Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph

My dearest Mother

I begin this letter with a hope that I shall have time to write at some length and tell you every thing relating to my present situation and prospects as well as my past adventures. my stay in Richmond was every-way for many reasons disagreable to me. the weather was bad, and the house crouded; Cousin Ann and myself were obliged to sleep in Aunt Randolphs room, and I having no convenient place to keep my clothes they were always in confusion. for every trifling article that I wanted my trunks were to be unpacked & then packed again. I saw very little company and there was not at a party during my stay in town except one or two at houses where I did not visit. I had the vexation to be grossly imposed on by the mantua maker whom Aunt R. had employed to make my dresses. on my arrival in Richmond I found it necessary to get a couple of dark dresses as I informed you before, one of these (the silk) she made & totally ruined. I was obliged to get a yard and a half more to put a new body and sleeves. for the making of this dress a cambric wrapper (the one which you know I was obliged to alter before I left home) a cambric frock, and a white levantine silk (which Aunt R. chose instead of the sattin satin) of the materials of which she Mrs Keith furnished, a bonnet and a few trifling articles she brought me in a bill of 57 dollars & some cents—to give you an idea of her charges one item of her bill was 12 dollars and a half for the covering and trimming of your otter skin. and after all the fur is so stiff that I cannot wear it. This vile extortioner was the protegee of Aunt R. & Nancy Watson, brought forward and rendered fashionable by their [. . .] patronage. Aunt Randolph has determined to cast her off for in consequence of her conduct to me, and she will lose in her custom a great deal more than she gained by cheating me.

I had 60 dollars from Skelton & 350 from Warwick making altogether 410. of this, 50 went to Mrs Keith, 50 to Neilson of whom I got my shawl a pair of silk stockings 6 thread cambric handkerchiefs, two dark dresses & gloves and some trifling article[s] 150 to Baltimore. 27 ½ my travelling expences, [. . .] 5 in advance to Sukey; 48 for my dark dresses, combs, some gloves and shoes to begin with, a silk casting handkerchief a little trunk, lace for letting in the sleeves of my India muslin, 2 pr of silk stockings, some velvet ribbon, & black pins for my hair, a white sash &c. &c. by casting up these sums you will find I have 80 dollars on hand and I am so lik well provided that I shall probably want nothing worth speaking of during the winter. if I stay untill the spring I shall want a straw bonnet and light shawl for the season. Sukey will prefers being paid for her services in a lump on her return to Richmond. I feel no uneasiness with regard to my expences on my own account for I consider myself well supplied but whenever I think of my poor father it makes my heart swells and the fear of his distressing him makes me wish myself at home again. I feel this the more particularly as I am conscious concious of having been guilty of a piece of extravagance. which I will tell you of. I was tempted in Richmond by some very elegant merino shawls. their price was 35 dollars. they were very large and had the richest borders I ever saw. they were rather more fashionable and I thought cheaper than the pellisse I should get in Baltimore. in short I bought one of them; I had not finished folding & unfolding. gazing & admiring, counting the large roses in the broad border & the little roses in the narrow border, when a letter arrived from Mrs S. saying that handsome pelisses were only 25 dollars in Baltimore I was thunder struck at the news & had to hold my shawl to the light, admire its beautifull texture, & reflect how gracefully on my return home, it would fall about your shoulders on great occasions, before I could console myself for having bought it. so far you will say was not so bad, but the worst is to come; when I arrived here, I put on the shawl and sallied out, every body admired it, Mr P. Todd said declared he had seen nothing so elegant in the Parisian shops; the fashionable milliner Mrs Mc. Daniel was in raptures and said she had sold one several not as handsome for 60 dollars. this praise was very gratefull to me, but alas it could not keep me warm, neither would the shawl. the spectators admired and I shivered; besides it was so large that I could scarcely manage it, when I got in or out of the carriage it was in constant danger of hanging in the wheel. I hesitated a long time but at last fears for my health & the state of actual suffering in which I often was determined me, and I wrote to Mrs Smith to lay out what remained of my 150 in a pelisse which I hope to recieve in a week or ten days; and untill I do recieve it I shall go out as little as possible. I have told you this story in a laughing way my dear mother, but I have really felt quite unhappy, & reproached myself very much for my thoughtless extravagance in purchasing a thing which if I had sufficiently reflected I might have known would not answer my purpose. I think so much of my fathers [. . .] difficulties that I never buy any thing that I am not sorry for it, and think I might have done without the article, or that at least I should have waited untill I was perfectly so certain that I could not. and withal I am not proof against temptation, for besides the shawl I have purchased several little articles things which although they add to my comfort, I could have dispensed with. among these I do not thin reckon the books which you will recieve—and which you must not scold me for sending, they only cost two dollars, and I could not bear that Mr Carr should return, without carrying some little token from me. I have so far obeyed your commands as not to get seperate articles for every member of the family. one of the books will amuse yourself and the girls, and the others will be of use to the boys, at least to the two younger ones, I could find nothing which would particularly suit dear James. the pewter plates are for the cherub, if you are afraid of her putting them in her mouth, put them away dear mother untill she gets big enough to play with them without danger.—

Feb 2nd

I have just recieved your two letters my dearest Mother one of them is more than a week old, what detained it so long on the road I cannot concieve. you need not have given me so many charges to write carelessly and without precision for I am by no means inclined to err on that side. this letter as you will percieve from the date was begun three days ago. Mr Carr was to have left Washington this morning, but as he has delayed his journey I will send this by post and write another by him which shall contain every detail with regard to my dress, employments &c. &c. suffice it to say for the present that Washington is not very gay this winter [. . .] that I have been out but little owing to the bad weather and Mrs Madison’s indisposition. she was extremely ill for some days and is just beginning to leave her room; owing to these circumstances I have made but few acquaintances. you shall certainly hear from me by Mr Carr and recieve the books which are Miss Edge worths. Irish Bulls, & early Early lessons consisting of Harry and Lucy (a tale for children of five or six years old I believe) Little dog Trusty, The Orange Man, The Cherry Orchard, Frank & Rosamond. thank Virginia for her french letter which I shall answer if I can by Mr Carr, but not in the same language as I am not s scholar enough for that. Mr De Roth the french Chargè d’affaires says “I know you can speak if you will and I am sure you understand my [. . .] good french better than my bad English” I assured him to the contrary, but he does not seem to credit me, and [. . .] probably ascribes my persisting in my assertion either to diffidence or obstinacy. I have seen M. & M de. Serrurier but & will tell you all about them in my next letter, as well as many other particulars which will interest you, such as, how I was dressed at the drawing room, how I was very near being squeezed to death, in the croud &c.

Write to me often dearest Mother. Give my love to my dear Grandfather, father, brothers and Sisters. Kiss Miss Petcalf for me. I wish she could see the elegant waggon that “poor Miss Hally” rides in now; her little note of admiration would be often repeated.

In obedience to your orders I will fill no more letters with details of bills &c. I have always subjects to write on much more interesting to myself. Adieu. I am invited to a little party at Mrs Dallas’s to morrow night if I go I will give you an account of it. When I am writing to you I never know when to stop. once more adieu my dearest Mother. Remember me to poor Dabney Terrell he is an old acquaintance of mine, & believe me to be with in the unalterable affection of your daughter.

E. W. R.
RC (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence).