Encounters with Rutledge in 1803: Hair-do & Caning

In July 1803 Morris was on the way to Boston with his friend and business partner James Le Ray de Chaumont, when they stopped for the night at Hezekiah Sabin’s tavern in Pomfret, Massachusetts. While there, John Rutledge, Jr., Federalist Representative from South Carolina, who was traveling in the opposite direction, came in. He sat down with Morris’s party and they discussed the bad condition of the roads lying ahead. Soon afterwards, Rutledge wrote to fellow Federalist Harrison Gray Otis in Boston about this encounter. 
He had arrived at the inn on that rainy night and "heard a chattering in French."  Inside he "found Gouvre Morris with two french Valêts--a french travelling companion [Le Ray] and his hair buckled up in about one hundred Papilliottes. His wooden leg, papilliottes [curl papers], french attendants, and french conversation made his Host [...] with the whole family stare most prodigiously."
A day or so later, further along the road, in a village where Rutledge dined, the innkeeper had mistaken Morris for New York Governor George Clinton with his French son-in-law Genet, much to Rutledge's amusement. After he corrected him, the man was very embarrassed, "[…] made many apologies [&] was very eloquent in his eulogies upon Morris, & expressed very strongly his regrets that he had not stopped & given him an opportunity of conversing with the great Man who had made such great speeches in Congress [...]"
On their return to New York, a few weeks later, Le Ray and Morris stopped for a short social visit at Rutledge’s in Wethersfield, Connecticut. Although Morris did not mention any details, we know that Rutledge was involved in a bit of a delicate situation at that time, and had temporarily retreated to Connecticut to lie low after a scandal in which he had been involved.

What was the matter?

There had been an ongoing conflict between him and Rhode Island Senator Christopher Ellery, who was of the anti-Federalist faction, supportive of President Jefferson. The issue was about two presumably forged letters written to Jefferson in August 1801. Those letters purportedly were intended to provoke an incriminating response from Jefferson by calling on him to dismiss Federalists from various offices.

Ellery had accused Rutledge of being the author of the letters and in 1802 Jefferson gave them to Ellery to publish, in a context implying that Rutledge was indeed the conniving true author. The conflict escalated in a pub near Washington on December 28, when Rutledge physically attacked the Rhode Island senator. He hit him with a cane……

Needless to say, Rutledge, damaged by the publicity, did not run for Congress again.

Similar fight, in Congress in 1798, over the Sedition Act  

*Some of this blog will appear in footnotes in our forthcoming edition of  Diaries of Gouverneur Morris: New York 1799-1816 (publication c. 2018).


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