Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Elizabeth (Kortright) Monroe 1768 ~ 1830

 


Elizabeth Kortright Monroe

Mrs. Elizabeth K. Monroe, nee Miss Elizabeth Kortright, was the daughter of Captain Lawrence Kortright, a former captain in the British army, who had remained in New York after the declaration of peace in 1783, rearing and educating his family of one son and four daughters. One of these daughters married Mr. Heyliger, late Grand Chamberlain to the King of Denmark. Of the other two, one married Mr. Knox, of New York, and the other was the wife of Nicholas Gouverneur, of New York.

James Monroe was a senator from Virginia when New York was the seat of government, and there met Miss Kortright, who is described as tall, graceful and beautiful, with highly polished manners. They were married in New York in 1786, during a session of Congress. Soon after their marriage Philadelphia was chosen as the Capital, Congress adjourning to that city. Senator Monroe and his gifted wife took up their residence in that city. In 1794 he was appointed Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to France. With the prestige of his position as a senator and as a person of wealth and with Mrs. Monroe's accomplishments, they were destined to represent their country with great success.

It was while Mr. Monroe was American Minister to France that La Fayette, who had so gallantly fought under Washington for American independence, was taken prisoner by the Austrians and transferred successively from the dungeons of Wesel, Magdeburg, Glatz, Neisse and Olmutz, which differed only in forms of cruelty and horrors which they inflicted upon the defender of liberty in America. La Fayette, suffering in addition, unspeakable mental torture over the knowledge of the incarceration of Madame La Fayette and two of her innocent babes in the prison of La Force, naturally appealed to the American Minister.

The sympathies of Mr. and Mrs. Monroe were equally aroused for their friends. Mr. Monroe determined that something must be done, or that death would soon end the lives of these martyrs to the cause of freedom. Fortunately, the star of destiny of America was rapidly ascending, which enabled her representatives to assume a loftier attitude in their demands for the recognition of the rights of men. Mr. Monroe, intensely aroused, made haste to try to relieve Marquis and Madame La Fayette. Mrs. Monroe cooperated enthusiastically in the plans for their relief, one of which was for Mrs. Monroe to visit Madame La Fayette in prison. With a brave heart, she went to the prison, and was successful in seeing Madame La Fayette, her inhuman captors being afraid to refuse the request of Mrs. Monroe, who was almost overcome with the wretched condition of that brave lady when she was brought into her presence, supported by the guards who watched her day and night. The day Mrs. Monroe called Madame La Fayette had been expecting the summons to prepare for her execution, and naturally was greatly alarmed when a gendarme commanded her to follow him. More dead than alive, she was ushered into the presence of her rescuer. After a few assuring words of encouragement to Madame La Fayette, in tones loud enough for those in her presence to hear, Mrs. Monroe assured the unhappy woman that she would see her on the morrow. Mrs. Monroe departed to speedily assist in the deliverance of her persecuted friend, which was consummated next day. Madame La Fayette left Paris under the protection of an American passport to join her unhappy husband who, through the intervention of George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, was also liberated. It was subsequently learned that the very afternoon of Mrs. Monroe's visit Madame La Fayette was to have been beheaded. To the day of her death Mrs. Monroe regarded the saving of the life of Madame La Fayette as her most gratifying achievement.

When Mr. Monroe was Governor of Virginia Mrs. Monroe presided over the executive mansion with so much distinction that she won great popularity. She was eminently fitted to fill the position of First Lady of the Land when her husband succeeded James Madison as President, after the War of 1812. The White House in Washington was not what it is today, and Mrs. Monroe's health was poor during their residence there, but one of their pleasures was the entertaining of La Fayette, when he visited the United States in 1824. Their youngest daughter, Maria, was married in the East Room in March, 1820, to her cousin, Samuel L. Gouverneur, of New York.

After the expiration of Mr. Monroe's eight years in the White House, they retired to Oak Hill, their beautiful home, in Loudon County, Virginia, where Mrs. Monroe continued her benevolence and care of those dependent upon her and the unfortunates of the community about them. She died suddenly in 1830, beloved by all who knew her.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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