Revisiting Rosalie

rosalie riversdaleI recently took this book off the shelf again. Hadn’t remembered talking about it – but I did, in the early days of this blog.

It was a “shelf find” in the library where my office was located at the time. A “gift” to the library by a departing history professor. I was ENTRANCED! and pretty immediately looked online for a copy. That I bought a hardcover (the library copy was softcover), complete with its dust jacket, all in very good condition, should tell you how well-regarded I felt the contents to be.

Rosalie Stier had escaped the French revolutionary forces that had begun to invade her home country – Belgium. She and her family embarked for the United States. They ended up in Maryland. At the time that I got this book, I, too, had been spending time in Maryland (I live in Vermont). Such an experience, to see the very places in which Rosalie lived – including the mansion-house of Riversdale itself. Rosalie’s extraordinary letters exist because she stayed behind when the rest of her family returned to Belgium.

As it happens, Rosalie Calvert makes her appearance at this Fall’s Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), when the AGM convenes in Washington, D.C. But it was listening to the Original Broadway Recording of Hamilton that had me pulling out the book.

Diggs_Jefferson

Rosalie had some harsh thoughts about Thomas Jefferson (she referred to him as “Tommy Jeff”); through marriage the Calverts were related to Martha Washington’s Custis children; and the Calverts were “on the scene,” having settled so close to the new national capital.

What might Rosalie Stier Calvert have written about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton??

Alas, it is his death alone that warrants a comment in the existing correspondence (as translated from the French and published here):

“America has just had a great loss in the person of Alexander Hamilton who was killed in a duel with Colonel Burr, the vice-president. Even General Washington’s death did not produce such a sensation. The City of New York is in an uproar, and if Burr had not fled, they would have made him pay dearly for his vengeance.”

America has just had a great loss… Forceful words, indeed. Pity nothing else in her letters elaborates upon the “whys” behind her thoughts.

HIGHLY recommended for those travelling to the AGM in October 2016, those interested in women’s history, and those interested in a “plantation” view of the new nation of the United States. Excellently edited by Margaret Law Callcott, with a fine essay that introduces the Stiers and supports the letters that follow.

Mistress of Riversdale

Publisher / date: The John Hopkins University Press, 1991
pages: 423
Hardcover & paperback editions
genre: letters

Before readers think I recommend only British diaries and letters, this book proves that’s not the case! Edited by Margaret Law Callcott, Mistress of Riversdale: The Plantation Letters of Rosalie Stier Calvert, 1795-1821 has so much to offer. Our protagonist, Rosalie Stiers Calvert, grew up in Belgium, and emigrated during the Napoleonic Wars. You can visit one of the houses she lived in at Annapolis, although the house keep the Stier history rather silent: the William Paca House. (Info on the House and the Paca Gardens.)

The Stiers moved to Annapolis from Philadelphia; after marriage Rosalie remained in the States while her family returned to Europe. The letters are between those families members and make for fascinating reading! Whether Rosalie writes of politics, homelife, buying land or making investments, her letters will open you eyes about this period. Callcott gives a fine introduction to the family.

Granted there are British roots here: Rosalie married George Calvert, a natural son of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore. And the letters cover the period of the War of 1812.

It was here I first learned of the wonderful book entitled Mrs Hurst Dancing… more on that book later!

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