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Parris, A.[lbert] W.
Autograph Letter Signed, Washington, D. C., April 19, 1840 to Dr. C. W. Thomas, Portland, Maine

Quarto, three pages, formerly folded, neatly inscribed in ink, very good, clean and legible condition.

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This letter discusses an “outrageous” social scandal of Van Buren’s Washington.


“Dear Thomas,

… An outrageous ceremony was performed at Georgetown about a week ago, which had for its object the legalization of a breach of all the finer feelings of human nature and the gratification of the appetite of that old sensualist, ‘the Chevalier de Bodisco’, the Russian Minister – People call it a marriage but I don’t; they had a parson to be sure, and I doubt not the parson did what is generally done in such cases, and ‘according to Gunter,’ but that don’t make it a wedding anyhow. People here have been making greater fools of themselves than usual (and that’s saying a good deal) by flocking in crowds to see the old Russian Bear and the young American Goose; the latter has had more notice taken of her in one hour than she ever had or ever would have had in all the rest of her life, if the old ambassador of the ‘Emperor of all the Russias’ had not taken a fancy to her…’


          The scandalous “Bodisco Wedding,” carried out in great splendor in Washington on March 27, 1840 was the marriage of 16 year-old Harriet Williams, beautiful daughter of the chief clerk of the Army’s Adjutant General, to Baron Alexander Bodisco, the stout, aging (somewhere between 50 and 70 according to various accounts) and very rich Russian Ambassador. One of the bridesmaids, and one the bride’s close schoolgirl friends, was 16 year-old Jessie Benton, daughter of US Senator Thomas Hart Benton.  Jessie Benton was herself about to meet and fall in love with 27 year-old Army Lt. John C. Fremont. Over the vigorous objection of her father and mother – who had urged her to welcome the matrimonial attentions of 58 year-old widower President Martin Van Buren – Jessie would elope with Fremont a year later. Just as she had rejected the thought of becoming a teenaged First Lady, the future Mrs. Fremont would later recall the Bodisco May-December wedding as “a ceremonial exchange of youth and beauty for money and position.”

Parris, the letter writer, was then a “drudging clerk” in the Indian Office of the War Department and messenger for the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He was later a Register of the Land Office in Wisconsin, where he died in 1851.