1832: Elizabeth Fairfax Griffith to Frances St. Clair Griggs

How Elizabeth might have looked

How Elizabeth Fairfax Griffith might have looked

I believe this letter was written by Elizabeth Fairfax Griffith, the daughter of Rev. David Griffith (1780-1830) and Elizabeth Fairfax (1770-18xx) of Alexandria, Virginia. Elizabeth Fairfax was the daughter of Rev. Bryan Fairfax (1736-1802) and Elizabeth Cary (1730-1778) of Mount Eagle, near Alexandria, Virginia.

Though undated as to year, I believe the letter was written in 1832 for three reasons. First Elizabeth’s brother, Alberto Griffith passed his midshipman examination in April 1832 (see footnote), just previous to when this letter was penned. Second, Elizabeth refers to “the Convention” recently held in Alexandria which caused her to be very busy. I believe this was Episcopal Convention which was to convene in Alexandria on 16 May 1832. Third, it was a cholera epidemic year in the United States, striking New York City and Richmond, Virginia, as well as other cities particularly hard.

Griffith wrote the letter to her friend, Frances St. Clair Griggs, the daughter of Thomas Griggs Jr. (1780-1860) and Charlotte Hubbard (1774-1857). Charlotte’s sister, Francis Hubbard, married Robert St. Clair (son of Gen. St. Clair) of Staunton, Virginia, whom I believe she was named after. We surmise from the letter that the Griggs family has recently sold their house in or near Alexandria and relocated to a farm in Jefferson County, Virginia.

The Griggs family has a long history in Charles Town, Jefferson County, Virginia [now West Virginia]. The progenitor of this family was Thomas Griggs, Sr. (1746-1839) — the “wealthy Charlestown merchant and landowner” mentioned in the excerpt below which describes to Cool Spring Farm property, three miles southwest of Charles Town.

The 1832 frame house on Thomas Griggs’ farm served Griggs and his family for more than twenty years. Griggs was the son of a wealthy Charlestown merchant and landowner, Thomas Griggs, Sr., and his stylish house reflected his relative position in Jefferson County society. His attention to the popular Greek Revival architectural features on his rural dwelling was more typical in urban settings in the 1830s. In 1840, Thomas Griggs was listed on the census ~60 years old with one female of similar age (wife?) and two younger adult females (daughters?). He also listed six male slaves and six female slaves in his household, with five engaged in agriculture indicating an active farming operation. In 1850, at age 70, Griggs listed four in his household and ten slaves.

1832 Letter

1832 Letter

Addressed to Miss Frances St. Clair Griggs, Charles Town, Jefferson County, Virginia

Alexandria, Virginia
21st July [1832]

Dear Frances,

I would make a number of excuses for not writing you a long since, but I think they take up room in a letter, which if a person has but ideas enough (I do not say that this is my case) might be devoted to better purposes. The truth is during the Convention, I had not one half hour I could call my own, such hurry & confusion you could not form an idea of unless you had been here. I was really sorry I could not see more of the Browns for I wanted [to] hear all the news from Charles Town. Tell your Mama I did not hear anything of Mrs. Smith nor did I see one person from Norfolk that I knew. I am sorry now that you did not come down & knowing your old ways so well, I cannot help thinking it was as much your dislike to going from home as anything else that kept you from coming. What think yet of this? Is it not so?

Lucy has just been here & bids me tell your mama how sorry she is to think she shall never see her in that self same old house again. Indeed, we have both agreed that we do not like to think of any other family living in that house. I am sorry you are not better pleased with the county though no doubt in a short time you will be reconciled to it.

Joseph is here on a visit. We went together to Washington [D.C.] to see the sights there with which he was so much pleased that he has gone again today. I have been trying hard to hear some news out of him but all to no purpose. You know what dunderheads mankind are about news & such like things. There seems to be some apprehension here about the cholera & not without some just reason. Yesterday was proclaimed by order of the mayor a day of fasting & prayer. All the shops were shut & the churches opened. It was the first thing of [is] kind I ever witnessed before.

Aunt Sally is preparing to go either to the White Sulphur [Springs] or to the Glades of the Allegheny, but I shall stay with Lucy at least a part of time during her absence. Floretta has joined the Presbyterian Church. She is still going to school. Her teachers speak highly of her capacity & industry too, & I hope above all that she has really experienced a change of heart.

I have tried to tell everything I could that would at all interest you. I wish when you write again you would fill your letters with all the news you can scrape together. Nothing of the kind will come amiss. I must end abruptly for want of something else to say & am sorry that is not profitable, but that is my way of writing — a strong mixture without any fixed laws, or not at all, & such as it is I send to you.

Yours etc. — E. F. Griffith

Alberto has passed his examination but has not yet paid us a visit.¹

¹ Alberto Griffith (1808-1842) was Elizabeth Fairfax Griffith’s brother. He was in the U.S. Navy, passed his midshipman examination in April 1832. Later, as a Lieutenant, he married Cornelia Mann Page (1809-1890) at Alexandria, Virginia on 23 December 1835. 1842 Newspaper accounts state that Alberto Griffith became ill while in the Pacific but was placed on board the ship “Dale” to be returned to the United States. Subsequently an obituary record reported that Alberto died at Jamaica on 20 December 1842.

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