Mary and Sally

July 16, 1787 – August 30, 1787

As I mentioned in the previous post, so far I’ve read about a third of A-J Letters (the correspondence begins on May 16, 1777), and I will probably provide a superficial-as-to-be-almost-useless summary of those letters at some point, but for the sake of motivation I will jump right into where I’m into, which is July 16, 1787. Still, some “who, what, when, and where” bullets seem necessary:

  • John Adams: Age 51, Minister (Ambassador) to England, living in London with his wife, Abigail
  • Thomas Jefferson: Age 44, Minister (Ambassador) to France, living in Paris
  • King of England: George III
  • King of France: Louis XVI
  • What’s happening in England: Lots of worrying about France and continued resentment of the USofA.
  • What’s happening in France: Unrest among the peasants; portents of the coming French Revolution (1789); lots of French officers not happy that they still haven’t been paid for helping the Americans in their war of independence.
  • What’s happening in the USA: Plenty of debt owed to France. The Constitutional Convention is well underway (May-September, 1787).

The correspondence consists of two pairings:

  • Jefferson↔John Adams
  • Jefferson↔Abigail Adams

TJ and JA necessarily discuss their businesses of diplomacy, trade, economics, politics, etc., but today let’s focus on TJ and AA, whose correspondence is much less formal—not to say less important. The tone is casual, reflecting a real affection between the two, and I sense Jefferson’s relief at the chance to relax in the “presence” of a woman who he trusts and admires (his wife, Martha, died in 1782).

The two talk current events, politics, finances, family, and fashion (this is Paris, after all). Here TJ concludes the main concern of the past seven months by announcing to AA the long-awaited arrival of his eight-year old daughter, Mary, who had left America in December and stayed with the Adams family in London before crossing the Channel to reunite with her father. It’s worth backing up a few days to quote AA, July 6, 1787:

“If I had thought you would so soon have sent for your dear little Girl, I should have been tempted to have kept her arrival here, from you a secret. I am really loth to part with her, and she last evening upon Petit’s arrival, was thrown into all her former distresses, and bursting into Tears, told me it would be as hard to leave me as it was her Aunt Epps. Tho she says she does not remember you, yet she has been taught to consider you with affection and fondness, and depended on your comeing for her. She told me this morning, that as she had left all her Friends in virginia to come over the ocean to see you, she did think you would have taken the pains to have come here for her, and not have sent a man whom she cannot understand. I express her own words. . . She had been 5 weeks at sea, and with men only, so that on the first day of her arrival, she was as rough as a little sailor, and then she had been decoyed from the ship, which made her very angry, and no one having any Authority over her; I was apprehensive I should meet with some trouble. . .”

Little Mary was accompanied by a “Girl about 15 or 16,” who, according to AA, “wants more care than the child, and is wholy incapable of looking properly after her, without some superiour to direct her.” This girl is Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s slave with whom he most likely conceived six children later in life.

Upon Mary and Sally’s arrival in Paris, TJ wrote to AA that Mary “had fared very well on the road, having got into favor with gentlemen and ladies so as to be sometimes on the knee of one sometimes of another. She had totally forgotten her sister, but thought, on seeing me, that she recollected something of me.”


5 thoughts on “Mary and Sally

  1. Thanks for setting the stage, jumping right in where you’re at, and drawing attention to SH. I am already glad that you’re reading and summarizing the content, so I won’t feel guilty if I don’t ever get around to reading in detail …

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