Sarah Livingston Jay was born August 2, 1756 to Susannah French Livingston and William Livingston, first governor of the State of New Jersey.
She was exposed to American politics at an early age. Her education included reading, writing, dancing, etiquette and household management.
On April 28, 1774, she married John Jay, First United States Chief Justice at Liberty Hall. Her letters to her husband were often filled with concerned questions of health, queries on the current state of political affairs, and the gossip of the social world she moved within.
The couple bore six children; Peter Augustus, born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1776; Susan, born and died in Madrid after only a few weeks of life, in 1780; Maria, born in Madrid in 1782; Ann, born in Paris in 1783, William and Sarah Louisa, born in NYC in 1789 and 1792 respectively.
In 1779, leaving behind their son, Peter Augustus, they embarked on a mission to Spain of persuading the country to join the Franco-American alliance, to grant unconditional navigation rights to the Mississippi River, and to lend the cash-strapped United States $5 million at 6% interest or less. In return, Florida would be Spain's if the Americans succeeded in recapturing it from the British.
As a good-luck token, she asked for a lock of George Washington's hair, which he sent with the wish for "prosperous gales, unruffled sea, and everything pleasing..."
Two months later, abord the ship and far from Spain, its rudder would suffer an injury, where it would be dismasted and rudderless. They set course for Martinique, arriving into port in December 1779. Two days later, they found another vessel to take them to Cadiz, Spain.
During their two-year stay, the court of Spain never officially recognized the United States, or John Jay as the official representative of the United States.
Spain would refuse to recognize American Independence until 1783, on the basis that such recognition could spark revolution in their own colonies.
In 1782, Benjamin Franklin called John Jay to Paris to aid him in his diplomatic mission to negotiate with the British to end the war. In France, the Jays thrived. While in France, she’s said to have been impressed by Queen Marie Antoinette, about whom she wrote, “she is so handsome & her manners are so engaging.”
While in Paris, Sarah Jay was one of the first individuals to witness a hot air balloon flight at a demonstration at the Château de la Muette in Paris.
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War.
Considered one of the first socialites in the United States, her "Dinner and Supper list" for 1787-8 contained the names of notable men and women who were the midwives of a new nation, including: General and Mrs. Washington, Colonel and Mrs. Bayard, Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton, Dr. and Mrs. Rodgers, Elias Boudinot, Daniel Huger, and the DeLancey family.
Sarah Livingston Jay did not express feminist views, write books or pamphlets, or speak publicly as did her male counterparts. She died on May 18, 1802 at the age of 45, leaving behind her husband and five children.
Am I not myself a woman, writing to the ladies?.
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