Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson (February 3, 1737- February 23, 1801) was the youngest daughter of Dr Thomas Graeme and his wife Ann Diggs Keith Graeme. She moved in the highest levels of Philadelphia Society, is credited with introducing the literary salon to America, and has been called the most learned woman in America
Elizabeth could read the classics in their original languages, was fluent in French, wrote and published poetry - but tragically she may best be remembered for her bad luck in love.
The young Elizabeth was engaged to William Franklin and was crushed when he married another woman while in England, lost another probable suitor to tuberculosis, and finally married a scotsman 12 years her junior who lived with her for less than three years, fought against the Americans, nearly caused Elizabeth to lose Graeme Park, and haunted her later years with his rumored infidelity.
Dr Graeme acquired what was to become Graeme Park in 1739 sort of from his mother-in-law Lady Ann Keith (see Graeme Park Timeline). The estate, then called Fountain Low, was at that point a working farm with a large building which may have been sitting vacant due to Governor Keith's and Lady Anne's never ending financial problems. Dr Graeme, over time, transformed the estate by adding gardens, a 300 acre deer park, and converting this building into the beautiful, colonial mansion we know today as Keith House.
The Graemes used Graeme Park as a summer retreat probably until 1772 and the death of Dr Graeme, after which Elizabeth lived there year round.
Dr Graeme added the deer park - which was probably on the northern part of the property, across what is now Keith Valley Road - probably by 1755, although the conversion of the house probably did not take place until 1762.
Elizabeth - also known as Betsy - was the daughter of the well-to-do Port Physician of Philadelphia (and the grand-daughter of a former governor) and she received an education that may have been unusual even for a girl of her social standing. She was taught initially by her mother: reading, writing, the Bible, especially memorizing the Psalms. Her father added instruction in Latin and Greek and she read many classics in their original languages. She was fluent in French and in later years learned Italian.
She may also have studied with Anthony Benezet, president of the Friends' English School of Philadelphia (later the William Penn Charter School), who later opened the first school for girls in Philadelphia, and then the first school for Negroes in the colonies. Benezet's school for girls was started in 1754 which may have been too late for the 17 year old Elizabeth.
Dr Graeme was close friends with Rev William Smith, the founder and provost of the Academy of Philadelphia (which was absorbed into The College of Philadelphia which later became the University of Pennsylvania), but women were not allowed to matriculate so this was not an option for Elizabeth.
The Graeme family also greatly emphasized reading and on nights when there was no company would sit around the fire taking turns "reading some moral story or dramatic piece".
Despite being the daughter of a prominent physician, Elizabeth suffered from chronic poor health. While visiting England she, and her traveling companion Richard Peters, both sought treatment from Dr John Fothergill for recurrent gall or kidney stones but without success. Other ailments which tormented her throughout her life included headaches, fevers, and intestinal ailments. This was not uncommon for 18th century colonial women and, luckily, she escaped the more catastrophic illnesses like yellow fever and tuberculosis which occurred in these times.
Elizabeth was the youngest of the Graeme children. Ann Graeme had given birth to at least 9 children (from baptismal records) but there is evidence that she may have had as many as 12, including several sets of twins. Sarah, who died in infancy, may have been Elizabeth's twin. Elizabeth, in her writings mentions from 10-12. Sadly, only 3 of her siblings were alive when she was born, she was probably closest to Ann who was 10 years older. Elizabeth, according to Dr Benjamin Rush, was born prematurely as a "7 monther".
Ann wrote that she:
"first Buryd an infant of 3 months old She at that time thought she could not feel more sorrow" but as she buried successive children she learned "that each one was harder than the last."
Franklin was a well educated, handsome, and intelligent young man and probably knew Elizabeth from a young age although the first record of their friendship is from 1752 when she was 15 and he 21. He visited Graeme Park at least once in October 1753.
The Graemes and Franklins were both very prominent Philadelphia families but they had some political differences. Although this was prior to the official French and Indian War of 1756, Indian attacks on people living on the frontier were becoming more frequent. The people of Pennsylvania did not feel adequately protected and the Assembly proposed a tax on all landowners to fund the strengthening of their defenses. The Proprietors- the Penns - refused to be taxed, however, and Governor Morris refused to sign the bill. The problem was averted when Dr. Graeme proposed that the proprietors make a gift to the colony in lieu of a tax, which they did.
Benjamin Franklin had been an early supporter of Rev William Smith, provost of the Academy of Philadelphia, but split with him when Smith changed from an "English" to more "Classical" curriculum. This split led to Franklin being replaced as president of the Academy by Richard Peters, a close friend of Dr. Graeme. Smith, in 1757 further angered Franklin with his printed attacks on Franklin's militia bill for which he was briefly jailed. William Franklin and 2 friends retaliated against Smith with a published attack on the proprietors.
Dr. Graeme had at one time collaborated with Ben Franklin on The Philadelphia Contributionship, and Pennsylvania Hospital, but Dr. Graeme was also friendly with the Penn family (the Proprietors) and Rev Smith and Richard Peters were regular Sunday dinner guests at the Graeme home, so he naturally found himself on the opposite side of this argument as the Franklins.
Despite the politics, William and Elizabeth were drawn together. The dispute with the proprietors continued and Benjamin was appointed to travel to England to meet with them personally and William was to accompany him. Although both fathers disapproved of the match, the real obstacle was Dr Graeme. Ann Graeme was won over by William, and both Benjamin and Deborah Franklin were very fond of "Miss Grayham". William pressed Elizabeth to marry him before the trip, but Dr Graeme gave his blessing only if they were to wait until his return
The Franklins left for New York April 4, 1757 but war between France and England prevented them from reaching London until July 26. He wrote her a brief note upon his arrival and then nothing for 5 months. His letter from December 9 was largely about politics which infuriated Elizabeth. She did not reply until May and he did not receive this last letter until October 24. He took her last letter as an end to the engagement. He remained in England for several years and married Elizabeth Downes on September 4, 1762.
Despondent over the loss of William after 5 years of waiting, Elizabeth went into a long decline. Her parents finally suggested her own trip to England, which she undertook in 1764 accompanied by the Rev Richard Peters, who had founded the Academy and College of Philadelphia with Benjamin Franklin then replaced him as president.
Both suffered from gall or kidney stones and were to be seen by Dr. John Fothergill. Fothergill, ironically, was another old friend of Franklin and despite practicing in London had great interest in assisting Franklin in starting Pennsylvania Hospital. As early as 1748 he came out against the techniques of bleeding and purging as treatments for disease, although these continued to be used in practice (and defended by Dr Rush) for over 40 years
Unfortunately, Fothergill was not successful in helping Elizabeth with her problems.
They embarked for England on June 18, 1764 and arrived in Liverpool in July. They traveled first to the resort at Scarborough, probably as prescribed by Dr Fothergill, to take the waters, but with little improvement in their health.
They stayed in Scarborough less than a month then traveled south to London to meet with Proprietor Thomas Penn and his wife Lady Julianna, with whom Elizabeth had a lasting friendship. Peters returned to Liverpool to visit his family with Elizabeth staying in London where her old friend Hannah Freame, the Penn's niece, who was staying to help Julianna with her pregnancy. Hannah had been born in Philadelphia and although 9 years younger, had known Elizabeth there. She also ran into Benjamin Franklin who was back in England to petition the king to take Pennsylvania away from the Penns and make it a royal colony. He reported to Deborah, who reported to Ann Graeme, that Elizabeth was well.
Elizabeth was not well, though, and continued to suffer a variety of ailments including what may have been migraine. She was seeing Dr Fothergill 3 times a week and returning early from trips due to her illness. Still she managed to visit many museums, Westminster, and took the waters at Bristol. Peters returned to Liverpool for stay with a dying cousin.
Back at Graeme Park, Ann Graeme had taken very ill, although she instructed that Elizabeth not be told. She died on May 15, 1765.
Ann Diggs Graeme, died "Emotionally exhausted and physically weakened from the relentless pregnancies and deaths
Peters had business in London and was not able to return home yet, so rather than cross the Atlantic alone she continued with a planned trip to visit her cousin Thomas Graeme at Balgowan in Scotland. Thomas gave her his book-plate and the Graeme coat-of-arms.
Back in London she had an engraving made of the coat-of-arms with her name underneath which she used to mark several of her books which still exist.She also later made a silk embroidery of the coat-of-arms which became a treasured heirloom in the Smith family, She was the only woman in colonial times to use a heraldic plate.
Before leaving London she met a young man from Pennsylvania, Nathaniel Evans, who had been sent by Dr William Smith to be ordained in the Anglican church. Evans was a poet and found he and Elizabeth had much in common. He traveled back with them on the "Mary and Elizabeth" which left on October 7, 1765 and after waiting 3 weeks for a favorable wind, did not arrive in Philadelphia until December 26. While on board, Evans and Elizabeth exchanged poetry.
Ann Graeme had left 2 letters for Elizabeth. The 1st expressed her love for her and asked her to look after her father. The second was on choosing a husband:
"We women have it only in our power to deny, I cannot call it a choice, but I hope you will never bestow yourself on any other than one who is generally reputed a good and sensible man, with such a one a woman cannot be happy. When you meet with such a one take him with all his faults and frailties (for none are without) and when you have him expect not too much from him, for depend upon it this is like all sublunary things, the higher your ideas are the greater will be your disappointment".
Shortly after returning to Graeme Park, Elizabeth's sister Ann Graeme Stedman took ill and died of a painful, unknown disease. Elizabeth believed she died of a broken heart.
Elizabeth now found herself caring for Ann's 2 children plus her elderly father. She was helped in her grief by a long visit to Graeme Park by her new friend Nathaniel Evans. His health was also poor and he became a patient of Dr Graeme. When his health improved he took up a position as missionary for Gloucester County, NJ, just across the Delaware River and not too far from Horsham. He and Elizabeth continued their friendship and the exchange of poetry
Mrs Graeme had often suggested to Elizabeth that when troubled she should turn to the Psalms, so she did. She had thought of para-phrasing the psalms as early as 1763 following the publication of psalms for singing by her friend Francis Hopkinson.
So she undertook this project in 1766, and while not of great literary merit, the four large volumes she produced helped her through this difficult time, and by March 1767 she wrote that her grief had exhausted itself. In addition to the Psalms, she also paraphrased 9 other sections of the Bible, three which were later published.
She and Evans also continued their poetic exchange, often flirting and with Evans probably hinting at marriage, but poor Evans passed away at age 25 on October 29, 1767 of what was originally described as overwork but later diagosed as tuberculosis.
Elizabeth and Rev William Smith collected Evan's poems, and a couple of Elizabeth's that had been part of their correspondence. They received subscritions for this book from 453 people from all over the English speaking world and printed 876 copies.
Another project she undertook in 1767-69 was the translation of the prose work "Les Aventures de Télémaque" which she shortened to "Telemachus" . This story had been a favorite since childhood and she produced 30,000 lines of poetry in two volumes.
With her mother and older sister gone, Elizabeth had become by 1767, her father's hostess and she began to keep an open house on Saturday evenings when friends would drop by for conversation. She called these "Attic Evenings" and they became what have been called the first literary salons in America. Attendees included Dr Benjamin Rush, Dr John and Mary Morgan, Francis Hopkinson, Benjamin West and many others. Single as well as married women were welcome. Upon her death, Dr Rush noted how Elizabeth had dominated these evenings
".... charmed by a profusion of original ideas, collected by her vivid and widely expanded imagination, and combined with exquisite taste and judgement into an endless variety of elegant and delightful forms. Upon these occasions her body seemed to evanish, and she appeared all mind."
The salon continued at Graeme Park with lengthy visits by groups of friends and the pastoral setting enhancing the discourse. Her nephew John Young remarked:
"I am sure Graeme Park may vie with Arcadia; for poetry may easily convert Neshaminy into Helicon, the meadows into Tempe, and the park into Parnassus"
Elizabeth was spending most of her time in Horsham by 1771 but in December was in Philadelphia at a home her father was renting. Dr Rush, on December 7, brought a young man name Henry Hugh Fergusson to Elizabeth's salon. Fergusson was quite well educated, fluent in French and Italian and, despite being 11 years her junior, was able to hold his own with Elizabeth. Dr Graeme was opposed to Fergusson due to his youth and lack of property, and found him to be indolent. Fergusson was scheduled to travel to Scotland that summer and Dr Graeme had again proposed, as with Franklin many years before, to withhold his approval for marriage until after the young man arrived back on our shores. But, despite her own reservations and the disapproval of her father, Elizabeth was married to Fergusson on April 21, 1772 in Swedes Church in Philadelphia - without the knowledge of Dr Graeme.
Fergusson sailed to Scotland in June and was away for the summer, unhappy that Dr Graeme did not know of his marriage to Elizabeth. Elizabeth, Betsy Stedman, and Dr Graeme retired to Graeme Park. On September 4 she had decided to tell her father but on that day she looked out the window on him walking in the garden and witnessed him having a heart attack. He died not knowing.
Dr. Graeme died also leaving several debts (see Graeme Park Timeline) and Elizabeth found herself cash poor. The real estate holdings were valuable but since she was married she now needed approval of her husband to sell any of the land. Fergusson was still overseas. Elizabeth inherited Graeme Park but also inherited all the debt. Her brother-in-law James Young was bequeathed land in Northampton County and a legacy of £1000. He had lived at Graeme Park for many years but refused to help with the debt, refusing to pay even his own expenses which had been charged to Graeme Park. This led to a falling out with Elizabeth and he removed his two children who had lived at Graeme Park under their aunt's supervision since their mother had died. His 16 year old daughter, Annie, was greatly distressed by this.
Henry finally returned in the spring of 1773. Due to their financial situation she gave up their rented house in the city and lived at Graeme Park full time. But, despite her love for Graeme Park, she was at heart a city girl and really did not want to live on the farm year round.
By October 1773 Henry had agreed to sell some of Graeme Park. They advertised 700 acres for sale but there were no takers so they were forced to continue to live on and work the farm.
She was not happily married. Her sisters, mother and father were gone; her sister's children reclaimed by their father, she was too poor to host her friends, and Fergusson busied himself with the farm from dawn to dusk.
As war approached in 1775, however, Elizabeth found ways to gather her women friends around her and offered refuge to friends trying to escape the danger of Philadelphia. Fergusson had written Dr Rush urging patience with England. In September 1775 he left again for England, purportedly on business but possibly just to get away from the conflict. He mortgaged 200 acres of Graeme Park to Governor John Penn to finance this trip. While away, Elizabeth encouraged him to stay there until everything was settled. Fregusson never returned to Graeme Park.
But, there was time for some fun in 1775, though, when Elizabeth's niece Anny Young was married to Dr William Smith at Graeme Park. The event was scheduled for November with Rev Peters presiding. One of the bridesmaids, Hannah Griffits, who at 48 was much older than the bride and closer in age to the bride's aunt, was also a poet and after meeting Elizabeth started a long friendship in which they often exchanged poems
In England, Fergusson signed a power-of-attorney allowing Elizabeth to sell parts of Graeme Park to ease some of her financial pressures.. She sold 37 acres on the north side of County Line Road in Bucks County for £400 in August 1776, but on November 26 she lost the 200 acres that Fergusson had mortgaged to Governor John Penn (
In January 1776, Common Sense, which in relation to the population of the Colonies at that time, had the largest sale and circulation of any book in American history..
Not everyone agreed with the idea of independence and the leading voice against it in Pennsylvania was the Graeme's old friend Rev William Smith, who published 8 essays in the Pennsylvania Ledger under the name Cato arguing that democracy would not work on a large scale.
By 1777, Henry decided to return to America and left England for Jamaica, where he stayed - possibly with Keith relations - for a month before traveling to New York. In New York, General Howe's fleet was preparing to leave for Philadelphia and he was told traveling with the fleet was the best and safest way to go. Henry was considered by the British to be a "...very active and zealous volunteer", a description considered treasonous by the Americans.
Meanwhile ... back at Graeme Park, General ""Mad Anthony" Wayne and part of his division camped at Graeme Park for about 10 days in August, 1777 during what is sometimes called the Neshaminy Encampment. General Washington was headquartered nearby at the Moland House at this time. General Wayne and his staff were accommodated in the mansion while the troops camped in the fields. The army did great damage to the farm and took Elizabeth's slave, wagon, and 2 oxen, killing one of the oxen due to overwork and abuse. She wrote to Wayne for compensation but it is not known if it was ever received.
General Wayne, on the other hand, was appreciative of her hospitality and wrote to her from a "Camp near the Falls" on September 14,1777 (this was just after the American's defeat at Brandywine and a week before Wayne's humiliating defeat in the Battle of Paoli
"...The easy politeness with which I was received and treated under your Hospitable roof, I shall always remember with gratitude and pleasure. I am much obliged by your kind inquiry of the men, I have lost some Officers whose friendship was dear to me in public and private life, but whose glorious death is rather to be envied than regreted. Our right wing met with a misfortune - but our left, where more brave fellows fell - gave a timely check to the right wing of General Howe's Army - who save from that day's action, has remained in the ground fully employed - taking care of his wounded and burying his dead. You will be good enough to present my best and kindest compliments to Miss Steadman, Mrs. Smith and Mr. Young whose good opinion I wish to merit and believe your most sincerely,"
Mrs Anny Smith and Mr. John Young were the children of Elizabeth's late sister Annie Graeme and her husband James Young with who Elizabeth had had a falling out over debt after the death of her father. John Young had left for Boston in January 1776 to join the English army. He was ship-wrecked en route, however, and captured by the Americans. His father, a fervent believer in the American cause, arranged for him to be held under house arrest at Graeme Park. He stayed there for 18 month but broke parole shortly after Wayne's encampment and joined with General Howe at Germantown where he was commissioned a lieutenant.
General Washington was camped nearby at Moland House in Warwick in August, 1777 and was visited there by the Marquis de Lafayette and Count Casimir Pulaski, among others and a Council of War was held there on August 21.
There are stories that General Washington was perhaps a frequent visitor at Graeme Park, one published version states::
"Washington found Graeme Park a very hospitable and comfortable place, and when his army was camped nearby he spent much of his time there so that the place became to be recognized for a time as his headquarters. Behind the house is a splendid spring from which, it is said, the general refreshed himself on many occassions."
On September 25, 1777 Elizabeth finally heard from Henry who asked to meet her in Germantown. She did and both she and Fergusson requested that he be allowed to return temporarily to Graeme Park. Both Howe and Washington refused, Washington stated that asking ".. .for 30 days implies his intent to return into the Quarters of the Enemy" and found it "very odd that a gentleman who has been so long absent from his family should wish to remain so short a time with them"
The Battle of Germantown was fought on October 4, 1777. The army was camped first at "...Pennypacker's Mills .. and on the morning of the 8th a move was made into Towamencin Township, the camping ground being in the vicinity of the Mennonite meeting-house (near Kulpsville) ... on the 21st the army moved lower down into Whitpain Township ... on November 2 the march was made to Whitemarsh Township." (37 p416) After the Battle of Whitemarsh (December 5-8, 1777) the camp moved from what is now known as Fort Washington to Gulph MIlls and then to Valley Forge. His headquarters from November 2 to December 11 are known to have been at the Emlen House in Flourtown. This is close enough to Graeme Park for a visit, but in October, 1777 Washington and Elizabeth had a now infamous encounter in Kulpsville which makes it seem unlikely that the General would have been spending much time at her home.
In October 1777, Elizabeth's friend Rev Jacob Duché asked her to deliver a message to Washington. Duché had been an early supporter of the Americans and was asked by the 1st Continental Congress in 1774 to be their chaplain. By October 1776, however, he was having second thoughts and resigned his post, citing health problems. When the British took Philadelphia he added the prayers for the royal family back into the service. The British, however, arrested him as a rebel but held him only one day. On October 8, 1777, Duché wrote a long letter to Washington urging the general to defect to the British saying he had always opposed independence. He asked Fergusson if Elizabeth would be able to deliver it.
Fergusson, of course, agreed with the letter and instructed Elizabeth to meet Duché at the Rising Sun Tavern at the fork of Old York Road and Germantown Ave. Whether she knew the contents of the letter or not, she agreed to deliver it to Washington - who she had met before - and did so at Kulpsville on October 15.
Washington was insulted and reported told her :
" ... It will, therefore, be the object of my life an ambition to establish the independence of America in the first place; and in the second, to arrange such a community of interests between the two nations as shall indemnify them for the calamities which they now suffer.."
He also said that withholding the letter from congress would cause him to be suspect so he was transmitting it to them without delay.
The letter became widely circulated and was printed in the Royal Gazette in New York on November 29. Duché sailed for England shortly after December 9 and the continental congress seized his house and assets. The General Assembly of PA began deliberating on a bill to seize the property of those who helped the enemy and Elizabeth became very fearful. Two men stood up for her: General Daniel Roberdeau said "his worthy friend" had displayed "herosim" in alienating herself from " a beloved husband" because of his part against America. He was joined by Colonel Elias Boudinot.
Boudinot was Washington's Commissary of Prisoners - and Fergusson had the same position under Howe, so the two came to know each other. Fergusson was, ironically, given the job of arranging for the exchange of his wife's ex-fiance, Governor William Franklin who had been confined by the Americans in Connecticut since the summer of 1776, which was not accomplished until the following September.
Fergusson was conscientious in his position in charge of prisoners and demanded a complete list of British prisoners and promised to send Boudinot a list of American prisoners in order to properly provision them. A month later Fergusson reminded Boudinot of the American prisoners distresses "for want of cloathing (sic)."
He went on to say:
"I can only lament the miserable situation of these unfortunate people, and regret to see them so much neglected by those whose business it is to supply them with necessaries."
Elizabeth would later point out Fergusson's compassion and concern for the American prisoners in this position when petitioning to prevent the confiscation of Graeme Park
During Christmas week 1777, Major General James Armstrong went into winter quarters at Graeme Park and on New Years Eve was joined by Brigadier General John Lacey Jr. Nearly 2000 men were encamped at Graeme Park but that number dwindled to 70 by January 24. The army left the estate a mess and Elizabeth was reimbursed only £106 for 2360 pounds of beef, and not until March.( more on Lacey's encampment )
Washington is also reported to have visited Graeme Park several times that winter and slept there at least once.
The rest of the time she spent spinning flax for cotton to be made into clothes for American prisoners whose sad plight was related to her by Henry when they were allowed to meet. On March 6, 1778 the General Assembly passed a law ordering men suspected of treason to report for trial or be found guilty, Two months later Henry's name was on the list and 3 days later John Young was named. It was apparent that the British would be leaving Philadelphia soon and Elizabeth begged Henry to turn himself in, but he refused.
On June 26, she petitioned the Supreme Executive Council herself asking that her estate not be forfeited, but no action was immediately taken.
Earlier that month, Elizabeth had met George Johnstone, one of the peace commissioners sent from England to negotiate a settlement of the war. Elizabeth had come to Philadelphia to say goodbye to Henry who was leaving with the British and was staying at the home of her friends, the Stedmans. Johnstone was staying there too. He asked her to set up a meeting between himself and Joseph Reed and basically asked her to pass along an offer of a bribe. Elizabeth said she was "hurt and shocked" at this but was assured that this was how it was done, so she passed along the message to Reed.
On July 15, Reed returned to Congress and found that Johnstone had sent letters to other prominent leaders and they were being made public. Congress ordered that all such letters be made public. Reed wrote down, without explicitly identifying her, the message transmitted by Elizabeth. This, with all the other letters, was then published.
Elizabeth, although not named, was recognized by many, and the public cried for the treasonous woman to be identified. She was't, but the outcry did not help her cause and her petition for her estate was ignored.
On September 17, 2 friends and neighbors, Dr Archibald MacLean Jr and Col Robert Loller arrived to inventory her possessions which included 400 books. She petitioned to be allowed to keep some household items and this was allowed but on October 15 her belongings were auctioned off. It was noted that her neighbors, in what is probably a show of support, did not attend the auction - only 8 men of the 134 names on the township tax list attended. She was able to buy back a few things but ran out of money. The auction raised £537 of which £53 came from Elizabeth buying back her own things.
By law, all the property belonged to her husband but the appraisers did not include her jewelry, clothes, or plates. They also apparently excluded a slave, Alexander. He had been inherited by Elizabeth from her father probably for Elizabeth to care for in his old age but did not appear on any of the lists. Her tax assessment for 1783 does show 1 slave, though, valued at £250 which likely was Alexander.
Meawhile... Henry was in New York waiting to leave for England, but Elizabeth was not able to get a pass to see him. She exhausted all avenues but when Washington heard of it he sent her a pass. She spent several weeks with him in Elizabethton, New Jersey at the home of their mutual friend Colonel Elias Boudinot before he left for England for good.
The Johnstone-Reed scandal continued, Elizabeth had identified herself and berated Reed for his treatment of her. Reed dragged Rev Smith into it and questioned Elizabeth's mental health. Reed finally ended the affair in September when he published a long list of documents involved in the case, excluding letters from February. The end result was that Reed became her enemy just when she needed his friendship. Friends on the General Assembly told her they would like to support her but were reluctant to do so when she was caught in the middle of all this. Reed became a powerful party leader and for the next 2 years blocked her every move.
Elizabeth worked through friends in the Assembly, her friend Chief Justice Thomas McKean,(McKean's great-grandson, Henry Pratt McKean Jr would later become a prominent resident of Horsham, McKean Rd is named after him) and others to retain Graeme Park. The Assembly voted to allow her to live there rent free but the Executive Council (Reed) over-ruled this and insisted on £260. Her tax bill for 1780 was £460, £200 higher than any other property in Montgomery County. Another friend, George Meade appealed to have his reduced to £300. Oats and wheat that had been set aside for her had been sold at auction for £134, with the state keeping the money.
More troubles ensued when it was found out that some women living in the city were sending information to their husbands on the British side. The solution put forth in June 1779 was to force women and children to New York to live behind the English lines. Nothing was done until March 1780 when a journal was intercepted proving the point and on March 7 the Supreme Executive Council (Reed) announced that all wives of men on the British side would need to move to New York by April 15. Henry had already left for England by this point and Elizabeth knew no one in New York. She was in a panic and wrote a letter directly to Reed begging for leniency. She asked Dr William Smith to deliver it personally. Reed's reaction was cool and he said nothing could be done. Smith advised Elizabeth to lie low, which she did.
Rev James Abercrombie, son of Margaret Stedman from her 1st marriage and known to history as the minister who reprimanded George Washington for not taking communion, was visited by a Mr. B, initially to tell him the Assembly's decision to not charge Elizabeth rent had been negated by the Supreme Council, but he then told Abercrombie to tell Elizabeth to just leave things alone and above all stay at Graeme Park,
Her friend Chief Justice McKean also intervened and the furniture for two rooms and a kitchen were given back to her, although he was not able to do anything about the grain that was lost.
Elizabeth remained at Graeme Park. Elections were held in 1780 and a great many of her friends joined the assembly. Reed, however, remained as president of the Supreme Executive Council. Economic problems continued in the state, mainly due to the constant printing of money causing it to devalue. The state was unable to pay those in the Pennsylvania Line so a law was enacted to give each man a certificate in lieu of currency that could be used to purchase forfeited estates and ordered that all such estates be put up to auction by July 1, 1781.
This put Elizabeth into another panic and she again began writing to her friends. This time, however, she had many more supporters in the Assembly and they acted quickly to enact a law on April 2 giving her back Graeme Park. Reed again objected but this time her friends in the Assembly made it stick. The wording of the bill, however, made it difficult to selll the property.
Henry had gone to Long Island waiting to sail for England shortly after his last meeting with Elizabeth, and shortly after that she found out that the her friend Margaret Stedman's maid, Jane, was pregnant. Henry had stayed at the Stedman house from September 1777 to June 1778, and Stedman's son, the Rev James Abercrombie, reported that Jane had told him that Henry had been after her and he had seen Henry at Jane's door 13 months before she gave birth.
Jane had asked a Dr Bond, who had been treating one of the Stedmans, for something to induce an abortion, but he refused. She then went to Yellow Springs in Chester County, where she had grown up, to have the baby. Elizabeth and Margaret Stedman visited her there and Jane confirmed her accusation against Henry.
Henry knew of the pregnancy, and Elizabeth wrote him in September to tell him that she also knew. He replied on November 12 strongly denying that he had anything to do with it. He wrote to her several times throughout the fall begging him to come with him.
From 1780-82 Elizabeth wrote a long, revealing poem called "The Deserted Wife" in which she outlines her suspicions of Henry's guilt: Hope, Doubt, Solitude, and Adversity. Her initial reaction seems to be that she believed Henry, although those who knew Jane believed her. Jane had worked for the Stedmans for 11 years and Charles Stedman had no doubt that the child was Fergusson's.
When Henry returned to England and his letters arrived further and further apart, her doubts began to grow. Elizabeth had sent him letters from the Stedmans and others stating their belief in Jane, but he never replied. Elizabeth tried to discredit Jane without success. In March 1782 he said he had signed a notarized oath but that never found its way to Elizabeth. She asked her nephew, John Young who was exiled to England, to search for the justice of the peace who had witnessed the oath. In a letter dated January 6, 1784 a Mr Wiggens wrote that in early 1782, Mr Fergussson, who he knew very well, called upon him to to make an affidavit on a private family concern. Wiggens did not read the document.
Henry was to have sent the oath to Phineas Bond, a friend of his who was mediating between Henry and Elizabeth. Phineas never received it but had also contact Wiggens who confirmed to Bond that the oath had been witnessed.
Henry's last letter in July 1783 stated that he was never to return and gave Elizabeth an ultimatum to join him or he would consider her refusal a renunciation of him as her husband.
Elizabeth remained obsessed with this scandal and alienated many of her friends. Other rumors about Henry surfaced but none were proved. Those who knew him both in America and after his return to England spoke of him as a decent and honorable man. The issue remained alive many years later when relatives in Scotland wrote to say they were "shocked and astonished" that she did not believe him. She told Mrs Smith that she was giving Henry until January 1793 to answer all her questions or she would write to all her relatives explaining the whole situation, the accusations and oaths that she never received. She did not hear from Henry but waited until 1799 to carry through with this.
She wrote to Benjamin Rush in 1795 that she was too embarrassed to visit the city still,
"The afair has banished me as tho I was the offending Party from a City Dear to me with filial love and where I have done nothing to cause a Blush"
When Henry arrived in London in 1779 he was unable to find work. He received a pension of £100 for being a loyalist who had been driven from his home, although he had petitioned for £200 since he was caring for his brother's widow and 5 children, but this request was denied.
Henry also applied for compensation for the loss of Graeme Park. In 1785 he was award £2,304. Elizabeth had provided documentation necessary for him to be compensated, he had claimed that she had transferred the title to him when he left for England in 1775, which she knew to be untrue and which caued her extreme embarassment.
This money ran out in 1793 and he joined the army and may have been sent to Flanders. He received £40 from the crown from 1797-1801 and after that there is no further mention of him.
So the jury remains out on Henry Hugh Fergusson. Scoundrel, Traitor, or a Gentleman? Those who knew him spoke of him highly and if war had not intervened, he and Elizabeth may have lived together very happily for many years. But these shadows hang over him so we will probably never know lttle other than that he broke the heart of Elizabeth Graeme.
In 1780, in the midst of a war, being threatened with the loss of her estate, and in the middle of a scandal with a husband she would never see again, more grief struck when her niece, Anny Young Smith who had been married at Graeme Park just a couple of years before, died after giving birth to her 3rd child. Elizabeth had raised Anny after the death of Ann Graeme Young, her sister and Annie's mother, and Annie was like a daughter to her.
In April, 1782, the threat of losing Graeme Park was lifted and she continued to live there until 1793. She occasionally entertained visitors but was too poor to do this often or in the style she would have liked. Still embarrassed by the scandal of Henry and Jane, she rarely traveled to Philadelphia. Many of her friends had died and others were tired of her obsession with the scandal.
Elizabeth had always been a prolific writer but in her early years she considered her writing as only for the amusement of her and friends. In 1772, however, she included 4 of her own poems and wrote a eulogy for Evans to be included in the book. This was the 1st work of hers to be published
She published 4 more poems in 1775-76 in Pennsylvania Magazine or American Monthly Museum published by Robert Aiken. She did not publish anything else until 1784 with a poem in the 1st daily newsaper Pennsylvania Packet.
Between December, 1786 and September, 1792 she published 24 more poems and a 3 part prose allegory.
Money problems continued to plaque her. She had sold parts of Graeme Park off early in the war but most of the proceeds went to pay off debts. She was unable to sell any more while she was battling the Supreme Council. After it was returned to her she was initially afraid to sell due to the wording on the bill, and then when she did try to sell she was unsuccessful.
In 1784 she was renting part of Graeme Park to a man named John Ratliff for £125 but he was cutting down trees and not taking care of the fields, some of which were still damaged from the army encampments in 1777. A visitor in 1786 described the estate as neglected.
The winter of 1786 sent Elizabeth into a deep depression and the early spring brought on the usual ailments that she suffered each year. By April, however, she was feeling much better and she sat down to write Benjamin Rush a very long series of letters. 138 sides of these letters remain. These letters were critical essays, something different for Elizabeth. The 1st 2 concerned a critical reading of a publication by the English author Samuel Johnson, and the last concerned a publication by Rush himself.
The act of writing these letters to Dr Rush helped steady her. She heard of a new periodical The Columbian Magazine. Her old friend Francis Hopkinson, who had been a regular at her Attic Evenings, was associated with the publication and over a period of 6 years 24 of her poems were published there under the name "Laura from Montgomery County", although she was well known under that name. For some reason her output slowed in 1792 and in 1793 new postal regulations that prevented the magazine from being delivered outside Philadelphia caused it to cease publication.
Writing had proven to be good for Elizabeth's health but not for her finances and in 1787 she again advertised Graeme Park for sale but with no luck until 1791. The highest bidder was Dr William Smith, Annie's widower who paid £3,500 for the estate. Elias Boudinot insisted that she invest £500 with the new Bank of the United States which would guarantee her an income of £60 per year.
Boudinot helped her resolve her debts and on April 30, 1791 she sold Graeme Park.
Dr Smith had been in no hurry to move into Graeme Park, but in 1793 Yellow Fever struck in Philadelphia so Dr Smith and his 2nd wife, Letitia were forced to flee the city. They were happy to have Elizabeth stay at Graeme Park as long as she liked but she didn't feel comfortable living there with someone else in charge.
In early 1793 she sent another collection of poems to Annis Stockton, but this collection was much more personal that the previous set; including "Il Peserosa (Deserted Wife)" which she had written in the early 1780s after Henry had left, "A Pastoral Ballad: Love and Alexis" which she had given to Henry when she said she would marry him, "Advertisement" the poem she wrote when Henry disappeared in Philadelphia for a week, and "Lines Written on a Blank Leaf of Young's Night Thoughts" which she had given to Henry when she saw him last.
Starting in 1786 she had also worked on revising her "Telemachus" the story she had translated from French prose into English verse 20 years earlier. She discussed publishing it with Elias Boudinot, who suggested a subscription, but Elizabeth declined.. Plans were put on hold in the summer of 1793 as the yellow fever epidemic shut down all business.
The Smiths came to Graeme Park in August and stayed till late October as the epidemic was ebbing. Elizabeth moved to live with Mrs Todd in the Crooked Billet section of Hatborough (Hatboro) in December 1793. The Billet, as it was known was about 2 miles from Graeme Park, within walking distance of the Horsham Meeting and the Union Library of Hatborough.
The Graemes were not Quakers but there wasn't an Anglican Church near Graeme Park so they had attended the meeting when they were in Horsham.
The Union Library Company was formed in 1755 by 4 local men to combat "black and dark ignorance" with 38 original subscribers. The Graemes had not been members but donated a number of books and were allowed to borrow. Henry had been voted to their board in 1773.
Mrs. Todd was an educated woman, her 2 sons and a nephew were doctors. She also had an extra room so Elizabeth's companion, Betsy Stedman, who had lived with her for many years at Graeme Park, stayed with them for a few months and then left for a tour of Europe at Elizabeth's insistence. Elizabeth distributed many of her belongings and books when she moved but still saved her writings, which she sorted and worked on for the next couple of years.
Boudinot resumed, after the yellow fever scare subsided, to look for a printer for "Telemachus" but found that prices were too high and all the printers had great trouble reading Elizabeth's handwriting. He suggested that over the summer she try to rewrite it more legibly. In 1794 they enlisted Rev Smith to help with reading and transcribing the document but he and Elizabeth had a falling out over her still, constant obsession with Henry and Jane. Finally in 1796 she delivered a legible manuscript to Smith. Prices for printing remained very high, though, so finding a printer was post-poned.
In late 1797 or early 1798, Mrs. Todd died and Elizabeth was forced to move again, this time into the home of Seneca Lukens. Lukens as a clock maker and grandson of one of the founders of the Union Library. Lukens house was on hill which made it difficult for Elizabeth to get around. She was very popular and was called "Lady Fergusson" because she had met the king and her grandmother had been Lady Anne. She was known to be very generous to the poor.
She continued to be obsessed with the Henry-Jane scandal, although at this point she had heard nothing of him in 3 years. His nephew, Robert Fergusson, was traveling in the states but missed meeting his aunt due to illness. She had planned to introduce him to Jane to hear her story so he could tell his relatives back in Scotland. In 1799 she sent a packet of letters detailing the whole scandal to Henry's relatives in Virginia. The Virginians knew nothing of it, though, so they forwarded it to Robert, but it is not known what he did with it. She asked Benjamin Rush and Elias Boudinot to read more papers, but Rush told her "To Everyone but Yourself Mr F would appear Innocent", and Boudinot "99 out of 100 men would pronounce him not guilty". Those who knew Jane, though, still believed her accusations.
By the fall of 1799, Elizabeth found it difficult to walk, but was still sharp of mind and "possessing great conversational powers" according to Seneca's grandson Joseph Lukens
Elizabeth fell ill on the evening of February 11, 1801 and died 12 days later. Dr Benjamin Rush wrote:
"This morning died at the Billet near Philadelphia Mrs Eliz Fergusson, a woman of uncommon talents and virtues, admired, esteemed, and beloved by a numerous circle of friends and acquaintances. Her life was marked with distress from all its numerous causes, guilt excepted. An early disappointment in love, loss of all her Relations, bad health, an unfortunate marriage connection, poverty, and finally a slow and painful death composed the ingredients that filled her cup of suffering. She was the intimate friend of my dear mother-in-law, who died a few weeks before her. I owe to her many obligations. She introduced me into her circle of friends"