Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson

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Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson
Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson.png
Born(1737-02-03)3 February 1737
Horsham, Pennsylvania, United States
Died23 February 1801(1801-02-23) (aged 64)
Graeme Park, Pennsylvania
Notable workThe Dream, 1768
SpouseHugh Henry Fergusson

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

Early years[edit]

Elizabeth Graeme, the sixth of nine children born to Dr. Thomas and Ann Diggs Graeme, spent 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 Les Aventures de Télémaque 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. Another reason to travel to London, was to lift her spirits from the recent breakup.[1] 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, while being tended to by Benjamin Rush, very close to Graeme Park.[2]

Elizabeth is buried on the south side of the churchyard of Christ Church in Philadelphia.[3]


Elizabeth Ferguson wrote letters to get help regaining her property after it was confiscated.[4] These letters tended to be forceful and vigorous in order for her to get the help she needed.[1] On the other hand, her poems showed more of her emotional side. One of her longest and most poems was "Il Penseroso or The Deserted Wife".[4] The poem had four parts: hope, solitude, doubt, and adversity. The poem traces the progress of her grieve as she feels abandoned by her husband.[4] In part one, Fergusson is angry at her husband, Henry, because he deserted her but, more importantly, because there were rumors he had gotten a servant pregnant.[4] Eventually, Ferguson realizes that she is not alone in her anger and grief. She realizes that she has many things in common with other loyalist women such as Grace Growden Galloway.[4] In the second part of her poem, she writes "My Shattered Fortunes I with calmness Bore/ A Loss in Common but with thousand more".[4] Her connection with other women is one reason she is regarded highly by historians.


  1. ^ a b Dunk, Mary Maples. James, Edward T. (ed.). "FERGUSON, Elizabeth Graeme". Credo Reference. Harvard University Press. Retrieved 2016-11-29.
  2. ^ Ann M. Ousterhout, The Most Learned Woman in America: A Life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004.
  3. ^ "The Graves". Christ Church in Philadelphia. Archived from the original on 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2011-04-27.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Tillman, Kacy (2016). Women's Narratives of the Early Americas and the Formation of Empire. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US. pp. 145, 146, 147, 148, 152.

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 (ed.). Notable American Women 1607–1950: 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, ed. (2010). American Literature from 1600 Through the 1850s. Britannica Guide to World Literature. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 62–63. ISBN 978-1-61530-233-8.
  • Long Stanley, Wendy (2019). The Power to Deny: A Woman of the Revolution Novel. Carmenta Publishing. ISBN 978-1-951747-00-8.

External links[edit]