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FROM the beginning Washington has enjoyed a social life more or less courtly in tone and stately and graceful in manner. Up to the time of the civil war she was a slave-holding town, distinctively a Southern city, and society other than official was based on the old English colonial plan, which continued in the South long after it had been banished from the more progressive North. Nothing is more charming than the naïve diaries and letters of the period, from the contents of whose pages the above deduction is made. Sir Augustus Foster, an attaché of the British Embassy during Mr. Jefferson's term, gives the earliest picture. He says:
There were a great number of rich proprietors in the State of Maryland. In the district around Washington ... I was assured there were five hundred persons possessing estates which returned them an income of £1,000. Mr. Lloyd, a member of Congress on the Eastern Branch, possessed a net revenue of between £6,000 and £7,000, with which he had only to buy clothes for himself and family, wines, equipage, furniture, and other luxuries. ... Mr. Tayloe also whose whole income exceeded £ 15,000 per annum . . . held 3,000 acres which his father bought for £500. He possessed 500 slaves, built brigs and schooners, worked iron mines, converted the iron into ploughshares-and all this was done by the hands of his own subjects. He had a splendid house at Mount Airy, with a property around it of 8,000 acres, and a house at the Federal City. . . . Mr. Carroll of Annapolis, grandfather of Lady Wellesby, the Duchess of Leeds, and Lady Stafford, was said to be still more wealthy, having, besides great accumulations in the funds, 15,000 acres of the best land in Frederick County, and several other estates.” Of the members of Congress, most of them, he says, “ keep to their lodgings, but still there are a sufficient number of them who are sociable, or whose families come to the city for a season, and there is no want of handsome ladies for the balls, especially, at Georgetown; indeed, I never saw prettier girls anywhere. As there are but few of them, however, in proportion to the great number of men who frequent the places of amusement in the Federal City, it is one of the most marrying places in the whole continent-a truth which was beginning to be found out and became by and by the cause of vast numbers flocking thither, all round from the four points of the compass."
He has this description of our grandmothers :
"Maugre the march of intellect so much vaunted in the present century, the literary education of these ladies is far from being worthy of the age of knowledge, and conversation is apt to flag, though a seat by the ladies is always much coveted. Dancing and music served to eke out the time, but one got to be heartily sick of hearing the same song everywhere, even when it was 'Just like Love is yonder Rose.' No matter how this was sung the words alone were the men-traps ; the belle of the evening was
declared to be just like both—and people looked around as if the listener was expected to become on the instant very tender and to propose—and sometimes such a result does in reality take place; both parties when betrothed use a great deal of billing and cooing.” Some of the ladies used powder. “Others I have known to contract an aversion to water, and as a substitute, cover their faces and bosoms with hair-powder in order to render their skin pure and delicate.” He turns to other matters :
In going to assemblies one had sometimes to drive three or four miles within the city bounds, and very often at the great risk of an overturn, or of being what is termed 'stalled,' or stuck in the mud, when one can neither get backward nor forward, and either loses one's shoes or one's patience. . . . Cards were a great resource of an evening, and gaming was all the fashion, at brag, especially, for the men who frequented society were chiefly from Virginia, or the Western States, and were very fond of this, the most gambling of all games, as being out of countenance as well as of cards. Loo was the innocent diversion of the ladies, who when they were 'looed 'pronounced the word in a very mincing manner. Church service can certainly never be called an amusement ; but from the variety of persons who were allowed to preach in the House of Representatives, there doubtless was some alloy of curiosity in the motives which led one to go there. Though the regular chaplain was a Presbyterian, sometimes a Methodist, a minister of the Church of England, or a Quaker, and sometimes even a woman, took the Speaker's chair ; and I do not think there was much devotion among the majority. ... The New Englanders, generally speaking, are very religious; but though there are many exceptions, I cannot say so much for the Marylanders, and still less for the Virginians.'
But in spite of its inconveniences and desolation, he thought Washington the most agreeable town to reside in for any length of time.
“The opportunity of collecting information from Senators and Representatives from all parts of the country, the hospitality of the heads of the government and the corps diplomatique of itself supplied resources such as could nowhere else be looked for."
Let us next see how Congressmen lived, and what were their duties and diversions. Among the “religious New Englanders” in Congress at this time, 1804-1806, was the Rev. Dr. Manasseh Cutler, of Massachusetts, a gentleman about sixty years of age,
, an eloquent divine, a skilled diplomat, a leading character in the settlement of Ohio, but whose chief distinction is that he was the pioneer botanist of America, having first discovered and classified some three hundred and fifty species of the flora and fauna of New England. Dr. Cutler kept a copious diary, and wrote many gossipy letters during his official life, from which we gain an accurate and vivid idea of the lives of Congressmen of that period. He was a staunch Federalist, and honestly believed that the government having come into the hands of the Democrats (or “ Jacobins," as he termed them), must soon go to pieces, and be succeeded by an empire, of which John Randolph of Virginia, would be the Bonaparte. His scientific acquirements made him a prime favorite with President Jefferson, despite his politics. In a letter to his daughter, dated Washington, December 21, 1801, he thus describes his domestic arrangements :
“The block in which I live contains six houses four sto. ries high, and very handsomely furnished. It is situated east of the Capitol, on the highest ground in the city. Mr. King, our landlord, occupies the south end (except one room in front, which is our parlor for receiving company and dining) and one room back, occupied by Mr. King's family ; the kitchen is below. The four chambers are appropriated to the eight gentlemen who board in the family. In each chamber are two narrow field beds and field curtains, with every necessary convenience for the boarders.”
Their host's only daughter, Miss Anna, played with great skill on the “forte piano," "which," says Dr. Cutler,
she always accompanies with a most delightful voice, and is frequently joined in the vocal part by her mother. Mr. King has an excellent forte piano, which is connected with an organ placed under it, which she fills and plays with her foot, while her fingers are employed upon the forte piano. The gentlemen generally spend a part of two or three evenings in a week in Mr. King's room, where Miss Anna entertains us with delightful music. After we have been fatigued with the harangues of the Hall in the day, and conversing on politics in different circles (for we talk about nothing else) in the evening, an hour of this music is truly delightful. On Sunday evenings she constantly plays psalm tunes, in which her mother, who is a woman of real piety, always joins.”