Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson

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Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson (Betsy Graeme; February 3, 1737 – February 23, 1801) was an American poet and writer.

Elizabeth, the sixth of nine children born to Dr. Thomas and Ann Diggs Graeme, spent her much of her youth at Graeme Park, the family estate in Horsham, Pennsylvania, located outside of Philadelphia. Ann educated Elizabeth, teaching her to read and write, an advantage that most young girls in colonial America did not receive. Aside from writing poetry, Elizabeth's main literary project was the translation of Telemachus from the original French.

When Elizabeth was seventeen, she met, and later began courting, William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin. The two were engaged in 1757. William moved to England to study law, and the couple's relationship became strained. A miscommunication had occurred and William believed the engagement had been broken, and he married another woman while in Britain, while Elizabeth thought the two were still engaged.

In 1764, Elizabeth traveled to London at the urging of her mother, whose health was failing. While in London, Elizabeth met Laurence Sterne and King George III. While she was in England, she kept a travel journal, which was later circulated and read among her peers in Philadelphia. Upon returning to Graeme Park, Elizabeth learned that her mother had died while she was travelling. Elizabeth thus overtook the role of female head-of-household after her mother's death, hosting "attic evenings"—salon gatherings for her elite male and female acquaintances. It was at one of these "attic evenings" that Elizabeth met Hugh Henry Fergusson. The two had a quick courtship, became engaged, and married secretly in 1772 and without the approval of her father. One month later, Elizabeth's father died of a stroke, never having learned of his daughter's marriage. As a result, he left the property at Graeme Park in her name, though under colonial law, Elizabeth was a feme covert, meaning that all of her property belonged to her husband when they were married.

Henry spent much of the couple's marriage in England and in Philadelphia, working for the British. When the British evacuated the city of Philadelphia in 1778, Henry left for London. He sent a number of letters to Elizabeth pleading for her to join him in England, but she remained in Pennsylvania for the rest of her life. After the war, the Pennsylvania government confiscated Graeme Park, asserting that it was property that belonged to the alleged Loyalist Henry Fergusson. Elizabeth was forced to vacate the property and for two years lived with various acquaintances and family members. After two years of petitioning the government, Elizabeth finally regained the right to her property and moved back to Graeme Park in 1781. In 1791, however, Elizabeth could no longer afford the upkeep of the property and was forced to sell. For the final ten years of her life, Elizabeth lived with friends and wrote voraciously, publishing some of her poetry and participated in the writing of commonplace books with a number of her female acquaintances, such as Hannah Griffitts. She died in 1801 in the home of a friend, very close to Graeme Park.[1]

Elizabeth is buried on the south side of the churchyard of Christ Church in Philadelphia.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ann M. Ousterhout, The Most Learned Woman in America: A Life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004.
  2. ^ "The Graves". Christ Church in Philadelphia. Retrieved 2011-04-27. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ousterhout, Anne M. (2004). The most learned woman in America: a life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-02311-2. 
  • Wolf 2nd, Edwin; Korey, Marie Elena (1981). Quarter of a Millennium: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1731–1981. The Library Company of Philadelphia. p. 164. ISBN 0-914076-81-7. 
  • James, Edward T.; James, Janet Wilson (1974). Paul S. Boyer, eds. Notable american women: a biographical dictionary. Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium Series in the History of Landscape Architecture. Harvard University Press. p. 661. ISBN 0-674-62734-2. 
  • Adam Augustyn, eds. (2010). American Literature from 1600 Through the 1850s. Britannica Guide to World Literature. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 62–63. ISBN 1-61530-233-6. 

External links[edit]