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Elizabeth Kortright, (First Lady)

Female 1763 - 1830  (67 years)

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  • Name Elizabeth Kortright 
    Suffix (First Lady) 
    Born 30 Jun 1763  New York City, New York Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Female 
    Buried Sep 1830  Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Died 23 Sep 1830  Oak Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID I6749  My Genealogy
    Last Modified 26 Aug 2014 

    Father Lawrence Kortright,   b. 27 Nov 1728,   d. Sep 1794, New York City, New York Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 65 years) 
    Mother Hannah Aspinwall,   b. Between 1729 and 1730, New York City, New York Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1777, New York City, New York Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 48 years) 
    Married 6 May 1755  Trinity Church, New York City, New York Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F10044  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family President James Monroe,   b. 28 Apr 1758, Monroe's Creek, Westmoreland County, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 4 Jul 1831, New York City, New York Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 73 years) 
    Married 16 Feb 1786  Trinity Episcopal Church, New York City, New York Find all individuals with events at this location 
     1. Eliza Kortright Monroe,   b. Dec 1786, Fredericksburg, Spotslvania County, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1840, Paris, France Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age ~ 53 years)
     2. James Spence Monroe,   b. 1799, Died In Infancy; Fredericksburg, Spotslyvania County, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1801, Fredericksburg, Spotslyvania County, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 2 years)
     3. Maria Hester Monroe,   b. 1803, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 20 Jun 1850, Oak Hill, Loudoun County, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 47 years)
    Last Modified 24 Jan 2013 
    Family ID F9984  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • Elizabeth Kortright Monroe
      Birth: 30 Jun 1768, New York City, New York
      Married: 16 Feb 1786, Trinity E Church, New York City, New York
      Death: 23 Sep 1830, Oak Hill, Loudoun Co., Virginia
      Buried: Hollywood Cem., Richmond, Virginia
      Marriage Information:
      Elizabeth married 5th President James Monroe, son of Spence Monroe andElizabeth (Eliza) Jones, on 16 Feb 1786 in Trinity E Church, New YorkCity, New York. (5th President James Monroe was born on 28 Apr 1758 inMonroe's Creek, Westmoreland Co., Virginia, died on 4 Jul 1831 in NewYork City, New York and was buried in Hollywood Cem., Virginia.)

      Romance glints from the little that is known about ElizabethKortright's early life. She was born in New York City in 1768,daughter of an old New York family. Her father, Lawrence, had servedthe Crown by privateering during the French and Indian War and made afortune. He took no active part in the War of Independence; and JamesMonroe wrote to his friend Thomas Jefferson in Paris in 1786 that hehad married the daughter of a gentleman, "injured in his fortunes" bythe Revolution.
      Strange choice, perhaps, for a patriot veteran with politicalambitions and little money of his own;
      but Elizabeth was beautiful, and love was decisive. They were marriedin February 1786, when the bride was not yet 18.

      The young couple planned to live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, whereMonroe began his practice of law. His political career, however, keptthem on the move as the family increased by two daughters and a sonwho died in infancy.
      In 1794, Elizabeth Monroe accompanied her husband to France whenPresident Washington appointed him United States Minister. Arriving inParis in the midst of the French Revolution, she took a dramatic partin saving Lafayette's wife, imprisoned and expecting death on theguillotine. With only her servants in her carriage, the AmericanMinister's wife went to the prison and asked to see Madame Lafayette.Soon after this hint of American interest, the prisoner was set free.The Monroes became very popular in France, where the diplomat's ladyreceived the affectionate name of la belle Americaine.
      For 17 years Monroe, his wife at his side, alternated between foreignmissions and service as governor or legislator of Virginia. They madethe plantation of Oak Hill their home after he inherited it from anuncle, and appeared on the Washington scene in 1811 when he becameMadison's Secretary of State.
      Elizabeth Monroe was an accomplished hostess when her husband took thePresidential oath in 1817. Through much of the administration,however, she was in poor health and curtailed her activities. Wives ofthe diplomatic corps and other dignitaries took it amiss when shedecided to pay no calls--an arduous social duty in a city of widelyscattered dwellings and unpaved streets.
      Moreover, she and her daughter Eliza changed White House customs tocreate the formal atmosphere of European courts. Even the White Housewedding of her daughter Maria was private, in "the New York style"rather than the expansive Virginia social style made popular by DolleyMadison. A guest at the Monroes' last levee, on New Year's Day in1825, described the First Lady as "regal-looking" and noted details ofinterest: "Her dress was superb black velvet; neck and arms bare andbeautifully formed; her hair in puffs and dressed high on the head andornamented with white ostrich plumes; around her neck an elegant pearlnecklace. Though no longer young, she is still a very handsome woman."
      In retirement at Oak Hill, Elizabeth Monroe died on September 23,1830; and family tradition says that her husband burned the letters oftheir life together.

      Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830) was the wife of James Monroe,who served as president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. Mrs.Monroe, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Kortright, was born in NewYork City on June 30, 1768. Her father was a well-to-do merchant.Elizabeth was raised in the formal atmosphere of New York Citymerchant-class society of her time. She learned social graces and wasconsidered a beauty.

      Elizabeth Kortright met James Monroe in New York City in 1785. Monroewas in the city, then the nation's capital, as a Virginia delegate tothe Congress of the Confederation. The couple married on Feb. 16,1786.

      The married couple settled in Virginia in 1789. They lived in Parisfrom 1794 to 1796, when James Monroe was U.S. ambassador to France.The French admired Elizabeth Monroe because of her social grace andloveliness. They called her la belle Americaine (the beautifulAmerican). The French Revolution had recently taken place, and therebels were executing members of the upper class. One such personawaiting execution was Adrienne de Lafayette, the wife of Marquis deLafayette, who had helped the United States during the RevolutionaryWar in America. Mrs. Monroe boldly went to the prison to speak to, andshow support for, Adrienne de Lafayette. This action resulted in therelease of the prisoner.

      Her life as first lady

      The British burned the White House during the War of 1812. Thestructure had not been rebuilt by the time James Monroe becamepresident in 1817. He and his family lived elsewhere in Washington,D.C. On Jan. 1, 1818, the president and Mrs. Monroe held a publicreception to celebrate the reopening of the White House. PresidentMonroe favored formality in White House social life, and Elizabethfollowed his wishes. For this reason, and also because of poor health,she received only visitors to whom she had sent invitations. At first,many people said Mrs. Monroe was snobbish. But they soon learned shewas doing what her husband preferred.

      The Monroes had three children--Eliza Kortright, Maria Hester, and ason whose name may have been James Spence. The two daughters lived toadulthood, but James Spence died as an infant. Elizabeth Monroe diedon Sept. 23, 1830.

      1768, June 30
      New York City, New York

      Lawrence Kortright, born 27, November 1728; a New York merchant, diedin September of 1794

      Hannah Aspinwall, born 1729-1730, New York City; married 1755, May 6at Trinity Church in New York City; died, 1777

      Belgian, Dutch; Elizabeth Monroe's paternal ancestry line is fromBastian Van Kortryk, a native of Belgium who immigrated to Hollandabout 1615. Through her mother's family, the Aspinwalls, ElizabethMonroe was related to the Roosevelts.

      Birth Order and Siblings:
      Birth order not known, three sisters, one brother; Hester KortrightGouverneur (?-?), Mary Kortright Knox (?-?), Sarah KortrightHeylinger, (?-?), John Kortright (?-1810), married Catherine Seaman in1793

      Hester Kortright married Nicholas Gouverneur in 1790 and their sonmarried his first cousin, Maria Monroe, the daughter of James andElizabeth Monroe. Mary Kortright married attorney Thomas Knox in 1793,a relative of the first Treasury Secretary; Sarah Kortright marriedJohn Heylinger of Sanat Cruz, a foreign diplomat.

      Physical Appearance:
      about five feet tall, black hair, blue eyes

      Religious Affiliation:
      raised in Dutch Reformed Church, married in Episcopalian service

      No documentation exists. Her paternal grandmother who owned andmanaged her own vast real estate holdings in old Harlem, New Yorkraised her. It was probably considered important enough to provideElizabeth Kortright with something of a formal education; in light ofher ease with life in France and Spain, she was likely instructed inFrench and Latin as well as the traditional "social graces" for youngwomen of her class in literature, music, dancing and sewing.

      Occupation before Marriage:
      No documentation of her life previous to marriage; considering herfamily's wealth and social status, as a young woman, ElizabethKortright Monroe was part of New York City's elite circles, but it isunlikely she was socially prominent once the American Revolution hadbegun, since her father was a Loyalist officer.

      17 years old, to James Monroe, (28, April 1758-4, July, 1831)Lieutenant Colonel during American Revolution, and U.S. Congressmanfrom Virginia, on 16 February, 1786 at Trinity Episcopal Church in NewYork; the couple spent a honeymoon on Long Island and then lived inthe first U.S. capital city of New York with her father. Upon hisretirement from Congress in 1786, they returned to his native state ofVirginia where James Monroe practiced law; they lived first inFredericksburg, and then in Charlottesville to be near his closefriend, Thomas Jefferson.

      Three children, two daughters, one son: Eliza Monroe Hay (1786-1840),James Spence Monroe (1799-1801) and Maria Hester Gouverneur(1803?1850)

      Occupation after Marriage:
      With Monroe's election to the Senate in 1790, the Monroes relocated tothe new temporary capital city of Philadelphia. Elizabeth Monroe,however, spent much of her time in New York with her sisters and theirfamilies. Four years later, when Monroe was named U.S. Minister toFrance, they relocated to Paris. Elizabeth Monroe was immediately fondof the city and its people, and she was well-received there by boththe local and diplomatic communities. During the last days of theFrench Revolution, Elizabeth Monroe made a name for herself by hercourageous visit to Adrienne de Noiolles de Lafayette, the imprisonedwife of the Marquis de Lafayette - the great personal friend of GeorgeWashington and many other revolutionary era patriots and France's mostprominent supporter of American independence. Elizabeth Monroe, inthe American Embassy?s carriage, made it a point to visit the woman inprison; it was as clear a message as could be made unofficially by theU.S. government. Not wishing to offend their ally, the Frenchgovernment used Elizabeth Monroe?s "unofficial" interest in Adriennede Lafayette to release her on January 22, 1795 without any officialprovocation and thus maintain their alliance with the U.S. yet saveface for the imprisonment.

      Recognizing the importance placed on social behavior and appearance,Elizabeth Monroe cultivated a balanced persona that managed to embodyboth the casualness of American custom, while respecting old-worldEuropean protocol. She followed French ritual by refusing to make asocial call on a visiting American in Paris, despite the indignantreaction it incurred. Her adoption of French clothing combined withher physical beauty earned her the appellation of ?La BelleAmericane.? By their dignified manner, and through the personalrelationships built by the Monroes with European ministers anddiplomats, many foreign nations came to accept the absoluteestablishment of the United States as not only a new nation, but apowerful and sophisticated one that was carrying out the principals ofdemocracy. The Monroes hosted American Thomas Paine in their Parishome after Monroe secured the freedom of the famous writer from prison(he had been imprisoned for opposing the execution of King Louis XVI).However, Paine's outrageous attacks on President Washington forletting him languish in prison for as long as he did, combined withMonroe's lavish praise of France (in direct contradiction ofWashington's strict neutrality policy) led to his recall and theMonroe return to Virginia.

      When Monroe was elected Governor of Virginia (1799-1803), ElizabethMonroe began commuting between the capital city of Richmond andCharlottesville; during this time her father and son died and shedeveloped serious health problems which would eventually lead to herincreasing withdrawal from frequent public interaction. Many of thesymptoms that were described by contemporaries suggest that it was alate-onset type of epilepsy or some illness that in later yearsfrequently left her shaking and falling into unconsciousness.

      During the Jefferson Administration, from 1803 to 1807, however,Elizabeth Monroe managed to return to Europe; the Monroes livedintermittently in London and Paris. Monroe was sent to France to helpnegotiate with Napoleon for the purchase of Louisiana and was thennamed Minister to Great Britain. London society did not highly regardthe Monroes since the U.S. refused to engage itself as an ally toeither France or England, and gave them the lowest possible socialstatus; in contrast, she had an established circle of friends andacquaintances in Paris, including those rising to power in the newFrench government. Elizabeth and James Monroe, for example, wereinvited as guests to witness Napoleon?s December 2, 1804 coronation.

      Upon returning to the U.S. and after a two-month stint as Governor ofVirginia, James Monroe served as Secretary of State (1811-1817) and heand Elizabeth Monroe lived in Washington, D.C. Having purchased aprivate home in nearby Loudon County, Virginia, however, they spentlittle time in the capital; Elizabeth Monroe was rarely seen otherthan official functions and did not reciprocate social visits thatwere made to her by other spouses of officials.

      Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:
      Elizabeth Monroe was not known to play any role during her husband'stwo campaigns for the presidency in 1816 and 1820; with the winner ofa presidential election still being decided by members of Congress aselectors, however, the activities of which are today consideredstrictly social entertaining carried some potential for improving orharming the reputation of one's spouse. In this context, it can thusbe concluded that despite the backlash by other political spouses anddiplomats to her protocol rules that dramatically limited White Houseentertaining that she recovered and sustained her status and that ofthe President in time for his re-election. She took a more personal ifpassive role during the 1817 Inauguration festivities. Since therenovations of the White House stemming from the damage the buildingsustained from the 1814 burning by British troops were not yetcompleted, the public reception following the new President'sswearing-in ceremony were held in the Monroe's private home on IStreet. However, Mrs. Monroe did not appear at either the swearing-inceremony nor greet guests at the reception in her home. At the 1821Inauguration, Elizabeth Monroe did attend the public ball, held atBrown's Hotel.

      First Lady:
      March 4, 1817 - March 4, 1821
      48 years old

      Despite the fact that she was First Lady for eight years, very littleprimary source material exists on Elizabeth Monroe. No correspondencebetween her and the President, her family and the general public hassurvived. The few documents in which her name appears relate almostexclusively to legal, financial and property matters.

      It was not Elizabeth Monroe but James Monroe who took charge of thedetails for the furnishings that were purchased for the newlyrenovated White House; thus the regal look of the mansion's new staterooms were not a reflection of any monarchial notions of Mrs. Monroe,as has sometimes been suggested. Though speculative, it is likely,however, that the First Lady had some voice in the matter and that shetoo preferred the emphasis on French, rather than English or Americanfurnishings.

      The most frequent commentary on Elizabeth Monroe related to herphysical appearance. Despite her age, she looked youthful andcontemporary accounts, supported by the material evidence at theMonroe Law Office and Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia, detail theregal costumes and jewelry she wore at public occasions. With herprevious life spent on the Continent, she was greatly influenced byEuropean stay and manner. Her White House dinners were served "Englishstyle," with one servant for each guest. In private, the Monroe familyspoke only in French.

      Elizabeth Monroe provided an extreme contrast to her predecessorDolley Madison, who had conceived of her role as partially a publicone. As a consequence of both her fragile health and reserved socialnature, as well as the prestige she hoped to convey by limiting theaccess of the President's wife to the spouses of other officials,Elizabeth Monroe established a European-style, less democraticprotocol. To the spouses of Judicial and Legislative branch spouses,as well as those of the foreign diplomatic corps, she would neithermake nor return the formal "call," meaning a visit that signifiedstatus and recognition from the Executive branch. President Monroeheld a December 29, 1817 Cabinet meeting in which he explained theconfusing rules of the new White House social policy and to alsodiscuss how the different department heads might create their ownpolicies in regard to social interaction with foreign dignitaries.Elizabeth Monroe held firm and on January 22, 1818, as she began herfirst winter social season as First Lady, sought and gained thesupport of European-born and -educated Louisa Adams, the wife of theSecretary of State. Intended to increase the prestige of the Executivebranch, however, it initially backfired. When the Monroes decided toleave Washington for their nearby Virginia home instead of host theannual open house public reception on Independence Day in 1819, eventhose citizens not among the city's elite were insulted.Dissatisfaction with Elizabeth Monroe's protocol led to a boycott ofall Administration receptions (not dinners) by officials inWashington. When Louisa Adams instituted the same social policy, herreceptions were also boycotted. Finally, President Monroe held asecond Cabinet meeting, on December 20, 1819. in which it was decidedthat while the President's family would hold steadfast to their rules,the other Executive Branch officials and their families - the VicePresident and the individual Cabinet members - were free to determinetheir own social policy. Through the second Monroe Administration, arare time during which there was a sustained period of none of thepartisanship that always marked political life in Washington,Elizabeth Monroe's policy was accepted and guests returned to theWhite House. It also marked her slow withdrawal from the First Ladyrole; one notable exception was the 1824 White House dinner honoringthe touring Marquis de Lafayette, whose wife the First Lady had savedfrom prison in 1795.

      When Elizabeth Monroe did appear at receptions and other events inwhich the public would see her, she appeared youthful and capable; yetshe was always accompanied and protected by a circle of her femalerelatives. The White House did not release any information on thedetails of Elizabeth Monroe's health condition; had it been known thatshe suffered from what was then called "the falling sickness," ofepilepsy there might have been understanding. Rudimentary ignoranceregarding epilepsy at the time, however, led to widespread assumptionsthat it was a form of mental illness, making it even more unlikelythat the Monroes would have wished to disclose the details.

      Another aspect of the problem was the First Lady's reliance on hereldest daughter, Eliza Monroe Hay, married to George Hay, the formerprosecutor in the trial of Aaron Burr, and a prominent Virginiaattorney. Educated in the most elite Parisian school of Madame Campan,the former lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette, Eliza Hay frequentlysubstituted for her mother as White House hostess and it seems evidentthat she established the exclusive nature of the social tone of theAdministration. Contemporary accounts depict her as abrasive andsnobbish; she refused to call on the diplomatic corps spouses anddetermined that her younger sister Maria's 9 March, 1820 White Housewedding - the first of a presidential child in the mansion - would belimited to only 42 personal friends and family members and thatneither official Washington nor the diplomatic corps were toacknowledge the event with presents. Eliza Hay also made much of herfriendships with royalty like Hortense de Beauharnois, who becameQueen of Holland and Caroline Bonaparte, who became Queen of Naples.

      To what extent Elizabeth Monroe was politically influential orexpressed an opinion on the events and decisions faced by her husbandare not known; it was widely accepted that after her death, JamesMonroe burned all their correspondence. In remembering his wife,Monroe would later write obliquely that she had shared fully in allaspects of his public service career and was always motivated by theinterests of the U.S. One letter, from her influential son-in-lawGeorge Hay, however, does suggest that she was sought for herpolitical savvy in response to at least one difficult situationinvolving the controversial Virginia Congressman John Randolph. Shealso formed enough of a close relationship with Andrew Jackson, thenthe popular hero of the Battle of New Orleans, to always be mentionedin the president's letters to the general.

      Post-Presidential Life:
      Elizabeth Monroe was in poor health that she and her husband had toremain in the White House three weeks after his Administrationexpired. Retired to their plantation estate in Loudon County,Virginia, near Washington, D.C., her activities remained centered onher family and she assumed no public role and participated in nopublic activities. She traveled only to New York to visit her daughterMaria and her family, as well as her sisters and nieces and nephews. Ayear after leaving the White House, she suffered a seizure andcollapsed near an open fireplace and sustained severe burns; she onlylived three years after the accident. Upon her death, Monroe predictedthat he would not live long; he died ten months later.

      Oak Hill estate, Loudoun County, Virginia
      September 23, 1830
      62 years old

      Oak Hill estate, Loudoun County, Virginia; re-interred to HollywoodCemetery, Richmond Virginia, 1903
      Descendants of Elizabeth Kortright

      Descendants of Elizabeth Kortright

      Generation No. 1

      SEBASTIAN1) was born 1768 in NYC, and died 1830 in VA. She married
      PRESIDENT OF THE USA HON. JAMES MONROE February 16, 1786 in NYC. Hewas
      born 1758 in VA, and died 1831 in VA.

      James Monroe was the 5th president of the United States of Americafrom
      1817 to 1831. His eight years in the White House are recalled as the
      "era of good feelings" -- a period almost free from political strife.
      Before taking the office as president, he was Ambassador to France.He
      made a good enough record in Madison's Administration as Secretary of
      State, later also managing to carry out the duties of Secretary ofWar.
      The Monroes went to considerable expense to redecorate the White House--
      badly needed after the British raid of 1814. They entertained
      ambitiously. But Elizabeth Kortright Monroe suffered increasinglyfrom
      migraines and depression. There was plenty in the Washington scene to
      give headaches to the White House.

      Monroe had served his country or his state almost continuously eversince
      his enlistment in the Continental Army at the age of eighteen. He had
      been a member of the Continental Congress, a leader of the U.S.Senate,
      and twice Governor of Virginia. He was an experienced diplomat.Perhaps
      most important of all, he had been closely connected with Jeffersonever
      since 1780. A comment is that he was a thoroughly deserving public
      figure, untouched by scandal, who was given his due reward -- the
      ultimate, highest office in the land.

      Burke's Presidential Families of the United States, pp. 148-158.
      Chart of President Monroe's descendants through his wife Elizabeth
      was compiled by George H. S. King, Fredericksburg, VA., 1969.

      Children of ELIZABETH KORTRIGHT and HON. MONROE are:
      2. i. ELIZA KORTRIGHT8 MONROE, b. December 1786, Fredericksburg, VA.;d.
      1840, Paris, France.
      ii. SON MONROE, b. May 1799; d. September 28, 1800, Richmond, VA.
      3. iii. MARIA HESTER MONROE, b. 1803, Paris, France; d. 1850, OakHill,
      Loudoun Co., Va..