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Marcia Burns Van Ness 1782 ~ 1832


One of the most distinguished and charming women, who gave dignity elegance and grace to the social circles of Washington City, was the wife of General Van Ness. She was the daughter of David Burns of excellent family who had inherited a fine estate near the Potomac in the District of Columbia and held the office of civil magistrate. The building now owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution and the building of the American Republics are now situated where was once the magnificent home and estate of General Van Ness. The seat of National Government was removed to Washington, in May, 1800. Miss Burns had returned home from school in 1800, not long before her father's death and from him she inherited a large fortune.

From the very first she was one of the prominent belles of Washington City. It is said Mrs. Madison was one of her intimate friends. At the age of twenty she married Honorable John P. Van Ness, a member of Congress from New York. After their marriage he became a resident of Washington, and their home was one of the most brilliant social centers in the Capital city, Mrs. Van Ness drawing about her the refined and cultivated persons of the day. Chief Justice Marshall, Henry Clay, President Monroe, General Jackson, Mr. Calhoun, Mr. McDuffie, Daniel Webster, Mr. Hayne and many other noted celebrities of that time were on familiar terms with General Van Ness and frequent visitors in his home. The only daughter of Mrs. Van Ness was Ann Albertina, an accomplished, intelligent young woman. Mrs. Van Ness, influence was always for good, and her example noble and elevating; her friendships true and warm. She ever ministered to the sick and suffering; her deeds of charity were unostentatious.

Mrs. Van Ness never recovered from the death of her daughter, which occurred soon after her marriage. A lasting monument of Mrs. Van Ness' charity was the establishing of the Washington City Orphan Asylum by her. To this she gave four thousand dollars, besides many small contributions from time to time, and her indefatigable exertions obtaining; with the aid of a few friends, from Congress an Act of Incorporation and a donation of ten thousand dollars for its permanent support She also gave directions that a legacy of a thousand dollars should be given this institution after her death. Mrs. Madison was the first directress of the institution, but after her departure Mrs. Van Ness was induced to accept this office, which she held until her death, on the 9th of September, 1832, at the age of fifty years. Her husband. General Van Ness was mayor of Washington at the time; and it is said Mrs. Van Ness was the first American woman buried with public honors in Washington. Few women have indeed ever occupied a larger field of usefulness or been more devotedly engaged in the work for humanity than Mrs. Van Ness.

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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