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Hearing from the Distaff Side

Updated: 4 days ago

I know very little about Joshua John's wife, Elizabeth "Eliza" Massey, other than that she was a Quaker who left the Quaker Church to marry Joshua John at the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia in 1795. By 1802 she had given birth to four children: John, Elizabeth, Joshua, and Mary.

As mentioned earlier, Joshua John initially found work, along with his friend Nicholas King, surveying land for the land baron, Robert Morris. Apparently when Robert Morris effectively went bankrupt, Joshua lost his job and floundered for several years as he and Eliza added more children he could not support. Nicholas King had been invited to Washington City to work with Thomas Jefferson to design America's new capitol city. Joshua John had no such luck. The young family had to move in with Eliza's relatives in Pikeland, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles from Philadelphia.

After I published my genealogy e-books in 2014, I found a letter written by Eliza Moore to John Nicholson, Esquire, dated September 1797. Nicholson had partnered with Robert Morris in developing land companies, and Eliza went after him to try to claim money that Joshua John was owed by the North American Land Company. Her letter, which speaks for itself, is now part of the Winterthur Library in Wilmington, Delaware, and also available through the Library of Congress. The letter is not divided into paragraphs, but I will break it up for easier reading.

Letter from Eliza Moore, Sep 18, 1797

John Nicholson, Esq.

Corner of Seventh and Race Street


Pikeland Sep 15, 1797


My husband Joshua John Moore having quitted the City thru' want of means to furnish house and continue his way there. The old Furniture not being ours; has retired with me to the house of a relation of mine, where I remain while he employs himself in going about the Country to see if he can find any thing to do in any honest way, till we are enabled to live in town again.

But to all appearances with very little now -- just of Success in my Line [?]. In the mean time being entirely our of Cash, I thought it best to inform you of his Condition, his mind being continually bent upon ill fortune which attends us, and determined upon not troubling you he is at present gone a [sic] journey, but by the time he returns I dread to think we many not have one dollar to help ourselves, let me interest you by the value of a faithful Servant which I am sure he has been as far as continual crosses [?] permitted to enclose [sic] some mony [sic] in answer to this for our help, and if you would be so kind as to assist him with about 600 or 800 dollars which I suppose to be something near the Balance due to him, he will be able to set himself forward and if you desire it he can then return to the City, furnish our house and continue his best endeavors in your employ again.

Please to direct to my husband who will return in a few days to the Care of Mrs [sic] Sarah Rees Gallway house, Downingtown in Chester County.

and I shall be with the greatest respect, Sir, your obliged humble servant,

Eliza Moore

It was unusual for women to be literate in those days -- in many cases women could read but were never taught how to write because nobody (meaning the men) thought it would be useful. Eliza would have been one of few literate women at the time, because she was raised in the Quaker religion and they, along with Moravians, thought reading and writing to be an asset for women.

At the time she wrote this letter, Eliza would have been caring for a toddler son and an infant daughter -- or perhaps she was still pregnant with her second child -- so the financial stress she was feeling would have been totally justified.

Joshua John also had a letter in the same collection as Eliza's. It was written in 1794 when he had been ill and missed a few hours of work -- this would have been a year before Eliza was in the picture. The contrast between his letter and Eliza's is stark, reflecting the humility with which Joshua lived his life.

Letter from Joshua Moore, June 6, 1794

Dear Sir,

Please to excuse my absence this morning. I was very bad last night and not much better at the present; I find it impossible to attend to business. I will be here again in the afternoon, if I am better.

Your respectful servant,

Joshua Moore

Friday Morning June 6th

It is doubtful that Eliza and Joshua John saw any of the $600-800 owed to him in back wages. John Nicholson was a cad businessman who embezzled money from the state of Pennsylvania in 1793, when he was comptroller general of Pennsylvania. He was impeached by the state legislature but somehow found not guilty. (Albert Gallatin, Joshua John's future boss when he was Secretary of the Treasurer under President Thomas Jefferson and Joshua John was Chief Clerk of the Land Office, was part of the committee that tried to hold Nicholson responsible for his theft.)

Shortly afterwards, Nicholson became a partner with Robert Morris in his land speculation companies. However, he died in prison in 1800 -- where he was serving time for a debt of about four million dollars. He left a wife and eight children.

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