day my husband charged me not to leave the Indians. I have a house and large lands, two daughters, a son-in-law, three grand-children, and everything to make me comfortable; why should I go and be like a fish out of water?"


When her birth family could not convince her to leave the village, the Slocum family hired George Winter to paint a portrait of Frances & her daughter. Winter wrote descriptions of her family in his journals.  The artist wrote of Frances in 1839, "Frances Slocum's face bore the marks of deep-seated lines. The muscles of her cheeks were like corded rises, and her forehead ran in almost right angular lines. There was indication of no unwanted cares upon her countenance beyond time's influence which peculiarly marks the decline of life...She bore the impress of old age, without its extreme feebleness. Her hair which was evidently of dark brown color was now frosted. Though bearing some resemblance to her family, yet her cheek bones seemed to bear the Indian characteristic in that particular - face broad, nose somewhat bulby, mouth perhaps indicating some degree of severity. In her ears she wore some few ear bobs."




Source: Biography of Frances Slocum, the lost sister of Wyoming: A complete narrative of her captivity and wanderings among the Indians. John Franklin Meginness. Publisher Heller Bros.' Printing House, 1891.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Boston Slave Poet Phillis Wheatley d 1784

When a London bookseller presented the manuscript of Phillis Wheatley's 1773 Poems on Various Subjects to the Countess of Huntingdon, the anti-slavery English noblewoman was reportedly "fond of having the book dedicated to her; but one thing she desir'd [was]...to have Phillis' picture in the frontispiece." The man commissioned to draw the likeness of Wheatley was Scipio Moorhead, an enslaved African in service to Reverend John Moorhead, a neighbor and friend of the Wheatley family and pastor of the Church of the Presbyterian Strangers. Reverend Moorhead, along with fifteen other prominent Massachusetts citizens, had signed a testimonial that prefaced the manuscript. Scipio Moorhead not only painted portraits, but wrote verse as well. His artistic talents had been nurtured by the Reverend's wife, Sarah Moorhead, a teacher of art and drawing. His drawing of Phillis, said to be a fine likeness, was shipped to England to be engraved. When the book was published, it contained a poem, "To S.M. a young African Painter, on seeing his Works," in which Wheatley praised the artist and voiced her hopes that their collaboration would lead to his "immortal fame"
Still may the painter's and the poet's fire 
To aid thy pencil, and thy verse conspire! 

I learned about Phillis Wheatley was in an American Literature class at the University of North Carolina in the mid 1960s. Her story and her poems were fairly amazing. I understood why those educated, self-absorbed "gentlemen" in the 18th century doubted that a young slave girl could produce those classical poems, or that any woman could write like that.

American poet Phillis Wheatley probably was born in Senegal, Africa in the early 1750s. Her only written memory of Africa was of her mother performing a ritual of pouring water before the sun as it rose. When she was about 7, she became a commodity. She was kidnapped from her family, marched to the coast, sold to Peter Gwinn as slave cargo, and stowed on a ship called The Phillis for an unimaginable trip through the middle passage. When the dark ship finally reached its destination in Boston, the frightened little girl was sold at John Avery's slave auction to tailor John and his wife Susanna Wheatley on July 11, 1761. The prosperous Boston family named their new acquisition after the ship she arrived in; taught her English, Latin, and Greek; and treated her as a family member. The Wheatleys and their daughter, Mary, introduced Phillis to the Bible; and to 3 English poets – Milton, Pope and Gray. Phillis used her new language skills to write her own poetry.


A rare portrait of Phillis Wheatley shows her facing forward, wearing an evening dress and jewelry. The portrait appeared in Revue des Colonies in Paris between 1834 and 1842

In 1765, when Phillis Wheatley was about eleven years old, she wrote a letter to Reverend Samson Occum, a Mohegan Indian and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Despite the difference in their ages (Occum was born in 1723), Wheatley's letter apparently led to a friendship with Occum, who was also a poet, and who later published an Indian hymnal. On February 11, 1774, Wheatley wrote Occum again, to comment on an indictment of slave-holding Christian ministers that he had written. Wheatley strongly concurred with the argument put forth by Occum, writing that she was "greatly satisfied with your Reasons representing the Negroes" and thought "highly reasonable what you offer in Vindication of their natural Rights." While she implored God's deliverance from "those whose Avarice impels them..." she hastened to add, "This I desire not for their Hurt, but to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically opposite." As she did in several of her poems, notably her ode to the Earl of Dartmouth, Wheatley used the letter to Occum as an occasion to point out the contradiction between the colonists' demands for freedom from Britain and their determination to uphold slavery. She wrote, "How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the Exercise of oppressive Power over others agree -- I humbly think it does not require the Penetration of a Philosopher to determine."

She published her first poem at the age of 14. Her poem "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin" appeared in the Newport Mercury in 1767. She was especially fond of writing in Pope's elegiac poetry style, perhaps because it also mirrored an oral tradition of her African tribal group. Both Europeans and Africans used poem and song as a lament for a deceased person. That she also was well-versed in Latin, which allowed her to write in the epyllion (short epic) style, became apparent with the publication of "Niobe in Distress."

She became a sensation in Boston in the early 1770s, when her poem elegy on the death of the extremely popular English-born evangelist George Whitefield gained wide circulation in colonial newspapers. Whitefield died September 30, 1770, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Wheatley's elegy reached Selina Hastings of England, Countess of Huntingdon, who was a great admirer of Whitefield. The countess, in turn, sent Wheatley's poem to London papers, which reprinted it many times.

Because many found it hard to believe that a slave or a woman could write such poetry, in 1772, Wheatley received an attestation of authenticity from a group of Boston luminaries including John Hancock and Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, which was printed in the preface to her book Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral released in London in 1773. The book was issued from London, because publishers in Boston refused to publish it. Wheatley and her master's son, Nathanial Wheatley, had traveled to London, where the Countess of Huntingdon and the Earl of Dartmouth helped finance the publication.

The 1773 publication of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects established her as a young prodigy and challenged the major justification for enslavement of Africans -- the European assumption of African inferiority. In the 18C, Europeans generally assumed that Africans were subhuman, lacking the intellectual capacity for such higher order pursuits as creative writing and mathematics; consequently, Wheatley's book was prefaced by testimonies to its authenticity from her master and from 16 of Boston's most respected citizens, thereby establishing a literary convention of sorts for works by African Americans in the 18C and 19C. Despite such testimonials, Thomas Jefferson was among those who questioned Wheatley's authorship. One of the best-known poems in the collection is dedicated "To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, Etc." Wheatley was heartened by the appointment of Dartmouth, whom she had met in London and knew to be a friend of the abolitionist Countess of Huntingdon and of the late Reverend George Whitefield, who had helped launch the Great Awakening. The poem opens with hopeful optimism that under Dartmouth's "blissful sway," the colonies will see "Freedom's charms unfold" and experience an end to the reign of "wanton Tyranny" that "meant t'enslave the land." Those lines provide a subtle yet powerful segue into the next verse, in which she proposes that her "love of Freedom" (and by implication, that of the black Patriots) springs from the anguish Africans have known as slaves.

Phillis' fame and the aging of her owners ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773, just as the British American colonies were contemplating a freedom of their own. She received a letter from General Washington, after she had written a poem to Washington, lauding his appointment as commander of the Continental Army. On February 28, 1776, Washington wrote to Wheatley, "I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be...the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents."

Though Benjamin Franklin received her, and Washington personally met with her as well, Thomas Jefferson refused to acknowledge her intelligence and skill. In Notes on the State of Virginia, he declared, "Religion, indeed, has produced a Phillis Wheatley, but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism."

Adopting classical styles, topics, neoclassical images, and scriptural allusions, allowed Wheatley to express a subtle critique of America's slaveholding colonies and emerging new republic. While she was a strong supporter of independence during the Revolutionary War, she felt slavery was the issue which kept Ameican whites, such as Jefferson, from true heroism. Wheatley wrote that whites could not "hope to find/Divine acceptance with th' Almighty mind" when "they disgrace/And hold in bondage Afric's blameless race."

In a letter which appeared on March 11, 1774, in the Connecticut Gazette, Wheatley wrote of the hipocricy of freedom-loving slaveholders, "God grant Deliberance...upon all those whose Avarice impels them to countenance and help forward the Calamities of their fellow Creatures. This I desire not for their Hurt, but to convince them of the strange Absurdity of their Conduct whose Words and Actions are so diametrically opposite, How well the Cry for Liberty, and the reverse Disposition for the exercise of oppressive power over others agree I humbly think it does not require the penetration of a Philosopher to determine."

On April 1, 1778, she married a free black Bostonian named John Peters. Initially this marriage produced 2 babies who died in childhood. Despite tragedy and poverty, Phillis continued to write poetry. In 1779, she advertised in the Boston Evening Post and General Advertiser, in hopes of finding a publisher for a volume of 33 poems and 13 letters. In the struggling post-revolutionary economy, this volume was never published. In September 1784, The Boston Magazine published under her married name, Phillis Peters, a poem "To Mr. and Mrs.----, on the Death of Their Infant Son;" and in December, 1784, it published "Liberty and Peace" celebrating the outcome of the Revolutionary War, once again using her married name. She may never have seen the poems published in December.

By this time, her husband had deserted her, forcing Wheatley to earn a living as a scullery maid in a Boston boarding house for destitute blacks. On December 5, 1784, she died there in poverty at the age of 31, probably from an infection or blood clot contracted while giving birth. Her third baby died only a few hours later. They were buried together in an unmarked grave. The Boston Independent Chronicle reported, "Last Lord's Day, died Mrs. Phillis Peters (formerly Phillis Wheatley), aged thirty-one, known to the world by her celebrated miscellaneous poems. Her funeral is to be this afternoon, at four o'clock, from the house lately improved by Mr. Todd...where her friends and acquaintances are desired to attend."

Before her death, she had addressed several other poems to George Washington. She sent them to him, but he never responded again. Her last known poem was written for Washington. After Phillis' death, her estranged husband, John Peters, went to the woman who had provided temporary shelter for Phillis and demanded that she hand over the manuscripts of the proposed second volume. After Peters received Phillis' manuscripts, the second volume was never seen again.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Not exactly a musical - Alexander Hamilton's Wife, Girlfriend, & Apology

From the Smithsonian Magazine July 25, 2013

1787 Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Mrs. Alexander Hamilton. Elizabeth Schuyler

In the summer of 1791, Alexander Hamilton received a visitor. Maria Reynolds, a 23-year-old blonde, came to Hamilton’s Philadelphia residence to ask for help. Her husband, James Reynolds, had abandoned her—not that it was a significant loss, for Reynolds had grossly mistreated her before absconding. Hamilton, just 34, was serving as secretary of the United States treasury and was himself a New Yorker; she thought he would surely be able to help her return to that city, where she could resettle among friends and relatives. Hamilton was eager to be of service, but, he recounted later, it was not possible at the moment of her visit, so he arranged to visit her that evening, money in hand.  When he arrived at the Reynolds home, Maria led him into an upstairs bedroom. A conversation followed, at which point Hamilton felt certain that “other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable” to Maria Reynolds.

And thus began an affair that would put Alexander Hamilton at the front of a long line of American politicians forced to apologize publicly for their private behavior.

Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804) by John Trumbull  1806

Hamilton (whose wife and children were vacationing with relatives in Albany) and Maria Reynolds saw each other regularly throughout the summer and fall of 1791—until James Reynolds returned to the scene and instantly saw the profit potential in the situation. December 15, Hamilton received an urgent note from his mistress: I have not tim to tell you the cause of my present troubles only that Mr. has rote you this morning and I know not wether you have got the letter or not and he has swore that If you do not answer It or If he dose not se or hear from you to day he will write Mrs. Hamilton he has just Gone oute and I am a Lone I think you had better come here one moment that you May know the Cause then you will the better know how to act Oh my God I feel more for you than myself and wish I had never been born to give you so mutch unhappiness do not rite to him no not a Line but come here soon do not send or leave any thing in his power.

Two days later, Hamilton received a letter from James Reynolds that accused him of destroying a happy home and proposed a solution: Its true its in your power to do a great deal for me, but its out of your power to do any thing that will Restore to me my Happiness again for if you should give me all you possess would not do it. god knowes I love the woman and wish every blessing may attend her, you have bin the Cause of Winning her love, and I Dont think I Can be Reconciled to live with Her, when I know I hant her love. now Sir I have Considered on the matter Serously. I have this preposial to make to you. give me the Sum Of thousand dollars and I will leve the town and take my daughter with me and go where my Friend Shant here from me and leve her to Yourself to do for her as you thing proper. I hope you wont think my request is in a view of making Me Satisfaction for the injury done me. for there is nothing that you Can do will compensate for it.

Rather than leave town (and his new mark), James Reynolds allowed the relationship to continue. A pattern was established in which Maria Reynolds (by this time likely complicit in her husband’s scheme) would write to Hamilton, entreating him to visit when her husband was out of the house: I have kept my bed those two days past but find my self much better at presant though yet full distreesed and shall till I see you fretting was the Cause of my Illness I thought you had been told to stay away from our house and yesterday with tears I my Eyes I begged Mr. once more to permit your visits and he told upon his honour that he had not said anything to you and that It was your own fault believe me I scarce knew how to believe my senses and if my seturation was insupportable before I heard this It was now more so fear prevents my saing more only that I shal be miserable till I se you and if my dear freend has the Least Esteeme for the unhappy Maria whos greateest fault Is Loveing him he will come as soon as he shall get this and till that time My breast will be the seate of pain and woe  P. S. If you cannot come this Evening to stay just come only for one moment as I shal be Lone Mr. is going to sup with a friend from New York.

After such trysts occurred, James Reynolds would dispatch a request for funds—rather than demand sums comparable to his initial request of $1,000 dollars (which Hamilton paid), he would request $30 or $40, never explicitly mentioning Hamilton’s relationship with Maria but referring often to Hamilton’s promise to be a friend to him. James Reynolds, who had become increasingly involved in a dubious plan to purchase on the cheap the pension and back-pay claims of Revolutionary War soldiers, found himself on the wrong side of the law in November 1792, and was imprisoned for committing forgery. Naturally, he called upon his old friend Hamilton, but the latter refused to help. Reynolds, enraged, got word to Hamilton’s Republican rivals that he had information of a sort that could bring down the Federalist hero.

James Monroe, accompanied by fellow Congressmen Frederick Muhlenberg and Abraham Venable, visited Reynolds in jail and his wife at their home and heard the tale of Alexander Hamilton, seducer and homewrecker, a cad who had practically ordered Reynolds to share his wife’s favors. What’s more, Reynolds claimed, the speculation scheme in which he’d been implicated also involved the treasury secretary. (Omitted were Reynolds’ regular requests for money from Hamilton.)  Political enemy he might have been, but Hamilton was still a respected government official, and so Monroe and Muhlenberg, in December 1792, approached him with the Reynolds’ story, bearing letters Maria Reynolds claimed he had sent her.

Aware of what being implicated in a nefarious financial plot could do to his career (and the fledgling nation’s economy), Hamilton admitted that he’d had an affair with Maria Reynolds, and that he’d been a fool to allow it (and the extortion) to continue. Satisfied that Hamilton was innocent of any wrongdoing beyond adultery, Monroe and Muhlenberg agreed to keep what they’d learned private. And that, Hamilton thought, was that.

James Monroe had a secret of his own, though.  While he kept Hamilton’s affair from the public, he did make a copy of the letters Maria Reynolds had given him and sent them to Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s chief adversary and a man whose own sexual conduct was hardly above reproach. The Republican clerk of the House of Representatives, John Beckley, may also have surreptitiously copied them.

In a 1796 essay, Hamilton (who had ceded his secretaryship of the treasury to Oliver Wolcott in 1795 and was acting as an adviser to Federalist politicians) impugned Jefferson’s private life, writing that the Virginian’s “simplicity and humility afford but a flimsy veil to the internal evidences of aristocratic splendor, sensuality, and epicureanism.” He would get his comeuppance in June 1797, when James Callender’s The History of the United States for 1796 was published.

Callender, a Republican and a proto-muckraker, had become privy to the contents of Hamilton’s letters to Reynolds (Hamilton would blame Monroe and Jefferson, though it is more likely Beckley was the source, though he had left his clerk’s position). Callender’s pamphlet alleged that Hamilton had been guilty of involvement in the speculation scheme and was more licentious than any moral person could imagine. “In the secretary’s bucket of chastity,” Callender asserted, “a drop more or less was not to be perceived.”

Callender’s accusations and his access to materials related to the affair left Hamilton in a tight spot—to deny all the charges would be an easily proven falsehood. The affair with Maria Reynolds could destroy his marriage, not to mention his hard-won social standing (he had married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of one of New York’s most prominent families, and a match many thought advantageous to Hamilton). But to be implicated in a financial scandal was, to Hamilton, simply unthinkable. As Secretary of the Treasury, he’d been the architect of early American fiscal policy. To be branded as corrupt would not only end his career, but also threaten the future of the Federalist Party.

Left with few other options, Hamilton decided to confess to his indiscretions with Maria Reynolds and use that confession as proof that on all other fronts, he had nothing to hide. But his admission of guilt would be far more revealing than anyone could have guessed.

Hamilton’s pamphlet Observations on Certain Documents had a simple purpose: in telling his side of the story and offering letters from James and Maria Reynolds for public review, he would argue that he had been the victim of an elaborate scam, and that his only real crime had been an “irregular and indelicate amour.” To do this, Hamilton started from the beginning, recounting his original meeting with Maria Reynolds and the trysts that followed. The pamphlet included revelations sure to humiliate Elizabeth Hamilton—that he and Maria had brought their affair into the Hamilton family home, and that Hamilton had encouraged his wife to remain in Albany; so that he could see Maria without explanation.

Letters from Maria to Hamilton were breathless and full of errors (“I once take up the pen to solicit The favor of seing again oh Col hamilton what have I done that you should thus Neglect me”). How would Elizabeth Hamilton react to being betrayed by her husband with such a woman?

Still, Hamilton pressed on in his pamphlet, presenting a series of letters from both Reynoldses that made Hamilton, renowned for his cleverness, seem positively simple. On May 2, 1792, James Reynolds forbade Hamilton from seeing Maria ever again; on June 2, Maria wrote to beg Hamilton to return to her; a week after that, James Reynolds asked to borrow $300, more than double the amount he usually asked for. (Hamilton obliged.)

Hamilton, for his part, threw himself at the mercy of the reading public:This confession is not made without a blush. I cannot be the apologist of any vice because the ardor of passion may have made it mine. I can never cease to condemn myself for the pang which it may inflict in a bosom eminently entitled to all my gratitude, fidelity, and love. But that bosom will approve, that, even at so great an expense, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness. The public, too, will, I trust, excuse the confession. The necessity of it to my defence against a more heinous charge could alone have extorted from me so painful an indecorum.

While the airing of his dirty laundry was surely humiliating to Hamilton (and his wife, whom the Aurora, a Republican newspaper, asserted must have been just as wicked to have such a husband), it worked—the blackmail letters from Reynolds dispelled any suggestion of Hamilton’s involvement in the speculation scheme.

Still, Hamilton’s reputation was in tatters. Talk of further political office effectively ceased. He blamed Monroe, whom he halfheartedly tried to bait into challenging him to a duel. (Monroe refused.) This grudge would be carried by Elizabeth Hamilton, who, upon meeting Monroe before his death in 1831, treated him coolly on her late husband’s behalf. She had, by all accounts, forgiven her husband, and would spend the next 50 years trying to undo the damage of Hamilton’s last decade of life.


Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) and Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Hamilton’s fate, of course, is well-known, though in a way the Reynolds affair followed him to his last day. Some time before the publication of his pamphlet, Hamilton’s former mistress Maria Reynolds sued her husband for divorce. The attorney that guided her through that process was Aaron Burr.


Aaron Burr 1756-1836 by John Vanderlyn (1775-1852) 1802

Sources:
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton, Penguin Books, 2005; Hamilton, Alexander. Observations on Certain Documents, 1797; Callender, James. History of the United States in 1796, 1796; Brodie, Fawn McKay. Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, W.W. Norton & Co., 1975; Collins, Paul. Duel With the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery, Crown, 2013; McCraw, Thomas K., The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy, Belknap Press, 2012, Rosenfeld, Richard M. American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.