Friday, October 4, 2013

Molly Ridout's Letter

Out of the few written descriptions of George Washington's resignation, one of the most significant is Molly Ridout's letter to her mother. As we mentioned in last week's post, Molly's letter is the only known account written by a woman in attendance.

Molly Ridout's letter to her mother, Anne Tasker Ogle, 16 January 1784. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 358-1-2.
On January 16th, 1784, thirty-eight year old Molly Ridout wrote to her mother, Anne Tasker Ogle. Molly had the letter delivered "by a frigate that went from this
place [Annapolis] to Brest [France] this you will certainly receive as it goes by a Gentleman that carrys a Copy of the definitive Treaty [of Paris] ratified by Congress."
Anne Tasker Ogle had left for England in 1773 on board the same ship that carried the former governor and close family friend, Horatio Sharpe. Molly's son, Samuel, accompanied Anne to England where he was to receive his formal education at Harrow. Molly wrote to her mother on several topics; she inquired after Anne Tasker Ogle's possible return to Annapolis in the spring of 1784, asked for news of Samuel and her niece, Harriet, and shared local gossip.[1]

Molly's society gossip provided information on the lives of several members of the provincial government. Molly not only alluded to the illness of the last royal governor, Sir Robert Eden, but also included details on Eden's personality when she wrote, "Sr R. Eden seems in bad health he does not flirt now." Despite his poor health, however, Robert Eden was present in the Old Senate Chamber during Washington's resignation. Eden died only nine months later, in September 1784.

Sir Robert Eden (1741-1784), by Florence MacKubin, 1914, after Charles Wilson Peale. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1108.
Of course, most notably, Molly described the resignation of Washington in the Old Senate Chamber. She wrote to her mother, "I went with several others to see Gen. Washington resign his Commission the Congress were assembled in the State House both Houses of Assembly were present as Spectators the Gallery full of Ladies." Molly watched the short ceremony from the crowded visitor's gallery, and seemed very much affected by the moment. She had, in fact, met Washington at least once before the Revolution when he visited Ridout House in Annapolis in 1771.[2] Her letter made it clear that Molly knew the significance of this momentous event.

Molly Ridout's letter stands out amongst other accounts of the ceremony as the only description by a private audience member. Her perspective allows our project team to view a different and underrepresented source. Given the rarity of women in history, a written female account of the ceremony has consequently become a valuable resource. Apart from her description of the resignation, Molly also provided in this letter a rare, first-person account of eighteenth-century Annapolis life as told by a woman.

To read Molly Ridout's full letter, please follow this link. You may also view a transcription here.

[1] Rebecca Maria Harriet Anderson was the daughter of Molly's sister, Meliora Anderson, who had died in 1775 in England after an unhappy marriage to James Anderson. When Anne Tasker Ogle returned to Maryland in 1784, she brought with her Samuel, Harriet, and John Ridout's half-brother, Thomas Ridout. Baltz, Shirley V., Belair from the Beginning. Bowie: City of Bowie Museums, 2005, p. 139.
[2] Founders Online, National Archives, "Diary entry: 26 September 1771." Source:Jackson, Donald ed., The Diaries of George Washington, 1 January 1771-5 November 1781, vol. 3. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, p.56., accessed 13 September 2013.

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