The Jay Papers I: Mission To Spain


Remember in writing in this Way to place a , after each number, and a ; or : or a - after each Word. This will prevent Confusion. It will be unnecessary to write a whole Letter in Cypher. So many Words in Cypher as will blind the Sense will be sufficient, and more safe, as a Discovery will thereby be rendered more difficult. God bless you.

I am your affectionate Friend J OHN J AY

The stormy voyage of the Confederacy is depicted in the letters of Sally Jay to her mother, Susannah French Livingston. Jay himself appears to have been much too seasick to attend to formal correspondence. Sally’s first letter is dated December 12.

My dear mama,

… We embarked at Chester on the aoth of October, but did not lose sight of land ’till the 26th, when we launched out to sea with a brisk gale. The very first evening we were all seized with that most disagreeable sickness peculiar to our situation; my brother, Peter, and myself soon recovered, but my dear Mr. Jay suffered exceedingly at least five weeks and was surprisingly reduced; I imagine his health would have been much sooner restored had not our passage been so very unpleasant.

About 4 o’Clock in the morning of the 7th of November, we were alarmed by an unusual noise upon deck, and what particularly surprised me, was the lamentations of persons in distress: I called upon the Captain to inform me the cause of this confusion that I imagined to prevail; but my brother desired me to re’main perfectly composed, for that he had been upon deck but an half an hour before and left every thing in perfect security.

Perfect security! Vain words! don’t you think so mamma? And so indeed they proved. For in that small space of time we had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-sprit, fore-mast, main-mast, and missenmast; so that we were in an awkward situation rendered still more so by a pretty high southeast wind and a very rough sea that prevailed then; however our misfortunes were only began, the injury received by our rudder, the next morning, served to compleat them. … let my benevolent mamma imagine the dangerous situation of more than 300 souls tossed about in the midst of the ocean, in a vessel dismasted and under no command [ i.e. , rudderless] at a season too that threatned approaching inclemency of weather. … I … assure you that in no period of our distress, though ever so alarming did 1 once repine, but incited by his [Jay’s] amiable example, I gave fear to the winds and chearfully resigned myself to the dispensations of the Almighty.

Your whole family love Mr. Jay, hut you arc not acquainted with half his worth, nor indeed are any of his friends, for his modesty is equal to his merit. It is the property of a diamond (I’ve been told) to appear most brilliant in the dark; and surely a good man never shines to greater advantage than in the gloomy hour of adversity; in scenes of that kind 1 have lately beheld with pleasure, and even admiration, the firmness and serenity of mind that evidently shone out in the countenance of our invaluable friend. May he long, very long, be preserved a blessing to his connections and a useful as well as disinterested friend to his Country.… After our misfortunes on the 7th and 8th of November … a council of the officers was held to consider where it was most expedient to bend our course and it was unanimously concluded by them that it would be impossible to reach Europe at this season, with a ship in the condition that ours was. They were likewise united in opinion that the southern direction was the only one that offered a prospect of safety, and of the Islands, Martinico [Martinique] was the most eligible, for it’s commodious harbour and the probability of being supplied with materials to refit: accordingly the first fair wind that offered (which was not ‘till near three weeks from the above mentioned Aera) was embraced in pursuance of the advice given by the officers: and after having passed through very blustering, squally latitudes, we are now in smooth seas, having the advantage of trade-winds which blow directly for the Island; nor are we, if the calculations made are just, more than 220 miles distant from the destined port.

… [December 7] happened to be a merry [day] to the sailors … for crossing the tropick [ i.e. , of Cancer] they insisted upon an antient custom of shaving and ducking every person that had not crossed it before excepting only those who paid their fine. I could not forbear smiling at Peier’s fate, who had been diverting himself with observing the operation performed on many of them, ‘till they exclaimed at the injustice of exempting him, and insisted upon his being tarred at least. … Peter, sobbing, declared that had not his new coat been spoilt, lie would not have regretted so much the difficulty of getting rid of the tar. Apropos of Peter, his behaviour throughout this voyage has charmed me; I thought 1 could trace his grand-father’s firmness in the equanimity of the child. May the resemblance be increased and perpetuated in every disposition and action of his life. …

Martinico, December 26th, 1779