"GENERAL WASHINGTON HAS BEEN IN TOWN ALL THIS WEEK…": MANUSCRIPT LETTERBOOK OF REBECCA RAWLE SHOEMAKER, WIFE OF EXILED LOYALIST MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA—A FASCINATING RECORD OF LOYALIST TREATMENT AFTER THE REVOLUTION
SHOEMAKER, Rebecca Rawle. Revolutionary period manuscript letterbook. [Philadelphia]: 1783-86. Square octavo, contemporary full vellum recased, newer end papers; ll. . Housed in custom slipcase. $45,000.
Original manuscript letterbook, documenting the quality of life experienced by the Loyalist families who remained behind in America at the end of the Revolutionary War.
Rebecca Shoemaker was the wife of Samuel, successful businessman and onetime mayor of Philadelphia. Shoemaker was also loyal to the Crown. During the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-78, he dispatched spies behind the American lines, for which the Pennsylvania Assembly declared him guilty of treason, and confiscated all of his property. Learning of his conviction, Shoemaker fled to New York and from there embarked to England—becoming a British Loyalist in exile. He left behind his wife Rebecca and his three step-children, Anna, Margaret and William (later appointed U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania by George Washington). Their own son Edward he took with him. Rebecca was a true "American," first married to Francis Rawle, whose father was a successful Quaker merchant, economist, author and lawyer, and close friend to Benjamin Franklin. This association, however, did nothing to endear her to the Revolutionists. The years that followed were very difficult for the family.
Rebecca's engaging letterbook (offered here) records her out-bound correspondence, nearly all to Samuel and a few to Edward, during the years after their departure, describing in fascinating detail the current quality of life experienced by Loyalist families in Philadelphia. In it, she tells of her isolation: "I now move in so small a circle that I really know very little what is doing in the world," and her fear for the safety of Loyalists: "I am told Sir G.C. [Guy Carleton] will come to Philadelphia and remain here as the British resident and hints that our friend William Smith will accompany him as Secretary… If W.S. comes in that capacity, it will ensure him protection from personal insult and evil treatment, but if he came in a private character I know not how it might be, as the 'Chief Justice' [her son William] tells me, he has heard many disagreeable things said of him and threats, if he should come, of rendering his stay uneasy… I think it must be humiliating that the Commander and Chief of the British Army should stay here, at least while civil affairs are conducted with so little spirit." On December 13, 1783, she writes: "General Washington has been in town all this week and has been, and is to be entertained at several public dinners. The Fireworks and illuminations depend on Peale's exertions, in preparing the Triumphal arches, which as they are to be paid for by the Assembly, must be laid before the House for their approbation. I cannot with any certainly give thee any information respecting the general temper of the people—but as far as I can judge from my own observation, it must be considerably changed with regards to the Loyalists, for here are many who walk daily and publicly about the streets without meeting with any kind of incivility or insult that could not have done it some months ago." She recounts her attempts to regain possession of her summer home, Laurel Hill, which had been confiscated during the anti-Loyalist campaign of 1778 and sold in 1782 to Major James Parr (she was able to buy her property back in 1784, once anti-Loyalist sentiments had subsided—see entries for January 14 and April 15, 1784).
These letters are also filled with wonderful local gossip, mentioning some of the most prominent families in Philadelphia—Peale, Waln, Pennington, Norris, Pemberton—and such well-known individuals as Benezet, Fothergill and Bradford. On books and reading, she reports: "My girls do not read Novels very often. Perhaps it is safe, as Friends say to express oneself with caution, but Poetry they love, and Miss Seward is a favorite… We have been reading Boswell's account of his Tour to the Hebrides with Dr. Johnson… We think Boswell has a great deal of Vanity, but is not an unentertaining writer." During 1784, Rebecca monitors attempts in Congress to repeal the Oath of Allegiance, which her husband would be required to take upon his return. She writes that nothing was being done "to invite home those who have been so cruelly driven into exile from their families and friends—we are told that after the repeal of the Test Law, that may be proposed, but till then it will not do… How happy shall we be to see that day arrive when thee can return with Safety." On September 27th the debate deteriorated into near-violence. She writes: "There was a great disturbance yesterday in the House of Assembly about the Test Bill. The back members who opposed it [whom she is fond of calling "creatures"] rose up to leave the House upon the motion, but the doors were fast and they tried to burst them open. There was a great struggle. Today it will be tried again." On the lighter side, she tells of a Revolutionist who admitted to her "that he should have a mark set on him, as Cain had, and that every Loyalist should at least give him a Kick." In October rumor of an unofficial policy regarding returning Loyalists would allow the Shoemakers to "live together within 20 miles of Philadelphia—we must not murmur." Despite further efforts to repeal the Test Laws (an emotional account appears in her letter of December 29, 1784), Rebecca can only report that there is "no thought of repealing any particular Laws respecting Loyalists." Nevertheless, in accordance with the unwritten 20-mile-radius rule, Rebecca rents a house in Burlington, New Jersey (letters of December 4, 1785 and January 27, 1786), and directs her husband and son to meet the family there, so as to avoid Philadelphia altogether ("Walking about the town immediately I expect thee would not wish to do"). Her letterbook ends about three months before Samuel and Edward returned from England. By 1791 they were all summering again at Laurel Hill.
Only the expected occasional ink blot or stain to interior, mild toning and soiling to vellum. Fine condition.