Friday, December 16, 2016

Patsy Jefferson and the Nuns

From The National Catholic Register:
There was a period when Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were all in Paris at the same time. Franklin was there as our first ambassador to the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. His job was get funds from France to bankroll the Revolution, and to cement a military alliance so we would win the war. Jefferson and Adams were there as commerce commissioners whose task it was to arrange an import/export trade deal with the French. Being in Catholic France was a new experience for all of them, and we know that the Church made a profound impression on one of Jefferson’s daughters, Patsy, and on one of Adams’ sons, John Quincy.

Polly and Patsy Jefferson were in their early teens when they arrived in Paris, so one of Jefferson’s first tasks was to find a suitable school for his daughters. All of his new French acquaintances recommended an elite convent school, l’Abbaye Royal de Panthemont in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. There the girls studied mathematics, history, geography, and they learned modern languages. It was a splendid education, of a kind that very few girls received back in America. Jefferson’s daughters also learned to play the harpsichord from Claude Balbastre, the organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

In addition to operating a school, the nuns also offered rooms to aristocratic ladies who sought a quiet retreat from their troubles—the lack of a husband, the death of a husband, or the separation from a husband. One of the ladies living at the Panthemont at the same time as Polly and Patsy was Josephine de Beauharnais, the future lover, wife, and empress of Napoleon.

Over time, the life of the nuns made an impression on Patsy Jefferson. On April 18, 1788, Jefferson received a brief note from his daughter: Patsy formally requested her father’s permission to join the nuns at the abbey. Jefferson sent no reply. Instead, he took Patsy shopping, spending more than one thousand francs on new clothes and shoes for her, and 48 francs for a ring. He also permitted her to attend balls and other entertainments. If his aim had been to make his daughter give up her dream of a religious vocation by enticing her with the pleasures of the world, it worked; Patsy abandoned any thought of changing her religion and becoming a nun. Once the problem had resolved, Jefferson had himself driven to the Panthemont, and after a brief conversation with the abbess, withdrew Patsy and Polly from the convent school. (Read more.)

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