Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Last Chance: The Sorrowful Tale of Nancy Shippen, part 8

For Nancy, the whole of the summer of 1784 went by that way: bored in the country, worrying about her mother's health and her distant daughter.

In in July she wrote, "This day was still duller for it rain'd all day..." and in August, "This retirement begins to be very tiresome." But this boredom only floated on the surface of her emotional state. Along with everlasting concerns for her daughter (far away with her mother-in-law Livingston), her mother's long slow demise was taking its toll. Only two weeks later on September 11th, she wrote"Nothing can be a more distressing sight than to see a beloved Parent dying before ones eyes..."

In August and September, rides into town every few week became necessary to relieve the tension, and finally she moved back to Philadelphia to be in town through the winter. It took some convincing to get her mother to rejoin them in town: although she was once brought back in the carriage, she actually tricked the family and fled back to the country where she could be alone--only to be brought back into Philadelphia one last time.

Boredom or repetition or depression got the better of her. Her journal entries trickled to a halt by January of 1785. Fall dragged into winter, and in January, Nancy's husband Henry again visited Philadelphia to stir up her emotions. This time was to be different though. After three years of "Cruel absense," he offered her one last chance for reconcilliation. They met alone at his lodgings, and whatever passed between them offered Nancy hope. On her birthday, February 24th, she reopened her journal to write, "I now have a prospect of living happily with him & my darling Child."

Tired of waiting for news of little Peggy from friends and family, equally tired of living at 21 years old as her parents' ward (she had several times written about tearful arguments with her father about whether or not she could go out with her friends), she was elated. Nancy's three-year-old daughter was now walking, talking, and charming the dickens out of everyone she met--everyone but Nancy, who had seen her only a few times over the past year and a half. Perhaps this journey, which had been so long and so dark, could come to a happy end with Peggy back on her mother's lap and the Hudson River drifting lazily by outside the window.

In her merriment, Nancy came out of the seclusion she had been living in for months. Her social life picked back up, and she began again attending balls and hostessing dinners.

But Henry's manipulative cruelty brought this once more to a screaching halt. In March, he sent Nancy another letter, as usual bemoaning her cruelty towards him. There was to be no reconciliation. H was leaving Philadelphia. "I take my Paassage by Water in hopes some happy Accident may Rid you of a painful Restraint and me of My Woes," he wrote. In the letter, he references some perceived slight that Nancy dealt him, but with his track record of abuse, it is likely that Henry was using this simply as an excuse to dash her hopes for good. The blow was a hard one.

"I shew'd it to Papa & received his advice concerning it. This letter destroyed all my hopes," wrote Nancy. A few days later "..Supp'd tete a tete with Papa, who says he sees it will never do for me to return to my inflexible husband."

Nancy drifted through spring, summer, and fall. On October 15th she wrote:


Another Month is pass'd & no alteration has taken place in situation; I am however no more reconciled to it than I ever was...Now & then I hear of my Child--& some times for plans of having her with me, & as often am dissapointed. My Husband...lives in his old way trying to deprive his wife & lawful heir of their property by throwing it away on undeserving objects.

Worst of all, she was to be denied the legal separation that would have allowed her to finally marry Louis Otto, still waiting for her after all this time:

I have another new source of woe, for the authoriz'd separation that I have been so long expecting to take place, is given over entirely.

With that door shut, Louis Otto married two years later in 1787 to Nancy's best friend in New York Miss Eliza Livingston.

Was Nancy always to live as a child under her father's roof? And what was to become of Nancy's daughter? With her mother clinging to life through a deep shadow of physical illness and depression, her father doing his best to keep her from partying too much, and every plan she made to visit with little Peggy being broken again and again, the situation only got more hopeless as time went on.

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