Martha Wilson Biography | Women of the Revolution


    About the author

    Edward St. Germain.
    Edward St. Germain

    Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.

    Martha Wilson.


      One of the representatives of those times, in which America must ever feel pride, is yet living at the Lakelands, Lake of Otsego, near Cooperstown, New York. She not only retains an accurate and vivid recollection of scenes in the stormy and fearful infancy of the nation on whose vigorous manhood she is permitted to look, but has kept pace in intellectual cultivation, with the advancement of modern days. The grasp of mind that apprehends and appreciates the progress of her country’s prosperity and power, gives a deeper interest to her thrilling recital of incidents belonging to its struggle for life. I am particularly favored in having received from her various anecdotes of persons with whom she was intimately acquainted at that period, her reminiscences of whom would form a most valuable contribution to the domestic history of the Revolution.

      The subject of this brief sketch is a daughter of the late Colonel Charles Stewart of New Jersey. She was born December 20th, 1758, at Sidney, the residence of her maternal grandfather, Judge Johnston, in the township of Kingwood, and county of Hunterdon, in that State. This old mansion was at that time one of the most stately and aristocratic of the colonial residences in this section of West Jersey. Constructed while the border settlements of the province were still subject to treacherous visits from the Indian, its square and massive walls and heavy portals had reference as well to protection and defence as to “the pride of life;” and for many years, in its earlier days, it was not only the stronghold of the wealthy proprietor, his family and dependants, but the refuge in alarm, for miles around, to the settlers whose humbler abodes were more assailable by the rifle and firebrand of the red man. “The big stone house,” as it was designated in the common parlance of the people, was thus long a place of note as a refuge from danger; and not less, in later times, as one for a redress of wrongs, and the punishment of crime; Judge Johnston having been, for more than thirty years previous to the Revolution, the chief magistrate of that section of the colony, holding a court regularly, on Monday of every week, in one of the halls of his dwelling.

      It stood in that region of undulating hill country, between the high mountains of North and the flat sands of South Jersey, of the beauty of which those who fly across the State by railroad at the present day can form no conception: where blue hills and tufted woodlands, winding streams and verdant valleys, often present to the eye in their varied forms and combinations, a perfection of picturesque and rural beauty, which, while it seldom fails to attract the admiration of the passing traveller, fastens upon the heart of the resident with an enduring charm. Finely situated on an elevated terrace, at the confluence of the Capulong and a branch of the Raritan, overhung by extensive and park-like woods, with encircling waters and clusters of grove-covered islets behind, and wide-spread valleys in front, it was regarded in olden times as one of the choicest residences in the State. As the birthplace and home in childhood of the subject of this record, it has attractions of association and memory which cause her affections to revert warmly to it after a pilgrimage, amid other scenes, of well nigh a century.

      The old house was accidentally burned down some fifty years ago, and a new, though less imposing, dwelling erected on the same site, by a branch of the Coxe family. This, in its turn, became the resort, for many years, of a circle greatly distinguished for beauty, wit, and cultivated talent; but now, for a long time, vicissitudes of fortune, neglect, desertion, and decay have accomplished in it their accustomed work; and stripped of its embellishments of taste, despoiled of much of its fine woods, and its majestic single trees, it presents little indication of its former fortunes, and is fallen in its uses to the purposes of a common farm.

      Previous to the Revolution, Colonel Stewart resided chiefly at Landsdown, a beautiful property in Kingwood, immediately adjoining the estate of his father-in-law at Sidney. It was here that the later years of the childhood of his daughter were spent; and here, at the early age of thirteen, she was bereaved of her mother – a woman of strong and polished intellect, of a refined and poetical taste, and said to have been the best read female in the province. Till within a short time of Mrs. Stewart’s death, the education of her daughter had been exclusively at home. She had been but a brief period at a boarding-school, when summoned to the dying bed of her mother; and it is no slight proof of the mental attainments and maturity of character which she already possessed, that her father, in his bereavement, found her society too necessary to his happiness, and the maternal care which she was called to exercise over her sisters and brothers of a more tender age, too essential to their welfare, to permit her again to resume her place at school. It is chiefly, therefore, to the self-cultivation of an inquiring and philosophic mind, and to association at home and in society, with the intelligent and the wise, that are to be ascribed the rich stores of general information and wide-spread practical knowledge, for which, from early womanhood to the passing day, she has been so highly distinguished, and so justly and extensively honored.

      The hospitality of Colonel Stewart was unbounded. His friend Chief justice Smith of New Jersey has expressed this trait of character in the epitaph upon his tomb – “The friend and the stranger were almost compelled to come in.” His house was the resort of the choice spirits, in intellect and public influence, of the times; and it was at his table and fireside that his daughter, called at the early age we have mentioned to the responsible position of female head of his family, from 1771 to 1776, imbibed even in childhood from him and his compeers the principles of patriotism and the love of freedom which entitle her name and character to a prominent place among the Women of the Revolution. Colonel Stewart himself had been trained from infancy in the spirit of 1688. His grandfather, Charles Stewart, of Gortlee, a cadet of the Stewarts of Garlies, was an officer of dragoons in the army of William Ill, and acquitted himself gallantly, at the side of his monarch, in the battle of the Boyne. The demesne which he afterwards possessed, in the north of Ireland, was the reward of his valor; but, in transmitting to his son and his son’s son the untrammelled spirit of a Scotch Puritan, who had periled his life in the cause of civil and religious liberty, he conferred upon them a better and more enduring heritage.

      It was the proud and honorable independence of the same indomitable principles that led his descendant in early youth, ere he had fully attained his majority, to self exile in the new world. Energy of character and enlarged enterprise soon secured to him here both private fortune and public influence; and the first breath of the spirit of “’76” which passed over the land, kindled within his bosom a flame of zeal for the freedom and honor of his adopted country, which no discouragement could dampen, and which neither toil, nor danger, nor disaster could extinguish.

      His daughter well recollects having been told by him, on his return from the first general meeting of the patriots of New Jersey for a declaration of rights, an incident relating to himself, highly characteristic of the times. Many of the most distinguished royalists were his personal and intimate friends; and when it became evident that a crisis in public feeling was about to occur, when disregarded remonstrance would be converted into open resistance, great efforts were made by some of those holding office under the crown to win him to their side. Tempting promises of ministerial favor and advancement were made to induce him at least to withhold his influence from the cause of the people, even if he would not take part in support of the king; and this with increased importunity till the very opening of the meeting. But when it was seen to have been in vain – when he immediately rose and was one of the first, if not the very first, with the Stocktons, the Pattersons, and the Frelinghuysens of the day, in the spirit, at least, of the Declaration of 1776, boldly to pledge his “life, his fortune, and his sacred honor” in defence of the rights of freemen against the aggressions of the throne – the Attorney General, approaching and extending his hand, said to him, in saddened tones, as if foretelling a speedy doom – “Farewell, my friend Charles! – when the halter is about your neck, send for me! – I’ll do what I can to save you.”

      It was thus that the familiar confidence of the patriot father cherished and strengthened, in the bosom of his daughter, sympathies and principles corresponding with his own; while in the accelerated movements of the Revolution, he successively and rapidly became a member of the first Provincial Congress of New Jersey, Colonel of the First Regiment of minute-men of that State; Colonel of the Second Regiment of the line; and eventually, one of the staff of Washington, as Commissary General of Issues, by Commission of the Congress of 1776.

      In January of this year, Miss Stewart, at the age of seventeen, gave her hand in marriage to Robert Wilson, a young Irishman of the Barony of Innishowen, who, after being educated and trained for mercantile life in one of the first houses of his native land, had emigrated to America a few years before, and amassed a considerable fortune. In her husband she made a choice of one not less congenial in political sentiments and feeling than in intellectual culture and in winning manners. The first intelligence of the battle of Lexington had fired his warm blood into immediate personal action in the cause; and he was one of the volunteers who, with his friend Colonel Reed, accompanied General Washington from Philadelphia to the camp at Cambridge. A brief journal kept by him at this time shows that for six months he was at head-quarters, as muster-master-general, honored by the confidence of the Commander-in-chief, and often a guest at his table. He shared largely in the exposures of the camp, and distinguished himself for daring intrepidity, in two or three instances, in the skirmishes and cannonading which occurred at times between the forces. But his health failing, he was obliged to forego the prospect of a military appointment pledged to him; and resigning his position sought the milder climate of the Jerseys.

      Among the officers in the British army were several near relatives of Mr. Wilson; and it is a fact illustrative of the times, that a young cousin, who not long before the commencement of hostilities had visited the family of their common friend and relative, Colonel Stewart, at Kingwood, was now at Boston, in the gallant discharge of his duty in the enemy’s ranks. He was afterwards wounded at the battle of Germantown, and visited by Colonel Stewart under a flag of truce.

      It was on his return to Jersey that Mr. Wilson’s marriage took place. Shortly afterwards, he, with his bride, became a resident of Hackettstown, near which he possessed a valuable property. During the year 1777, he was again in public service, as Assistant Commissary General of Purchases; but, finding the duties of the station too arduous for his health, he resigned his appointment and entered into mercantile pursuits in Philadelphia. In these he was very extensively and successfully engaged, greatly honored and beloved, till his death in 1779, at the early age of twenty-eight. His wife had accompanied him to Philadelphia, and was established in much elegance there; but on her widowhood thus in her twentieth year, she returned to her residence at Hackettstown, where she remained till near the close of the war.

      During the whole Revolution, the situation of Mrs. Wilson was as favorable, if not more so, for observation and a knowledge of important movements and events, than that of any other lady in her native State. Her father, at the head of an important department in the staff of the Commander-in-chief, became generally, and almost from necessity, familiarly acquainted with the principal officers of the army; and head-quarters being most of the time within twenty or thirty miles of her residence, she not only had constant intercourse in person and by letter with him, but frequently and repeatedly entertained at her house many of his military friends. Among these, with numerous others of less distinction, were Washington, La Fayette, Hamilton, Wayne, Greene, Gates, Maxwell, Lincoln, Henry Lee, Stevens, Walter Stewart, Ethan Allen, Pulaski, Butler, Morgan, Sinclair, Woodward, Varnum, Paul Jones, Cochrane, Craik, etc.

      With General Washington she was on terms of friendship. She first met him in Philadelphia, in 1775, when he was preparing to join the army at Cambridge. He afterwards visited her at different times at her residence in Hackettstown; on the last occasion a year after her husband’s death, and a short time after the execution of Major André. His approach, with Mrs. Washington and his staff, under the escort of a troop of horse, was privately announced to Mrs. Wilson in time to have dinner in readiness for a party of thirty or forty persons. To one whose patriotism was so decided, it must have been a pleasure indeed, thus to welcome to her roof and table the leading spirits of the land. The party did not leave till after luncheon on the second day; and knowing that they could not reach their destination till late at night, ample provision was made from her larder and wine cellar, to furnish all needed refreshment by the way.

      Before these distinguished guests took their departure, a large concourse of people from the adjacent country and the towns in the vicinity had crowded round the house to catch a glimpse of the idolized Chief. A few members of the legislature and the prominent gentlemen of the neighborhood were admitted and formally introduced. Among these was Dr. Kennedy, the family physician, whose salutation, as Mrs. Wilson well recollects, was: “I am happy indeed to meet the man whom under God, I deem the saviour of our country.” As it was impossible for the multitude to obtain entrance, a little stratagem was devised by one of the gentlemen, by which those without could be gratified without subjecting the General to the annoyance of a mere exhibition of himself. Knowing his admiration of a fine horse, he ordered an animal remarkable for its beauty to be brought into the street, and then invited him out to inspect it. Thus an opportunity was afforded to the whole assemblage to gaze upon and salute him with their cheers.

      Mrs. Wilson relates the following anecdote in connection with another of the visits of Washington to her: One Mrs. Crafts, a native of Germany, who had emigrated and settled in New Jersey, through the industry of herself and husband had become the owner of a fine farm near Hackettstown, and was in comfortable and easy circumstances. She was an excellent neighbor; and though an ardent tory, was universally respected for her many kind and good qualities. On the morning of General Washington’s departure, as on the visit before described, Mrs. Wilson’s house was surrounded by a throng of persons eager to obtain a glance at him. In this state of things, Mrs. Crafts, tory as she was, repaired to the spot and sent a message to Mrs. Wilson in her parlor, requesting from her the privilege of seeing the General. A reply was sent, saying
      that General Washington was at the time surrounded by a crowd of officers; but if Mrs. Crafts would station herself in the hall till he passed through, her desire would be gratified. She accordingly took her post there, and patiently waited his appearance. When, at length, she obtained a full view of his majestic form and noble countenance, raising both hands, she burst into tears, uttering in her native t ongue an exclamation expressive of intense astonishment and emotion! Mrs. Crafts never afterwards ranked herself on the tory side. “The august and commanding presence of the father of his country,” as Mrs. Wilson remarks,” having alone inspired her with such profound veneration for the man as to produce an abiding respect for the cause of which he was leader.”

      Mrs. Washington was several times the guest of Mrs. Wilson, both at her own house and that of her father. These visits were made when on her way to and from the camp. That mentioned in the sketch of “Martha Washington,” was at the Union Farm, the residence of Colonel Stewart.

      The hospitality which Mrs. Wilson had the privilege thus repeatedly to extend to these illustrious guests, was not forgotten by them, but, most kindly acknowledged, and returned by very marked attentions to her daughter and only child, on her entrance into society in Philadelphia during the Presidency of Washington. In personal calls and invitations to her private parties, Mrs. Washington distinguished her by courtesies rarely shown to persons of her age. The merest accident has placed before me, without the knowledge or agency of any one interested, the letter of a lady to a friend, in which the appearance and dress of this daughter at a drawingroom at the President’s is described. I insert it as illustrative of the costume on such an occasion, now more than half a century ago. She says, ” Miss Wilson looked beautifully last night. She was in full dress, yet inelegant simplicity. She wore book muslin over white mantua, trimmed with broad lace round the neck; half sleeves of the same, also trimmed with lace; with white satin sash and slippers; her hair elegantly dressed in curls, without flowers, feathers, or jewelry. Mrs. Moylan told me she was the handsomest person at the drawing-room, and more admired than any one there.”

      Mrs. Wilson herself was favored with more than ordinary advantages of feature and person. In youth she is said to have been remarkably handsome. Even at the age of thirty-eight, the period of life at which the likeness engraved for this volume was taken, a lady of Philadelphia thus writes of her during a visit there: “I wish you could see dear Mrs. Wilson. She is the genteelest, easiest, prettiest person I have seen in the city. And I am far, I can assure you, from being alone in this sentiment. I hear many others constantly express the same opinion. She looked charmingly this evening in a Brunswick robe of striped muslin, trimmed with spotted lawn; a beautiful handkerchief gracefully arranged on her neck; her hair becomingly craped and thrown into curls under a very elegant white bonnet, with green-leafed band, worn on one side. She says she is almost worn out with a round of visiting among the Chews, Conynghams, and Moylans, Mrs. General Stewart, etc., etc.; but she does not look so. I do not wonder that all who know this good lady should so love her. I am sure no one could know her intimately and not do so.”

      It was not alone for friends and acquaintances, and persons of distinction and known rank, that Mrs. Wilson kept open house in the Revolution. Such was the liberality of her patriotism, that her gates on the public road bore in conspicuous characters the inscription, “Hospitality within to all American officers, and refreshment for their soldiers.”

      An invitation not likely to prove a mere form of words on the regular route of communication between the northern and southern posts of the army. Not satisfied with having given even this assurance of welcome, instances have occurred in which the stranger of respectability, who had taken quarters at the public-house of the village, has been transferred at her solicitation to the comforts and elegance of her table and fireside.

      On one occasion it was reported to her that a gentleman had been taken ill at the tavern. Knowing, if this were true, that he must suffer there from the poorness of the accommodations, and want of proper attention, a male friend was sent to make inquiry; and learning that this was the case, she had him brought by her servants immediately to her dwelling, and the best medical aid and nursing secured. He proved to be a surgeon in the army (Dr. Crosby, of New York), of high respectability, several of whose friends, male and female, hastened to visit him; and during a critical illness, and long convalescence, shared with him the hospitality of the benevolent hostess, and formed with her an enduring friendship.

      From the commencement of the struggle for freedom till its close, Mrs. Wilson was occasionally a personal witness and participator in scenes and incidents of more than ordinary interest. She was in Philadelphia on the day of the Declaration of Independence, and made one of a party – embracing the élite of the beauty, wealth, and fashion of the city and neighborhood – entertained at a brilliant fête, given in honor of the event, on board the frigate Washington, at anchor in the Delaware, by Captain Reid, the Commander. The magnificent brocade which she wore on the occasion, with its hooped petticoat, flowing train, laces, gimp, and flowers, remained in its wardrobe unaltered long after the commencement of the present century, and till the difficulty of transporting it in its ample folds and stately dimensions led to its separation into pieces, and thus prepared the way for it to become a victim to the modern taste for turning the antique dresses of grandmammas into eiderdown bedspreads, and drawing room chair covers.

      Within the month after, she became a witness to a scene – the legitimate result of that Declaration – the mustering of her neighbors and fellow citizens in Jersey under the banner of her uncle, Colonel Philip Johnston of Sidney, and the girding on of their arms for the bloody conflict in which, on Long Island, they were so speedily engaged. Colonel Johnston, when a mere youth, a student of college at Princeton, had abandoned his books for the sword in the French war of 1755, and with such bravery and success as to return to his home with military reputation and honors. He was now appointed by the Congress of New Jersey to the command of its first volunteer regiment; and in a few days a thousand strong arms and brave hearts were gathered round him, in readiness to march against the invading foe. Mrs. Wilson was present in his house at the final leave-taking of his youthful wife and infant daughters. He was a fine-looking officer – tall and athletic, and of great physical power. He was said to have had a premonition of his fate. This impression, it was thought, added to his own, if not to the common grief of his family. He was seen in his closet in earnest prayer just before taking his departure. The final embrace of his family was deeply affecting, and is well pictured in the frontispiece of Glover’s Leonidas, where the husband and the father, departing for Thermopylæ, overcome by the grief of his wife hanging upon his bosom, and that of his children clinging in his embrace, looks to Heaven in strong appeal for aid, while

      ” Down the hero’s cheek –
      Down rolls the manly sorrow.”

      Colonel Johnston fell a victim on the altar of his country a few days afterwards, in the fatal conflict of the 27th August, 1776. General Sullivan, in whose division he served, bore the strongest testimony to his intrepidity and heroism. “By the well directed fire of his troops,” he wrote, “the enemy were several times repulsed, and lanes made through them, till a ball in the breast put an end to the life of as gallant an officer as ever commanded a battalion.”

      The robbery of her father’s house by a company of bandit tories was, however, the most alarming and exciting scene, illustrative of the times of the Revolution, through which Mrs. Wilson passed. This occurred in June, 1783. Deprived, by the marriage of his daughter in 1776, of the maternal care which she had exercised over his younger children, Colonel Stewart, on his appointment to the staff of the Commander-in-chief, had placed them at school, and broken up his establishment in Kingwood. But when the triumph at Yorktown gave assurance of peace, in the hope of a speedy return to the enjoyments of private life, he gathered his two sons and two daughters to a home again, under the management, for a second time, of their elder and now widowed sister: not at Landsdown, his former dwelling, however, but at the “Union,” in the adjoining township of Lebanon. Like Sidney, this old residence was, in that day, one of the great houses of upper Jersey; and the surrounding farm, comprising a thousand acres of land under fine cultivation, was noted throughout the State. The dwelling consisted of three separate houses, built at different periods – one of brick, one of wood, and the other of stone – without regard to any harmony of style or architecture. They were so situated as to form the connecting sides of a quadrangular court yard, into which the porches and a piazza opened. With a farm-house and numerous out-buildings clustering round, the whole presented the aspect of a hamlet, rather than of a single abode, in the midst of the landscape spreading widely on the east, the west and the south. Immediately in the rear, on the north, stretches the chain of rugged hills, which separate the head waters of the Raritan from those of the Muskenetcong, a tributary of the Delaware; and within a quarter of a mile of the house was the mouth of the wild ravine of the “Spruce Run,” the only pass through them for miles on either hand. This gorge, filled with interlacing trees and closely set thickets bordering the rapid waters of the stream, afforded, in the days of Indian warfare, a choice place of ambush; and on the occasion referred to, was selected by the tory robbers, as the securest approach to the scene of their depredations, and a safe place of concealment for the day preceding their descent upon “the Union.” It was the Sabbath. Spies in advance, whom the servants at the dairy recollected to have seen moving stealthily about in the early dusk, reported to their accomplices, as was afterwards learned, the retirement for the night of the workmen to their quarters, and the departure of the overseer also to his home, after having been to Mrs. Wilson, as accustomed, for instructions for the following day. These could scarce have had time to fall asleep, when the family, with some female friend on a visit, enjoying the cool of the evening in the porch of the principal building, were startled by the sudden exclamation, in a suppressed but authoritative tone: “Surround the house! Close in !” While from either side some twenty or thirty men, disguised with paint and charcoal, and armed with various weapons, rushed upon them. Silence was enjoined on pain of death, and inquiry made for Colonel Stewart. They evidently supposed him to be at home, and his capture if not assassination, was doubtless a chief object in their plans. But he had been summoned away by express, and accompanied by General Lincoln, had left for Philadelphia, with a large amount of public funds at a late hour the day before. Being assured of this, the ring-leaders approached Mr. Charles Stewart, the eldest son of the Colonel, and a son-in-law, the late Judge Wilson of Landsdown, both young men some twenty years of age and the only gentlemen of the party, saying, “you are our prisoners;” and demanded their purses and watches. Young Wilson, somewhat recovered from the first surprise, and his Irish blood inflamed by the indignity, replied, “I would like to know who the d—l you are, first !” when he instantly received a severe stroke across the head with a sword or sabre, laying open his forehead from temple to temple. A pistol was immediately afterwards placed at the breast of young Stewart, because he hesitated, after delivering his purse, to yield up his watch, the dying gift of his mother. Mrs. Wilson in alarm for her brother rushed forward, promising, if life and further bloodshed were spared, the money and every thing valuable in the house should be delivered up. Upon this she was ordered with her brother, to show two of the gang to her father’s apartments. Here, besides a considerable amount in specie, they secured four thousand dollars in current bills, while another package containing the same amount, being placed among some wearing apparel, escaped their notice. In addition to this money, a large amount of silver plate, a quantity of valuable linen, every article of gentlemen’s apparel in the house, three watches, Colonel Stewart’s sword and a pair of superb pistols, with heavy mountings of solid silver beautifully and elaborately wrought, a present of friendship from Baron Steuben, were among the booty secured.

      The pistols thus lost, brought from Europe by the Baron, had been carried by him through the war. The circumstances under which they were presented to Colonel Stewart are honorable alike to the generous spirit both of himself and friend, and deserve a record.

      After the capture of Yorktown, the superior officers of the American army, together with their allies, vied with each other in acts of civility and attention to the captive Britons. Entertainments were given to them by all the Major Generals except the Baron Steuben. He was above prejudice or meanness, but poverty prevented him from displaying that liberality which had been shown by others. Such was his situation, when calling on Colonel Stewart, and informing him of his intention to entertain Lord Cornwallis, he requested that he would furnish him the money necessary for this purpose, as the price of his favorite charger. “‘Tis a good beast,” said the Baron, “and has proved a faithful servant through all the dangers of the war: but, though painful to my heart, we must part.” Colonel Stewart immediately tendering his purse, recommended the sale or pledge of his watch should the sum it contained prove insufficient. “My dear friend,” replied the Baron, “’tis already sold. Poor North was sick and wanted necessaries. He is a brave fellow and possesses the best of hearts. The trifle it brought is set apart for his use. So, say no more – my horse must go.” To the purchase, however, Colonel Stewart would not listen; and having pressed upon the Baron the means requisite for his purpose, received from him in acknowledgment of his friendship the pistols above referred to. It was to expenditures of this kind, it is probable, that the generous-hearted soldier and patriot alluded, when as he first met his daughter after this decisive crisis in the Revolution, he exclaimed; “Well, Martha, my dear, I come to you a thousand dollars out of pocket by the surrender of Yorktown. But I care not. Thank God! the struggle is over and my country is free !”

      Three hours were spent by the leaders of the banditti in ransacking the dwelling under the forced guidance of Mrs. Wilson and her brother. The others, relieving each other in standing guard outside, and over the rest of the family, refreshed themselves abundantly from the store-rooms and cellars which the servants were compelled to throw open to them. Mrs. Wilson at last ventured the request that they would leave, as her brother-in-law, Mr. Wilson, ill from loss of blood, required her attention. During the whole time she had been treated with great deference and respect; so much so as to have been asked by the leaders as they passed over the house, to point out what belonged to her personally, that it might be left in her possession. On preparing to depart, they took the whole family to an upper room, and extorting a promise from Mrs. Wilson that no one should attempt to leave it within two hours, fastened them in. The staircases were then closely barricaded with tables, chairs and every kind of furniture, the windows and doors firmly fastened, the lights all extinguished, the front door locked, and the key thrown among the grass and shrubbery in the courtyard. The jingling of the plate in the bags in which it was carried off, could be heard for some time, and marked the rapidity of their flight when once started with their booty. The gentlemen, not regarding Mrs. Wilson’s promise as of any binding force, insisted upon an immediate alarm of the workmen and neighborhood. But the difficulty of making a way out was such that they were long in accomplishing it. By daybreak, however, some three hundred were in pursuit of the plunderers. Some of them were taken on suspicion, but could not be fully identified on account of the paint and disguises they had worn. The ring-leaders, Caleb and Isaac Sweezey, and one Horton, all tories of the neighborhood, made their escape to New York, and though known, were not heard of till after the evacuation of the city by the British, when it was ascertained that they had purchased a vessel with the proceeds of this robbery, and sailed for Nova Scotia.

      Till the death of Colonel Stewart, in 1800, Mrs. Wilson continued at the head of his family – the wise, benevolent, energetic and universally admired manager of a house proverbial in her native State, and extensively out of it, for generous and never changing hospitality. Among the many guests entertained at the Union, General Maxwell was a constant visitor. Mrs. Wilson expresses her regret that justice has not yet been done, in a full biography, to this valued friend. “As a soldier and patriot,” is her testimony, “he had few superiors; and in integrity, strength of mind, and kindness of heart – but few equals.” She saw him first in 1775, at a review of his regiment, the second raised in New Jersey, Lord Stirling being the commander of the first. Her father was intimately acquainted with him; he was ever a welcome guest, and after the war, spent much of his time at their fireside.’

      It is unquestionably true that injustice has been done to this officer – his merits and services never having been properly represented before the public. In early life he was an officer in the Colonial service; fought on the field of the Monongahela and in other battles; and continuing in the army after the commencement of the Revolutionary war, was one of the most prominent patriots in New Jersey. He was at the storming of Quebec, and distinguished himself in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, etc., etc. In numerous letters and journals of the day, testimony is borne to his high character and services. Less than two years before the close of the war, he resigned his commission in displeasure at the appointment over him of an inferior officer, His death took place, probably in 1796, at the house of Colonel Stewart. He had escorted the young ladies on a visit, from which the whole party had returned early in the evening in fine spirits. The Colonel and the General had sat down to their usual evening amusement of backgammon, when Maxwell was suddenly taken ill. Supposing it to be a headache, which he had never experienced before, he rose to retire to his room. But the attack was fatal, and he expired about one o’clock the same night. Expresses were sent for his brothers, one of whom was an officer in the Revolution; but they did not arrive until some hours after his death. His remains rest in the Presbyterian churchyard at Greenwich, Warren County, New Jersey.

      For a period of near fifteen years after the death of Colonel Stewart, much of the time of his daughter became necessarily devoted, as his sole administratrix, to the settlement of a large and widely scattered landed estate, including the disputed proprietorship of a portion of the valley of Wyoming, which the business habits and energy of her father had scarce disenthralled at his death from the effects of unavoidable neglect and inattention during the discharge of his official duties in the Revolution. The strength of mind, clearness of judgment, practical knowledge, and firmness of purpose and character, witnessed in her by much of the finest talent at the bar and on the bench, not only of New Jersey, but of the adjoining States, in the legal investigations of claims, and titles, and references, and arbitrations, were such as to secure to her, in general estimation, a degree of respect for talent and ability not often accorded to her sex.

      Though thus for a long time placed in circumstances which tasked heavily the energies both of body and of mind, she was ever prompt and true to the discharge of the gentler and more feminine duties of life, to all who had any possible claim upon her kindness and regard. Not long after she had been called to the management of her father’s estate, two orphan sons of her brother were left in their childhood to her guardianship and maternal care. Delicacy to Mrs. Wilson and to her correspondents yet living, has forbidden an inquiry for any letters from her pen, illustrating her character; but a series written by her to one of these adopted sons (The Rev. C. S. Stewart, of the U. S. Navy, the distinguished missionary, and author of “A RESIDENCE IN THE SANDWICH ISLANDS” – “VISIT TO THE SOUTH SEAS,” etc.), while a boy in school and college, shows so strikingly the fidelity with which she discharged her trust, and at the same time so clearly exhibits her own principles and views of character and life, that I cannot forego the privilege granted me of making one or two extracts.

      After pointing out some grammatical errors in a letter just received, she thus writes:

      “February 16th, 1811.

      It is not from any pleasure in finding fault that I point out these errors; but from the sincere desire that you should be as perfect as possible in every branch of education. Next to your being an honest and virtuous man, I wish to see you the accomplished gentleman. You have no better friend on earth than myself: regard, therefore, my advice. Solomon says, ‘A wise man will take counsel from a friend, but a fool will despise it.’ Prove yourself to be the former by putting in practice all I say in reference to your mind, manners and morals. Let your example to your brother, as the eldest, ever be such as to induce him to look to you as a polar-star by which he may safely guide his own conduct.

      “Your desire to attend the birth-night ball is neither improper nor unnatural at your age. It is always a gratification to my heart to promote, or be the means of promoting, your innocent enjoyment, and that which is esteemed pleasure in youth, when the indulgence is not incompatible with your interest and honor, and not contrary to the rules of the institution to which you belong. But I would by no means have you forfeit a character for obedience and good order, with your tutors, for the trifling gratification of a dance; and let it never be forgotten by you that the reputation established by a boy at school and college, whether it be of merit or demerit, will follow him through life. As to your dress and manners, avoid as you would a pestilence those of a fop. Be plain and simple in your apparel and modest and unassuming in your address – respectful and courteous to all, but especially to the aged. The wise and the well-bred will ever mete to you a just reward; for nothing affords more pleasure to the good and truly great, while nothing certainly is more prepossessing than a modest youth.

      “You say that you have received much attention from the first families in__. Whatever company you do keep should ever be the first – that is, the wisest and the best; but for the present, the less time you spend in society of any kind the better. Close attention to your studies, in the acquisition of a solid and polished education, will yield you a larger profit. Be particular in the intimacies formed with your schoolmates. Boys of good family and good breeding are always to be preferred as companions, if their principles and conduct are praiseworthy. But where this is not the case, those morally good, though destitute of such advantages, are to be chosen as more worthy of your regard and friendship.

      “I again commend you to the care of Heaven. May the Almighty guide and shield you – preserving you from temptation and delivering you when tempted.”

      In a letter written shortly afterwards, she says:

      “B__ has read to me a paragraph from a letter just received, in which it is stated that you are one of the most studious and best scholars in __. If you knew how gratifying to my heart this intelligence is, it would, I am sure, inspire you with the love of honest fame. Go on, my dear boy, as you have begun, and you will attain all that is most desirable and most valuable in this world – the character and position of a good and wise man, useful, beloved, and honored in your generation. True, there is no near male friend in your family to extend a fostering hand to you and lead you onward to fame and fortune. Let not this circumstance, however, discourage you, but rather let it stimulate you to fresh industry and exertion. A faithful use of the means in your power will insure to you the desired result. But ever remember that in this more even will depend on your moral conduct as a man and gentleman than on your mental accomplishments. There is much even in external manner – more than many wise people think; and a gentlemanlike deportment, accompanied by honest candor, strict integrity, and undeviating truth will secure more respect and esteem for you in youth, as well as in after age, than any degree of talent, however brilliant, possibly can without them.”

      When, some three years afterwards, the same relative had commenced his collegiate course, she thus writes, under the date of May 31st, 1814:

      “I am happy to learn that you have received so much kindness from so many friends. Be mindful of their civilities and ever prove yourself worthy of them. I confess I have been greatly gratified in hearing from many quarters such flattering reports of your good conduct and success in study. Press forward, my dear son, in the ways of wisdom – they are ways of pleasantness, and their end is peace. Industry is the handmaid of good fortune; and always keep it in mind, that persevering assiduity will surely accomplish for you all that is desirable in this world. Under this conviction, which is certainly a truth, let no trivial obstacle you may occasionally meet discourage your efforts or impede your progress. You have gained considerable distinction in your career thus far; never rest satisfied short of the first honors of the institution you have now entered.

      “Your advantages for the study of composition and oratory have not been, I fear, as good heretofore as I could have wished. Let these important branches now engage much of your attention; you cannot excel in either of the leading professions without them. If you would become a wise man, a variety of reading from the best authors, both ancient and modern, must also be added to your attainments in college studies. Acquire, too, a habit of observation on men and manners, without which you can never secure the knowledge of the world
      essential to success in practical life. Political knowledge, also, is absolutely indispensable to the attainment in our country of a conspicuous and influential position, at which I trust you will aim; pay attention, therefore, to the passing events of the day and to the information to be derived from the best conducted public prints. Man can do much for himself as respects his own improvement, unless self-love so blinds him that he cannot see his own imperfections and weaknesses. Some of the most finished characters, in all ages, of which the world can boast, are those who found the greatest difficulty in controlling their natural propensities, but whose persevering efforts caused even bad habits to give place to the most graceful accomplishments.. Above all, my dear son, take care of your morals. All I ever say to you proceeds from the sincerest affection and the deepest anxiety for your success and happiness in life. Keep yourself for the future, as you have for the past, as far as possible from unprincipled young men, many of whom you will everywhere find around you. Treat your tutors and professors with the respect to which they are entitled, and conform promptly and strictly to the discipline and usages of the college. If ever tempted to a different course, resist the evil. The exercise of a little self-denial for the time will be followed by the pleasure of having achieved the greatest of triumphs – a triumph over one’s self.

      “I cheer myself daily with thoughts of your constant improvement in everything calculated to be useful and honorable to yourself, and gratifying to your friends. May God ever bless and keep you.”

      One additional extract from a letter to the same individual, written while he was still in college, under the date of March 20th, 1815, presents briefly, but clearly, the sentiments and feelings of Mrs. Wilson, on the most important of all subjects – that of personal and experimental piety.

      “Your last letter,” she writes, “gave me more pleasure than any one I have ever received from you. I cannot be too thankful to that great and good Being who, in infinite mercy, hath opened your eyes to see yourself spiritually as you are – a guilty sinner, in need of a better righteousness than your own, to appear acceptably in His sight. Believers, even as others, are by nature dead in trespasses and sins; but by faith in the Son of God – derived from him aIone – they arise to newness of life, and become heirs of eternal glory. The blessed assurance is ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ Live in life, and live for ever.

      “I doubt not that your views of the world, and the things pertaining to it, as well as of yourself, are different from what they ever were before. You see and feel that to the renewed soul, all things, in comparison with ‘Christ and Him crucified,’ are of small consideration. Since God has been pleased to impress your soul with a sense of His divine perfections, of the depravity of your nature, and of the riches of His grace, be watchful, my dear son, and continue instant in prayer. Confident that the life of a sincere Christian will ever be your highest honor, on this subject regard neither the smiles nor frowns of the world – neither its fashions nor its favors. I have often thought of you with much satisfaction, in the belief that you would prove yourself worthy of my warmest and sincerest affection; but the possession of the finest talents, such as would command the applause of a vain world, attended with the most brilliant success, could never give me half the happiness of an assurance that you were truly a pious man. I could write much upon this interesting and sublime subject, but the necessity of preparing several letters for the present mail, obliges me to close with my blessing.”

      Mrs. Wilson herself became interested in the subject of personal and practical piety in early youth, and made a profession of her faith at the time, in the Presbyterian church of Bethlehem, New Jersey, of which her grandfather, Judge Johnston, was the founder and chief patron through life. Her example as a Christian has ever been in harmony with the leading traits of her character – consistent, energetic, decisive, abounding in charities and full of good works. In religion, as in intellectual advancement, she has kept pace in spirit and active zeal with the enlarged benevolence and expanding enterprise of the passing age; and though now in her ninetieth year, not only by her subscriptions and her prayers, but often by her personal presence and aid, still cheers the ladies of her neighborhood in their associations for purposes of local and general benevolence and piety.

      The marriage of her only daughter and child, in 1802, to the late John M. Bowers, Esq., of Bowerstown, county of Otsego, New York, led Mrs. Wilson, in 1808, to change her home from Flemington, New Jersey, to Cooperstown, New York, in which village for a long period afterwards, she at different times occupied her own dwelling; but now for many years she has lived exclusively at the Lakelands, the beautiful residence of her daughter, in the immediate vicinity of that place. Here, respected and honored by all who know her, and reposing in the affections of a devoted household, with the blessings of unnumbered poor – the widow, the orphan, the destitute and friendless of every name – descending like dews of Hermon on her head, she cheerfully awaits the change when the “corruptible shall put on incorruption, and the mortal put on IMMORTALITY.”

      Related posts