Here’s the National Registry of Historic Places plaque at Angelica’s brother’s plantation:

A fromer slave of Angelica’s brother, Jacob Stroyer, published a memoir about his life as a slave at Kensington Plantation in 1879.

Here is my favorite part of Stroyer’s memoir:

Master went away that Spring for the last time, he never returned alive; he died at his summer seat. When they brought his remains home, all of the slaves were allowed to stop at home that day to see the last of him, and to lament with mistress. After all the slaves who cared to do so had seen his face, they gathered in groups around mistress to comfort her; they shed false tears, saying, “never mind, misses, massa gone home to heaven;” while some were saying this, others said, “Thank God, massa gone home to hell.”

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Angelica Van Buren

01/11/2012

A daughter of the south, Angelica Singleton Van Buren spent most of her life in the North after she married President Martin Van Buren’s son, Abraham. She was born into a family of prosperous cotton planters near and around what is now Sumter, South Carolina. At an early age she was sent to an elite school in Philadelphia along with her sister Marion. Former First Lady Dolley Madison, a distant cousin, introduced Angelica to Abraham Van Buren at a White House dinner during the 1837-1838 social season. For their honeymoon the Van Burens traveled to Europe where they were presented at European courts. Back in D.C. as hostess in the WH Angelica began incorporating royal court procedures at formal gatherings. Her plan to re landscape the WH lawns into something elaborate backfired badly. On a political level, Pennsylvania Whig Congressman Charles Ogle referred to the proposed plans in his famous “Gold Spoon” speech. In 1837, there had been a “Financial Crisis”, many were economically hit and  President Van Buren was believed to be living in an opulent style which many believe cost him the re-election.

Angelica returned to South Carolina during the winters staying at “Home Place” the family’s plantation she inherited. The Van Burens main residence was Kinderhook in New York. A West Point man, Abraham served in the Mexican War; he was a career military man. In 1848, New York City became their permanent home and remained so until their respective deaths. During the Civil War Angelica consoled herself by the separation from her Singleton family and southern roots by sending blankets to Confederate soldiers in Northern prisons. One wonders if they ever received them. In 1877 or 1878 Angelica died and was buried at Woodlawn in the Bronx, New York.

Martin Van Buren is a forgotten President but researching Angelica was hands-on for me because I live in South Carolina where Angelica hails. I went to Sumter to visit the area. Angelica’s brother’s plantation exists, well, the house does. Most of their land has split up and either private or turned into highways. The family cemetery  still exists but I wasn’t able to find it among the dirt roads and cotton fields. I visited the Ernest F. Hollings Rare Books and Collections Library at USC-Columbia and viewed, touched, and took a picture of her 1831 “Autograph” book she had at the seminary in Philadelphia. It was a weird feeling touching something she herself touched from 181 years ago. The handwriting within is beautiful.

Angelica’s autograph book.

Love the handwriting. The shadow is my cell phone. Haha!

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe in her youth.

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, wife of fifth U.S. President James Monroe, had the misfortune of following in previous First Lady Dolley Madison’s footsteps. She paled in comparison and perhaps this is the reason she’s an obscure figure from history, and, really, her only claim to fame being her marriage to Monroe. Despite her lack of luster in the White House, she had an interesting, and worldly, life for a woman of her era.

Born in 1768, the same year as her predecessor Dolley Madison, Elizabeth Kortright almost shared a birthday with me, June 30th to my June 29th arrival, alas over two-hundred years apart. A fellow Cancerian. Her family was a part of New York City’s older and elite circle, but her father during the Revolutionary War sided with Loyalists/Tories and, as a result, his fortunes were damaged.

Also like Dolley, Elizabeth met James Monroe in what was then the capital of the U.S., New York City, Elizabeth’s hometown. Despite her father’s Loyalist sympathies, James Monroe, who’d fought in the war alongside Washington, married Elizabeth in 1786. She was 17. They soon relocated to Fredericksburg, Va. where James established a law practice.

More interested in being in the political world than becoming part of the Virginia land gentry, the Monroe’s often lived a peripatetic lifestyle for most of their married lives. While James was a Senator in Philadelphia, Elizabeth spent most of her time in New York, but in 1794 Monroe was named U.S. Minister to France and Elizabeth relocated with him.

Elizabeth took like a cat to milk in Paris. She adopted French clothing and customs. Labeled “La Belle Americane,” she caused a stir when she didn’t make a social call on a visiting American in Paris. Apparently, this was French ritual. Her adoption of old world, European style protocol would be her undoing in later years as the President’s wife.

Aesthetics aside, Elizabeth was admired for her strength and will during this Paris period. She is credited with saving American French-born hero Marquis de Lafayette’s wife,  Adrienne de Noiolles de Lafayette, during the waning days of the French Revolution. Elizabeth visited the Marquis’s wife and made sure that it was known the American contingent was acquainted with Adrienne. Shortly after the prisoner was set free. The French had been American allies and they most likely surmised executing Lafayette’s wife would have been disastrous diplomacy; France was already at war with several other European countries – they didn’t need another enemy.

The Monroe’s stay in France ended in 1796. Back in Virginia, Monroe was elected Governor.

But in 1803 Elizabeth and James set sail again for the Old World. James had been appointed United States Minister to England and Spain. While in Europe James was sent as a special envoy to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. Not surprisingly, James and Elizabeth were part of the official U.S. delegation attending Napoleon’s coronation that December, 1804.

Napoleon crowning Josephine at his coronation, c.1804. The Monroe’s were part of the American Delegation attending.

During the Madison Administration James served as Secretary of a State, arriving in Washington, D.C. The Monroe’s distinctly chose to live outside of the capital in the Virginia countryside curtailing their social activities, and Elizabeth reportedly did not reciprocate social calls paid to her.

Privately, Elizabeth had begun to suffer symptoms of epilepsy. Her husband’s election in 1817 coincided with this health crisis.

From her Firstladies.org entry:

“Elizabeth Monroe provided an extreme contrast to her predecessor Dolley Madison, who had conceived of her role as partially a public one. As a consequence of both her fragile health and reserved social nature, as well as the prestige she hoped to convey by limiting the access of the President’s wife to the spouses of other officials, Elizabeth Monroe established a European-style, less democratic protocol. To the spouses of Judicial and Legislative branch spouses, as well as those of the foreign diplomatic corps, she would neither make nor return the formal ‘call,’ meaning a visit that signified status and recognition from the Executive branch… When the Monroe’s decided to leave Washington for their nearby Virginia home instead of host the annual open house public reception on Independence Day in 1819, even those citizens not among the city’s elite were insulted. Dissatisfaction with Elizabeth Monroe’s protocol led to a boycott of all Administration receptions (not dinners) by officials in Washington.”

Her appearance – when she graced official events and gatherings – was praised for its grace, chic wardrobe, and handsome looks despite Elizabeth being 50ish.(I write this because that was considered elderly back then; not true today. Also, people didn’t have resources like, um, plastic surgery or sophisticated make-up.)

Elizabeth’s run as First Lady ended in 1825 and the couple returned to their estate in Virginia. Never much of a farmer, James’s plantation was badly managed and he was often in debt; selling slaves to raise much-needed funds.

Interesting that many of our Founding Fathers had such money problems in their later years…

Constantly ill 1825 onward, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe died in 1830, age 62. She was survived by her husband and two daughters, Eliza and Maria. James burned all their personal correspondence after Elizabeth’s death and passed away himself a little less than year following her.

Elizabeth Kortright Monroe’s grave.

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