1839: Judith (Livingston) Watkins to Unknown Bell

Though unsigned, I believe this letter was written by Judith Livingston (1758-1852), the daughter of the first governor of New Jersey, William Livingston (1723-1790), and Susannah French (1734-1823). Judith was married to John W. Watkins (1761-1847), a Continental Army Soldier and New York Merchant. Their marriage did not last, but they were the parents of at least one child before separating — Susan Watkins, who became the wife of Thomas Hamersley.

Regretfully, this letter is in deplorable condition and, in fact, only the bottom two-thirds of the original sheet remains.

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[Addressed to Mrs. Bell, The Valley, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania]

March 23, 1839

…meet with a person whom she shared like for a fellow passenger: Mr. & Mrs. S. & their daughter Susan Ridley, Miss Catherine Sedgwick, & her niece [Katherine, or] “Kate” (as she is called), the daughter of her brother Charles [Sedgwick] – a very lovely girl. She has always been educated & supported by her Aunt Catherine. The St. James is the vessel that Miss Ashburner made her homeward bound passage in. She speaks in the highest terms of the ship’s officers. Now, would it not be a pleasant circumstance for dear Margaret & the D. to take their passage in the same ship?

Catherine Maria Sedgwick

I presume that Susey or some of the clan have written to Mary an account of their plans. I wrote S. on the 1st of February but have not had a line from her since. Ann & Grace Ashburner made me a visit on the 14th of this month Thursday & left us the Saturday following. We were highly gratified by this favour from those charming girls. Since that, Mrs. Charles [Sedgwick] & [daughter] Kate have been here for an afternoon only. Miss Catherine Sedgwick has a novel forthcoming, now printing in Boston. Some chapters have been read from the manuscript at the Lyceum Lectures in Lenox & Stockbridge & much admired.

Sarah has given up the house they rented & she & Susan have been engaged in search of another, but had not succeeded in meeting one they approved. This business discovered to then many secrets; the fact [that] few houses are built to suit persons of moderate means that could be rented for 500$ — unless in very remote places that would not suit any person in business [for] it would be inconvenient & waste much time. Such as are to be rented should only be occupied by those who could spend 6 or 7,000$ annually. It is really melancholy to think how that young city has increased in luxury & extravagance. The splendor of their houses, furniture, equipage, dress, & fashion is astonishing. And the vast disproportion between the expenses & the apparent means of many is truly wonderful. Much of this, their search for a house revealed. Many are induced by vanity to hire spacious….

….not heard; his uncle insists that Sweet has been of service to him. Essex Watts is daily expected here from New York. What information he brings of our family & friends, you shall have. I have taken a large sheet purposely.

Mrs. Roxmyer has spared me. I find a recital of that deeply interesting event in the Jay family. How suddenly Mary [wife of Peter Augustus Jay] was disappointed in her earthly expectations. That house at Rye she had for years wished to be built, was just finished, planned according to her directions, the ground all laid out in the English stile with taste & elegance & complete in its support furniture – the retreat in which Mr. [Peter] Jay used to retire from business, to solace himself with his beloved wife & family, his cup running over with domestic peace & tranquility. And poor Mary never lived there but a fortnight after all this was executed. The salt air raised her fever & she adjourned to her nephew’s — Mr. Rutherford’s — on the Raritan, & during the summer made a tour to Potsdam, the home of the Clarkson’s, & on her return the Physician advised a voyage on the 28th of September.

Mr. Jay and this dear invalid, with Mrs. Dubois (her daughter Helen), her husband a Physician out of health, the eldest unmarried daughter Anna Maria, & Matilda, the youngest, all embarked. They arrived at Madiera on the 22d November [and] wrote 5 days after. No material change had taken place. Then there was a long space without the arrival of letters. She departed this life on the 24th December. Letters from that Island, it seems, are sent to England to be dispatched to all ports, & their letters were sent by the ill-fated vessels that suffered in the hurricane of the 6 & 7 of January, so that the family were in a state of the most painful anxiety & suspense for many weeks. Our Maria Banyar [Jay] suffered extremely. At length, Mary’s Uncle Rutherford, who was in England & had received an account of her death from Mrs. Jay, and had likewise seen the fact announced in a London paper, wrote it to some one in New York. And since they had a letter from Helen written the day after her mother’s death, which…

…good to others & d. Nancy likewise.

Have I ever apprised you of the unfortunate situation of my sister [Mary] Linn’s grandson, William Stoutenburg? My memory is so impaired that I fear sometimes of repeating the same things in different letters. Last February twelve month he was seized with the Erysipelas in his right arm, while engaged in Mercantile concerns in York City, he boarding out – his father being dead & his mother living with her mother in Troy (I introduce this my friend to show you how the hearts of those & sisters expand with benevolence & philanthropy). His arm, they say, was a most shocking melancholy sight. It was long expected he must lose it. There was about a pound of flesh cut off it. The most powerful medicines were employed & his constitution withstood them all. He had the lock jaw. It was pried open, the pain most exquisite. William was supposed to be in easy circumstances, but during his illness many failures took place & many that were indebted to him, so that he was quite reduced in cash as well as flesh. He boarded with Dr. Vannsdall’s. All were as kind to him as possible. Sister & her daughter went to New York to see him…. Brother Peter [Jay] obtained all his bills & they paid his board, his nurse, board & wages & the bills of 3 physicians. Nancy made him 2 calico loose gowns lined throughout. He cannot yet wear a coat. In August, he came up to his grandmothers where he still lives. His arm is still sore. It is dressed 3 times a day. It is improving; owing to hurting the chords when the mortified flesh was taken off. The arm is at the elbow contracted  to a right angle; and now when its healed, what business can he do for a support? Mrs. Watts thinks he might become a teacher in one of the Seminaries which are in want of teachers & qualify himself for some branch while living at his grandmother’s & perhaps obtain a situation in a school at Troy & so continue at his grandmothers. I have acquainted them with Mr. Watts’ suggestions but have not heard since from them.

Pardon my engrossing so much of your time in this relation. I have given you only a small portion of what these beloved friends did through the many months of his extreme sufferings. Sister [Mary] is in much trouble & perplexity respecting his pecuniary concerns. She has met with heavy losses & has now her second son in jeopardy. She has placed her affairs in The [Lord’s] hands.

I presume Maria [Jay (1782-1856)] informed you of her niece Anna Jay’s engagement to the Rev. Mr. [Lewis P. W.] Balch, Rector of Bartholomew’s Church. He is a Virginian. 2 or 3 years ago, Anna was teacher in a Sunday school & Mr. Balch [was] Superintendent (it seems that more than spiritual concerns are carried on in these schools). He became attached to Anna & I believe they are soon to be married in Bartholomew’s Church & go off to Virginia to be introduced to his connections, then return and…

Sunday evening. Essex Watts arrived last evening. He was the bearer of six letters to me. Dear Maria & her sister Ann, Susy & Maria. Matilda [Watts] also had several letters. Our friends all well. Susey’s written on the 14. Maria’s on the 22d. I must tell you of a new mode of exercise Mr. Robert S. A. has adopted – one which he thinks has done him much good. Riding in a cart! Standing up & holding the poles in each hand, he says it’s the most general shaking he ever had in his life. And I should suppose so. Every day the cart calls for him & off he goes down Broadway, regardless of starers.

Matilda [Frances (Ridley) Watts] says she should indeed be very happy to see Mrs. Maclay in New York but she does not expect to be there this Spring. She is to remove to Stockbridge the 1st of May. Susan [(Ridley) Watts] has hired with their consent Mr. Field’s house for them at 100$ a year. It’s nearly opposite Theodore [Sedgwick’s], so the sisters will be as they ought, very near neighbors. The house was built by part of the Congregation for his father, our late Pastor [Rev. David Dudley Field], when a poor old tenement that he owned was burnt down 5 or 6 years ago. His oldest son bought it when the father removed to Connecticut. It will be delightful to have them so near. Next winter, Susan [Watts] would have a forlorn time of it [with] Maria in Europe, & Mrs. Jane Sedgwick ([Henry Dwight Sedgwick] Harry’s widow) expects to be at Cambridge as her son [Henry Dwight Sedgwick, II] will enter [Harvard] College in the Autumn & she wishes to be near him. Maria expects to come soon to Stockbridge to take leave of her friends & Susan will not leave the city until Maria has embarked, so I expect to remain here until early in May. O how I wish we were nearer to each other! Yes, my beloved, I shall write you as long as I can see to make a letter. Let me have your prayers. I need them much. Farewell. The Lord keep you & bless you & grant you perfect peace. This makes the 10th letter I have written this month.

Upon a re-perusal of Susey’s letter, I think she will come home before the travelers sail & go back with Maria.

Direct your next to Pittsfield & let it be speedily.

[Editor’s note. In the margin of Page 2, the following is written:]

[Peter Augustus Jay’s house is] on the Sound 25 miles from the City — a large farm purchased by the P. Jay who arrived in America in 1746 with a Farmer’s house on it. I have been there frequently while it was in possession of its late owner Mr. Peter Jay, who wished me to be mistress of it. [Peter being] the blind brother of Mr. John Jay.

  • Rev. Lewis Penn Witherspoon Balch (1814-1875) of Leesburg, Virginia, was married to Anna Jay (1813-1849), the daughter of Judge William Jay and Augusta McVickar, on 10 April 1839. Anna Jay was the granddaughter of John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Catherine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1867) grew up in Stockbridge, Massachusetts but taught school in Lenox. She wrote the first of what are now referred to as “domestic fiction” novels in 1822. The novel referred to in this letter was probably “Means and Ends or Self Training,” which was released by the Boston Publishing House of Marsh, Capen, Lyon, & Webb in 1840.
  • Charles Sedgwick (1791-1856) was the younger brother of Catherine Maria Sedgwick. He married Elizabeth Buckminster Dwight, and their daughter was named Katherine [“Kate”] Maria Sedgwick. Kate married William Minot II (1817-1894) in 1842.
  • Mary Rutherford Clarkson

    The death of Mary Rutherford Clarkson (1786-1838) is described in this letter. She was the wife of Peter Augustus Jay (1776-1843). She died in the city of Funchal on the island of Madiera on 24 December 1838. Children mentioned as accompanying the Jays on their trip to Madiera include, “Helen” (Catherine Helena Jay, 1815-1889, the wife of Dr. Henry Augustus DuBois), Anna Maria Jay (1819-1902, still unmarried in 1839; she married Henry Pierrepont in 1841), and Susan Matilda Jay (b. 1827).

  • Essex Watts (1819-1895), a son of Robert Watts (1784-1830) and Matilda Frances Sherborne Ridley (1789-1862), married his cousin, Mary Scott Kearny in 1849. His brother, Alexander Watts, married Frances Sedgwick (1822-1858), dau. of Henry Dwight Sedgwick and Jane Minot of Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
  • William Livingston (1723-1790) and Susannah French (1723-1789) had a daughter named Catharine (“Kitty”) Wilhemina Livingston (1751-1813). She was married to Matthew Ridley (1749-1789) and they had 2 daughters named Susan Ridley and Matilda Frances Ridley (mother of Essex Watts).
  • William Livingston (1723-1790) and Susannah French (1723-1789) had another daughter named Susan Livingston (1748-1840). In 1794, she married Judge John Cleves Symmes (1742-1814), a widower with two daughters named Maria and Anna (known as Nancy; she would marry William Henry Harrison in 1795). Mrs. & Mrs. Symmes took her sister Kitty’s oldest daughter Susan Ridley to live with them in Ohio in their home on the banks of the Miami River. Susan Ridley later married Theodore Sedgwick (1780-1839; the older brother of novelist Catherine Maria Sedgwick) and lived in Stockbridge, then Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
  • William Livingston (1723-1790) and Susannah French (1723-1789) had another daughter named Mary Livingston (1753-18??). At age 18, she married a young lawyer named James Linn (b. 1750) in 1771. They had a daughter named Elizabeth before their disastrous marriage ended in divorce. Elizabeth Linn married Thomas Stoutenburg (1776-1839). And it was their son, William Edward Stoutenburg (b. 22 Jan 1809), who was the grandson of Mary’s who contracted erysipelas in the arm requiring surgery.
  • John Jay, the First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who married Judith’s sister Sarah Van Brugh Livingston, had two siblings (Peter and Nancy) who were left blind after contracting smallpox as children.
  • The restored 1838 Peter Jay House described in this letter

    The original Jay Family estate, overlooking Long Island Sound, was first established in Rye in 1745 when John Jay was three months old. It passed into John Jay’s possession in 1815, and he conveyed it to his son, Peter Augustus Jay, in 1822. What remains of the original 400 acre estate is a 23-acre parcel called the Jay Property and the 1838 Peter Augustus Jay House built by Peter Jay over the footprint of the original farmhouse which was called “The Locusts.”

  • Anne Ashburner (1807-1894) and Grace Ashburner (1814-1893) were sisters who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were connected to the Sedgwick family.
  • For a description of the hurricane of January 6 & 7, 1839, see Night of the Big Wind.
  • The U.S. ship ST JAMES was built at New York by Webb & Allen, and launched in 1835. 641 tons; 113 feet 9 inches x 32 feet 8 inches x 20 feet 5 inches (length x beam x depth of hold). She was employed in the Red Swallowtail Line of New York-London packets, serving from 1835 to 1848, during which time her westbound voyages averaged 36 days, her shortest voyage being 26 days, her longest 46 days. In 1848, she was sold to parties in Boston, and on 20 November of that year was wrecked on the Irish coast.  Sources: Robert Greenhalgh Albion, Square-riggers on Schedule; The New York Sailing Packets to England, France, and the Cotton Ports (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1938), pp. 282-283.

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