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The Stamp Act in New York, 1765, Part III

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 In solidarity with the radical Sons of Liberty, women in New York and other colonies organized as the Daughters of Liberty, using the power of the purse to reject English goods such as tea and cloth.  Wives, mothers and daughters created a sisterhood of solidarity: they advertised in newspapers and organized “spinning bees” to create homespun and teach the craft to the uninitiated.[i]  Together with “a fighting army of amazons…armed with spinning wheels” they hoped to found “a new Arcadia.”  This was the aspirational language used by Charity Clarke, a young lady in New York City to describe her vision to a cousin in London.[ii]  “Though this body is not clad with silken garments,” she wrote to him, “these limbs are armed with strength, the Soul is fortified by Virtue, and the Love of Liberty is cherished with this bosom.”[iii]  The idealism of women like Clarke expressed feminine empowerment in this new political arena.

In 1767, the New-York Gazette published the “Address to the Ladies” originally circulated in Boston.  In response to the recent Townsend Acts, it encouraged women to take action, to do their own “Manufact’ry,” make that the new fashion, and choose Labradore North American herbal tea over British East India tea.  Playing into gender roles of the era, the writer promises an amorous reward for compliance:

Throw aside your Bohea, and your green Hyson tea,

And all things with a new fashion duty;

Procure a good store of the choice Labradore,

For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye; . . .

These do without fear and to all you’ll appear

Fair, charming, true, lovely and clever;

Tho’ the times remain darkish, young men may be sparkish

And love you much stronger than ever. [iv]

Though humorous, these creative submissions encouraged women to change their habits in service to the cause of liberty.

            Once the war began in 1775, women became even more vital to the Patriot cause by producing saltpeter for gunpowder, holding scrap drives, melting down metal from pewter plates, lead window weights, and a statue of King George III in New York’s Bowling Green into ammunition, fundraising for the army, and spinning soldiers’ uniforms on their wheels and looms.  In 1778 and 1779, compliance became law as New York passed emergency legislation called an “Act to Procure Shoes and Stockings for the New York Troops.”  Patriotism was now compulsory as fines were imposed on women who did not meet their quotas.[v] 

            Women in New York, like their New England counterparts, were leaders in supporting the war effort until the British occupation of the city at the end of 1776.  Their participation was acknowledged along the way.  For example, a 1769 accolade in a New York newspaper credits the efforts of women: “[their participation] kindled a spirit of generous Emulation” and they hoped that “the same Spirit will spread thro’ the Continent.. . .That the Ladies while they vie with each other in Skill and Industry…may vie with the men, in contributing to the Preservation and Prosperity of their Country, and equally share the Honour of it.”[vi]  Just a few years before, a public statement acknowledging and commending the participation of women in service to their country would have been almost unimaginable.  While these women participated as civilians, other women served the military—this being a homefront war—and the next stop will cover many of their contributions.


[i] Ibid, 18.

[ii] Charity Clarke, “Charity Clarke to Joseph Jekyll, June 16, 1768,” Letter, Course Packet, Women in the American Revolution, Pace University, Spring 2020, 44.

[iii] Burrows and Wallace, Gotham, 216.

[iv] De Pauw, Four Traditions, 15.

[v] Ibid, 16; Emergency Legislation Passed Prior to December, 1917, United States Department of Justice (Washington Government Printing Office, 1918), 2.

[vi] De Pauw, Four Traditions, 16.

Burr & Hamilton – Dream Team

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While many people know about the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and Hamilton’s unfavorable opinion of Burr as a public and private man, it is less known that they were on the same legal team in the scandalous trial of Levi Weeks in 1800. Weeks was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Elma Sands, by throwing her down a well, in what is today SoHo, in December 1799. Weeks retained Burr, Hamilton and Henry Brockholst Livingston, all well-known lawyers to defend him. Weeks was acquitted after only a few minutes of jury deliberation. With strong public sentiment against the verdict, Weeks left New York for Mississippi where he became a builder and architect. His Auburn Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi is National Historic Landmark. Burr and Hamilton would engage in a duel in Weehawken a little over four years later in July 1804. The portrait is of Aaron Burr.

Locks of George Washington’s Hair for $35,000!

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Best Revolutionary War Tour New York

In George Washington’s era, a lock of hair was an ultimate keepsake.  Washington’s hair seems to be in a lot of places, even three Topps baseball trading card packs!  Recently, it was found in a 1793 book that belonged to Phillip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law.  Even more recently, in a Leland’s auction, 5.31-inch locks of his hair were attached to a March 20, 1871 letter from Secretary of State, James Alexander Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton’s third son) to Eleanor G. Collins, in “respect and regard.”  The locks were given to James by his mother, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton.  The starting bid was $2,500, and the locks fetched $35,763.60 when the auction was completed.

Alexander Hamilton’s Pamphlet on John Adams, October 24, 1800

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Best Alexander Hamilton Walking TourBefore the presidential election of 1800, Alexander Hamilton wrote an essay (or what was known as a “pamphlet”) about John Adams, the leader of Hamilton’s Federalist party and the President of the United States called Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States that took a disparaging view of his tenure and character.  It was sent out to many prominent Federalists.   As it goes, the competing Democratic-Republican acquired a copy and publicly published it thereby affecting Adams chance of winning reelection in 1800 and affecting the Federalist Party’s (and Hamilton’s) prominence in the political scene.  This led to the Jefferson presidency and Aaron Burr vice-presidency.   Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the pamphlet:

Letter from Alexander Hamilton, Concerning the Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq. President of the United States

Sir,

Some of the warm personal friends of Mr. Adams are taking unwearied pains to disparage the motives of those Federalists, who advocate the equal support of Gen. Pinckney, at the approaching election of President and Vice-President. They are exhibited under a variety of aspects equally derogatory. Sometimes they are versatile, factious spirits, who cannot be long satisfied with any chief, however meritorious:—Sometimes they are ambitious spirits, who can be contented with no man that will not submit to be governed by them:—Sometimes they are intriguing partisans of Great-Britain, who, devoted to the advancement of her views, are incensed against Mr. Adams for the independent impartiality of his conduct.

In addition to a full share of the obloquy vented against this description of persons collectively, peculiar accusations have been devised, to swell the catalogue of my demerits. Among these, the resentment of disappointed ambition, forms a prominent feature. It is pretended, that had the President, upon the demise of General Washington, appointed me Commander in Chief, he would have been, in my estimation, all that is wise, and good and great.

It is necessary, for the public cause, to repel these slanders; by stating the real views of the persons who are calumniated, and the reasons of their conduct.

In executing this task, with particular reference to myself, I ought to premise, that the ground upon which I stand, is different from that of most of those who are confounded with me as in pursuit of the same plan. While our object is common, our motives are variously dissimilar. A part, well affected to Mr. Adams, have no other wish than to take a double chance against Mr. Jefferson. Another part, feeling a diminution of confidence in him, still hope that the general tenor of his conduct will be essentially right. Few go as far in their objections as I do. Not denying to Mr. Adams patriotism and integrity, and even talents of a certain kind, I should be deficient in candor, were I to conceal the conviction, that he does not possess the talents adapted to the Administration of Government, and that there are great and intrinsic defects in his character, which unfit him for the office of Chief Magistrate.

To give a correct idea of the circumstances which have gradually produced this conviction, it may be useful to retrospect to an early period.

I was one of that numerous class who had conceived a high veneration for Mr. Adams, on account of the part he acted in the first stages of our revolution. My imagination had exalted him to a high eminence, as a man of patriotic, bold, profound, and comprehensive mind. But in the progress of the war, opinions were ascribed to him, which brought into question, with me, the solidity of his understanding. He was represented to be of the number of those who favored the enlistment of our troops annually, or for short periods, rather than for the term of the war; a blind and infatuated policy, directly contrary to the urgent recommendation of General Washington and which had nearly proved the ruin of our cause. He was also said to have advocated the project of appointing yearly a new Commander of the Army; a project which, in any service, is likely to be attended with more evils than benefits; but which, in ours, at the period in question, was chimerical, from the want of persons qualified to succeed, and pernicious, from the peculiar fitness of the officer first appointed, to strengthen, by personal influence, the too feeble cords which bound to the service, an ill-paid, ill-clothed, and undisciplined soldiery.

It is impossible for me to assert, at this distant day, that these suggestions were brought home to Mr. Adams in such a manner as to ascertain their genuineness; but I distinctly remember their existence, and my conclusion from them; which was, that, if true, they proved this gentleman to be infected with some visionary notions, and that he was far less able in the practice, than in the theory, of politics. I remember also, that they had the effect of inducing me to qualify the admiration which I had once entertained for him, and to reserve for opportunities of future scrutiny, a definitive opinion of the true standard of his character.

In this disposition I was, when just before the close of the war, I became a member of Congress.

The situation in which I found myself there, was far from being inauspicious to a favorable estimate of Mr. Adams.

Upon my first going into Congress, I discovered symptoms of a party already formed, too well disposed to subject the interests of the United States to the management of France. Though I felt, in common with those who had participated in our Revolution, a lively sentiment of good will towards a power, whose co-operation, however it was and ought to have been dictated by its own interest, had been extremely useful to us, and had been afforded in a liberal and handsome manner; yet, tenacious of the real independence of our country, and dreading the preponderance of foreign influence, as the natural disease of popular government, I was struck with disgust at the appearance, in the very cradle of our Republic, of a party actuated by an undue complaisance to foreign power; and I resolved at once to resist this bias in our affairs: a resolution, which has been the chief cause of the persecution I have endured in the subsequent stages of my political life.

Among the fruits of the bias I have mentioned, were the celebrated instructions to our Commissioners, for treating of peace with Great-Britain;which, not only as to final measures, but also as to preliminary and intermediate negotiations, placed them in a state of dependence on the French ministry, humiliating to themselves, and unsafe for the interests of the country. This was the more exceptionable, as there was cause to suspect, that in regard to the two cardinal points of the fisheries and the navigation of the Mississippi, the policy of the cabinet of Versailles did not accord with the wishes of the United States.

The Commissioners, of whom Mr. Adams was one, had the fortitude to break through the fetters which were laid upon them by those instructions; and there is reason to believe, that by doing it, they both accelerated the peace with Great-Britain, and improved the terms, while they preserved our faith with France.

Yet a serious attempt was made to obtain from Congress a formal censure of their conduct. The attempt failed, and instead of censure, the praise was bestowed which was justly due to the accomplishment of a treaty advantageous to this country, beyond the most sanguine expectation. In this result, my efforts were heartily united.

The principal merit of the negotiation with Great-Britain, in some quarters, has been bestowed upon Mr. Adams; but it is certainly the right of Mr. Jay, who took a lead in the several steps of the transaction, no less honorable to his talents than to his firmness. The merit, nevertheless, of a full and decisive co-operation, is justly due to Mr. Adams.

It will readily be seen, that such a course of things was calculated to impress me with a disposition friendly to Mr. Adams. I certainly felt it, and gave him much of my consideration and esteem.

But this did not hinder me from making careful observations upon his several communications and endeavoring to derive from them an accurate idea of his talents and character. This scrutiny enhanced my esteem in the main for his moral qualifications but lessened my respect for his intellectual endowments. I then adopted an opinion, which all my subsequent experience has confirmed, that he is a man of an imagination sublimated and eccentric; propitious neither to the regular display of sound judgment, nor to steady perseverance in a systematic plan of conduct; and I began to perceive what has been since too manifest, that to this defect are added the unfortunate foibles of a vanity without bounds, and a jealousy capable of discoloring every object.

Strong evidence of some traits of this character, is to be found in a Journal of Mr. Adams, which was sent by the then Secretary of Foreign Affair to Congress. The reading of this Journal, extremely embarrassed his friends, especially the delegates of Massachusetts; who, more than once, interrupted it, and at last, succeeded in putting a stop to it, on the suggestion that it bore the marks of a private and confidential paper, which, by some mistake, had gotten into its present situation, and never could have been designed as a public document for the inspection of Congress. The good humor of that body yielded to the suggestion…

 

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