J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Grace Under Pressure

The following item appeared in a bunch of American newspapers toward the end of 1768, possibly in a British gazette the next year, and finally in some British publications about fifty years later.

But its first appearance appears to have been in the Boston Evening-Post dated 28 Nov 1768:
Extract of a letter from New York, Nov. 17.

“We have here a new Species of Creature called a Dutchess—Some time ago a Milliner’s Prentice of this Town was to wait on the Dutchess, but fearful of committing some Error in her Address she went to consult with a Friend about it, who told her that when she came before the Dutchess she must say her Grace to her,

accordingly away went the Girl, and being introduced, after a very low Curtesy, she said For what we are going to receive the Lord make us thankful; to which the Dutchess answered, Amen.”——
The 1 Sept 1768 New-York Journal passed on a rumor than the Duchess of Gordon was on board a ship to New York. That’s the only item I could find suggesting that a duchess was actually in the city that year. The Duchess of Gordon was a famous beauty, a wit, and a leader in fashion who had only nine fingers. There’s no evidence she actually visited America; in fact, in that month she was about to have her first child. But I’m showing her picture with her oldest son anyway.


EJWitek said...


I have been unable to locate a copy of the Boston Evening Post for November 28, 1768. That edition is not in the MHS or LOC. Google didn't help. Thoughts?
I wonder if the Dutchess could be some kind of inside joke referring to someone from Dutchess County, New York?

J. L. Bell said...

I found the item in the Archive of Americana database, produced by Readex. I have access to that through the Boston Public Library, and it's possible that a university library or other institution can offer you access. The actual search was a chore because the transcription is faulty, but I narrowed down the time window through references from other newspapers in December 1768.

The keyword search was not helped by all the references to Dutchess (or Dutches, or Duchess) County. But I didn't see a link being drawn.

My guess is that news that a duchess might visit New York prompted some discussion of how to address her, and someone pulled out an old joke or thought of a new one and felt it would work better if the story described an actual (provincial) milliner's apprentice and an actual duchess instead of imaginary ones.