Jane Ledyard’s Letter to Her Daughter, 1852
Jane Ledyard was a sister of John Strawbridge, who was born in 1780. Jane was born in 1793 in Philadelphia, shortly before the death of her father, another John Strawbridge. She died in 1855. In 1852, at the urging of her daughter, Helen Lincklaen Ledyard, Jane Ledyard wrote a long letter outlining what she knew of her family’s history. I transcribed the version that appears below from a photocopy of the original letter. I have tried not to make any changes in punctuation or wording, and I have left in some spelling errors (maybe they weren’t errors in 1852). The photograph at the top of this page shows a portion of a portrait of Jane Ledayard made in 1827 by Samuel F.B. Morse, the telegraph inventor and artist.
Here is the text of the letter:
Cazenovia, New York
April 6th, 1852
My dear daughter:
It is a stormy afternoon, & I am not likely to be interrupted, so I will undertake what you have so urgently urged me to do (and what I have felt so disinclined to engage in). A little narrative of family matters, & particular notices of those with whom I was most intimately associated & to whom I was most fondly attatched.
Your Uncle John’s account of the Strawbridge family is much more accurate & interesting than I could have given, for I was in infancy when my father died, and of course have no recollection of him whatever. Having had 4 sons, he was delighted by the birth of a daughter, & I have been told was continually calling on my name during his last hours. From all that I can learn he was a father whose memory ought ever to be revered by his children, having been one of the noblest & best of men in all the relations of life.
His sisters the two Mrs. Maffitts Anne & Mary I remember perfectly well & also their husbands, & children. My uncle Thomas Maffitt owned a farm & mill on the North East river Cecil County Maryland.
The situation was pleasant by the waterside, where there was a fine fishery; I recollect having seen them draw a seine there and catching a great quantity & great variety of fish–the North East herring are quite celebrated & often sent to Philadelphia. I was often very successful fishing there myself just by the Mill door, with only a thread line & bent pin for a hook and the sight & sound of the mill, are always in my mind associated with agreeable recollections.
My mother was several times obliged to fly from Wilmington on account of the prevalence of Yellow fever, of which she felt naturally a great dread, having lost her husband by this dreadful malady, & suffered from an attack of it herself subsequently.
Her place of refuge, was with our Maryland friends, who always made her and myself, & sometimes my younger brothers welcome; & our visits were very delightful.
Our first stage always brought us to Elkton, where an Aunt of my Mother’s, a Mrs. Gilpin, a fine hospitable old lady, resided. She had then several married children around her, all long since dead & all their children, unless it may be those of their eldest son John Gilpin who married a Miss Hollingsworth; she was a widow when I was last there & managing her young family & farm most admirably. On the occasion of this last visit I accompanied a young school friend to whom I had officiated as brides maid (the Hon. Lewis McLane was the other attendant), Maria Reading, who married W. H. Ward & who took possession of the same house (modernized & improved) that had been formerly occupied by Aunt Gilpin.
My Uncle Samuel Maffitt lived 6 or 8 miles from North East. He was a magistrate & a great Politician, & had a fine family of, I think, 10 children. Some of the older ones, as your Uncle J. observes had been partly educated in my father’s family in Philadelphia, & seemed to be greatly attatched to us.
My venerable Irish grandmother lived here aged 90 years. My only recollection of her is of her calling me to her to inquire if the stumps in the field & woods around the house were not men & of my being directed to say “Yes” as she in her dotage believed them to be & the family found it necessary to indulge her in such fancies. Some of the mischievous grandsons set fire to some of the stumps, to satisfy, or convince her they were not human beings but this savageness (as she thought) nearly threw her in hysterics. I was named after her and born (as I forgot to say) in Walnut St. below 3d in Phila., in a 3 storied brick house which stood there when I left the city.
Of the Maryland connexions I had not heard for many years, until last summer when Mrs. Aertsen of Phila. visited us & as you may recollect told me she had occasional intercourse with them, & that several of the name yet remained at N.E.
You have frequently heard me mention my father’s only brother “Uncle James,” to whom I was excessively attached; he was our guardian & as fond, & indulgent to us as a father. We have you know his minature given to me when a little girl. He never married — was a most amiable excellent character, & the very handsomest man in face & figure my eyes ever saw. He always lived in Phila. at the corner of 5th & Market Sts. then a fashionable boarding house, where he retained his place no matter who kept the house.
My beloved mother was Hannah Evans. She married young, was a handsome woman — taller than myself, & of rather full habit, as I recollect her, & of a very florid complexion, large dark blue eyes, regular features & beautiful soft brown hair, which never became gray, as was the case with nearly all of our relatives, many of them at quite an early period of life. She was a pious woman, a member of the Presbyterian church, but much attatched to the Society of “Friends.” She passed through many trials but had strong faith to support her and entire submission to the will of God. Was a person of strong mind — very energetic active, & managing in her family & a general favorite among her pleasant & large circle of friends & neighbors.
She was greatly blessed in her sons, who were all dutiful & affectionate, & very upright & correct in conduct; & did every thing in their power to promote her comfort & happiness. She used to remark that she “had observed that the sons of widows generally turned out well.” As I said, I was her youngest child & only daughter, and “the most troublesome when young to manage,” but afterwards “her greatest Earthly comfort.” She said she “always felt the greatest confidence in me — I was wo concientious.” It is pleasant my dear daughter to dwell upon her memory!
My childhood was a most happy one.– Now when I look back, I think I had too much liberty.– In consequence perhaps I went too much to the other extreme in bringing up my own family, though I may say, I was watchful & unwearied in endeavouring by every means in my power, to render them happy at home.
Our home being so delightful, retired & with extensive grounds, made my task easier; she resided in a large town & I could not look out of either door or window without being hailed by young companions and for some reason — I know not why — Jane Strawbridge was a great favorite with her school mates. Our house was on the public promenade to Brandywine & there was always some novelty & variety to be seen.
The schools at Wilmington were excellent and I had many opportunities for improvement until I was 12 or 14 years of age, when our property (a handsome one) was thro’ mismanagement nearly lost to us (about a 3d part of it was restored to the family in 1819, the year I was married) & we were obliged to forego many advantages & enjoyments, that we had previously been favored with & to struggle through many trials and privations for a long period of time.
My eldest brothers John & George were graduated at Princeton & both read law with James A. Bayard, quite a distinguished public man. John tired of it & went into a counting house at Phila. where after a time he was employed as supercargo twice to India, & his profits were so handsome that he was enabled to establish himself in business & married Miss Elizabeth Stockton the only daughter of Gen. John Stockton of Delaware.
After George completed his course of study, he went to New Castle 5 miles below Wilmington, to be near us & with the hope of there pursuing his profession. Business came slowly, he had no other means of support, so after my mother’s death he quit practice, & went out supercargo for brother John — but previously passed many months in Western Pennsylvania to look after lands belonging to the family & which had been neglected until necessity obliged us to sell off tract after tract for support.
After this George went abroad several voyages & was quite fortunate until the last war, when the vessel he was in was captured by an English frigate & he was detained prisoner on board six weeks — was at length landed at Georgetown N.C. — where he formed many pleasant acquaintances & was treated with the greatest hospitality & when leaving, was supplied with a variety of nice things for the return voyage.
Soon afterwards he engaged in Manufacturing which proved so profitable that he felt encouraged to settle down at a pleasant place near Frankford, & married Miss Fanny Hepburn — immediately afterwards, Peace was declared & the manufactory (where they had contracts from government to make cloth for the Army) was no longer to be depended upon.
He made other experiments — but only to experience other reverses of fortune, until at length he was induced to go to New Orleans — about the year 1824 — and resumed his profession and after reading the Napoleon Code engaged very successfully in practice & was enabled to educate his children, & afford them every advantage. He yet lives there highly respected & esteemed, & last summer, as you know, we had the pleasure of seeing him here, in good health, & spirits. He has ever been distinguished for his perseverence, & integrity — has of late years been 1st judge of the Supreme Court, & afterwards of the commercial court, but now about retiring to private life.
James my 3d brother had a plain English education, was not of studious habits: but very steady healthy and industrious. He chose to enter into one of the Brandywine mills as an apprentice, & remained until he had a thorough knowledge of the business, but the dust of the mills irritated his lungs (as was often the case), & he was obliged to quit, &, as there was no other opening for him, he went to sea “before the mast,” in one of brother J’s ships & was soon advanced to the rank of Mate — when some how — returning from England in a British vessel, passenger — the ship was captured by the French & he with others thrown into the fortress of Cherbourg, on the Coast, exposed to chill sea air passing thro’ a grated window, & there remained 2 or 3 months until the family heard of his situation, & thro’ the government or our consul there, had him released. He returned with impaired health & died in Philadelphia after I went there to reside, about the year 1814.
Joseph my youngest brother had a classical school education — went early into a counting house at P–, was very closely confined, & growing rapidly became weak & disabled & was advised to try a sea voyage. He made a trip to Martinique enjoyed it & was benefitted so much, that he concluded to go again & having obtained a very desirable berth as assistant supercargo on board a fine ship. went to Canton, & gave great satisfaction to his employers by his steadiness & capacity. I have many of his letters written as you know in the most beautiful manner. On the return voyage near home his health gave way — & after lingering several months he died at home, in the 19th year of his age. This was my first great sorrow. Many other rapidly followed — among these the sudden death of brother J–‘s lovely wife, leaving an infant, & Stockton a pale delicate boy two years old. My mother brought them to our house, where she devoted herself to the infant, & I to the frail looking boy, who immediately attached himself to me, & we were rarely separated for years afterwards. At 18 months old the infant died but S. remained in W. with us (his father had again married — to Miss Frances Taylor) until my mother’s death in November 1812; immediately after I went to reside in my brother’s family at P– until I married your father in 1819. My home there was a most pleasant one as my sister Fanny was an estimable woman, and did every thing in her power to place me at ease & render me happy in her house.
My beloved mother had always enjoyed fine health & had a strong constitution — but taking cold at a critical period of life fell into ill health thro’ which I nursed her 18 months when she was made willing to leave us to the care of that God in whom she had so long put her trust.
It was a great trial to leave Wilmington. All my early attatchments & associations were formed there. It is a beautiful place — the society was of a superior sort — many old settled respectable families, a great number of them Quakers — Many Marylanders who came to educate their children — the schools being excellent — many people educated & agreeable who lived there because it was retired & suited to moderate incomes, and a great many French Emigrants, both from the Continent & West India’s who built handsome houses & made beautiful gardens. I paid 2 visits after our family were broken up there, but they were sad melancholy ones, tho’ I was received in the most cordial manner by our old friends, & neighbours. My last one was probably 36 years ago. I have an irresistable desire to go there once more, but will not probably accomplish such an excursion & perhaps it is best that I should not. I hope one of these days you may get there my child, tho’ perhaps you might be disappointed in the place. — Of course it is greatly changed, & then we have been so accustomed in this country to fine scenery that it might suffer by comparison.
Uncle John you are aware has always remained at Phila., has had various changes & trials, but always been highly esteemed & respected by his old friends and connexions. Has had fine health & retained his natural gaiety of Disposition. He is a talented well educated man — was in youth very handsome — had all the beauty of the family. I will not enumerate or mention the younger branches — your cousins — with whom you are individually acquainted — all are correct & respectable and none have brought trouble, or disgrace upon the name.
I am sorry I have not arranged these reminiscences in a more connected manner. — I must however endeavour to give you some account of my Mother’s family from recollection, aided by my friend Miss Lovering’s notes. You must carefully preserve these notices of hers. From these we learn the Ancestors of the Gilpins (my maternal grandmother’s name) came from England in 1696 — among those embarkations which were invited to emigrate & settle in Pennsylvania under the immediate patronage of William Penn. They were driven by stress of weather into James’ river, Virginia — but afterwards arrived at their place of destination on the Brandywine 12 or 15 miles above W–, where as there were no buildings — they were obliged (until they could provide better quarters) to live in a cave. This cave is yet preserved and is on a farm occupied by one of the descendants of the same name. I believe it is in the neighborhood of Chad’s ford, where the memorable battle was fought. I regret that I have not visited it.
This Joseph Gilpin & Alice [actually, Hannah] his wife (he was born in 1664 died 1741) came over as I remarked in 1696 — He had two children before leaving England, a daughter, & son — this son was our ancestor. He afterwards had 13 children — 12 of them married & had families — of course the number of descendants is immense & scattered far & wide — Many of them were Quakers as their progenitors were & all prided themselves upon being “descendants of the cave.” When a child I used occasionally to go to a Druggist’s store in W, kept by an eccentric old man by the name of Webster — who always asked my name, & when told who I was, invariably replied “Ah! Thee’s one of the cave, thy scissors will cut sharp.” But to return to Samuel eldest son of Joseph Gilpin, born as supposed at Dorchester in England — married in Phila. Jane, daughter of John Parker whose Mother’s name was Doe (She who marked the sampler now in my possession & presented the old blue smelling bottle to her daughter-in-law Jane Parker, my great grandmother, so that I am named after grandmother on one side, & great grandmother on the other) the daughter of Richard Doe who came from France to avoid the persecution there.
Samuel Gilpin settled after marriage at Nottingham Maryland & had 6 children the youngest of whom Rachel was my mother’s mother. Her initials are upon our old silver sugar bowl. She married George Evans. I am sorry I do not know more of his (my grandfather’s) family. I think he had 2 or 3 brothers: 1 was a judge in Pennsylvania — one a farmer in Montgomery Co., &, there may have been another. I recollect the daughter of the judge dying possessed of some property & leaving my mother 50 £ & a silver cream jug, perhaps the one I now have; but am not certain as there was another — a larger one. The old silver ladle we use I believe was her father’s. It is marked J.M.E., John & Mary Evans.
My grandfather George Evans was an active man during the Revolutionary War — held various offices, was a commissary & afterwards a Col. (I believe) & was called Col. Evans — was in many engagements. I used to sit in a little chair by his side and listen to his accounts of the “war” & particularly remember his speaking of the battle of Princeton where his coat tail was shot off by a cannon ball, & of his describing the sensation — the shock being so great, that he at first thought that he had lost a limb. He is mentioned in a printed notice in my possession as having by his activity and patriotism made himself very obnoxious to the British — who when in possession of Wilmington was anxious to secure himself and family as hostages, but they were secreted for a time by their friends & and afterwards one at a time removed to the country. He was an excellent upright man — but as I recollect him rather melancholy having buried his wife, & 7 children. He resided with my mother for many years, who made him as comfortable as possible, but he survived her a few years and then resided with his brother in Montgomery County making occasional visits to us at Philadelphia.
Through the kindness of your Uncle Forman you have the genealogy of the Forman & Ledyard families for many years –and some account of the Strawbridge family through your Uncle John — &, here all I know of my maternal ancestors, so that you know nearly as much as most in the Republic, of your “great forbears” — and I earnestly hope that my much loved family may bring no stain upon their creditable descent — and that God may bless & strengthen them to walk in his fear, & uprightly in their intercourse with their fellow beings — & to be useful members of society, is the prayer of your affectionate mother. Jane Ledyard