1 March 1825
Eliza Fenwick, State Street, New Haven, Connecticut, to Mary Hays, Vanbrugh Castle, Maze Hill, Greenwich, near London, 1 March 1825.1
Newhaven March 1st 1825
I confess my Dear, my long tried & yet neglected friend, that you have cause to reproach my silence. I reproach myself still more severely, & acknowledge with shame & compunction, that I ought not to have suffered any cares, perplexities, or busy occupations to have induced me to procrastinate my writing to you. To wait for quiet & leisure in a family like ours, is to seek for that which never can be found, & I begin to believe it equally unlikely that repose from ^tumult or^ vexations ever will be ours. The past year seems like a confused, & busy dream. We lived some months in a crowd – six Barbadian Ladies came for a renovation of health, & would not be denied accommodation in our family, which added very much to the usual claims on our time; & to encrease the bustle ^surrounding us^ one of them had been the first love of a Gentleman who had removed his family to this Country some years since, & about the time of our arrival had become a widower. Parents in both sides had objected to their youthful passion – Both had married – both had become free, & they no sooner met in our drawing-room than we all predicted the result. ^Mrs Alleyne^ was married from our house. About the same period two other weddings occurred in our West India circle here, & we could not without giving offence avoid taking a share in the gay & ^almost^ endless festivities ^with^ which it is the practice of Newhaven to solemnise such events. All that over & our boarders departed I looked for an interval of domestic repose, when a storm burst over us, as sudden, as unlooked for ^ & astounding^ as a thunder clap from a serene & cloudless sky. I wonder if I ever named the Wallace family to you. They were living her (from Santa Cruz) when we arrived – A father, Mother, six daughters and one Son much older than his Sisters a poor wretched youth always intoxicated & disgracing his connexions – an elder Son was spoken of as a British officer in the 20th, at that time guarding Bonaparte at St Helena. Mr Wallace regretted that our terms were so high he could not afford to send his children, & soon applied to Mr Marshall & Mr Dummett, to propose to us receiving 4 of his girls for the what he could afford to pay punctually. Before the treaty was concluded he fell ill & died. Afterwards Mrs W— declaring it was necessary for her to go to Santa Cruz to settle her affairs, renewed the negotiation, & considering her situation as very unfortunate I agreed to receive 4 daughters for the amount of their board, making no charge for their education, giving them even the accomplishments of Music & dancing & to the eldest ^of the 4^ drawing also. She took her eldest & youngest with her, the former of whom died on the passage. They were with us 15 months, & experienced parental care & kindness as many can testify. Their eldest brother, Capn Wallace ^as he was called^ arrived from Europe & after the Mothers return, the girls went home to live with their parent. A great change in their stile of living was immediately apparent, which they intimated was owing to the Sons resources – He gave dinners to the Students, & other gay young Men; & Mrs Wallace gave Dances, & parties, dressing the two eldest girls splendidly, & elegantly, & always boasting of Johns generosity to his Sisters. All this time they were courting our Notice & attentions – Always soliciting Mrs Rutherford to take Elizabeth under her protection to the public balls, which she did. No one disagreement had we, & not the slightest injury did we ever offer them. For my own sake, I carefully preserved the secret of the terms on which I had received them ^the^ girls, but one of Mrs Wallaces friends to whom she confided it, had made it known & possibly their pride was piqued – I know of no other cause, but suddenly a string of the most atrocious2 calumnies, were promulgated by Mr Wallace & his Mother against Eliza, & myself. – He among other equally base & odious slanders, asserted that Mrs Rutherfords Children were by different Fathers, & that he knew I had kept a bad house in London. Three Gentlemen of the highest respectability came forward to testify against him, who heard him utter these horrid slanders. I cannot describe our horror & amazement. We seemed crushed never to rise again; but the zeal & kindness of the friends who crowded round us, soothed & sustained us. The story spread like wild-fire, & even the most distant of our American acquaintance called to testify their good will & good opinion. Though convinced of the Mothers equal baseness, we had only positive proof against the Son, & against him I commenced a prosecution. The proceedings are summary here – he was arrested, & then gave notice he should take the Bankrupts oath – to swear himself not worth 10 dollars beyond his wearing apparel. Accordingly himself & his mother appeared before the judges & most of the principal Gentlemen of the town, & he made oath that he had gamed away his commission in Paris, that he had been sometime maintained by borrowing from a waiter at the gaming house, – that he had then proceeded to London, where he had lived two years by his wits, (his own phrase) & had them come to join his family in this Country, as a Steerage Passenger from London. This disgraceful testimony was supported by his Mother, swearing her Husband had died insolvent, that she supported her family entirely on funds of her own, & that her Son had not the means of buying a meal without her assistance. Thus proved a beggar, he was set at liberty – the suit goes on but when the verdict is obtained he will again take the oath & I can neither get Damages nor imprison him ^a great error in the law, putting a slanderer on the footing with a poor debtor^. One revenge we have in their proving themselves liars, & every paltry boast of Mother & Son about his standing in the British army, his pay, his Santa Cruz property &c &c is commented on by every mouth. A thousand other slanders of other persons have come to light & the family are the execration of the town, while we are receiving constant testimonies of approbation.
In the first bitter agony of my heart how I prayed that the story might reach Mr Rutherford, as a meet punishment for his desertion of a meritorious wife, & her four lovely children. I expected the health Eliza had gained to be destroyed, but happily the affectionate zeal of our friends has sustained her – one of Mr W—s slanders was accusing her of intervening with Mr Dummetts Son ^now^ a youth of 18 – who when she first went to Barbadoes was a little pet of hers – Perhaps you remember her speaking of him in her letters. He retains his early liking, & has been to her & me, like one of our own Children. Mr Dummett when we first arrived said – Now Mrs R— you must polish Douglas & reform his careless habits – I know he will bear reproof better from you than from me: But it would fill another sheet to tell you all of this tale of infamy. It would be unnatural if told as a fiction, that Malic[e] could be carried to so gross an excess, & without the smallest provocation to excite ^it^. Mrs W— now pretends that I said I took her children for charity but she also pretends she forgets where she heard, what indeed I never thought, much more said. When the story first spread abroad Major Williams (who is the first here, for wealth, & high honorable & gentlemanly character, & who has two daughters taller than I am still under our care) came every day in an open Barouche with his wife, & her Sister, & took Eliza out, driving through all the principal streets & avenues of the town to give the most public proof of his desire to defend our cause. Mr Dummett was ^& is^ absent at Florida, but all according to their power have proved their wish to erase from our minds every painful impression. Still there are moments when bitter pangs assail us, lest these atrocious people in some other place interrupt our peace, or that our children may hereafter smart under their slanders & unparalleled3 malignity.
I have dwelt longer on this odious tale than I intended, but as yet it swallows up all other thoughts & cares. I have received no money yet from Demarary – Mr Benjamin who took my power of Attorney & from his wealth & high influence in the Colony would have been able to serve me greatly, was lost with his eldest Son & his Wifes Sister on the voyage. My affairs in Barbadoes are still unsettled & I begin to despair of getting any of the debts collected.
We have been warmly solicited to remove to the Neighbourhood of New York & have it under consideration. I have much to say on that subject & on others relating to ourselves as well as on parts of your kind letter but time presses me to a conclusion, & I can only say I sympathize sincerely in all you feel for poor Mrs Lanfear. I always admired her fortitude. May God encrease it, & reward her when she reaches that shore where pain sorrow & suffering are unknown.4
Mrs R. sends her affectionate regards
Adieu! You shall soon hear from me again & write as often as you can – my dear dear Friend Farewell!
Address: Mrs M. Hays | Vanbrugh Castle | Maize Hill | Greenwich | near London.
Postmark: 13 April 1824
Pr Louisa Matilda
1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 233-37; not in Brooks, Correspondence.
2 attrocious] MS
3 unparallelled] MS
4 Elizabeth Hays Lanfear would have been dying from cancer when Hays had written previously to Fenwick; by the time of Fenwick's response, she had already died.