From Madame de La Marche
[on or before 4 Jan. 1801]
La reputation que vous vous etes acquis sur un grand nombre d’esprit par votre naturel honnête et bienfésant etant parvenue Jusqu’a nous, qui sommes trois dames française de familie distingués autrefois dans la France, savoir de la rochefoucault et de la Marche que les malheurs de la guèrre et de la revolution ont obligée de se refugier dans ces pays ci, pour y attendre la tranquilitée à renaitre dans notre patrie. A cet effet nous avions il y à près de trois ans elevé une academie pour léducation des Jeunes demoiselles dans la ville de georgetown tant a dessein de nous rendre utiles au publiques, que dans l’espoir de nous procurer une existances, et dans cette vue nous avons depansé tous nos fonds pour faire batire deux maisons sur un meme terrain qui fussent convenables a cette entreprise qui avoit trés bien reussi près d’un an, Jusqu’a ce que des personnes de ce meme pays qui ont esperés s’etablir sur nos ruines ont renversé par de mauvais et faux propos notre pansion que nous avons etés obligées d’abandonner depuis dix huit mois, et n’ayant point encore trouvé a vandre notre proprieté qui est belle et qui nous passe 5000 dollars de dépanse, et que nous sommes toutes prêtes de donner a 5000 et meme quatre mils huit cens si on vouloit nous les donner comptant, ou au moins à moitié, et un bon pour payer le reste en six ou huit mois de terme afin de pouvoir assurer notre existance, qui par toutes ses circonstances est depourvue, est trés incertaine. hè quoi Monsieur par un trait de bienfésance & d’humanité qui vous est comme naturele, vous qui etes riche ne pouriez vous pas nous avancer cette somme, et vous charger de cette proprieté que vous trouverez à revendre avec avantage bien mieux que nous, qui n’avons point la langue englaise, vous adoucirai les malheurs de personnes honnêtes qui sont à la veille et au moment de manquer des choses les plus necessaires a leur existances vous acquererez un droit a leur reconnoissance qui sera eternel et qu’elles feront connoitre à tous cœurs sensibles et capable deterniser votre memoire telles sont les dispositions de celle qui à l’honneur de se dire dans les sentimens de la plus haute estime et de la plus parfaite consideration
Monsieur Votre trés humble servante
de la marche
honorez moi Je vous prie Monsieur de deux mots de reponse par le present porteur qui doit en meme tems vous remettre un prospectus de la maison dont il vous enseignera la place si vous desiré venir la voire
The reputation that you have acquired over a large number of minds by your honest and beneficent nature having come to us, who are three French ladies of families formerly distinguished in France, namely de La Rochefoucauld and de La Marche, whom the misfortunes of the war and the revolution have obliged to take refuge in this country, to await the rebirth of tranquility in our fatherland. For this purpose we had, about three years ago, founded an academy for the education of young ladies in the city of Georgetown, as much for the purpose of rendering ourselves useful to the public as in the hope of procuring for ourselves a living, and, to that effect we had spent all of our funds for the construction of two houses on the same site that were suitable for the undertaking, which had succeeded very well for almost a year, until some persons of this very country who hoped to establish themselves on our ruins, overthrew by evil and false rumors our boarding school, which we were forced to abandon eighteen months ago, and not yet having been able to find a buyer for our property, which is beautiful and has required of us an expenditure of more than 5,000 dollars, and which we are ready to give up for 5,000, and even 4,800 if someone were willing to give it in cash, or at least half, plus a bond to pay the remainder in a term of six or eight months in order to secure our existence, which from all these circumstances is destitute, is very uncertain. Look here, Sir, by an act of beneficence and humanity, which is quite natural to you, you who are rich, could you not advance us that sum and take over that property, which you would be able to resell advantageously much better than we, who do not possess the English language, you would relieve the misfortunes of honorable people who are on the brink and at the very moment of lacking the things most necessary for their existence, you will acquire a right to their gratitude which will be eternal and which they will make known to all sensitive hearts capable of perpetuating your memory, such are the intentions of one who has the honor of saying that she has feelings of the highest esteem and the most consummate regard Sir your very humble servant
de la marche
Do me the honor, I beg you, Sir, of two words of reply by the present bearer, who will, at the same time, remit to you a prospectus of the house, whose location he will indicate to you if you wish to come to see it.
RC (ViW); undated; endorsed by TJ as received 4 Jan. 1801 and so recorded in SJL, where he also noted that he received it from Georgetown; he recorded the letter’s author as “March Mde. de la.”
Madame de La Marche (1746–1804) was Sister (sometimes Mother) Geneviève de Saint Théodose, a Roman Catholic nun belonging to the Franciscan order called the Poor Clares. Born Geneviève Marie Abert in Beaufort-en-Vallée, France, she made her religious profession at the age of 22 and entered the convent at Tours, which she left for Amiens in 1790. Two years later she and two other Poor Clare sisters, displaced by the government’s measures against church establishments, left France for the United States. Landing at Charleston early in 1793, they traveled to Baltimore, which was the diocese of John Carroll, the country’s only Roman Catholic bishop at the time. The three nuns hoped to establish a school but knew no English and left Baltimore for Ste. Genevieve on the Mississippi River. From there the governor of Louisiana summoned them to New Orleans. Geneviève by that time represented herself as the former abbess of the convent at Tours, a position that she never held. The governor obtained a modest pension for them from Spain. They stayed at the Ursuline convent in New Orleans for two years, then in October 1796 left for Cuba, where there was a Poor Clare convent. The following spring they returned to Baltimore and set about establishing a convent. They relocated to Georgetown and opened a school there in September 1798. Geneviève’s health failing in 1801, she moved to Frederick, Maryland. Recovering sufficiently to return to Georgetown, she died there in November 1804. In the United States she used the name Madame de La Marche (see below) and made her will, drawn up in 1801, as Marie de La Marche. She had no apparent tie to the couple named La Marche from whom TJ purchased linens in Paris in 1784, for at that time Sister Geneviève was in the convent at Tours, and the letter above, which was her only correspondence with TJ, gives no indication of any previous acquaintance with him (Abbé Jean Desobry, Un Aspect Peu Connu de la Révolution Française de 1789 a Amiens: Le Monastère des Clarisses, vol. 54 of Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Picardie [Amiens, 1986], 84, 111–33, 175–6; Gabriel J. Naughten, “The Poor Clares in Georgetown: Second Convent of Women in the United States,” Franciscan Studies, new ser., 3 , 63–72; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , s.v. “Carroll, John”; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 1:564, 565, 568).
De famille distingués: during their sojourn from France, Sister Geneviève and her two Poor Clare companions all used secular names. Two of the nuns appear to have appropriated family names to which they had no claim. Geneviève’s baptismal record gave her surname and that of her father, who was a captain of the brigade at Beaufort-en-Vallée, as Abert. When she made her religious profession she called herself Marie Abert La Marche and gave her father’s surname as Abert La Marche. When she reached New Orleans in 1794 the governor there understood her family name to be Bourbon de La Marche. One of her companions, Sister Marie des Anges, was born Marguerite Scholastique Céleste Le Blond in La Rochelle, France, but called herself, by the time of her arrival in New Orleans, Céleste Le Blond de La Rochefoucauld. After returning to Europe in 1806 she defrauded the Poor Clare sisters of Amiens of their property and subsequently appeared in various locales, drawing the attention of the police, as the Comtesse Le Blond de La Rochefoucauld. When confronted by a genuine member of the La Rochefoucauld family she claimed that she had been born in Saint-Domingue and no longer had proof of her lineage. She died in 1827. The third of the Poor Clares in Georgetown, Mother Marie Agnès de Saint Hugues, was the abbess of Amiens but played the least noticeable role during the nuns’ residence in North America. During her absence from France, to which she returned in 1804, she used her recorded baptismal name, Marie Françoise Chevalier (Desobry, Un Aspect, 30, 61, 84, 111, 113, 114n, 126n, 132–3, 149, 175–84).
Une academie: a March 1799 advertisement for the academy of Madame de La Marche, like her letter to TJ above, said nothing of any religious affiliation. The advertisement, in fact, referred to Leonard Neale, who was Carroll’s vicar general, the head of Georgetown College, and a future bishop, simply as a helpful “Mr. Leonard Neall.” Although Madame de La Marche promised the addition of an English-educated lady to the school’s faculty to teach grammar and embroidery and a “French Clergyman, very eminent in science, who will teach the French Languages, Geography, Writing and Arithmetic,” evidence of students is lacking and the advertisement for the school also promoted La Marche’s sale of salves and eye wash. The Poor Clares rented the property they used for the school from John Threlkeld, who in June 1799 offered the three and a half adjoining lots, with two “handsome” dwelling houses, a fish pond, an orchard, and assorted outbuildings, for sale. The Poor Clares, who had a $300 subvention from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, apparently some money provided by the convent in Havana, and perhaps some resources they had brought from France, purchased the property in August 1800. Title was in Geneviève’s name as Madame de La Marche, and she subsequently willed her assets to Le Blond. The reputedly Englisheducated woman expected to join the academy’s staff in 1799 was likely one of three women from Ireland who intended to become nuns. Neale temporarily assigned them to work with the Poor Clares. As the academy failed to thrive the “Pious Ladies,” as the Irish women were called, assumed the leading role in the Catholic church’s efforts toward female education in Georgetown. They purchased the Poor Clares’ academy site and it became the Convent of the Visitation (Georgetown Centinel of Liberty, 8 Mch., 25 June 1799; Desobry, Un Aspect, 126n, 128, 129–131, 133; Naughten, “Poor Clares,” 67–70; George Parsons Lathrop and Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, A Story of Courage: Annals of the Georgetown Convent of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary [Boston, 1894], 146–53; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , S.V. “Neale, Leonard”).