Item #5824 [Autograph letter on the reconstructed and reopened President’s house.]. Mary Ashmun.
[Autograph letter on the reconstructed and reopened President’s house.]
[Autograph letter on the reconstructed and reopened President’s house.]
[Autograph letter on the reconstructed and reopened President’s house.]

Sign up to receive email notices of recent acquisitions.

[Autograph letter on the reconstructed and reopened President’s house.]

Washington City, 8 January 1818. 4to (13” x 7.75”). 4 pp. of manuscript.

An important first-hand account of the interior of the reconstructed President’s House, which had to be rebuilt following its destruction by the British Army during the Burning of Washington, providing important details of the layout and décor (wallpaper, lighting, furnishings, etc.), Mrs. Monroe’s New Year’s attire, and more.

Addressing one Harriet of Boston, possibly her niece, Mary Ashmun, the second wife of Senator Eli Ashmun of Northampton, Mass., opens by noting that she encloses a collar that her daughter Sophia has made for her. “It is some of her first work—so my dear you must not view it with a critic eye.” Believing that Harriet and her mother have heard from others about the Washington scene she nevertheless offers a description of “the American Palace in these days of Republican simplicity”:

It is indeed my dear a Palace after the true London style. We were only in 5 rooms, the first is a large Hall, perhaps between 30 & 35 feet in size two fire places with greates to burn coal—from this hall open 3 doors into 3 superb rooms, & from the 4th which I was told was the dining room.

She then describes in meticulous detail the room in which she met President Monroe and the First Lady Elizabeth Monroe:

The oval room in which we were received by the President & Lady has a plain crimson paper with a gold figured border half a yd in width, the centre chandelier appeared to be all cut Diamonds with gold sockets to contain more than fifty lights I should guess, (& you know that Yankees may do that) the side fixtures of various figures some with 1 dz some with 2 & 3 sockets for lights screwing out of a mouth a finger or perhaps a toe—the chairs & sofas all stuffed, crimson & gold covering—elegant glasses & pier tables with marble slabs—We then passed to the room…

Ashmun tells Harriet that if she holds her head up and continues “to dance the shawl dance with so much eclat as you did it the late ball, some member may find you out & bring you by some other name to see this Palace.” She then describes Mrs. Monroe on New Years Day (1 Jan. 1818)—the day the President’s House formally reopened with a reception hosted by the President and the First Lady:

Mrs. Monroe looked most beautifully on New Years morn; her dress was white figured silk trimmed with a wide thread lace, a delightful little white hat turned up in front with three white feathers & a little lace peeping from the edge of the crown…

Ashmun notes that Washington is “in extacies all the time, there is no other degree than the superlative to be found by them”—describing “many carriages,” “elegant people,” “gold lace servants,” recent romantic “matches” of Senators, and so forth. After discussing the “match making” scene in Washington, she notes she is going into the new house today at 1 o'clock “to hear the trial of Col. John Anderson who has offered a bribe to Mr. Williams of North Carolina who is on the committee of Claims about which it is expected there will be much discussion.” She brings the letter to a close by asking Harriet to tell her mother “every lady seems to be centered here on the consequential characters, and the city reminds one of the style of the nobility—I am much in want of a handsome white feather, there is none in the city.”

An excellent account of the President’s house and the Washington scene in the period immediately following the War of 1812, written by a Massachusetts Senator’s wife.

CONDITION: Short tears along old folds, one partial loss to one word.

Item #5824


See all items in Autographs & Manuscripts
See all items by