Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Parent's Love...

Halloween night Mr. EHT and I received a phone call that every parent dreads…one from a stranger identifying himself as an EMT.

My mind worked furiously to comprehend what he was saying, but all I wanted to say was, “Surely sir, you have the wrong number.” He just kept rattling off information ---he was with my daughter, there had been an accident, he and his wife ( a nurse) had been driving by, he assured me they would stay by Dear Daughter’s side until she was in the ambulance.


I finally got the words out…..”Is she….is she ok?”

The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Yes, she’s complaining

(hmmmm…….complaining….that’s good, I thought) of back and neck pain, and they have her on a backboard to stabilize her until they can see what is causing her pain.

After arriving at the hospital, Mr. EHT and I discovered barring any findings from the x-rays, Dear Daughter was just very scared and hurting from the slam of the airbag deploying and the strain against the seatbelt.

Dear Daughter’s Youth Minister had at arrived at the hospital about the same time her father and I had walked in. We left him in a near empty waiting room to see our daughter. Fifteen minutes later I returned to the waiting room to advise Pastor Danny how Dear Daughter was doing and to see if he wanted to go back to see her.

I was taken aback. The empty room, in that very short span of fifteen minutes had filled up with various members of our church and several teens. The room was full. We were overwhelmed with the support we had. Most stayed until Dear Daughter went home later that night.

Friends and family…..they certainly come in handy in the time of a crisis, don’t they?

Since that night I’ve continued to think about the support that was freely given to my family and as I tend to do I began to put a historical spin on the whole episode. My thoughts zeroed in on Thomas Jefferson and his daughters. He certainly knew what it was like to depend on friends and family during moments of crisis and upheaval.

Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772 when he was 29 and she was 23. For the majority of her life Jefferson’s wife was described as a fragile beauty. Some sources state that diabetes could have been the cause of her frailty. Of the six children she gave birth to only two children, Martha Jefferson Randolph (Patsy) and Mary Jefferson Eppes (Maria or Polly), lived past the age of three.

Mary Jefferson Eppes was born on in 1778. Burstein advises in his book, The Inner Jefferson: The Portrait of a Grieving Optimist, that Jefferson was spending much of his time during Mary’s birth and the months following at Monticello planning fruit trees and overseeing the making of bricks to finish constructing the grand home. Mary took after her mother possessing frail health coupled with great beauty, yet….as she grew older she didn’t want to be known as a great beauty. She preferred being known as an educated woman. She most certainly was her father’s daughter.

This Library of Congress site advises Thomas Jefferson was devastated by the death of his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson who died after giving birth to their sixth child, Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1784). Jefferson wrote little about his wife's death, making this entry into his account book on September 6, 1782: "My dear wife died this day at 11H -45' A.M." More than two months later he haltingly wrote to a French officer and friend, Marquis de Chastellux (1734-1788), that he was... "emerging from the stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as [she] was whose . . . loss occasioned it." A copy of the letter can be seen here.

This Library of Congress site continues…After the death of his wife, Jefferson carefully planned the education and training of his daughters, Martha (1772-1836), Maria [Mary] (1778-1804), and Lucy (1782-1784). In this letter, he laid out a plan of study for his daughter Martha, so that she would be able to fulfill the social role of plantation mistress. Learning the social graces of music, dancing, letter writing, as well as knowledge of literature and language ability were skills that he considered essential.

Soon after her mother’s death Mary and her younger sister Lucy were sent to live with their aunt, Elizabeth Wayles Eppes at Eppington, a plantation along the James River, while their father became the U.S. minister to France. While at Eppington, in 1785, little Lucy became sick and also tragically died.

After Lucy’s death, Jefferson decided that Mary…not quite nine…should reside in Paris along with him and Patsy.

But Mary, had become very attached to her mother’s family at Eppington and told her father she didn’t want to go to leave. The Monticello website advises Mary stated she wanted to stay with Aunt Eppes.

Jefferson was not only meticulous with his daughters’ schooling he was also meticulous with their safety. Prior to Mary’s crossing he researched various ships and determined the safest age for a ship traveling to France per Burstein in The Inner Jefferson before he booked her passage. Passage was also booked for Sally Hemings to accompany Mary to Paris. Sally’s brother, James, was already serving the Jefferson family in Paris.

In his book, Understanding Thomas Jefferson, EM Halliday explains that Mary became very fond of Captain Andrew Ramsay , the ship’s captain and was very sad to leave the ship. Apparently Captain Ramsay became fond of the very inquisitive and lovely child as well and sent Jefferson a note regarding his fondness for Mary.

In June, 1787, Mary arrived in England where she resided with John and Abigail Adams for a time. Abigail Adams wrote Jefferson at once informing him that his daughter had charmed everyone in the Adams household, and she was very fond of Mary. When it came time for Mary to leave the Adams household she became very indignant when Jefferson did not break free from his duties and sent a representative to fetch her to Paris.

While in Paris….Jefferson stayed busy socializing with the French elite and worked on trade agreements between the United States and Prussia. He immediately enrolled Mary in the very exclusive Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, a convent school, however, when Patsy expressed her desire to take her vows as a nun Jefferson, a Protestant, quickly pulled his daughters from the school.

Jefferson and his daughters returned to the United States in 1789, and Mary resided with her father for a time in Philadelphia while Jefferson served as Secretary of State. Ten years later Mary married her cousin, John Wayles Eppes in a ceremony at Monticello. As a wedding present she received a 14-year-old slave named Betsy Hemings .

Mary and John’s first child born in 1800 only lived a few days. The second child, born in 1801, was nursed by Betsy Hemngs and survived infancy. Unfortunately it was following the birth of their third child in February, 1804, Mary’s health took a devastating turn.

When President Jefferson heard of Mary’s condition he rushed to her side following the adjournment of Congress on March 27, 1804. Patsy and President Jefferson moved Mary to Monticello where she could be cared for, but tragically she passed away on April 17th. Mary was only 25 years old.

At this point you have to wonder just how much tragedy could one man bear?

Losing his young wife after only ten years of marriage, losing children at such young ages, and then Mary…..

The Monticello website advises following Mary’s passing President Jefferson wrote to a friend he had “lost even the half of what he had left.”

It is said that Mary’s death helped to end the long silence between the Adams and Jefferson families following a rift involving political differences and the tumultuous Election of 1800. (See my post from 2006 here for clarification) Abigail Adams letters to Jefferson from 1804 clearly show how bad the feud really was.

In fact, Burstein states in The Inner Jefferson that Abigail Adams was the first to make a move to mend the rift by sending a letter of condolence to Jefferson upon hearing of Mary’s passing. President Jefferson responded and invoked the word “friendship” six times in the two-page reply.

Abigail Adams wrote in May, 1804:

Had you been no other than the private inhabitant of Monticello, I should, ere this time, have addressed you with that sympathy which a recent event has awakened in bosom; but reasons of various kinds withheld my pen, until the powerful feelings of my heart burst through the restraint, and called upon me to shed the tear of sorrow over the departed remains of your beloved and deserving daughter. An event which I most sincerely mourn. The attachment which I formed for her, when you committed her to my care upon her arrival in a foreign land, under circumstances peculiarly interesting, has remained with me to this hour; and the account of her death, which I read in a late paper, recalled to my recollection the tender scene of her separation from , when with the strongest sensibility, she clung around my neck and wet my bosom with her tears, saying, “Oh! now I have learned to love you, why will they take me from you.”
It has been some time since I conceived that any event in this life could call forth feelings of mutual sympathy. But I know how closely entwined around a parent’s heart are those cords which bind the parental to the filial bosom; and when snapped asunder, how [agonizing] the pangs. I have tasted of the bitter cup and bow with reverence and submission before the great Dispenser of it, without whose permission and overruling Providence, not a sparrow falls to the ground. That you may derive comfort and consolation in this day of your sorrow and affliction from that only source calculated to heal the wounded heart, a firm belief in the being, perfections and attributes of God, is the sincere
and ardent wish of her, who once took pleasure in subscribing herself your friend
Abigail Adams

President Jefferson and Abigail Adams exchanged a few letters over the next few months.

Monticello.org provides a different take on the end of the rift discussing the involvement of Dr. Benjamin Rush stating that he was instrumental in getting the flow of letters to commence between John Adams and Jefferson, but one cannot doubt that Abigail Adams’ letter of condolence went a long way in drawing the period of silence to a close.

Later when Jefferson heard Abigail Adams had passed away he wrote to Adams:

Tried myself, in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that, for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medecines. I will not, therefore, by useless condolances, open afresh the sluices of your grief nor, altho' mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more, where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both that the term is not very distant at which we are to deposit, in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

Jennie W wrote about Patsy and Polly (Mary) earlier here at American Presidents Blog

Source for the letters of Abigail Adams: Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840

The image seen at the beginning of the post is an actual letter to Thomas Jefferson written by his daughter Mary.

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