History of American Women Part 2

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Mary Videau Marion

Wife of General Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox

Mary Esther Videau was born September 17, 1737. She was described as a maiden lady of Huguenot descent, of considerable wealth, and most estimable character. She met General Francis Marion after the Revolutionary War. Francis Marion was born February 26, 1732, at Gayfield Plantation, St. James Parish, South Carolina.

Marion’s family was also of Huguenot ancestry. His parents were Gabriel Marion and Esther Cordes Marion, both first-generation Carolinians. He was the last born of six children, and was a puny child. When he was five or six, his family moved to a plantation in St. George, a parish on Winyah Bay. Apparently, they wanted to be near the English school in Georgetown. Marion’s family was of Huguenot ancestry; he was fluent in English and French.

At about 15 years old, Francis joined the crew of a ship and sailed to the West Indies. His imagination had been stirred by the ships in the Georgetown port. When he asked his parents’ permission, they willingly agreed. They hoped a voyage to the Caribbean would strengthen his frail physique. He signed on as the sixth crewman of a schooner heading for the West Indies.

During his first voyage, the ship sank, supposedly after a whale rammed it. The seven-man crew escaped in a lifeboat and spent a week at sea before they drifted ashore. Despite his sea ordeal, Francis came back in better health. However, he was done with sailing. Francis decided to stick to land, managing his family’s plantation.

As Francis got older, he enjoyed playing in the swamps. He learned about the local Indians, and how they fought and survived in the swamp. The Cherokee used the landscape to their advantage, Marion found; they concealed themselves in the Carolina backwoods and mounted devastating ambushes. Little did he realize how much this would help him in the future.

In 1761, after his militia had defeated the area Cherokee, Marion returned to farming. He was successful enough to purchase his own plantation, Pond Bluff, near Eutaw Springs in St. John’s Parish, which was his home for the rest of his life. But he scarcely had time to settle there when a war with the Cherokee began.

But the growing storm that was to become the Revolutionary War brought Marion out of retirement. Like many others, he considered himself a Patriot and loved his freedom. In 1775, Marion was elected to the first South Carolina Provincial Congress, an organization in support of colonial self-determination.

In June 1775, the Provincial Congress voted to raise three regiments. Based on his past experience, Marion was made Captain in the Continental Army. Because of his success, he climbed the promotional ladder to Major, Colonel, and, eventually to Brigadier General. His first assignments involved guarding artillery and buildings at Fort Sullivan in Charleston harbor.

When he saw combat during the Battle of Fort Sullivan in June 1776, Marion acted valiantly. In the brilliant victory of June 28, which drove the British fleet from Charleston harbor, Marion played an important part, and was soon afterward promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. The victory was so decisive as to relieve the southern states from anything like systematic attack for more than two years.

During part of this time Colonel Marion commanded the fortress on Sullivan’s Island. But for much of the next three years, he remained at the fort, occupying the time by trying to discipline his troops, whom he found to be a disorderly, drunken bunch insistent on showing up to roll call barefoot. In 1779, he joined the Siege of Savannah, which the Americans lost.

Marion’s role in the war changed course after an odd accident in March 1780. Attending a dinner party at the Charleston home of a fellow officer, Marion found that the host, in accordance with 18th-century custom, had locked all the doors while he toasted the American cause. The toasts went on and on, and Marion, who was not a drinking man, felt trapped. He escaped by jumping out a second story window, but broke his ankle in the fall. Marion left town to recuperate in the country, and he was not captured when the British took Charleston in May 1780.

Francis Marion joined General Horatio Gates just before the Battle of Camden in August 1780, but Gates sent Marion to take command of the Williamsburg Militia, and asked him to undertake scouting missions and impede the expected flight of the British after the battle. He soon began raising and organizing the force thenceforth known as Marion’s Brigade. After Gates’ crushing defeat at Camden on August 16, this was the only American force worth mentioning in South Carolina.

Unlike the Continental troops, Marion’s Men, as they were sometimes called, served without pay, supplied their own horses, arms, and often their food. All of Marion’s supplies that were not obtained locally were captured from the British or Loyalist forces.

Marion had his first military success that August, when he led 50 men in a raid against the British. Hiding in dense foliage, the unit attacked an enemy encampment from behind and rescued 150 American prisoners. The British especially hated Marion and made repeated efforts to neutralize his force, but Marion’s intelligence gathering was excellent and that of the British was poor, due to the overwhelming Patriot loyalty of the populace in the Williamsburg area.

British Colonel Banastre Tarleton, sent to capture Marion, despaired of finding the “old swamp fox”, who eluded him by traveling along swamp paths. Tarleton was hated because he burned and destroyed homes and supplies, whereas Marion’s Men, when they requisitioned supplies (or destroyed them to keep them out of British hands) gave the owners receipts for them. After the war, most of the receipts were redeemed by the new state government.

Once Marion had shown his ability at guerrilla warfare, making himself a serious nuisance to the British, Governor John Rutledge (in exile in North Carolina) commissioned him a brigadier general of state troops. He and his soldiers concentrated their attacks on British supply lines and camps. They rested during the day and marched at night, often attacking at midnight. Marion cut the supply lines linking the British-occupied cities, and chased and harassed various British leaders, most notably Colonel Tarleton.

Marion displayed a natural talent for strategy and tactics and was known for his personal bravery. Scouts always rode ahead of his troop to prevent ambushes. Some of them hid in the tops of tall trees and signaled with shrill whistles. If a bridge had to be crossed near an enemy post, blankets would be laid on the wooden planks to muffle the horses hoofs. When planning a raid, Marion kept the target to himself until the last moment.

Though often outnumbered, Marion’s militia would continue to use guerilla tactics to surprise enemy regiments, with great success. Because the British never knew where Marion was or where he might strike, they had to divide their forces, weakening them.

Marion operated out of the swampy forest of the Pee Dee region in lower South Carolina. His strategy was to surprise the enemy, cut their supply lines, kill their men, and release any American prisoners they might have in custody. He and his men then retreated back into the thick recesses of the swamps. They were feared, very effective, and their fame was widespread.

In November 1780, Marion earned the nickname he’s remembered by today. Colonel Tarleton, informed of Marion’s whereabouts by an escaped prisoner, chased the American militia for seven hours, covering some 26 miles. Marion escaped into a swamp, and Tarleton gave up, cursing, “As for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.” Soon the locals — who loathed the British occupation — were cheering the Swamp Fox. Marion became a hero of the Revolution.

As the Revolutionary War raged on, Marion’s success grew. General Marion fought in battles at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Court House, and Georgetown. When General Nathanael Greene took command in the south, Marion and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee were ordered in January 1781 to attack Georgetown, but were unsuccessful. In April, however, they took Fort Watson and in May, Fort Motte, and succeeded in breaking communications between the British posts in the Carolinas.

By midsummer 1781, the Continentals under General Greene had gained virtual control of South Carolina. The retreating British, disillusioned and sick with summer heat, united forces under Colonel Stewart at Orangeburg and began their march to Charleston.

In the Eutaw Campaign, General Marion made a brilliant and useful raid, covering 200 miles of country, making a complete circuit around the British army. In an action at Parker’s Ferry, August 31, he struck a blow at the enemy’s cavalry, which crippled it for the rest of the campaign. He rescued a small American force trapped by Major C. Fraser with 500 British. For this, he received the thanks of the Continental Congress.

Early in September, 1781, 2300 well-equipped British camped in cool shade beside the gushing springs of Eutaw, little dreaming the Continentals were close upon their heels. General Greene, hearing of General George Washington’s plan to encircle and embarrass the British at Yorktown, Virginia, was determined to prevent Southern aid from reaching the beleaguered Cornwallis.

Contingents under Marion, Pickens, Lee, Hampton and other South Carolina leaders were called together, and reinforcements from other colonies joined them. These 2092 poorly-equipped, underfed, and near-naked Americans camped on September 7 at Burdell’s Plantation, only seven miles from Eutaw Springs.

Strategy for the ensuing attack is accredited to the genius of the dreaded Swamp Fox, who knew every foot of the Santee swamps and river. Marion commanded the right wing under General Greene at the Battle of Eutaw Springs.

On September 8, General Greene’s army attacked the British at Eutaw Springs. In the first part of the action, he was successful after a desperate conflict; in the pursuit, however, the Americans failed to dislodge the British from a stone house which they held, and their severe loss in both engagements was over 500 men. The British lost about 1000, one-half of whom were prisoners.

Better success attended the American partisan operations directed by Greene and conducted by General Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, Henry Lee, and William Washington. They fell upon isolated British posts established to protect the Loyalist population, and generally captured or broke them up.

Casualties were extremely high. “Blood ran ankle-deep in places,” and the strewn area of dead and dying was heartbreaking. Greene collected his wounded and returned to Burdell’s Plantation. The British remained the night at Eutaw Springs.

On September 9, the British hastily retreated toward Charleston, leaving behind many of their dead unburied and seventy seriously wounded. Marion joined with Lee in the pursuit, in which great numbers of prisoners were taken. This last major battle in South Carolina completely broke the British hold in the South, and cut them off from their forces in the North.

The British evacuated Charleston on December 14, 1782. Seven years of England’s determination to bring South Carolina to her knees had met failure. Only six weeks later, Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington at the Battle of Yorktown, and American Independence was assured.

In December 1782, General Marion felt that his work in the field had been accomplished. In his favorite encampment at Watboo, under the shade of the cedar trees, Marion thanked his officers and men for their service, and bid them a friendly and affectionate farewell. Few leaders have ever been so popular among their men.

When the war was over, General Marion left his brigade and returned to Pond Bluff in St John’s Parish and set to work to repair the damages done to his property during the war. His plantation lay within a mile of the marches and countermarches of the British, and had been subject to every kind of waste and depredation.

In 1784, Marion was appointed to the command of Fort Johnson in Charleston harbor, practically a courtesy title. His nephew Theodore had hinted to his uncle that it was time for the general to get married. His relatives and friends informed him that Mary Videau always listened with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes when anyone began reciting the exploits of the Swamp Fox. While in command at Fort Johnson, Marion met Mary.

Mary Videau married General Francis Marion February 20, 1786. She brought to the union not only her charm, but a large fortune. Thereafter, the general was able to live without depending upon the favors of the state. They lived quietly and happily on his plantation.

The Swamp Fox was then fifty-four years old, admired by his state and nation, no less for his dashing bravery and patriotism than his chivalrous sense of honor as a soldier and a citizen. He was almost immediately elected a member of the South Carolina Senate, which voted him a gold medal for his glorious and meritorious conduct. He was kept there by re-elections until 1790.

In 1788, Marion was elected one of seven delegates to the convention called to ratify the Federal Constitution, two others from St John’s being Henry Laurens and William Moultrie. He was absent on May 23 when the final vote of ratification was taken and passed.

In 1790, Marion declined further public service, and lived the rest of his life on his farm. He was loved by the community, and often helped his fellow veterans in time of need. But the years of campaigning day and night in the swamps were now having their effects on his health. Comrades came and paid their respects.

General Francis Marion died February 27, 1795, at Pond Bluff in St. John’s Parish in his sixty fourth year. He was buried at Belle Isle Plantation, the home of his brother Gabriel. He had no children, and his widow never married again.

Mary Videau Marion died July 26, 1815, and was buried next to her husband.

Francis Marion never commanded a large army or led a major battle. Histories of the Revolutionary War tend to focus on George Washington and his campaigns in the North, rather than small skirmishes in the South. Yet, the Swamp Fox is one of the war’s most enduring characters. Though things looked bad for the Americans after Charleston fell, Marion’s cunning, resourcefulness, and determination helped keep the cause of American independence alive in the South.

Fortunately, the real Francis Marion has not been entirely obscured by his legend — historians including William Gilmore Simms and Hugh Rankin have written accurate biographies. Based on the facts alone, “Marion deserves to be remembered as one of the heroes of the War for Independence,” says Sean Busick, who has written the introduction to a new edition of William Gilmore Simms’ The Life of Francis Marion.

Lucy Knox

Wife of Revolutionary War Patriot Henry Knox

Lucy Flucker, born in 1756, was the daughter of Thomas Flucker, the Royal Secretary of the Province of Massachusetts and a loyalist in Boston, Massachusetts. Henry Knox was born into poverty in Boston in 1750, an ordinary man who rose to face extraordinary circumstances. He left Boston Latin Grammar School at a young age to apprentice to a bookbinder, helping to support his widowed mother and younger brother.

Henry Knox eventually worked his way to opening his own bookshop in Boston at the age of 21. The young gentlemen of privilege congregated there, and Henry observed their manners and soon could be mistaken for one of them. His keen interest in military strategy led him to do a lot of reading on the subject, and when he volunteered as a member of the Boston Grenadiers in 1772, his talent was noticed.

Seventeen year-old Lucy frequently visited Knox’s bookstore, and it soon became obvious that books were not the main attraction for her. She had seen Henry in his uniform and mounted on a massive horse, parading on Boston Common. She frequently led the young proprietor away from chatting groups for private talks among the bookshelves. Lucy was described as “a woman of much tact, quick and ready sympathy, and good judgment, combined with great good-nature and a love of fun.”

Lucy soon made up her mind that she wanted her Harry, and neither reason nor force would change it. Her parents tried to prevent meetings, but Lucy defied them; the lovers exchanged fervent letters. Lucy was violently emotional and inclined to hysterical scenes if crossed. Henry was the man she wanted, a strong, positive, cheerful man who could calm her seething temperament.

Ignoring her wealthy parents’ protests and warnings of impending poverty and political ruin, Lucy married Henry Knox on June 16, 1774, shortly before Lucy’s eighteenth birthday, incurring her father’s displeasure by marrying a man in trade. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, theirs was a happy marriage, marred only by the fact that ten of their thirteen children did not live to adulthood.

Boston at that time became a prison to its residents as General Thomas Gage refused to let the citizens leave to join the patriot army. When Henry escaped Boston to join the Revolutionary forces late one night in the spring of 1775, Lucy rode beside him, his sword sewn inside her cape. That set the pattern for their lives during the war years. From Bunker Hill to Yorktown, she remained as close to her husband as possible throughout the campaigns.

After that, Lucy was essentially homeless throughout the war. She stayed with friends or in rented lodgings at times, but she always preferred to be with her husband. As a result of both need and determination, she managed numerous lengthy visits to camp, where she started to raise her family and served as a prominent social hostess.

During the Revolutionary War, women usually joined their husbands after the active campaigning had ended in one year – normally during the winter, when fighting was suspended – and left the following spring, when the army was preparing for battle. The necessity of leaving the encampments was made clear early in the war. These women understood the difference between providing comfort when the army was in garrison, and creating a distraction when it was readying for a fight.

Henry Knox was one of the few volunteers who had any idea of military engineering or the use of artillery. He was immediately put to work designing and building defensive forts at Roxbury, while Lucy, left among other Army wives in Worcester, spent her time awaiting letters and writing them. She was filled with pride that Henry was indispensable, but sobbed with self-pity at their separation.

General George Washington inspected a rampart at Roxbury designed by Henry, and was instantly taken with the young man’s abilities, and Henry was immediately appointed Washington’s Chief of Artillery, a position in which he served from late 1775 through the end of the Revolutionary War. Throughout most of the war, he was by Washington’s side, and eventually rose to Major General.

Portrait by Charles Wilson Peale

Knox suggested to the new Commander in Chief that an expedition be made to Fort Ticonderoga to fetch the equipment captured from the British by Ethan Allen. Thus Lucy had a glimpse of Henry in November 1775, as he travelled through Worcester to start the mission, and again in January 1776, when he returned with fifty-nine pieces of artillery that had been brought through snow and ice.

These same guns, dragged onto Dorchester Heights above Boston, were trained upon the city and caused the evacuation by the British and their Tory sympathizers in March 1776. Lucy’s family returned to England, leaving the ardent young patriots in the war-torn colonies. She never saw them again. This may explain why Lucy cling all the more strongly to Henry: she had no other close family besides him and his brother.

The summer of 1776 was a particularly hard time as word of the Declaration of Independence had not yet reached George Washington’s headquarters, and the British had orchestrated the largest amphibious landing of the eighteenth century when they put a powerful force on Staten Island. Knox understood the critical nature of the Continental Army’s situation when he wrote, “The eyes of all America are upon us, the matters which we are to act are of infinitely high import; as we play our part posterity will bless or curse us.”

Knox told his wife of a little more than two years that 10,000 redcoats occupied the other side of New York harbor; by the middle of August there would be 32,000 redcoats to face-off against the 7,000 rag-tag troops the Americans had assembled.

In the midst of this military showdown, Lucy’s letters allow us to see the human element of warfare. During the Revolutionary War, wives were known to accompany their husbands in their service to the nation. In a previous letter, Lucy expressed great desire to join her husband in New York, citing the travels of other general’s wives.

With great emotion, Henry told her not to follow the example of another military couple as the officer is merely a man and “wants to see her because she is a Woman.” Knox wrote that his love for her was too great to risk her capture at this grave time. He was right; the Americans suffered serious setbacks in New York, which would keep them separated for some time.

Throughout the next two years, Lucy’s life consisted of snatched visits with Henry alternated with dreary months in strange houses. She dashed to his side when Boston fell on March 17, 1776, and managed to go along with him when he toured New England ports to plan for their defense. She had to be left behind in Fairfield, Connecticut, for the birth of their first child Lucy, while Henry joined General Washington in New York.

But Lucy was soon with him again, in spite of warnings that the unpredictable General Howe might attack the city at any time. She was delighted with the house at No. 1 Broadway, which had been requisitioned for Knox’s headquarters, and she basked in the deference shown to her military husband, now a colonel and on intimate terms with General Washington.

In July, the Knoxes joyfully celebrated the reading of the Declaration of Independence, but hardly had time to savor the heady moment, for suddenly the British fleet loomed off Staten Island. Henry sent Lucy back to Fairfield, where she slumped in misery. All the news was bad; there was a rout on Long Island, New York City was taken, and the Continental Army had retreated into New Jersey. A family Christmas with their first-born was impossible; Henry was on the banks of the Delaware using his mighty voice to shout General Washington’s orders to each unit as it embarked across the stormy river.

It was Knox who directed the famous crossing of the Delaware by Washington’s army on Christmas night, 1776, and it was his artillery that cut down the Hessians as they emerged sleepily from their quarters. Meanwhile, Congress had promoted him to brigadier general. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather allowed Washington to lead the main body of the Continental Army against Hessian soldiers garrisoned at Trenton, New Jersey.

When they were apart, Lucy and Henry kept in touch through letters, like this one that was written two days after the Battle of Trenton: Henry Knox to Lucy Knox, December 28 1776:

My Dearly Beloved Friend,
You will before this have heard of our success on the morning of the 26th instant. The enemy, by their superior marching, had obliged us to retire on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, by which means we were obliged to evacuate or give up nearly all the Jerseys. Soon after retiring over the river, the preservation of Philadelphia was a matter exceedingly precarious — the force of the enemy three or four times as large as ours. However, they seemed content with their success for the present, and quartered their troops in different and distant places in the Jerseys. Of these cantonments Trenton was the most considerable.

Trenton is an open town, situated nearly on the banks of the Delaware, accessible on all sides. Our army was scattered along the river for nearly twenty-five miles. Our intelligence agreed that the force of the enemy in Trenton was from two to three thousand, with about six field cannon, and that they were pretty secure in their situation, and that they were Hessians — no British troops. A hardy design was formed of attacking the town by storm. Accordingly a part of the army, consisting of about 2500 or 3000 passed the river on Christmas night, with almost infinite difficulty, with eighteen field pieces.

The floating ice in the river made the labor almost incredible. However, perseverance accomplished what at first seemed impossible. About two o’clock the troops were all on the Jersey side; we then were about nine miles from the object. The night was cold and stormy; it hailed with great violence; the troops marched with the most profound silence and good order.

They arrived by two routes at the same time, about half an hour after daylight, within one mile of the town. The storm continued with great violence, but was in our backs, and consequently in the faces of our enemy. About half a mile from the town was an advanced guard on each road, consisting of a captain’s guard. These we forced, and entered the town with them pell-mell; and here succeeded a scene of war of which I had often conceived, but never saw before.

The hurry, fright, and confusion of the enemy was [not] unlike that which will be when the last trump shall sound. They endeavored to form in streets, the heads of which we had previously the possession of with cannon and howitzers; these, in the twinkling of an eye, cleared the streets. The backs of the houses were resorted to for shelter. These proved ineffectual: the musketry soon dislodged them.

Finally, they were driven through the town into an open plain beyond. Here they formed in an instant. During the contest in the streets, measures were taken for putting an entire stop to their retreat by posting troops and cannon in such passes and roads as it was possible for them to get away by. The poor fellows after they were formed on the plain saw themselves completely surrounded, the only resource left was to force their way through numbers unknown to them.

The Hessians lost part of their cannon in the town; they did not relish the project of forcing, and were obliged to surrender upon the spot, with all their artillery, six brass pieces, army colors, etc. The number of prisoners was above 1200, including officers—all Hessians. There were few killed or wounded on either side. After having marched off the prisoners and secured the cannon, stores, &c., we returned to the place, nine miles distant, where we had embarked. Providence seemed to have smiled upon every part of this enterprise. Great advantages may be gained from it if we take the proper steps.

At another post we have pushed over the river 2000 men, today another body, and tomorrow the whole army will follow. It must give a sensible pleasure to every friend of the rights of man to think with how much intrepidity our people pushed the enemy, and prevented their forming in the town.

His Excellency the General has done me the unmerited great honor of thanking me in public orders in terms strong and polite. This I would blush to mention to any other than you, my dear Lucy; and I am fearful that even my Lucy may think her Harry possess a species of little vanity in doing [it] at all.

Lucy pleaded to join him, hotly denying that she had ever complained or needed luxury: “I was pleased with the inconvenience — nothing but bread and water, might I be within twenty miles of you.” She learned that Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Horatio Gates had been with their husbands. “Happy Mrs. Gates, Happy Mrs. Washington — in the last ten months we have not spent six weeks together.”

Henry wrote whenever he could, though constantly at General Washington’s side and occupied with a thousand duties concerning supervision of artillery and training of recruits. “Nothing but the call of a country much injured and misunderstood to whom I am inseparably connected,” he wrote, “would have called me from the arms and company of her who is inexpressibly interwoven with my heart.”

Lucy had shown the force of her passions when she fought her parents for permission to marry. Now she was faced with life in a historic moment which could not be changed to suit her, and with a husband who put his duty first. And there were no longer parents to comfort her. Perhaps when she fled from Boston it had been rather fun to defy them, but now she felt deep hurt that no letter came from them.

Through an aunt she learned that her father had continued to draw a salary of £300 as Provincial Secretary and worked to obtain compensation for dispossessed Tories, savagely denying the claims of those he suspected had ever shown the least sympathy for the American cause, as if hitting out at his daughter through them.

Henry was never spared a detail of her anxieties and loneliness. From Wallingford, Connecticut, where she and a Mrs. Pollard rented a house together, their landlord wrote to General Knox to report the crockery broken and the cellar of West Indian rum consumed, and without actually accusing the ladies he may have given Henry fears that his young wife was drowning her sorrows. It was a relief when Lucy moved back to Boston, where she had friends, and could also be kept busy helping Henry’s brother Billy run the bookstore.

Lucy Knox to General Knox, August 23 1777:

My dearest friend
I wrote you a line by the last post just to let you know I was alive, which was all I could then say with propriety for I had serious thoughts that I never should see you again, so much was I reduced by only four days of illness but by help of a good constitution I am surprisingly better today. I am now to answer your three last letters in one of which you ask for a history of my life. It is, my love, barren of adventure and replete with repetition that I fear it will afford you little amusement. How such as it is, I give to you.

In the first place, I rise about eight in the morning – so late an hour you will say, but the day after that is full long for a person in my condition. I presently after sit down to my breakfast, where a page in my book and a dish of tea employ me alternately for about an hour. When after seeing that family matters go on right, I repair to my work or book or pen for the rest of the forenoon.

At two o’clock I usually take my solitary dinner where I reflect upon my past happiness, when I used to sit at the window watching for my Harry, and when I saw him coming, my heart would leap for joy when he was at my own and never happy from me, when the bare thought of six months absence would have shook him. To divert Alex’s pleas, I place my little Lucy by me at table, but the more engaging her little actions are, so much the more do I regret the absence of her father who would take such delight in them…

In the afternoon, I commonly take my chaise and ride into the country or go to drink tea with one of my few friends…. then with any of the former, I often spend the evening, but when I return home how that describe my feelings to find myself entirely alone, to reflect that the only friend I have in the world is such an immense distance from me to think that he may be sick and I cannot assist him. My poor heart is ready to burst, you who know what a trifle would make me unhappy can conceive what I suffer now. When I seriously reflect that I have lost my father, mother, brother, and sisters – entirely lost them, I am half distracted.

I have not seen him for almost six months, and he writes me without pointing at any method by which I may ever expect to see him again. ‘Tis hard, my Harry, indeed it is. I love you with the tenderest the purest affection. I would undergo any hardship to be near you and you will not let me. Suppose this campaign should be, like the last, carried into the winter. Do you intend not to see me in all that time? Tell me dear what your plan is. I am more distressed from the hot weather than any other fears. You grant you may not go farther southward; if you should I positive will come too…

You might then after the war have lived at ease all the days of your life, but now I don’t know what you will do. Your being long accustomed to command – will make you too haughty for mercantile matters – tho I hope you will not consider yourself as commander in chief of your own house, but be convinced that there is such a thing as equal command…

But dare I say, I sometimes fear what a long absence… may lead you to forget me at sometimes, to know that it even gave you pleasure to be company with the finest woman in the world, would be worse than death to me. But it is not so, my Harry is too just, too delicate, too sincere – and too fond of his Lucy to admit the most remote thought of that distracting kind. Don’t be angry with me, my love – I am not jealous of you affection.

I love you with a love as true and as ever entered the human heart, but from a difference of my own merit, I sometimes fear you will love me less – after being so long from me – if you should, may my life end before I know it – that I may die thinking you wholly mine.
Adieu my love,

When the Continental Army encamped at Valley Forge for the bitter winter of 1777-78, Lucy was allowed to join her husband. She lived in contentment in a big stone house beside Henry’s artillery park, and became a pleasing hostess to cold and threadbare officers. Somehow the Knoxes always managed to provide extra food and wine, and at night there was often dancing and singing. At this time the relationship between the Washingtons and the Knoxes burgeoned.

Henry Knox was already close to the Commander in Chief, but now the ladies became close in spite of twenty-five year age difference. Both came from a background of privilege, Martha was a country lady; Lucy was more urban. They devoted their time to sewing, mending, and attending the sick at the encampment. Lucy grew in self-importance as she informed the older woman on matters of protocol. The Knoxes were of special value to the Washingtons in this time of open criticism of the General.

With the spring of 1778 came, the glorious news that France had recognized the American republic and would send aid. Then camp was broken, the men prepared for battle, and the women scattered to their homes. The separation of soldiers and wives was brief this summer, however, for by August the last major battle in the North was fought at Monmouth, and the army settled down to await a move by the British in New York.

The new encampment was at Pluckemin, New Jersey, where Henry created an artillery park with an academy attached for the training of officers (the forerunner of West Point). Lucy joined him, and there enjoyed an almost settled life for nearly two years. The Knoxes gave a ball on February 18, 1779, attended by seventy ladies and three hundred gentlemen. It was opened by General Washington, who led Lucy onto the floor for a minuet (in spite of her advanced pregnancy). There was dinner, a fireworks display, and dancing til dawn.

French help and plans for a concerted attack put an end to life at Pluckemin. Henry hurried away to collect the largest supply of artillery he could raise and see it transported to Yorktown, while Lucy went to Mount Vernon, where she became a companion to Martha Washington. Lucy was envious of the fine house and life at the Virginia plantation, and she wrote Henry of her longings for a home of their own.

It was the final battle of the war at Yorktown, VA, in October 1781, that demonstrated Knox’s genius. The accuracy of his guns devastated the British forces penned up on the narrow Yorktown peninsula. Eight days after Knox opened fire, the British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered. Knox’s reward was the promotion to major general, the youngest in the army at 31.

The Knoxes lived through the prolonged period of near-peace at Newburgh, New York. Henry was in command at West Point and had the duty of disbanding the Army. After peace was signed, Henry and Lucy moved to a house at Dorchester, outside Boston, and then to a house on Boston Common, rented from the painter John Singleton Copley.

Lucy’s pregnancies had been following fast upon each other. The Flucker estates were now Lucy’s, awarded to her as the only non-Tory member of the Flucker family. Henry looked over the Maine lands while on a mission to the Penobscot Indians. He noted the fine sweep of the St. Georges River as seen from the settlement at Thomaston, and deemed it an ideal spot for a future home for Lucy.

It had to remain a dream for the moment, however, because the Confederation Congress named Henry Knox Secretary at War, in charge of both the Army and the Navy. During his tenure, most of the War Department’s work focused on Indian affairs.

The Continental Congress made Knox Secretary of War under the Articles of Confederation on March 8, 1785. He held that position without interruption until September 12, 1789, when he assumed the same duties as the Secretary of War in Washington’s first Cabinet.

Henry took up his new duties in New York. Lucy, annoyed that he had rented a country house on Bowery Lane, arrived from Boston in June with the children. The house was four miles out from the center of the city, but this did not prevent a continual stream of carriages from arriving to receive the Knox hospitality.

Lucy soon got her way, and a fine town house at No. 4 Broadway rang with the voices of her children and was kept lit far into the small hours to the sound of music, laughter, and the cries of Lucy’s victims at whist. Lucy had added to the mouths to feed by producing four more children in less than four years.

New York became livelier as the national capital under the Presidency of George Washington. The Knoxes who were called upon to shop for the brown broadcloth of American make for George Washington’s inauguration suit. Henry Knox stood close behind the President as he took his oath of office at Federal Hall, and the President came to the Knox house to watch the fireworks display in New York Harbor.

Their impressive position seemed expressed in their outward appearance – Henry and Lucy had both become enormously fat. The sturdy youth had turned, at near forty, into a monumental man of 290 pounds. Lucy, now thirty-three, weighed 250 pounds and carried herself with tremendous hauteur.

After ten years serving his country as Secretary of War, Henry Knox began to long for the life of a gentleman farmer, like his friends George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were living on their country estates. Fortunately, Lucy had inherited a vast tract of land in the District of Maine.

In 1795, Henry retired and moved his family to this newly-built nineteen-room mansion, Montpelier, on the St. Georges River in Thomaston, Maine. The General, Lucy, six children and assorted servants arrived from Boston on a sloop. They sailed into the broad mouth of the river, rounded a bend, and there beheld the big white mansion against a background of spruce, maple, and beech. It was all Lucy had dreamed it would be, a combination of a French chateau and a fine Virginia mansion

Montpelier stood three stories high, topped by a cupola, surrounded by broad piazzas, fronted by columns. A princely house, it was served from a crescent of nine outbuildings behind it — a cookhouse, a distillery, a buttery, an icehouse, stables, blacksmith and carpenter shops, and dwellings for servants, grooms, and gardeners.

There, Henry was to dedicate his “all to the development of the District of Maine,” and attempted to live the life of a wealthy squire. Most in Thomaston welcomed him, despite what was perceived as his wife’s haughtiness and fondness for gambling, as well as his struggles with squatters. He invited more than 500 townspeople to an open house at Montpelier, helped establish a local church, was instrumental in starting local militia groups, and employed many people.

Tragedy struck their country home when William, aged eleven, and Augusta, aged nine, died on the same day, probably of diphtheria; and within a year, Julia, an enchanting girl of fifteen, died of rapid consumption. Lucy’s final pregnancy produced a stillborn child. In the end, only three children were spared of the thirteen she bore — the eldest, Lucy; Henry Jackson, who caused endless heartache by his instability; and the youngest, Caroline.

When thoughts of bereavements could be pushed aside, the Knoxes’ life for the next ten years was a happy one. They spent winters in Boston and returned to Montpelier in the spring, when Henry toured his acres, planning, expanding, and running up debts that would ultimately bankrupt his heirs. He was industrious in lumbering, ship building, stock raising, and brick manufacturing, although all of these businesses failed.

Henry spent the rest of his life engaged in cattle farming, ship building, brick making, and real estate speculation. He assembled a vast 1,000,000-acre real estate empire in Maine through graft and corruption, triggering an armed insurrection by local settlers who threatened to burn Montpelier to the ground.

While visiting a friend, Henry Knox swallowed a sharp chicken bone, which lodged in his esophagus, and three days later, on October 25, 1806, he was dead at the age of fifty-six. He was buried on his estate in 1806, mourned by a country that had come to love him. In Maine, however, Henry Knox would be remembered as a grasping tyrant and was forever immortalized as the model for Colonel Pynchon in Nathanial Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables.

Lucy faced life without Henry. When the military funeral was over, the last reverberations of the gun salute were stilled, and the rich tones of the Paul Revere bell at Henry’s church had dwindled to silence, Lucy closed herself into Montpelier, and lived on in genteel poverty. She sold much of her property to pay off debts and to support herself. Houses encroached on her isolation, and the forest was cut down behind Montpelier. Henry’s ornamental gardens grew ragged, the paint peeled off the house, and the piazzas became unsafe and were removed.

Lucy’s health declined; then a severe illness brought fever and delirium. She laughed and talked of gowns and hairdressing and friends long gone, and called out to Henry across a crowded ballroom. On the night of June 19-20, 1824, she became frantic and her daughters struggled to restrain her.

Lucy Knox died June 20, 1824, at the age of 68, having outlived her husband by 18 years.

An award for patriotism in Henry Knox’s name is presented yearly in Thomaston on his birthday, July 25, and then once more the beat of marching feet is heard, bugles blow, and the Paul Revere bell peals. Lucy is remembered only in an inscription on her husband’s monument; she is a footnote in the history of her time. She made a contribution, however, to the republic by loving a man who served it nobly and by caring for home and family in his many absences.

Elizabeth Lewis

Wife of Francis Lewis: Signer of the Declaration of Independence

Like other signers of the Declaration of Independence, Francis Lewis was condemned by the British authorities, and a price was put on his head. While Lewis was attending the Continental Congress in the autumn of 1776, British troops destroyed the Lewis estate on Long Island and arrested Elizabeth Lewis, taking her to prison New York City. She never recovered from the inhuman treatment she received at the hands of the British.

Not much is known of Elizabeth Annesley’s early life or her ancestors, but there is evidence of her high character and undaunted spirit. Francis Lewis was the son of a Welsh clergyman of the Church of England. He lost both of his parents at the age of 4 and was raised by a maiden aunt. He was educated in Scotland and England.

At age twenty-one, Lewis bought merchandise and sailed for New York as a mercantile agent – one who is authorized by a principal to buy or sell goods, and/or to acquire a loan by using the principal’s goods as collateral.

Francis Lewis married Elizabeth Annesley, his business partner’s younger sister, on June 15, 1745. The couple would have seven children, but only three survived infancy.

Lewis engaged extensively with foreign commerce, and traveled widely in Europe. About 1765, he moved his family to Long Island, where he acquired a 200-acre estate at Whitestone. He retired from business, but returned to New York in 177I for the purpose of establishing his son, Francis Lewis, Jr., in business. Lewis moved his family back to Long Island in 1775, and there Elizabeth resided permanently, though her husband and sons were away a large portion of the time.

The issue of taxation without representation turned Lewis’ loyalties from the Crown to the Revolutionary movement, and he became known as one of New York City’s leading radicals. The Committee of Fifty, which was formed in New York in 1774 to protest the closing of the port of Boston, became the Committee of Fifty-One when Lewis became the fifty-first member on May 16.

Because of British encroachment on human rights, Lewis became alarmed and sprang into action. He joined the Sons of Liberty – a secret society formed to protest the Stamp Act – as a fellowship to work against undue power exercised by the mother country, and became active in politics.

Francis Lewis devoted his attention entirely to public affairs after his election to the First Continental Congress in 1775, and became one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1779. To further the cause of freedom, he spent a large portion of the fortune he had earned from his business to purchase provisions and clothing for the Continental Army, and would end the war virtually penniless.

Elizabeth Lewis was as imposing a figure as her husband in the American Revolution. She was endowed with unusual intelligence, and actively conducted the education of her children. At her home, whether in New York or at Whitestone, Long Island, she was a favorite with the leaders of the early Republic. She was fiercely patriotic, and willingly faced death for the sake of her convictions.

Like the other New York signers, Francis Lewis was condemned by the British authorities, and a price was put on his head. They thirsted for revenge upon a man who had dared to affix his signature to a document that proclaimed the independence of America. In the autumn of 1776, the British occupied Long Island, and troops were sent “to seize the lady and destroy the property.” Lewis probably would have been hanged if he had been there.

As the soldiers advanced on one side, a ship of war from the other fired upon the house. Elizabeth Lewis looked calmly on. A shot from the vessel struck the board on which she stood. One of her servants cried: “Run, Mistress, run.” Elizabeth replied: “Another shot is not likely to strike the same spot,” and did not move. The soldiers entered the house and began to plunder and destroy their belongings. One of them threw himself at her feet and tore the buckles from her shoes, which looked like gold but were not. “All is not gold that glitters,” she remarked.

The soldiers destroyed their country home – books, papers, pictures and furniture – and arrested Elizabeth, who was in her late fifties and already in poor health, and took her to prison in New York City. For some time, she was not allowed a bed or any extra clothing, and only the coarse and scanty food that was doled out each day to the prisoners.

For weeks this continued during which time she was not permitted to communicate with anyone outside. Then a black man, an old family servant, who had followed her to the city, managed to find out where she was and to smuggle some small articles of clothing and some food in to her, and also carried letters through the lines to her friends.

The matter was taken up by Congress and referred to the Board of War, and demands made upon the British for her better treatment. The British were bent on making an example of her because of her wealth and prominence, and the poor woman found little relief. Held in a damp, unheated, filthy prison, Elizabeth Annesley Lewis became very ill.

Finally, after nearly three months, the matter was brought to the attention of General George Washington, who ordered the arrest of Mrs. Barren, wife of the British Paymaster General, and Mrs. Kempe, wife of the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, at their homes in Philadelphia.

The women were confined to their own homes, under guard, and the intimation carried to the British authorities that unless an exchange was arranged immediately, they would be subjected to the same treatment as was being received by Mrs. Lewis. The exchange was made, but Elizabeth was not permitted to leave New York City.

Hardly had Elizabeth taken a deep breath when the aged black servant who had remained with her, doing what little he could to help, fell ill. He was a Roman Catholic, and would not die without last rites. There was not a priest in New York because the city was under martial law. Elizabeth sent a messenger to Philadelphia, who found a priest and smuggled him through the British lines just in time to administer last rites to the dying man, who passed away in peace.

Elizabeth Lewis never recovered from the inhuman treatment she had received at the hands of the British. Her suffering and privation were too much even for a strong constitution. After some months, she was allowed to join her husband in Philadelphia. It was plain to see, however, that her health was failing. Early in 1779, Francis Lewis asked for a leave of absence from the Continental Congress in order to care for his wife.

Julia Delafield, a granddaughter of the signer, wrote in her biography of Francis Lewis:

Mrs. Lewis had more than one opportunity of showing the steady purpose, the firmness of nerve that would have distinguished her had she been a man… To Francis Lewis, she was Heaven’s best gift. When his adventurous spirit led him to embark on long and perilous voyages, he knew that he left his children to the care of an able as well as a tender mother, who could train their characters as well as protect their interests. The conduct and careers of her children is the best eulogy of Mrs. Francis Lewis.

Elizabeth Lewis was driven to an untimely death by the hardships she was forced to undergo from the British, because her husband was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She contracted a fever which developed into lingering consumption, and died within two years of being released from prison. She lived to see her children married, but not to see her country liberated from British rule.

Francis Lewis retired from Congress in 1781, and his last years were confined to frugal and modest living with his two sons; most of his independent fortune was given to his countrymen for the cause of independence. His old age was happy and cheerful, and he enjoyed the society of his children and grandchildren. He also served as a vestryman for the Trinity Church in New York City.

Francis Lewis died at age 89 on December, 31 1802, at New York City. He left only $15,000 – not poverty-stricken, but a long fall from the wealthy merchant of pre-Revolution days. He was buried in the yard of Trinity Church

Janet Livingston

Wife of Revolutionary War General Richard Montgomery

Janet Livingston was born on August 27, 1743, into the famous Livingston family of New York, and was a sister of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, a prominent New Yorker who was later on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. She spent her girlhood at Clermont, the family home on the banks of the Hudson River.

In late 1772 or early 1773, Richard Montgomery, an Irish-born British army officer, moved from England to America. By the time he arrived, the difficulties between England and the Colonies were brewing; Montgomery quickly adopted the colonists’ cause. He bought a farm at King’s Bridge, 13 miles north of New York City. While adjusting to his surroundings, he met Janet Livingston, whom he had briefly met during his previous service in America.

After receiving her father’s blessing, Janet married Richard Montgomery on July 24, 1773. After their wedding, Montgomery leased his farm to a tenant and moved to a small house in Rhinebeck, New York, for a little more than two years. He bought some surrounding land and set to work fencing, plowing fields, building a grain mill, and laying the foundation for a larger home.

He said that he was “never so happy in all my life”, but followed that up by saying “this cannot last; it cannot last.” Three months after their marriage, Janet told him of a dream she had in which Montgomery was killed in a duel. Montgomery replied, “I have always told you that my happiness is not lasting… Let us enjoy it as long as we may and leave the rest to God.”

Richard then accepted a commission as General in the Continental Army, one of the first generals commissioned in the Army. He served under Philip Schuyler, the commander of the Northern Department of the Continental Army in a 1775 expedition against British-held Quebec.

When General Schuyler became ill, Montgomery took command of the expedition and was killed on December 31, 1775, while leading a winter assault against the well-defended fortress during the Battle of Quebec – becoming the first hero of the American Revolution.

Janet always referred to him as my general or my soldier, and fiercely guarded his reputation. After his death, she moved to the house near Rhinebeck that Richard had begun work on before the war. Janet remained interested in politics for the rest of the war, and was always a harsh critic of Loyalists.

A letter to Janet from Mercy Otis Warren after Richard’s death:

While you are deriving comfort from the highest source, it may still further brighten the clouded moment to reflect that the number of your friends is not confined to the narrow limits of a province, but by the happy union of the American Colonies, (suffering equally by the rigor of oppression,) the affections of the inhabitants are cemented; and the urn of the companion of your heart will be sprinkled with the tears of thousands who revere the commander at the gates of Quebec, though not personally acquainted with General Montgomery.

The following is an excerpt from her reply to Mrs. Warren:

My dear Madam, the sympathy that is expressed in every feature of your letter, claims from me the warmest acknowledgments; and the professions of friendship from one who so generously feels and melts at the woes of a stranger, not only soothe but flatter me.

It is very kind of you, madam, to seek for alleviating consolations in a calamity (though of so much glory). I thank God I feel part of their force, and it is owing to such affectionate friends as you, that have lightened the load of misery.

As a wife I must ever mourn the loss of the husband, friend, and lover; of a thousand virtues, of all domestic bliss; the idol of my warmest affections, and in one word, my every dream of happiness. But with America I weep the still greater loss of the firm soldier and the friend to freedom. Let me repeat his last words when we parted: “You shall never blush for your Montgomery.”

Nobly has he kept his word; but how are my sorrows heightened! Methinks I am like the poor widow in the Gospel, who having given her mite, sits down quite destitute. Yet would I endeavor to look forward to the goal with hope; and though the path is no longer strewed with flowers, trust to the sustaining hand of friendship to lead me safely through, and in assisting me to rise superior to my misfortunes, make me content to drag out the remainder of life, till the Being who has deprived me of husband and father, will kindly close the melancholy scene, and once more unite me to them in a world of peace, where the tyrant shall no more wantonly shed the blood of his innocent subjects, and where vice and virtue will receive their reward.

Janet writes to Mercy Warren again on November 20, 1780:

I have been interrupted. Another alarm of the enemy’s being in full march for Saratoga, and the poor harassed militia are again called upon. My impatient spirit pants for peace. When shall the unfortunate individual have the gloomy satisfaction of weeping alone for his own particular losses! In this luckless state, woes follow woes – every moment is big with something fatal.

We hold our lives and fortunes on the most precarious tenure. Had [Benedict] Arnold’s plan taken place, we could not have escaped from a fate dreadful in thought; for these polished Britons have proved themselves fertile in inventions to procrastinate [protract] misery.

When going with her nephew to visit her husband’s family in Dublin, Janet’s patriotic feeling was still fervent: When I return, I hope to find my dear country, for which I have bled, the envy of her enemies and the glory of her patriots.

After the war, former Continental Army General Horatio Gates proposed marriage, but Janet declined.

Janet Livingston Montgomery became a revered widow and prosperous landowner. In 1802, fifty-nine year old Janet Montgomery surprised her family by acquiring a 434-acre working farm. At the end of a half mile-long lane bordered by deciduous trees, Janet built a new Federal-style house of fieldstone, which she named Château de Montgomery, or Montgomery Place.

She built it to honor General Montgomery’s memory and to provide a fitting legacy for his heirs. The property is an amazing example of Hudson Valley estate life. Each of the estate’s features has a story to tell about changing American attitudes toward nature, landscape and home design. Adjacent to the mansion she developed a prosperous commercial enterprise of orchards, gardens, nursery and greenhouse, and capably managed her land interests.

Entertaining family and friends at her country home was one of Janet’s favorite pastimes. Planting flowers, fruits and trees also brought her much pleasure. In an 1809 letter to her brother Edward Livingston, she wrote “If I have a pleasure it is in cultivating my plants… the garden is a sheet of blossoms and flowers.”

After forty-two years, General Montgomery’s remains were removed at the request of the state legislature to New York City and interred in St. Paul’s Chapel churchyard. The journey from Quebec to New York was attended by civic honors, notably at Albany, July 4, 1818. Janet stood on her porch and watched the steamer Richmond bring her husband’s remains down the Hudson River.

When his remains arrived in New York City, 5000 people attended the procession. Janet was pleased with the ceremony and wrote, “What more could I wish than the high honor that has been conferred on the ashes of my poor soldier.” The city of New York erected a monument under the portico of St. Paul’s Chapel on the Broadway front. A tablet was also erected on the spot where he fell at Quebec by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1901.

Janet Livingston Montgomery lived a full and rich life and died in November 1827 at the age of 85 at Montgomery Place.

General Montgomery’s heirs had predeceased her, and so Janet left the estate to her youngest brother, Edward Livingston. His fascinating lifetime of public service included terms as Mayor of New York City, United States Representative and United States Senator from Louisiana, Secretary of State and Minister to France during the Andrew Jackson administration.

Edward’s cosmopolitan and well-traveled widow Louise Livingston and their daughter Coralie Livingston Barton (1806-1873) used it as a summer home. They transformed the property into a self-sufficient estate, adding a conservatory, intricate flower gardens and architectural features. The estate has recently been named a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior.

Sarah Jay

Wife of First United States Chief Justice John Jay

Sarah Van Brugh Livingston was born in 1756 to Susannah French Livingston and William Livingston, patriot and first governor of the State of New Jersey. She was educated at home in penmanship, English grammar, the Bible, and classic literature. Sarah grew into a graceful and capable young woman.

At a time when women were usually relegated to the kitchen, she was brought up to be politically aware, even serving at times as her father’s secretary. William Livingston moved his family to a new home, Liberty Hall, in Elizabeth Town, New Jersey, in 1772. Sarah’s beauty, gaiety, and intelligence attracted many suitors.

Sarah chose John Jay, an upcoming young lawyer, and married him at Liberty Hall on April 28, 1774. John Jay was born in New York City on December 12, 1745. His only formal education was received at King’s College, now Columbia University. After graduating, Jay read law, and became a successful lawyer in colonial New York. In 1768, after being admitted to the New York bar, Jay established a legal practice with Robert Livingston, and worked there until he created his own law office in 1771.

Despite the difference in their ages — he was 29, she was 18 — this was a love-match. The couple’s hopes for a peaceful life together were almost immediately shattered by developments that led to the American Revolution. Sarah Livingston Jay was a strong support to her husband, astutely networking with the movers and shakers of the time.

The happy marriage of John and Sarah Jay produced six children: Peter Augustus, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1776; Susan, born and died in Madrid after only a few weeks of life, in 1780; Maria, born in Madrid in 1782; Ann, born in Paris in 1783, William and Sarah, born in NYC in 1789 and 1792 respectively.

As you can see by the birthplaces of these children, their parents played active parts of the struggle for independence, doing what needed to be done, wherever it needed to be done, at the end of a colonial era and the birth of a new nation. John Jay held a greater variety of posts than any other Founding Father, posts he insisted he did not seek but felt it his duty to his country to assume.

John Jay was elected to the First Continental Congress only months after marrying Sarah. Public responsibilities frequently separated him from his young bride. The newlyweds remained in touch through letters, John addressing Sarah as Sally, and she addressing him as Mr. Jay. Both agonized over the separations, which continued intermittently for years.

At first, Jay sided with those who wanted reconciliation with Britain. Events such as the burning of Norfolk, Virginia, by British troops in January 1776 pushed Jay to support independence. With the outbreak of war, he worked tirelessly for the revolutionary cause and acted to suppress the Loyalists (Americans who sided with the British). Thus Jay evolved into first a moderate and then an ardent Patriot, once he decided that all the colonies’ efforts were fruitless and that the struggle for independence was inevitable.

Upon learning that John had been elected President of the Continental Congress in 1778, ensuring he would be away from her even more, Sarah Livingston Jay wrote him in exasperation, “I am very solicitous to know how long I am still to remain in a state of widowhood.”

On September 27, 1779, Jay resigned his office as President of the Continental Congress and was appointed Minister to Spain. Sarah, having been assured by her husband that “my happiness depends on your welfare,” agreed to accompany him to Europe. The trip took Sarah across a great ocean from her parents, her siblings, her friends, and most painfully, from her little son Peter, who had been born in January, 1776.

After being nearly shipwrecked on their voyage, the Jays arrived in Spain, where they were to remain for more than two years. It was a difficult time: John Jay was not received as Minister of the United States by the Spanish government, and Sarah suffered the loss of an infant daughter, Susan. Sarah gave birth to a second child, Maria, in Madrid in 1781.

Spain refused to recognize American Independence until 1783, fearing that such recognition could spark revolution in their own colonies. Jay, however, convinced Spain to loan $170,000 to the US government.

In 1782, the British were ready to discuss the terms of peace with the Americans. Benjamin Franklin summoned John Jay to Paris to help negotiate a treaty with England, and the Jays gladly left Spain in May 1782.

In France, Sarah came into her own. She had another daughter, Ann, and was happy in a circle of friends that included Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette and his wife Adrienne. She attended concerts and the theater, and met many of the most notable people of the day.

In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War. The final treaty dictated that Britain would acknowledge the United States as independent and would withdraw its troops, in exchange for the United States ending the seizure of Loyalist property and honoring private debts, but left many border regions in dispute, and many of its provisions were not enforced.

The Jays returned to New York in 1784, learning upon their arrival that John had been appointed US Secretary for Foreign Affairs. As the wife of the nation’s chief diplomat, Sarah put on elegant dinners for government and foreign dignitaries nearly every week. Drawing upon her European experience as well as her instinctive charm, she quickly came to be regarded as New York’s most glamorous hostess.

Sarah’s greatest passion remained her family. She was as devoted a daughter and mother as she was a wife. While separated from her parents in Europe, she had written her sister:

I had the pleasure of receiving a letter from Mama the other day that was dated in April – I’ve often experienced the truth of an observation I’ve heard from her that Children rarely know the extent of their obligations to their parents until they become parents themselves; and I’m sure I am more sensible than ever of what I owe to mine, since being my distance from them deprived of their advice, and sometimes when most necessary, of their consolation; I have learnt the real value of those blessings…

Of her young children Sarah wrote, “As to my little Prattlers, I had rather hear the music of their tender voices than the united melody of all the birds in the country.”

John Jay did not attend the Constitutional Convention, but joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in aggressively arguing in favor of the creation of a new and more powerful, centralized but balanced system of government.

Jay wrote five of the Federalist Papers (he was too ill to write more), which were to be used as a guide to the debates concerning the Constitution. He was then nominated and confirmed as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, a position he held from 1789 through 1795.

In 1794, relations with Britain again verged on war. British exports dominated the US market, while American exports were blocked by British trade restrictions and tariffs. Britain still occupied northern forts that it had agreed to surrender in the Treaty of Paris. President George Washington sent John Jay to London to negotiate with the British the treaty that bears his name.

Sarah remained behind to care for their youngest children, who now included William (born 1789) and Sarah Louisa (born 1792). In John’s absence, she also managed the family’s financial and domestic affairs, overseeing the purchase and sale of stocks and of land, directing improvements to their property at Bedford in Westchester County, New York, and keeping informed about the political scene.

While absent, Jay was elected Governor of New York – serving from 1795 to 1801. Upon her husband’s return to the US, Sarah’s hope for retirement was again deferred when John Jay was elected to two terms as governor. She assumed the duties of New York’s First Lady with her accustomed grace and charm.

As leader of the new Federalist Party, Jay became the state’s leading opponent of slavery. His first two attempts to pass emancipation legislation failed in 1777 and 1785, but the third succeeded in 1799. The new law he signed into existence eventually saw the emancipation of all New York slaves before his death.

While John was finishing his gubernatorial term, the Jays developed the farm at Bedford as the place they would live out their lives together. Sarah told John:

Our Jaunt to Bedford has furnished your daughter and myself with a great many pleasing hopes …In the country I feel ever sensible of an ever present deity dispensing light and life and cheerfulness around, and my heart is animated with confidence and joy and love.

In 1801, John Jay finally retired from politics. Of all the Founding Fathers, none had served his country in as many capacities as he did. When asked by John Adams to return to the Supreme Court, Jay declined. He devoted the remainder of his life to the Episcopalian church and the antislavery cause.

Construction of the main house at Bedford was completed in December 1801. Sarah joined John there, after a delay caused by a bout of ill health. At long last, after 27 years of marriage, Sarah and John Jay could finally devote themselves to each other and their children, without John’s public responsibilities drawing them apart.

Sarah loved the farm and wrote, “I can truly say I have never enjoyed so much comfort as I do here.” Her health had been in decline for several years, however. She had long suffered from attacks of rheumatism, intermittent fevers, and influenza. Only months after moving to Bedford, she became ill again.

On May 28, 1802, Sarah Livingston Jay died suddenly, at the age of forty-six. Sarah’s death changed the lives of the Jay children. Ann took her mother’s place as hostess and manager of daily life at Bedford, and she was very capable. Her gardening skills were legendary.

The death of his beloved wife was a blow from which John Jay never recovered. He never remarried, and lived as a gentleman farmer, focusing on his family, his church, and his farm. The household increased after his son William married and had six children. Surrounded by his children and grandchildren, John Jay died May 16, 1829, at the age of eighty-three.

It is no wonder that the Jay children were raised with the welfare of their country and of those less fortunate in their hearts and minds. None of the Jay children played important national roles, but they exerted significant influence as public servants in furthering the legacy of the Founding Fathers.

Mary Livingston

Wife of Patriot Robert R. Livingston Jr.

Image: The Livingston Clermont Estate
Clermont was the Hudson River home of the prominent Livingston family of New York for more than 230 years. Because of the family’s prominent role in support of independence, Clermont was burned by British troops during a foray up the Hudson River in 1777.

Mary Stevens was the daughter of John Stevens and Elizabeth Alexander Stevens, and the granddaughter of New York lawyer and statesman, James Alexander. Mary’s father was a large landowner in the New Jersey counties of Hunterdon, Union, and Somerset, and he owned a copper mine at Rocky Hill. He was a prominent politician from New Jersey, who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1783. Mary’s brother, John Stevens III, was a lawyer and inventor.

Robert R. Livingston Jr. was born in the city of New York on November 27, 1746, the eldest son of Judge Robert Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston. Robert Jr. had nine brothers and sisters, all of whom wed and made their homes on the Hudson River near the family estate of Clermont Manor. His great-grandfather came to America in the 1670s with little, but through hard work and a fortuitous marriage soon began building a vast empire. Real estate holdings of the influential and politically active Livingston clan eventually totaled nearly 1 million acres.

Robert was educated by the best teachers of the period, and afterwards at King’s College (now Columbia University), where he graduated in 1764, at the age of eighteen. He studied law under William Smith, the historian of New York, and afterwards in the office of his relative, William Livingston, the distinguished, governor of New Jersey.

Mary Stevens married Robert R. Livingston Jr. on the October 9, 1770. He built a home for himself and his wife just south of Clermont, called Belvedere, which was burned to the ground along with Clermont in 1777 by the British Army. In 1794, he built a new home called New Clermont, which was subsequently renamed Arryl House (a phonetic spelling of his initials, RRL) which was deemed “the most commodious home in America,” and contained a library of four thousand volumes.

In October 1773, Robert was admitted to the bar, and worked hard, becoming very eminent in his profession, and for a short time was in partnership with his friend, John Jay. Soon after this he was appointed recorder of his native city, and was an early opponent of British oppression, taking an active role in politics. In this situation the Revolution found him, so that both father and son relinquished at the same time important judicial stations to take part with their fellow-patriots in the liberation of their country.

As a member of the New York Provincial Convention of 1775, and a month later, of the Second Continental Congress, Livingston began a steady movement toward supporting American independence, but maintained an equally steady resistance to letting radicals control the Revolution in New York.

The delegates from the colony of New York to the Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia in May 1775, were John Jay, John Alsop, James Duane, Philip Schuyler, George Clinton, Lewis Morris, and Robert R. Livingston Jr., who took a leading part in the debates of the Congress. He was on the committee to prepare and report a plan for the confederation of the colonies.

Robert was a member of the Committee of Five responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence, along with Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, but he was recalled by his state, and did not sign the document. His appointment was seemingly a political maneuver designed to encourage the equivocating province of New York into a firm commitment to independence.

After the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, the colony of New York became a State, and Robert R. Livingston Jr. was placed on the committee, with John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Charles De Witt that drafted the New York Constitution in 1777. He was also a member of a group composed of the governor, the chancellor, and judges of the Supreme Court, which sat to revise all bills about to be passed into law by the Legislature.

In 1779, Livingston resumed his seat in the Continental Congress, and soon became part of the nationalist group, which included Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin, and, later, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Upon the creation of the office by Congress, Livingston was appointed the first Minister of Foreign Affairs (Secretary of State) in August 1781. During his 2 years of service as secretary he did all he could to strengthen America’s alliance with France.

He resigned that post in 1783 to accept the appointment of Chancellor of the State of New York, the first person who had ever held that office. It was the highest legal distinction in the State, and he served in that office from 1777 to 1801. He became universally known as The Chancellor, and kept the title as a nickname even after he left the office. In his official capacity, he had the honor of administering the oath of office to George Washington at his inauguration as first President of the United States.

Margaret Beekman Livingston had managed Clermont, the Livingston family, estate during most of the war years, and rebuilt the home between 1779 and 1782. After independence was won, Chancellor Livingston began developing Clermont as an agriculture showplace. Visible across the Hudson River from the house are the high peaks of the Catskill Mountains that inspired the estate’s name: Clermont means clear mountain in French.

By 1791, Livingston had become a Jeffersonian Republican, in uncomfortable   alliance with his old foe Governor Clinton and the energetic newcomer Aaron Burr. At odds with the Jays, Schuylers, Van Rensselaers, and other traditional friends, Livingston began a decade of sometimes lonely, often acrimonious opposition to the Federalists. He fought against Jay’s Treaty and maintained strong Francophile sentiments.

The Jeffersonian Republican Party – better known as the Democratic-Republican Party – evolved in the 1790s, during the early days of George Washington’s presidency. Jefferson and his followers favored states’ rights and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. They believed that a powerful central government posed a threat to individual liberties. They viewed the United States more as a confederation of sovereign entities woven together by a common interest. In 1798, Robert Livingston Jr. ran for Governor of New York on the Democratic-Republican ticket, but was defeated by Governor John Jay, who was re-elected.

Chancellor Livingston concluded his public career as Thomas Jefferson’s Minister to France between 1801 and 1804. On his arrival in France, he was received by Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul, with marked respect and cordiality. Livingston and James Monroe, who had recently joined him in Paris, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, which was signed May 2, 1803. The final deal was $15 million for approximately 828,000 square miles, only pennies an acre. Overnight, the size of the United States doubled. It was the triumph of Livingston’s career.

While he was in France, the Chancellor also entered into a partnership with Robert Fulton, a Pennsylvania-born inventor who shared Livingston’s fascination with steam navigation. Their steamboat, the Clermont, embarked on its maiden voyage between New York City and Albany in 1807, stopping briefly at Clermont Manor, and continued up the Hudson River to Albany – completing in just under 60 hours a journey which had previously taken nearly a week by sloop.

Livingston resigned his diplomatic post in 1804. After touring Europe, he returned to his home in Clermont, and retired from politics. He had a keen interest in farming, and maintained an active correspondence with Jefferson, Washington, and others regarding the latest scientific agricultural methods. Before his death, he also founded and became the first president of the American Academy of Fine Arts and became a trustee of the New York Society Library.

Robert R. Livingston died at Clermont on the Hudson February 26, 1813, at the age of 66. He was buried in the old manor Livingston family vault at Clermont.

Mary Stevens Livingston died in 1814.

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