(Washington, DC): 1829. Autograph letter. 4to. 4-pages on a bifolium sheet of paper (watermark “Amies Philada.” with their dove mark), approximately 250 words, in part: “My Dear General, I entreat you to send me word of hope or comfort, for my situation is mortifying and distressing beyond all expression! After having been rear’d in affluence and cherish’d through life with the most unbound ed affection, I now find myself overwhelm’d with desolation, and poverty staring me in the face!” Decatur’s correspondence with Andrew Jackson began sometime in the previous year, and has been described as “on terms of increasing intimacy and familiarity by Tom Coens, an editor of the Papers of Andrew Jackson. In the present letter, though opening with her own plight of near-destitution, the author’s aim was to garner aid for her friend William G. Ridgley (ca. 1788-1861), the chief clerk of the Board of Naval Commissioners, whose overly-stretched household included his wife, eight children, an elderly mother, and three unmarried sisters. Not included here are two notes of recommendation that originally accompanied this letter, from the Navy Commissioners and Francis Scott Key, the distinguished D.C. lawyer and brother-in-law of Roger Taney, later Attorney General in Jackson’s cabinet and Jackson’s nominee for Justice of the Supreme Court. Though Decatur addressed Jackson as “General,” the recipient had been inaugurated a week earlier; perhaps her choice of using a slightly less imposing title reflects her embarrassment at turning to the most powerful man in the country for the sake of a struggling clerk. Previous mail folds, else near fine. Item #64904
Susan Decatur, a native of Norfolk, Virginia, was the daughter of a mayor of the city, Luke Wheeler, and in 1806 married one of the young nation’s leading naval officers, Stephen Decatur (1779-1820; veteran of the Quasi-War and the Barbary Wars, and future hero in the War of 1812), whose life was cut short at the age of 41 when he was killed in a duel with another naval officer, Commodore James Barron (who felt insulted by Decatur’s remarks concerning his conduct years earlier in the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair), leaving his wife pensionless (her efforts to end this situation would not succeed until 1837 when Congress granted her a pension retroactive to Decatur’s death).