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April 2022 Item of the Month

This letter begins in dramatic fashion: "My dear Daughters, This is the last time you can ever receive a letter from me...". Elizabeth Hamilton was writing from Wimpole Street on 6 January 1793 to her daughters Ann, Elizabeth, Jane, Cecil and Isabella. A son and four other daughters had already pre-deceased her and so her letter should not be regarded as overly-morbid and in fact proves to be very practical in nature.

Elizabeth herself, born in 1730 Elizabeth Onslow, was the widow of George Hamilton (1718-1787), formerly a Canon of Windsor and Rector of Taplow. Following a divorce her daughter Cecil would marry in 1799 Sir Joseph Copley, and it was the Copleys' second daughter Maria's marriage into the Grey family that ultimately led to this letter being placed among our collections at Durham University Library.

Elizabeth's last request to her unmarried daughters was that they should live together "in harmony and friendship", and so to avoid any risk of dependancy. Following a religious exhortation to do "great Work" she lays repeated stress on their continuing the economy she had to practise with "the little Principle money I had". Though she acknowledges how often her expenses exceeded her income she writes reassuringly that she leaves no debts and indeed enough for her daughters to live in "Private Plenty". She urges them to be happy, to be good wives and mothers, and "most earnestly ... to pay your Bills" and never to run up debts on credit. The writer's aversion to falling into any state of dependency is emphasised again and again. The second part of the letter dwells on an unfortunate breach between her daughters and a kinsman Mr Plumer whose kindnesses to the family since her husband's death contributed to Elizabeth Hamilton and her family making the "tolerable appearance we did". This breach may have stemmed from just such a general aversion to dependency among her daughters as well.

The letter was, thankfully, a false alarm and most likely not the last that was written to her daughters: Elizabeth Hamilton (1730-1800) lived for another seven years, we hope in continued "Private Plenty"!

Every month we showcase here an item from our Heritage Collections.