Monday, July 22, 2013

Sarah Livingston Jay

Sarah  Livingston Jay

Sarah Van Brugh Livingston was born August 2, 1756, to Susannah French Livingston and William Livingston, first governor of the State of New Jersey. She was educated at home in penmanship, English grammar, the Bible, and classic literature.  William Livingston moved his family to a new home, Liberty Hall, in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in 1772. Sarah’s beauty, gaiety, and intelligence attracted many suitors including John Jay,  a New York City lawyer. On 28 April 1774, she married Jay who would be joining her father later that year in Philadelphia as a Delegate to the First Continental Congress.  

At the time of the marriage, Sarah was seventeen years old and John was twenty-eight. Together, they had six children: Peter Augustus Jay [married Mary Rutherford Clarkson], Susan Jay (who died at just three weeks in Madrid), Anne Jay, Maria Jay [married Goldsborough Banyard], Sarah Louisa Jay, and William Jay.

In this 1778 December 28, 1778 to John Jay, Sarah Jay writes that she  is happy that John Jay has been elected President of the Continental Congress but she hopes that it will not last more than three months when his term as a New York Delegate will expire. While she does not wish to influence his decision, she hopes her "widowhood" will soon cease. - Image courtesy of the  John Jay Papers at Columbia University.

After lengthy months of separation, Sarah finally joined her husband in Philadelphia in May 1779, five months after he was elected President of the Continental Congress on December 10th, 1778.  Although the role of the President of the Continental Congress (1774-1781) was vastly different than the role under our current constitution, hospitality was an expected part of the job. Indeed, beginning with Jay  (1778-79), the president, who received no other pay, was allotted the use of a “convenient dwelling house,” along with “a table, carriage and servants” at public expense, and a $3000 entertainment stipend. Upon her arrival in Philadelphia, Sarah both hosted and attended dinners that included such dignitaries as the Ministers of France and Spain. The development of those relationships played an important role in both the selection of John to serve as Minister Plenipotentiary to negotiate Peace with Spain, and Sarah’s decision to leave their son, Peter, with their parents and join her husband for several years of diplomacy in Europe

Following a shipwreck that brought them to the Caribbean, the Jays spent two years in Madrid, in a failed attempt to obtain funding and support for the Revolution from the Spanish court.    Indeed, Spain’s refusal to recognize Jay as the United States’ official diplomatic representative made this period a time of social isolation and financial penury, exacerbated by distance from family, and the loss of their second child.

Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200. - Click Here for more information

On July 9th, 1780, Sally, as she was known, gave birth to a little girl, Susan, who died less than a month later.  Sarah’s heartbroken letter to her mother, written August 28th, 1780, makes clear that, while infant mortality was a frequent occurrence in the 18th century, it was a truly devastating one:
“Let me say that every wish of my heart was amply answered in the precious gift, in her charming countenance I beheld at once the soften’d Resemblance of her father & absent brother, her little form was perfect symmetry and nature….When I used to look at her every idea less pleasant vanish’d in a moment.  Scenes of continued & future bliss still rose to view, and while I clasp’d her to my bosom my happiness appear’d compleat &c.  Alas! Mamma, how frail are all sublunary enjoyments!  But I must endeavour to recollect myself. “On Monday, the 22d day after the birth of my little Innocent, we perceived that she had a fever, but were not apprehensive of danger until the next day when it was attended with a fit.  On Wednesday the Convulsions increas’d, and on Thursday she was the whole day in one continued fit; nor could she close her little Eye-lids till Friday morning the 4th of August, at 4 Clock when wearied with pain, the little sufferer found rest in ____.
Excuse my tears – you too mamma have wept on similar occasions, maternal tenderness causes them to flow & reason, tho’ it moderates distress, cannot intirely restrain our grief, nor do I think it should be wish’d.  For why should Heaven (in every purpose wise) have endowed its lovely Messenger with so many Graces but to captivate our hearts & excite them by a contemplation on the beloved object of our affection, to rise above those expectations that rather amuse than improve and extend our views even to those regions of bliss where she has arrived before us.  While my mind continues in its present frame I look upon the tribute my child has paid to nature as the commencement of her immortality, & endeavour to acquiesce to the dispensations of the all-wise disposer of events; & if my heart continues in proper subjection to the divine will, then will she not have sicken’d, not have dy’d in vain.”
Sarah Livingston Jay letter to her mother from Madrid dated August 28, 1780 - Image courtesy of the  John Jay Papers at Columbia University.
Sarah’s careful accounting of her daughter’s brief life – she became sick on her 22 day (July 31st)  and finds rest in a literally unmentionable word at 4 a.m. August 4th – reflects the deep emotion that she knows will find resonance in her mother, who also has “wept on similar occasions,” even as she struggles to come to terms with Susan’s loss by using reason and faith in tandem to seek a higher meaning to the event.  Her resolve to see her daughter’s death as a reminder of her “proper subjection to the divine will” mirrors the sense of duty that sustained Sarah, like Abigail Adams (who wrote movingly, as well, to her husband regarding the loss of a child) and many other founding women through the privations and struggles of the war.

Despite this tragedy, less than a month later, Sarah writes eloquently to her husband—who has followed the court to St. Hidalgo, leaving her behind in Madrid -- confirming her willing acceptance of her patriotic duty to give up her personal desires for the sake of her country,
“True, I am an American, & it is from that consideration that I relinquish the pleasure of your company, when your attention to business which may prove of utility to the public weal renders a separation necessary.“I am very well indeed & in good spirits; and am rejoyc’d that you still enjoy your health.  May heaven continue to bless and prosper whatever you design or wish shou’d succeed.
Sarah Livingston Jay to her husband, Madrid, 22nd Septbr, 1780
Throughout her time in Europe, Sarah endured not only separation from her child, parents and sisters, but, frequently, from her husband as well – whether due to John’s travels in Spain; to her own lying-in following the birth of their third daughter, Ann, who was born at Ben Franklin’s home in Passy just prior to the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3rd, 1783; or to John’s subsequent diplomatic trip to London.  

Her correspondence and his, as well as the letters from her father, mother and sisters, provide wonderful first-hand insights of their experiences to the 21st-century reader, but also remind us in an age of instantaneous messaging how difficult communication was – within and across the colonies (and then states), around Europe, and, of course, across the ocean.  (Why, we might ask, were three signed copies of the Treaty of Paris sent on three ships? Because they were hopeful at least ONE would reach England to be signed by the king.) Among family and friends, multiple copies of letters might be sent, as well, and Sarah’s letters contain numerous references to finishing something in time to send it with someone who might be travelling, or her frustration at not having heard from her sister or father for months on end.  To keep things clearer, the correspondence often makes reference to letters received and the dates sent, as in this letter sent by John Jay from Madrid in November, 1780, to his sister-in-law, Kitty Livingston:
“Dear Kitty, 
“You are without Exception the best Correspondent I have in America, and for that & twenty other good reasons, every Letter I write to Congress shall enclose one for You.  Sally has recd. & answered your last, it was dated in July.” 
John Jay to Kitty Livingston, Madrid 23d Novr. 1780  
More ominously, he writes to her on December 17th of the same year,
“Dear Kitty 
“It is uncertain whether this Letter will ever come to your Hands. Two or three others are now on the Way to you.  I fear your late Letters have been unfortunate.  The last that reached us was dated in July, since we have not heard any Thing of the family.  We suspect that several Letters from our Friends were committed to Mr. [Henry] Laurens Care.  If so, they may one of these Days have the Pleasure of seeing themselves in Print.  It is said all his Papers fell into the Enemy’s Hands.  He poor Man is still in the Tower, where his Reuptation as well as Person lies at the Mercy of the Ministry…. 
“All the world here are cursing Arnold and pitying his Wife.”
The precarious mail situation prevented Sally and John from receiving frequent notice regarding their son Peter, whom they had left behind.  Meanwhile, although John had been anxious to serve as foreign minister, the Americans were not well-received at the court of Spain.  Responding to a now-lost letter from her sister Kitty reporting rumors that the Jays have not put themselves forward in Spain, Sally describes her own efforts to complete her diplomatic obligations, despite indisposition from what later letters reveal to be pregnancy-related illness:
“Mr Jay not only return’d every visit he receiv’d, but paid the first comp[limen]ts to those whose rank intitled them to that attention.  As for myself, tho’ it was with difficulty I bore the fatigue of dressing, I return’d those visits I received, & when the Governor’s lady waited upon me accopnayed by a Coll: of the Hybernian regt. Who officiated as interpreter they were introduced into my chamber where I was confi’d by my indisposition, having been inform’d that a denial would be taken ill.  Her Ladyship was very polite, & requesting me to name a day when it would be agreeable to me to dine with her I did, tho’ I much fear’d my inability to perform my engagement; however I went & we were politely presented to a very large circle of genteel company among whom were several foreigners of distinction that spoke English very well; but my apprehension of my weakness was but too well founded as I was obliged to retire from table & was with difficulty prevented from fainting, remaining however too ill to wait the arrival of our carriage the Governor’s was ordered & I returned to my lodgings where for some time I was again confin’d.  As to the Hybernian Officers Count Oreilly the Commander in Chief of the whole province & others of distinction were of the number we found there, they were very polite and very useful to us; their first Physician attended with the most friendly assiduity & from his skill I deriv’d much benefit.” 
Sarah Livingston Jay, Aranjuez, May 18th, 1781
Not knowing that her father-in-law has already passed away on April 17, 1782, Sarah writes to him on April 29th of her happiness that her son – whom she has not seen for 2 ½ years – is with him, and to describe her daughter, Maria, born on February 20th.  (The dates pretty much confirm that the indisposition was morning sickness.) 
“Nursing does not yet disagree with me, & I shall omit no caution necessary to continue to me that pleasure, especially as it will prevent embarresments on that score when the signal for our return shall be given. “Though the tranquillity which at your age is so desirable, & which indeed from your circumstances you was entitled to expect, has been unhappily interrupted by the clashing of arms, yet I rejoice with you my dear sir that the clouds which obscured American freedom are breaking away & that you will have the satisfaction of seeing the exertions of our Country crowned with success.”
Sarah Livingston Jay to Peter Jay, Madrid April 29, 1782
Intimate details we might find surprising in a letter to a father-in-law – she is nursing her own child – provide a segue to her encomium of the forthcoming peace.  Although not mentioned directly in the letter, she and John will be travelling to Paris to negotiate the peace, and by nursing her baby herself, she is spared the challenge and expense of bringing a wetnurse from one country to another.  

Sarah’s letters affirm – as might be expected centuries before the advent of the pill -- that being pregnant was a very common part of women’s lives and, as much as possible, was not allowed to interfere with the diplomatic role expected of a wife. The Jays arrive in Paris on June 23rd, 1782, and, two days later, receives a letter from the Marquise de Lafayette, Adrienne de Noialles, wife of the famous Marquis, who is very eager to meet her but is herself indisposed – i.e., with morning sickness.
“Madame de Lafayette has just learned that madame Jay has arrived in Paris.  She is very eager to have the honor of meeting her, and would have liked very much to do so as early as this evening, to personally hear of her trip but she is not able to go out today due to her health.  She begs Madame Jay to find a way so she can make amends tomorrow and to tell her at what hour it might be convenient to visit her.”
With proper form, the Marquise refers to the deep affection her husband has for Mr. Jay, but her warm welcome of Mrs. Jay signals the importance of the relationship between America and France, which, as the Treaty is negotiated, is signaled and developed by the personal bonds between the negotiators and their families.  Sarah’s experience in France, where she is a sought-after social butterfly, despite becoming pregnant yet again, is in marked contrast to her loneliness in Spain.

Just as her husband’s role is to negotiate peace, Sarah’s role is to build the relationship between France and the nascent United States through positive social interaction.  Although some of Sarah’s letters to her sisters are somewhat self-deprecating, acknowledging both that she  seems to be socializing all the time, and expressing the wish that they had brought along a chaplain so she could attend services as well, but she also is cognizant these social events are her job.  The attractive, well-dressed and engaging woman—attending plays, operas and balls – is the face of America to the French society whose support of the American cause has proved so crucial. 

In a letter to her mother written from Paris a year after the Jays’ departure, Abigail Adams’ daughter, “Nabby,” (the future Abigail Adams Smith), praises the impression Sarah has left behind: “Every person who knew her when here bestow many encomiums on Mrs. Jay: Madame de Lafayette said she was well acquainted with her, and very fond of her, adding that Mrs. Jay and she thought alike, that pleasure might be found abroad, but happiness only at home, in the society of one’s family and friends.”    Clearly, the Marquise thought of Sarah as her friend.

Toasts written by Sarah Jay for the Ball in Honor of the Signing of the Definitive Treaty of Paris, September 3rd, 1783:

Sarah planned an elaborate ball to celebrate the signing, she herself was unable to attend, due to the birth of her daughter, Ann, in August.  She nevertheless composed a series of toasts to be delivered by her husband at that event.

It has been argued by Landa M. Freeman, Louise V. North and Janet M. Wedge, editors of Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (2003), that the toasts here were not actually written by Sarah for John to read at the ball, but were rather those of John, recited on July 4th, 1783, when peace was imminent.  According to the editors, the toasts were transcribed by Mrs. Jay and sent in a letter to her sister, Kitty.

Benjamin West, American Commissioners of the Preliminary Peace Agreement with Great Britain, 1783-1784, London, England. (oil on canvas, unfinished sketch), Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, Delaware, gift of Henry Francis du Pont. From left to right: John Jay, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Laurens, and William Temple Franklin. The British commissioners refused to pose, and the picture was never finished.
No matter what the provenance of the toasts – husband or wife – they express patriotism, a profound gratitude for the assistance of other nations, and a deep sensitivity to both the benefits and costs of hard-won liberty.
1. The United States of America, may they be perpetual.2. The Congress.3. The King & Nation of France.4. General Washington and the American Army.5. The United Netherlands & all other free States in the world.6. His Catholic Majesty & all other Princes & Powers who have manifested Friendship to America.7. The Memory of the Patriots who have fallen for their Country.  May kindness be shown to their widows & children.8. The French Officers & Army who served in America.9. Gratitude to our Friends & Moderation to our Enemies.10. May all our Citizens be soldiers, & all our soldiers Citizens.11. Concord, Wisdom & Firmness to all American Councils.12. May our Country be always prepared for War, but disposed to Peace.13. Liberty & Happiness to all Mankind.
Upon Sarah and John’s return to New York and his return to Congress, John is appointed U.S. Foreign Secretary, arguably the most powerful position under the Articles of Confederation.  He refuses to expect unless the capitol is moved from Trenton to New York, and so Sarah’s Parisian training comes in handy, as she and her husband establish the custom of weekly dinners for the diplomatic corps and other guests:

Describing such a dinner, Nabby Adams again writes her mother, “Yesterday we dined at Mr Jay’s, in company with the whole corps diplomatique.  Mr. Jay is a most pleasing man, plain in his dress and manners, but kind, affectionate, and attentive; benevolence is portrayed in every feature.  Mrs. Jay dresses gaily and showily, but is very pleasing upon a slight acquaintance.  The dinner was a la mode Francaise, and exhibited more of European taste than I expected to find.  Mr. Gardoqui was as chatty and sociable as his countryman Del Campo, Lady Temple civil, and Sir John more of the gentleman than I ever saw him.  The French minister is a handsome and apparently polite man; the marchioness, his sister, the oddest figure eyes ever beheld: in short, there is so much said of and about her, and so little of truth can be known, that I cannot pretend to form any kind of judgment in what manner or fomr my attention would be properly directed to her; she speaks English a little, is very much out of health, and was taken ill at Mr. Jay’s, before we went to dinner, and obliged to go home.” 

These dinners were more than social opportunities.  Although Congress was meeting in New York, the ratification of the new Constitution (championed in the Federalist Papers by John, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison) was greatly opposed in that state, including by Governor Clinton.  The bi-weekly dinner parties of Sarah and John – one for diplomats, the other for just about any statesman, distinguished foreigner or other member of society who might be helpful or converted to the cause -- became prime opportunities for Constitutional lobbying.  Sarah kept a list – now at the Jay homestead in Rye, NY – of those who attended her dinners in 1787 and 1788, including familiar names like Aaron Burr, Governor Clinton and the van Cortlandts.

Under the Constitution of 1787, John Jay  became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. When the family settled in New York, In 1794, John Jay departed for England, where he negotiated the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, known as “Jay’s Treaty,” which helped improve relations with Great Britain, but angered many who favored France. Upon return to America, Jay found that, in his absence, he had been elected the second governor of New York State where Sarah would serve as New York's First Lady. 

Five years later, in 1801, the Jays retired to a farm near Bedford, New York, where Sarah Livingston Jay died in 1802. By: Naomi Yavneh Klos, Ph.D.

United Colonies and States First Ladies


United Colonies Continental Congress
Elizabeth "Betty" Harrison Randolph (1745-1783)
09/05/1774 – 10/22/1774
Mary Williams Middleton (1741- 1761) Deceased
Elizabeth "Betty" Harrison Randolph (1745–1783)
Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott (1747-1830)
05/25/1775 – 07/01/1776

United States Continental Congress
Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott (1747-1830)
07/02/1776 – 10/29/1777
Eleanor Ball Laurens (1731- 1770) Deceased
11/01/1777 – 12/09/1778
12/ 10/1778 – 09/28/1778
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
09/29/1779 – 02/28/1781

United States in Congress Assembled
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
03/01/1781 – 07/06/1781
Sarah Armitage McKean  (1756-1820)
07/10/1781 – 11/04/1781
Jane Contee Hanson (1726-1812)
11/05/1781 - 11/03/1782
Hannah Stockton Boudinot (1736-1808)
11/03/1782 - 11/02/1783
Annis Boudinot Stockton (1736-1801)
06/30/1783 - 11/02/1783
Sarah Morris Mifflin (1747-1790)
11/03/1783 - 11/02/1784*
Anne Gaskins Pinkard Lee (1738-1796)
11/20/1784 - 11/19/1785
Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott (1747-1830)
11/23/1785 – 06/06/1786
Rebecca Call Gorham (1744-1812)
06/06/1786 - 02/01/1787*
Phoebe Bayard St. Clair (1743-1818)
02/02/1787 - 01/21/1788*
Christina Stuart Griffin (1751-1807)
01/22/1788 - 01/29/1789*
USCA, U.S. & U.C. Continental Congress 
Martha Washington (1731-1802)
06/15/1775 – 12/23/1781
*The Articles of Confederation limited the term of each USCA President to one year. Consequently, each President remained in office until the one year term expiration, unless the USCA President resigned or another Delegate was elected in his place.

  • First United American Republic: United Colonies of North America: 13 British Colonies United in Congress was founded by 12 colonies on September 5th, 1774 (Georgia joined in 1775)  and governed through a British Colonial Continental Congress.  Peyton Randolph and George Washington served, respectively, as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief;
  • Second United American Republic: The United States of America: 13 Independent States United in Congress was founded by 12 states on July 2nd, 1776 (New York abstained until July 8th), and governed through the United States Continental CongressJohn Hancock and George Washington served, respectively, as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief; 
  • Third United American Republic: The United States of America: A Perpetual Union was founded by 13 States on March 1st, 1781, with the enactment of the first U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, and governed through the United States in Congress Assembled.  Samuel Huntington and George Washington served, respectively, as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief; 
  • Fourth United American Republic: The United States of America: We the People  was formed by 11 states on March 4th, 1789 (North Carolina and Rhode Island joined in November 1789 and May 1790, respectively), with the enactment of the U.S. Constitution of 1787. The fourth and current United States Republic governs through  the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in Congress Assembled, the U.S. President and Commander-in-Chief, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  George Washington served as the Republic's first President and Commander-in-Chief.

Chart Comparing Presidential Powers 
of  America's Four United Republics - Click Here