1808: Elizabeth Gibbes (Willing) Alleyne to Ann (Willing) Morris

Early Map of Barbados

Early Map of Barbados

Elizabeth Gibbes (Willing) Alleyne (1764-1820) wrote this letter to her sister, Ann (Willing) Morris (1767-1853) sometime in the 1790’s from her home in Barbados. Elizabeth and Ann were the daughters of Charles Willing (1738-1788) and Elizabeth Hannah Carrington (1739-1795) of Philadelphia. The letter was sent to the care of Elizabeth and Ann’s uncle, Thomas Willing (1731-1821), a successful merchant and financier in Philadelphia, who had the honor of representing Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress and serving as the second mayor of Philadelphia.

Elizabeth was married in 1782 to John Forster Alleyne (1762-1823), a wealthy planter on the island of Barbados, British West Indies. On his plantation near Holetown on the sheltered west coast — called “Porter’s Plantation” — the Alleyne’s had sixteen children; 7 daughters and 9 sons. Two of their children are mentioned in this letter: Haynes Gibbes Alleyne (1787-1875) and Margaret S. Alleyne (1794-1823).

Ann was married in 1786 to Luke Morris (1760-1802) of Philadelphia. Together they raised at least seven children.

Though this letter is not dated, my educated guess is that it was written in 1808. Elizabeth’s reference to her Uncle Thomas Willing’s illness and confinement suggests that it was written after his August 1807 stroke. There are also references to the impaired trade between the British West Indies and the United States that would be consistent with the impact of the Embargo of 1807 placed by President Thomas Jefferson.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Mrs. Ann W. Morris, Germantown [Pennsylvania]
To the care of Thomas Willing, Esqr., Philadelphia

[Barbados, Abt 1808]

My very dear Sister,

I heard with great pleasure of a vessel about to sail for Philadelphia. As it gave me an opportunity of sending a barrel of sugar I had long wished to convey to you and hope it will reach you in good order. It is directed to the care of Thomas Willing & the Bill of Lading enclosed. The restrictions that have been laid on the trade has caused a great interruption to our intercourse & it appears to be daily growing worse, & more difficulties to be raised.

It is one of my greatest pleasures to hear from you, and of the welfare of your family & beg you will indulge me with your letters as often as you can. They ____ all the recollection of my youth when I was happy in being extremely beloved by my family & much estimated by them as a child. I hope Uncle Willing has continued to recover, & has not suffered in his general health, which was to be apprehended from the confinement. Make my best respects to him & to Aunt P_____ who seem to be ____ to each other as relics of the old stock & how many of the second generation are gone to rest. After all our anxiety to live, what does the longest life terminate in. It appears only like a shadow.

My mind has been much distressed for the last week at the near approach of Margaret’s deportation. She sails in two days with her 3 lonely children & bids a final adieu to Barbados. Mr. ____ has been fortunate in getting in almost all his debts & her little in the Island now besides his estate which is so productive & yields him so much more than the principal sum would do in the trade in England or land there, that he is unwilling to divest himself of it. It is a painful thing to take care of a child: but after what I suffered in taking care of my poor Haynes who was in such ill health & looking so ghastly that it made everyone shudder to behold him. I can endure anything but the depravity of my children with resignation, that I fear would quite over set me & terminate my existence.

Mr. Alleyne seems decided on going to England the next year with the younger forth of the family for education so that probably our entire separation will not be long but I do not flatter myself with having much of her society as we shall probably be settled distant from each other & in England. The town is so late in the fashionable houses, I shall have little to do with them as I cannot bear to a system of completely turning night into day & in fact, at my age, my health will not allow me to sit up two evenings. The last week I was up at the Play & Government House & was much the worse for it.

As I hear, Mrs. John Sterling is about returning to England. I shall by you to give her a letter to Margret [?]. She will be heard of at the Counting House of Underwood Hall & Company, No. 7 Austin Friar, London. James Sterling sailed from this a fortnight ago & I sincerely hope he will reach England safe. The ship is in wretched order & it will be melancholy if they meet with gales & founder at sea. The only chance is the season of the year being calm.

I have had a lot of sun shining on [paper torn] …& hope the fine season [paper torn] forth in your garden every comfort for the pains you & the girls have been taking. I ardently pray you may have good health & each of them enjoy every blessing & beg you will present me affectionately to them. Probably this spring may produce something in our favor in regard to the Kentucky lands. It is the season for improvements & sales being made.

As more of my children are likely to settle in America, I have lost the reason I once had for holding it & putting in execution the plan my father had formed of making them considerable in that country. I hope you have been able to negotiate the Bill I sent you. They aren’t in such uncertain ways that I now enclose the fourth Bill. I grieved the high exchange ____ the sum so much. My daughter write in but love to you & with my sincere affection, believe me to remain truly your attached sister, — E. Alleyne

[P.S.] If Thomas could send me a few ounces of garden seed, I would be much obliged to him. The common things, I mean.




2 responses to “1808: Elizabeth Gibbes (Willing) Alleyne to Ann (Willing) Morris

  • Beth Seale Mills

    Thank you so much for transcribing and publishing this letter! =])

    Elizabeth Gibbes {Willing} Alleyne was the wife of my 3rd cousin 7 times removed. The daughter referred to in the preamble as “Margaret S” was Margaret Salter Alleyne, who married David Hall, Esq,of Locust Hill Plantation, Barbados; they had one son, and she was grandmother to 8. “My poor Haynes” was Elizabeth’s eldest child (of 16!), Haynes Gibbes Alleyne, who married Georgiana Yea of England; they had 4 daughters (two of whom married and the other two I have no further info on), and a son who only survived 53 days. Haynes himself died at sea in 1813, aged only 30 years.

    Life was indeed very hard, and often very short, in the world of 200 years ago!

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