Notes scribbled by Coles--Undated notes in Coles' hand, Princeton University Library. Back

Slavery, be it never so easy--in the Princeton University Library. Back

some twenty slaves--Actually, the exact number of slaves laboring at Rockfish is unknown. Coles seems to have taken Bob and Polly Crawford with him to Washington, sending Bob occasionally back to Enniscorthy with messages (see Edward Coles to John Coles III, November 10, 1813, and July 1, 1814, both in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Ralph Crawford, perhaps with his wife Kate and their children, stayed at Enniscorthy, in part because Coles wished to spare him the rigors of working at Rockfish (Edward Coles to John Coles III, December 17, 1810, Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Coles supplemented his labor force at Rockfish by hiring the slaves of his sisters (Edward Coles to John Coles III, July 1, 1814, Historical Society of Pennsylvania), but how many slaves he hired is unknown. See also Edward Coles to John Coles III, Dec. 16, 1811, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in which Edward writes that the money from the sale of his flour should be enough to pay Tucker $100 on Emily's account, as my part of the loss she sustained in the death of Ned, presumably a slave of Emily's who died working for Edward at Rockfish. Back

When I had the pleasure--Edward Coles to James Madison, September 22, 1812, Chicago Historical Society. According to the Almanac Dates, Coles was at Montpelier between September 8 and September 13. Back

When I left Dr. Everette--Edward Coles to John Coles III, November 25, 1812, Princeton University Library. Back

I have every day--Edward Coles to Rebecca Coles, December 9, 1812, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

From what I understand--Edward Coles to John Coles III, March 28, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Dr. Physick had to cut again--Edward Coles to Rebecca Coles, May 12, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Coles begged the Madisons--Edward Coles to Rebecca Coles, May 19, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In this letter Coles reports the substance of his letter to Madison, which I have not been able to find. Back

The Madisons' answer--Dolley Madison to Edward Coles, May 13, 1813, Private Collection of Charles Feinberg (copy in the University of Virginia Library). Back

Tell Brother Walter--Edward Coles to John Coles III, June 2, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In a letter to Senator Flagg in 1861 (Journal of the Illinois Historical Society, no. 3 [1910], 59-64) Coles claims that he "at last" collected his debt in 1819, intimating that trouble in collecting this debt was a cause of his delay in freeing his slaves. But Coles never pressed Walter for the money due him. On February 17, 1818, he wrote to John III: Brother Walter told me last fall he wished to pay me the balance due me on the first of March. I have written him if it is agreeable to his plans and wishes I would meet him in Richmond at that time, and make such disposition of our funds as may be suitable to any western speculation we may think fit to engage in (Princeton University Library). It seems that Walter held some of the money for Edward--at interest--until Edward was ready to make his investments in western land. Back

Walter bought Rockfish--In his 1827 autobiography Coles states that Walter purchased his farm "on a credit of one two and three years," which would mean that the final payment would have been due in 1816 or 1817. Back

his illness turned to jaundice--Dr. Physick to Edward Coles, August 5, 1813, Roberts Coles Collection; Edward Coles to John Coles III, August 8, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

having not only gotten rid--Edward Coles to John Coles III, September 13, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Helen Skipwith Coles writes--Helen Coles to Selina Skipwith, September 28, 1813; Helen Coles to Selina Skipwith, November 8, 1813; both in the Roberts Coles Collection. Back

he is in Philadelphia--Edward Coles to John Coles III, November 10, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Isaac, immediately at the onset of war--Isaac's misadventures in the army are of a piece with his troubles as Presidential secretary. Apparently, on January 1, 1813, an officer by the name of John Stanard complained to him that the surgeon of the regiment, a Dr. Bronaugh, was inattentive to the sick and had also done something for which any other officer would have been cashiered. (This offence turned out to be living in sin with a woman by the name of Fanny Cumberford.) Stanard accused Isaac of partiality for Dr. Bronaugh, which Isaac vehemently denied. Asked for help in drawing up charges against Bronaugh, Isaac complied, but refused to sign them because that would put him against Dr. Bronaugh, a position he did not favor. Stanard therefore brought the charges against Bronaugh on his own, forcing Isaac to arrest Bronaugh with great reluctance. (Isaac Coles to Joseph Cabell, August 13, 1814, University of Virginia Library, Cabell Deposit, with enclosures. All of the letters referred to here are in the Cabell Deposit.) Bronaugh, incensed at Isaac, quickly brought counter charges, accusing Isaac of conduct unbecoming an officer, and of cowardice during a crossing of the Niagara River in November 1812 (see publication of Isaac Coles of letters between him and Bronaugh, July 26, 1815, in the Cabell Deposit). These charges found a sympathetic ear in Colonel Preston, who had once hoped to lead Isaac's regiment but had been supplanted by Isaac, perhaps because of Isaac's influence in the President's House. The officers in Isaac's regiment, who apparently were also "wedded to Preston," issued a memorial against Isaac, driving him into a vengeful fury (Joseph Cabell to Isaac Coles, July 9, 1814; Isaac Coles to Joseph Cabell, August 13, 1814). As soon as a court martial cleared him of any wrong doing, Isaac resigned his commission and proceeded to chase after Bronaugh, Preston, and a Colonel Jones to force them either to take back their statements about him or to fight him. He seems to have come to some understanding with Preston, which he says is a good thing, as Preston was "still a cripple" after his injuries at the Battle of Williamsburg, in which Isaac also participated (Joseph Cabell to Isaac Coles, January 3, 1815; Isaac Coles to Joseph Cabell, February 19, 1815; Charles Ingersoll, Historical Sketch of the Second War between the United States of America and Great Britain, Philadelphia, 1845, vol. 1, p. 305). What happened with Bronaugh and Jones is unclear (Isaac Coles to Joseph Cabell, September 13, 1815).

A second, less serious scrape landed Isaac in prison for a short time in New York City. He had been ordered to erect huts on someone's land, and the resultant damage suit had led to his temporary incarceration (Isaac Coles to Elizabeth Coles, January 1, 1814, Roberts Coles Collection). Back

John joined his regiment--Almanac Dates, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Meade and Lindsay took commissions--Edward Coles to John Coles III, May 6, 1812, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Edward writes to Dolley--Edward Coles to Dolley Madison, October 5, 1812, New York Public Library. Back

Coles' school friend Hawkins--Mr. Hawkins to Edward Coles, February 10, 1813, Princeton University Library. Back

Nicholas Biddle, a new and important friend--Nicholas Biddle to Edward Coles, September 24, 1814, Princeton University Library. Back

In the evening--Edward Coles to Rebecca Coles, December 9, 1812, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. This scene gave rise to a story about Dolley Madison. An episode took place in 1813 [sic], Katherine Anthony tells us, at a great ball held in celebration of the naval victories. The President and Mrs. Madison, the Cabinet members and their wives, and every official of consequence in Washington were present. At the height of the evening there entered the room one Lieutenant Hamilton, son of the Secretary of the Navy, bearing the news of the defeat of the Macedonian, and bringing the flag of the captured ship as a trophy. Advancing proudly up the hall, the young man laid the symbol of victory at Dolly Madison's feet.

The story later on was hushed up and denied. But one of Dolly's biographers has cannily produced the letter of an old lady who testified that, as a girl, she "saw Mrs. Madison's color come and go at the naval ball when the Macedonian flag was presented to her by young Hamilton." Evidently she blushed less with pleasure than with embarrassment of thus being singled out as the object of an official tribute. There is no doubt that Dolly was at the moment the most prominent person in Madison's government. (Katherine Anthony, Dolly Madison: Her Life and Times, Garden City, 1949, p. 239. The source of the letter quoted by Anthony is Maud Goodwin, Dolly Madison, New York, 1896, pp. 56-57.)

Once source of this legend may have been the recollections of Commodore Stewart, published in 1845. Summarizing one of Stewart's recollections, James Gallatin, the son of secretary of the treasury Albert Gallatin, writes to Coles in 1845: Late at night at a public ball given him [Stewart] in Washington in December, 1812, the flag of the frigate Macedonian, and dispatches announcing the capture of the ship arrived, and that said flag was spread on the floor of the ball room, and after the reading of the despatches the President (Mr. Madison) made the following remarks to the assembled company, viz: "It is to Commodores Bainbridge and Stewart that we owe these victories. It was at their insistance and strong solicitation that the ships were permitted to go to sea and cruise."

But Gallatin himself has a different memory. Although very young then, he writes, I was present at said ball, and have a lively recollection of the bringing in of the flag; but I do not remember that Mr. Madison made a speech at the occasion; and moreover, I am strongly impressed with a belief that he was not there. (James Gallatin to Edward Coles, November 20, 1845, Princeton University Library.)

The key question is whether Madison was there, for the point of the legend is that it was Dolley, rather than Madison, who received the tribute of young midshipman Hamilton. Coles and Dolley disagree sharply in their recollections on this point.

Writing to Dolley's nephew Cutts, Coles expresses his dismay at the false account of the ball given by Commodore Stewart and gives his own recollection. I have, he writes, a strong and fixed belief, which I have long entertained, that President Madison was not at the ball in question--such as the belief that there was a vague rumor in Washington the evening of the night of the ball, that Decatur had taken a British Frigate--that Mr. Madison requested me, if I should hear anything corroborative of the rumour at the ball, to let him know it--that Mrs. Madison and myself accompanied by Miss Mayo, went to the Ball together--that the city was partially illuminated in consequence of the rumours being believed by many--that I was the first to see Midshipman Hamilton as he alighted from the carriage and entered the Hotel--took him into a private room and informed his Father of his arrival--that I urged Secretary Hamilton to let me, as a Manager, have the flag to be exhibited in the Ballroom, which request he for some time refused to grant, on the ground that it would be improper to make such a display of the flag till it and Decatur's despatch should be laid before the President--that after much reasoning and persuasion he finally agreed to deliver it to me, as the Secretary and aid to the President to be by me delivered to him--and having been thus delivered to me I had it unfurled and taken around the ballroom--that on our return to the President's House, we found he had not retired to bed, and I communicated to him what had occurred at the ball--he having read Decatur's despatch which had been promptly conveyed to him from Tomlinson's Hotel (Edward Coles to Mr. Cutts, December 17, 1845, Princeton University Library).

In a letter to James Gallatin, Coles writes: In reply to your enquiry I must say Pt. M. was not in the habit of attending Balls except Washington's birthnight Balls and that I am very certain he did not attend the 'Naval Ball' referred to as well as from my recollection of what occurred at that Ball as of the persons who accompanied Mrs. M. and myself to it and the conversation which passed between Mr. M. and myself on my return from the Ball.

I prevailed on the Sec: of the Navy who was at the Ball to let the flag of the Macedonian be unfurled and borne in and round the ballroom by Cap. Hull, Morris, Stewart, and Tengry. It was not spread on the floor of the Ball room nor do I think it was on the floor--except the corner of the flag borne by Ca. S: which fell at the feet of a Lady--whether by accident or design I know not but I recollect it gave use [rise?] to comments both in conversation and in the newspapers. (Edward Coles to James Gallatin, November 22, 1845, William and Mary Quarterly, ser. 2, vol. 7 (1927), 104. The date given by the editors of the Quarterly is 1825, but this is clearly an error, since Ingersoll's history, Commodore Stewart's recollections, and the Coles-Gallatin exchange all occurred in 1845.)

Dolley, however, insists that Mr. Madison was there, where the very moving scene described by Mr. Sawyer [Stewart?] took place with others, not to be forgotten (Dolley Madison to Edward Coles, January 29, 1846, Princeton University Library).

The controversy over whether Madison actually attended the ball was concerned mainly with an issue other than whether Dolley was given precedence over Madison on the occasion. In his alleged speech, Madison was supposed to have given credit to Commodores Bainbridge and Stewart for insisting that American ships of war be allowed to engage the British on the open sea. Charles Ingersoll, the publication of whose Historical Sketch of the Second War between the United States of America and Great Britain (Philadelphia, 1845) set off the controversy, claims that Madison's cabinet, let by Gallatin, had prior to the Commodore's intervention decided to keep all American ships in safe harbor in order to protect them from the British and to preserve them for use in the defence of port cities (pp. 367-378). Commodore Stewart agreed with Ingersoll, claiming, according to Coles, that it was formally and after repeated deliberations decided by President Madison's cabinet, to keep the American Navy in port during the war from an apprehension if it went to sea it would be captured by the enemy (Edward Coles to Mr. Gallatin, November 12, 1845). But neither Coles nor Gallatin has any recollection of such deliberations. Back

Coles was offered--In the 1844 autobiography Coles writes: When Messers Adams, Gallatin, Clay, Bayard and Russell, were appointed Plenipotentiaries to negotiate the terms of peace with England, President Madison offered me the situation of Secretary to the Mission, which I declined accepting, when Mr. Hughes was appointed. In a letter to his mother Coles mentions attending a party in honor of the mission, then passing through Philadelphia on its way to Europe, but does not mention any personal interest in it (Edward Coles to Rebecca Coles, May 3, 1813, Historical Society of Pennsylvania). He probably did not even consider Madison's offer because of his ill health. Back

I have been much gratified--Edward Coles to Dolley Madison, August 16, 1814, Chicago Historical Society. Back

while the cannon were roaring--Edward Coles to Payne Todd, January 3, 1815, Princeton University Library. Back

For some time there was silence--Anthony, p. 237. Back

coach and four foaming steeds--Goodwin, pp. 185-187. Back

the western country was ready--David Brion Davis makes a similar observation about the Southern frontier. It is too often forgotten, he writes, that the creation of the Cotton Kingdom depended on Andrew Jackson's decisive defeat of the Creeks, on the removal of the last lingering danger of an alliance between Indians and a European ally, and on the final eviction of the five civilized tribes from some of the richest lands of the South. The government's success in dispossessing the southern tribes led directly to the frenzied land speculation in Alabama and Mississippi and to the great cotton boom of the late 1820's and early 1830's (David Brion Davis, "Slavery and the American Mind," in Perspectives and Irony in American Slavery, ed. Harry P. Owens, Jackson, Mississippi, 1976, p. 56). Back

he had written a long letter--Edward Coles to Thomas Jefferson, July 31, 1814, Princeton University Library. The exchange between Coles and Jefferson is printed in Clarence Alvord, Governor Edward Coles, Illinois Historical Society Library, 1920, pp. 22-30. Coles' side of the exchange appears in the William and Mary Quarterly, ser. 2, vol. 7 (1927), 97-100. Back

Your letter--Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, August 25, 1814, Princeton University Library. Back

I feel very sensibly--Edward Coles to Thomas Jefferson, September 16, 1814, Princeton University Library. Back

showed a copy of his letter--1844 autobiography, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

I found they were indignant--1827 autobiography, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

I turned my face to the North West . . .--This last sentence continues: . . . and after exploring a great part of Ohio and Indiana, returned to Virginia, and advertised my land for sale. Owing to the obstructions of trade, the war, and the embarrassed and uncertain state of things, I could not effect a sale. At length however my Brother Walter purchased my farm on a credit of one, two and three years. During this interval I again explored all the parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, not owned by the Indians, and selected the latter as the most desirable. After making several purchases of land I returned to Virginia, and proposed to my Negroes that they should go with me, and live in Illinois. In this passage Coles is confusing the chronology of his trips west. He seems to be saying that after his exchange of letters with Jefferson he went west, then advertised his land for sale on his return. Actually, he had already sold his land to Walter almost a year before the exchange with Jefferson took place. Furthermore, on his first trip west, taken before he advertised his land, he explored not Ohio and Indiana but Kentucky (with one brief foray into Ohio). What Coles seems to be doing is lumping together aspects of his 1809 and 1815 journeys west. The second journey he mentions in this passage was taken in 1818 and not "during this interval"--that is, during the three-year period over which Walter paid for his farm (1813-1816). Back

a letter to Coles--Nicholas Biddle to Edward Coles, November 16, 1814, Princeton University Library. Back

I find on enquiry--Nicholas Biddle to Edward Coles, December 5, 1814, Princeton University Library. Back

I felt the strongest inclination--1844 autobiography, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

A devoted abolitionist in Virginia--See Gordon Finnie, "The Anti-Slavery Movement in the South, 1787-1836: Its Rise and Decline and Its Contribution to Abolitionism in the West," Ph. D. Dissertation, Duke University, 1962; and Carl N. Degler, The Other South: Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century, New York, 1974, for a description of Southern abolitionist movements. It is Finnie's contention that the emigration of Southern abolitionists to the west (Coles being a case in point) was a major cause of the sudden decline in Southern abolitionism and of the success of the struggle to prevent the expansion of slavery into the Northwest Territory. Thus Coles' personal decision not to try to fight against slavery in his native state was part of a larger phenomenon in which thousands of Southerners participated. Back

I have left the President--Edward Coles to Nicholas Biddle, April 6, 1815, Princeton University Library. Back

Oh! that I had--Edward Coles to "RLM" (Robert Madison), March 31, 1815, Princeton University Library. Robert Madison lived in Carlisle, PA. I can't tell whether he was related in any way either to the President's family or to the John Madison whom Edward had met at school. (See Edward Coles to Payne Todd, January 3, 1815, Princeton University Library, in which Coles mentions their "old friend Robert M. of Carlisle.") Back

The lady was Mary Swann--The family history of Mary Swann can be found in Richard Page, Genealogy of the Page Family of Virginia, Bridgewater, Va., 1965, pp. 96-101; "Selden Family," William and Mary Quarterly, ser. 1, vol. 6 (1897-1898), 234-238; and Mary Selden Kennedy, Seldens of Virginia and Allied Families, New York, 1911, pp. 38-122. Back

When I got to Alexandria--Edward Coles to Rebecca Coles, June 20, 1812, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

this beautiful and wealthy young woman--Edward's brother John may have shown some interest in Miss Swann in the winter of 1815, because Sally writes to him in Washington that you seem so little interested by the girls when you were here, that I will give you no account of them, except that the Swann has flown; she will return again soon; her brother was sick and sent for her. (Edward and Sally Coles to John Coles III, January 21, 1815, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

Tench Ringgold--At the time that he was friendly with Coles, Ringgold was between marriages, his first wife, Mary Christian Lee, having died in 1813 (Edmund Jennings Lee, Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892, Philadelphia, 1895, pp. 310-311). He later married a distant cousin of his first wife, Mary Aylett Lee. One of his grandsons was Edward Douglas White, a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (Sister Marie Carolyn Kirkhamer, "The Family Background of Chief Justice White," The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 33, no. 2 (July 1947), 191-205). Back

I will begin--Tench Ringgold to Edward Coles, April 12, 1815, Princeton University Library. Back

or to mate with her cousin--Wilson Selden was Marry Swann's cousin in a peculiarly intimate way. Mary Swann's grandmother, Mary Mason Seldon, first married Mann Page, with whom she had Jane Byrd Page, Mary's mother. After the death of Mann Page, she married her own cousin, Wilson Cary Selden. Although she had no children with him, after her death he became the guardian of her children by Mann Page (including Mary Swann's mother). By his second wife he had a son, Wilson Selden, who is the cousin mentioned in Tench Ringgold's letter. Back

I find that not withstanding--Tench Ringgold to Edward Coles, April 23, 1815, Princeton University Library. Back

Miss Swann is in the city--Dolley Madison to Edward Coles, March 6, 1816, Princeton University Library. Back

the last lady--There is one hint of an attraction between Coles and Selina Skipwith, the sister of Helen. Edward's sister Sally writes to his brother John that Helen is a great favorite of Edward's, perhaps not only for her own sake but for Selina's (Sally Coles to John Coles III, February 5, 1815, Roberts Coles Collection.) John Coles III married Selina Skipwith seven years later, in 1822, after which there was some coolness between him and Edward. But there is no evidence, other than this hint and the tone of some of Helen's letters to Selina, that there was any serious attraction on either side. Back

the beautiful Miss Swann behind--In June 1818, Marry Swann married John Mercer, the son of a former governor of Maryland. John Mercer's sister Margaret, interestingly, like Coles freed all of her slaves, reducing herself to the necessity of supporting herself by teaching. Mary Swann's brother, Thomas Swann, later became mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland (Kennedy, pp. 501-504). Back

Edward Coles

Chapter 11