21 March and 12 April 1815
Eliza Fenwick to Mary Hays, 21 March and 12 April 1815 [address page cut off].1
March 21st &
April 12th 1815
It seems a long and weary interval my dear friend since I heard from you. How is it? Have you not yet written to me or have those desired letters been in the Packets which the Americans have taken? Peace we are assured is signed and now I shall no longer dread these consequences of war. It is almost on the eve of 7 months since I left the shores of dear England (8 since I bade farewell to dearer friends) and five since I arrived here yet not one line either from England or Ireland has yet reached me. There is something very formidable and appalling in this chasm of separation from long tried and valued connections. I think of it & feel ^it^ more than I expected. In the amusements of Novelty I cannot lose the regrets of the heart. I am too old to enter with avidity into new hopes & ^from^ the livelier speculations of my children I often shrink into a feeling of desolateness which I do not, of course, avow. I have my children it is true, but I still miss the intercourse of such a friend as you my dear Mary – And as my years increase I shall grow more & more conscious of this deprivation little as adverse circumstances have allowed me its enjoyment. When I quitted England I thought I should never return, but so little do I feel myself at home in this Climate and Country, that I cannot forbear looking forward to the probability of a return. Prosperous I am likely to be and very healthy I am at present so perhaps dear Mary we may meet again and compare the various & harassing changes it has been our lot to endure. When I arrived, Mrs Rutherford had 14 pupils one of whom a young Lady of 17 had only been sent for a year and consequently quitted at Christmas. We have now 30 and have notice of several others who are yet coming. These are all day Scholars and as ^we have^ had many applications for boarders we are now looking out for a suitable house to be enabled to receive them also. When Eliza began, General Johnstone was very desirous of placing his two daughters as boarders with her & ^also^ a Miss Simmons (who is I believe related to Mr. T. Dunkin2) would have come, but her uncertainty about my coming out & made Eliza decline admitting them – Miss Johnstones have been sent to England & Miss Simmons is boarded with a family in Town that she may come here as a pupil. Two other families have taken Houses in Bridge Town & removed from the Country to send their Children to us, but all cannot do this and it is so likely that we may be able to make boarders a profitable speculation that we think it prudent to go to the expence of a higher rent & other outlays to secure the advantage. At present the income of our school exceeds our expences & with the encrease we expect I allow the first two years to clear us of all debt including tho the money sunk in my and Orlando’s passage & preparation. The books I brought out have sold very well & very few remain now on hand but the elegant Piano-forte I had of Mr Whitaker is unsold.3 The principal Music Master here has taken infinite pains to prevent my getting a share of the trade of instrument selling & has sunk his prices lower than I can afford to do. This is inconvenient for we shall probably keep it a long time after we pay for it. With all this & allowing that the year to be expensive on account of removal, some addition of furniture & the expence attending Elizas soon expected confinement yet I have the satisfaction to assure you that our income provides the means of living with decency & comfort & that our additional pupils will enable us in a little time faithfully & fully to discharge every pecuniary obligation. I know how pleasing this account will be to you & therefore dwell on the detail. Our prices are high very high – Our ^day^ scholars pay from 10 to 30 ^& 40^ Guineas pr Ann according to what they learn. These charges are much higher than the other schools (which are to me surprisingly numerous) and keep us in the higher & wealthy classes ^thus^ securing us from bad debts. At present we are in fashion & those rich families who do not send their daughters to England give them to us. And very hard we work for them. We commence our labour at 7 oClock in the morning & often hear the roll of wheels bringing our pupils by ½ past 6 & even sooner; at ½ past 8 we suspend the business for breakfast & then to you it would be an extraordinary sight to pass through the Anti-room & see it lined with female ^black^ slaves <–> attending with the young Ladies breakfasts, mostly attired in a picturesque costume. White Muslin petticoats, colored Jackets, colored cotton or silk Handkerchiefs on their heads most fancifully put on & very frequently coral & gold necklaces of a value & beauty that a London Belle might envy. They always attract my eye from the Symmetry & beauty of their forms as well as their fantastic attire. In their manners they have a polished civility that frequently exceeds the good breeding of their owners. But except demeanour & outward form they are a detestible set of people – idle, ungrateful, dirty, dishonest & profligate in the extreme. To return to our occupation – at ½ past 9 (after our breakfast) we recommence school & continue till 4 oClock allowing an hours interval from ½ past 12 to ½ past 1 when the young Ladies have their luncheons brought, & amuse themselves. Thus they come in the cool of the morning & return not till the ^great^ heat of the day is past. Our rooms are large & airy, indeed it we have often such a current of wind blowing through the rooms that without weights we could not keep any thing on the Tables. Had we any spare chambers we would strive to make our present House do at least till we had 50 Scholars. Mr Rutherford teaches the writing Arithmetic & Geography & the last mentioned in a manner so extended & so connected with History, General knowledge, & the Planetary System as I never saw it taught before. I always wish to listen when he is teaching though seldom have the opportunity we keep our pupils so constantly employed – I have three pupils in Music Mrs R— eight for dancing. At present I relieve her as much as possible from application to the school for she has the housekeeping to attend to, her boy to look after & several infirmities belonging to her situation to endure. I am glad to be constantly employed for with all our good prospects I must own to you my dear friend that I never feel as if I were stationary, that I do not like the Country & that in every leisure moment when I turn to myself I have the painful feeling of a stranger wandering on a foreign land. Keep this to your own breast. It is but to you I say it. It would be ungrateful to the attention I receive to own that it I am not entirely happy! I suppose this mental discontent will wear away as habit enures me to new customs & manners but one thing will ever militate against my contentment – the negro slaves – Slaves we have none, but we hire them at high wages of their owners for servants, & no imagination can form an idea of the unceasing turmoil & vexation their management creates. To kindness & forbearance they return insolence & contempt. Nothing awes or governs them but the lash of the whip or the dread of being sent into the fields to labour. With us therefore they pursue a regular course of negligence, ^lies^ & plunder the latter of which they carry on with a cunning & ingenuity that is surprising. Of course the best slaves are not hired out but kept for their owners domestic purposes. With few exceptions they are admirably well treated on this Island & yet it is generally allowed that they are worse servants here than in other places. It is a horrid & disgraceful system. The female slaves are really encouraged to prostitution because their children are the property of their owner of the mothers. These children are reared by the Ladies as pets, ^are^ frequently brought from the Negro houses to their chambers to feed & sleep & reared with every care & indulgence till grown up when they are at once dismiss’d to labour & slave like treatment – What is still more horrible – the Gentlemen are greatly addicted to their women slaves & give the fruit of their licentiousness to their white children as slaves. I strongly suspect that a very fine Mulatto boy about 14 who comes here to ^help^ wait on the breakfast & luncheon of two young Ladies, our pupils, is their own brother from the likeness he bears to their father. It is a common case & not thought of as an enormity. It gives me disgust & antipathy & I am ready to hail the slave & reject the master. An impassable boundary here separates the white & the colored people (many of whom are ^a^ fair light haired people) & these creoles whose wealth would introduce them to the first circles in England a white beggar would not speak to here. We cannot admit a Creole pupil yet some Creole families on this Island live splendidly & are very rich. I wonder they do not remove to England All this puts me out of temper. I believe I am growing childish & inclined to every thing <–> out of my reach for the narrowest means in England seem preferable to ^a^ liberal provision here.
At length Orlando is fixed – placed for three years with a young Merchant whose enterprising spirit grasps at a great extent of business & keeps up a perpetual round of occupation. His first years Salary will not do more than find him in Clothes. He boards & sleeps with us; his second year will provide him, & his third leave him a little overplus beside the permission to begin to trade for himself at the end of the second year, if he can procure means or credit. His employer commends his activity, which must appear singular compared with the frequent lassitude of West Indian Clerks. I have an entire confidence now in the energy & application he will give to business, but greatly do I fear that the practices of severity which are really essential to the government of Negroes may chill & close his heart against those general sympathies which appear to me essential to the excellence of character. There are many things here, I mean in the manners of the people, unfavourable to the formation of a young man, but probably his stay here will not be long enough for him to acquire those vices of manhood which are to me so repugnant; for Peace is by no means favourable to the commercial speculations of this island. We it is very likely may suffer by it materially. It has been ratified since the commencement of this letter and already we have notice that four of our scholars will leave us to accompany their families preparing in consequence of the security of peace to leave Barbadoes. There are children enough left, no doubt for our purpose in this most populous of Islands & we have connected with that class generally, whose estates bind them to continuance & who are independent of such casualties. Do not be alarmed for us – You may be sure our prospects are good for Eliza has been offered 24 Guineas per week & a clear benefit, to join the Company performing at Jamaica. Averse as she is to the stage, prudence would determine her on accepting this proposal if we had not the fairest hopes here from our present extraordinary success. Orlando seems to think it may be thereafter most to his advantage to go to Jamaica. But that is a future consideration entirely.
How I long to hear from you. How dismal seems this length of silence! I trust your letters when they do arrive will be journals of the comforts you have enjoyed in your new abode. It is shameful to feel & perhaps shameful to confess it but when a vessel sets sail for England from hence, it seems to carry my heart with it. Yet my ties here are strong & increasing. I am fond of my little grandson who is a very engaging child & I almost daily expect the birth of a second, whose helplessness will lay claim to my affections. Still these very ties do but increase my longings to return to that Country where I should no longer feel myself a stranger.
Farewell my dear dear friend. Do not neglect to write to me, I beseech you
Address: torn off
Postmark: 21 July 1815
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 166-70; not in Brooks, Correspondence.
2 Thomas Dunkin (d. 1861), son of John Dunkin, Jr., who appears in several letters in Hays's correspondence.
3 These were copies of the various children's books written by Fenwick for several London publishers between 1804 and 1810; John Whitaker was the musician/composer who befriended Fenwick and Orlando a few years previous.