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Lee, Mary Elizabeth (1799-1852)
) Letters of Mary Elizabeth Lee Maltitz, written after her marriage to the Russian diplomat Baron Franz von Maltitz, while in Europe to her father, William Lee, and her sister Susan, 1828-1838.

10 complete letters, plus one incomplete letter and two letter fragments, for a total of 39 pages, several letters ruffled and chipped along edges, with some loss of text, one letter cross-written, else in good, legible condition. Also included are a lithographic portrait of Mary Elizabeth Baronin von Maltitz, on chine colle by Lemercier; an albumen photograph of a portrait of the Baron; a lithographic view showing the location of the couple’s home in The Hague; an albumen photograph of a portrait of Susan Lee, Mary’s sister.

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Letters of Mary Elizabeth Lee Maltitz, the well-educated, well-connected daughter of “Yankee Jeffersonian” William Lee. She writes her father, and sister Susan, after her marriage to her Russian diplomat husband Baron von Maltitz. The couple were traveling both in America, but mainly in Europe during their residence there in Berlin and The Hague. The letters are written in both French and English reflecting the education she had received living as an ex-patriate with her father, William Lee, while he was serving as an American diplomat in France. The letters describe her travels and impressions of Europe, her duties as the wife of a Russian diplomat, life in Berlin, interactions with various members of the European nobility, etc.


            Mary Elizabeth Lee (1799-1852) was the daughter of William Lee (1772-1840), entrepreneur and public servant. Mary Elizabeth Lee married Baron Johann Georg Friedrich Franz von Maltitz.  William Lee’s activities as commercial agent of the United States at Bordeaux spanned the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, and his career as auditor of the Treasury in Washington brought him into close association with two other presidents, Monroe, and Adams.

            William Lee began his career as a commission merchant in Boston. In 1794 he married Susan Palfrey. Her father, William Palfrey, a Boston merchant who served as paymaster general during the War for Independence, had been made U.S. Consul General to France but died in 1780 on his way to take up that post. In 1796 Lee traveled to Bordeaux on business, traveling also in Britain and Holland and returned to the United States in 1798. Among the people he met in Europe were Joel Barlow, Elbridge Gerry, and James Monroe. John Marshall, in Paris as a U.S. envoy, called Lee ‘a gentleman of good connections and good character.’ On his return voyage Lee carried letters from various parties directed to recipients in America. After Lee arrived in the United States, Oliver Wolcott took possession of a portion of that correspondence, including at least one letter addressed to Thomas Jefferson. Lee hoped for a consular appointment even at that time, and on June 3, 1801, Thomas Jefferson made him commercial agent at Bordeaux. John Adams had previously named Isaac Cox Barnet to that post, but Barnet was one of the February 1801 nominees who never received letters of appointment after Thomas Jefferson took office. In January 1802 the Senate approved Jefferson’s appointment of Lee. In 1811, while still holding the Bordeaux consulship, Lee acted as secretary of legation for Barlow, who had been appointed U.S. minister to France. In February 1816, Lee Asked President Madison for leave to return to the United States, and sailed for America with his family on June 16th, in November he accepted a position as accountant in War Department in Washington. And on March 6, 1817, he was made second auditor of the Treasury.

           After the death of their mother, in July 1822, Mary Lee, and her sister Susan, returned to their father’s house in Washington. Shortly thereafter, Mary Lee was being courted by a young Russian diplomat, and on June 6, 1825, she was married in her father’s house, to Jean-Francois-George-Frederic, baron de Maltitz. Mrs. Adams, the President’s wife, was one of the witnesses. The Baron was secretary of the Russian legation in Washington, and acted as chargé d’affaires ad interim from March 14, 1826, to December 20, 1827. He was then stationed at Berlin and afterwards at London; and finally served as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Holland during the reigns of William I, William II, and William III. Susan Lee never married, and remained with her father in Washington until 1829, when she crossed the ocean to be with her sister.

              Many of William Lee’s letters and papers were presented by the family to the Library of Congress, another group of letters was given earlier to Columbia University. Additional letters by Lee can be found in the papers of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. These letters appear to have descended in the family of Mary Elizabeth Lee Mann.


           The first letter, of August 1828, has twenty-five lines in French written by Baron Maltitz, and continued by Mary, describes their arrival in New York, and being well received by Krüdener (Pavel Alexeevich Kridener 1784-1858), stating that Krüdener would help him (Maltitz) to be promoted consul when Krüdener retires from his post. Maltitz goes on to tell Susan not to tell a soul between the Potomac and the Susquehanna as it would jeopardize his future position. He goes on to describe Mei’s (Mary’s nickname) lodgings in New York. Mary continues the letter, in French, and comments on acquaintances and notes that they have great accommodations and have not seen any bedbugs.


        “Mon chere Susan,

            Nous sommes arrives ici dans la soireé d’hier et nous aves pris des appartemens au Washington Hall puisqu ’il n’y avait pas de place a l’American Hotel. Me voila dans la maison ou j’arrivai il y a 7 an apres avoir quitté l’Europe ! A chaque instant je me rejoin de l’heureux changement qui a en bien dans ma situation depuis cette époque!  Krudener m’atres bien recu, il demadera pour moi le grade de Conseiller d’Etat, me answera soigneusement mon place et croit ou semble croire que je serai un successeur. L’anneé qui vient il demandra un rappel et priera le ministere de me donner la place qu’il quittera avec si peu de regret. Ayes la bonte de n’en rien dire dependant ni aux voils, ni a ame qui vit entre le Potomac et la Susquehanna! Cela pourrait me faire le plus grand sort!


             Mei ne porte parfaitement bien; je suis beaucoup plus fatigueé qu ‘elle. Notre départ pourrait fort bien être renvoyé jusqu’ au 1 Octobre. Alors, j’espere, vous serés parfaitement contente. Mei a un superbe parlor sur Broadway au bel etage et un grand bedroom. Les Bankhead sont venus les voir, Mme Stewart est ici , Mme Pentis lui a escrit un billet fort éloquent que Mei vous envoie. Adieu, chere Susan, mes complimens a votre pere …”


        “New York Sunday evng.  [August 24th 1828]


        My dear Papa,

           I have had a letter from Susan which has made me melancholy all day I am as homesick as possible and wish to see you all when I think of Susan and the dreary moments she will pass until my return I do not know what to do & can only sit down and cry. It is a relief that we are not going till the 1st I can hear from you and her often till then. The ship we go in is the New York and a very good one as Mr. Krehmer can tell you – I am heartily sick of this place the noise & confusion is not to be borne – People have just found me out & I am bored to death with visits – today I would receive no one but Mrs. Stewart, Mrs Colden is out of town for a day or two.

              Tom goes in the morng boat to West Point he is anxious to get his things in order as they go in class on Thursday but he promises to come down again … I wrote Susan a conversation that I had with K – which would make me feel very comfortable if I thought she would bear our separation better – as we may return in perhaps less than a year – I don’t think I should have courage to go with the idea of remaining longer … Mary”


        “Paris Oct. 30th 1828


        My dear Susan,

            I am in hopes this letter will reach Havre in time to go by the Packet of the first of Nov. as I should be sorry to lose any opportunity of letting you hear from me – We have been in Paris about 10 days, our journey here was very pleasant & the weather uncommonly fine. We embarked at London on the 16 & arrived at Boulogne at 10 the same evening, having passed Deal, Margate & stopped a few minutes at Ramsgate, keeping in sight of land all the time, until we crossed the channel, you can trace our route on a map, the tide was too low when near Boulogne we were obliged to anchor half a league off until it rose, when we reached the pier & landed in France at day break on the 17th exactly that day 2 months that we had left Washington from Boulogne … We were 3 days on the way having hired a carriage with 3 horses to save the expense of posting – we were much pleased with this mode of conveyance, it was not fatiguing, cost less than half of what the other would, & enabled us to see more of the country. My time has been so taken up here that I have not been able to write sooner. We have visited Luxembourg, Invalides, Ste Genevieve, Louvre, Chambre des Deputés, Jardin des Thuileries, bois de Boulogn, Pere Lachaise, Jardin des Plantes, Pont Neuf & been to the Opera Italien, saw Mme Maliban in the Barbier – Theatre Francais Wallenstein a new tragedy translated from Schiller, Opera Comique twice, Dame Blanche & La Violette by Boildieu – Theatre des Nouveautis saw Potier – We have taken lodgings for a month rue Lepelletier No. 5 near the Boulevards des Italiens & Opera Francais; we have also hire a voiture de remise for a month. The Barbours are with us & pay half the expense which is very saving. She is a nice little girl & has improved wonderfully she has an English maid, & we an excellent man servant, a german, & we are quite set up, as you see. We have as yet seen very few persons, having had no time to call … To morrow we dine at the Browns & must go to Mde de Neuvilles as I can postpone it no longer - … After a month here we shall go to Germany to pass the winter at Dresden or Vienna, but we are yet very undecided, the cheapness of a residence there … I should prefer staying here. London pleased me very much but there is nothing like Paris … I feel so dull when I think I have left you in America but the time will soon elapse when we shall meet again. I shall send you some things by the Packet of the 15th of November … Mei”


         “Paris 21 November 1828. 8 o’clock in the evening


        Dearest Susan,

                We leave here tomorrow morning for Vienna. I have been very busy all the morning having the trunks packed by the Servant. The letter will be taken to England by Cornelia Barbour … I … send you a veil, 2 pair of garters; the prunella ones were made for you, on your shoe, the silk, were made on my measure, but as they are too small for me & I have others, I send them also, as by having the dessons de pied made narrower they will fit I have no doubt. Let me know how the shoes fit… I think our plan de voyage is very good though I should prefer remaining here to hear sooner from you. He has bought a very pretty voiture coupeé for eleven hundred francs, quite complete, 2 vaches, a trunk in front, under the coachman’s seat & an immense one behind, besides many conveniences inside, with a lock & key to the carriage door. I wrote you yesterday & sent my letter thro’ Mr. Brown, in it, I mentioned that we should spend the remainder of the winter in Vienna, & if the roads & weather permitted I should go to Russia in the spring, & from thence we should take the steamboat to England to embark for America. There is some talk of a Congress in Germany to settle the affairs of the east, if that takes place the Baron need not go to Russia & we will embark at Hambourg for England. A daughter of Gov. Tomkins is here & goes to Havre tomorrow to embark for America she has more resolution than I should have to undertake a winter’s passage. The weather is uncommonly mild and pleasant, we have been a month in Paris during which it has only rained four days. … Mei”


     “Strasbourg 29 Nov. 1828

        My dear Susan,

             … I enclose the names of the different towns we stopped at on our route that you may follow our track on the map… I should undertake the voyage of St. Petersburgh, but as it is, this mild weather may not last & the excessive cold might overtake us on the road, when it would be too late to retract my not going places the Baron is indecisive as he is very adverse to leaving me behind, & feels the necessity of going himself. There is a rumor today, here, that the Congress will be held in Berlin. I still hope that our bonne etoile will not forsake us & he will be able to see the Emperor without going to St. Petersburgh at any rate he can wait a month or two with me at Vienna. We passed at Epernay within a league & a half of Baron de Marieul’s residence as we had left him in Paris, we presumed she had not remained at Marieul but here I have learnt that she passed 5 days ago, on her way there if I had known it, I should have called to see her, they will spend the winter at Marieul – the country through which we passed from Paris here, is very fine, especially la Lorraine. The Baron and his servant, John, a german, are delighted at their approach to Germany, & within a few posts of Strasbourg, have the satisfaction of quarreling with the postillions in German instead of French. He scolds me, for not enjoying our journey as much as I ought, but I confess, le sou venu de Washington, me rend triste et melancholique par momens, yet when I think in a few months I shall be with you all again it gives me fresh courage. We were calculating yesterday, that since we left you we have spent in all but 40 days traveling – 3 days from Washn. To New York, 24 from the latter to Liverpool, from this to London 3 days, from London to Paris 4, & 5 days from Paris here, makes 39, instead of 40, as I have just said – I can scarcely realize, I am at such a distance from you, and long to be traveling back again. I have not been so very much delighted on returning to France as I expected, the people appear very dirty & impose upon you very much – the present fashions are as ugly and unbecoming as they can possibly be. We have visited today the cathedral called the Munster and said to be the finest Gothic church in exis[tance] the choir of which was built by Charlema[gne] tomorrow we leave here for Vienna… Mary …”


[n.p. New York, n.d. September, 1829?]

         “Dear Papa & Susan,

              … we shall go at 10 in the morng I have been out since dinner to take leave of Mrs. Mason, where I unexpectedly saw Serena who looks prettier than ever – the Baron has been so busy with Krudener all day that I have scarcely seen him – as I had at least to go & see Mrs Munroe, I proposed it to Mrs. Stewart, & we took a carriage & at the door luckily met Mr. Stoughton who accompanied us – our coachman was intoxicated & very nearly upset us we were extremely alarmed. Mrs. Munroe received us with great kindness & friendship but she looks miserably we were struck with the change none of us having seen her since her “jours de triomphe”- I am very glad I went, it seemed to gratify her. The Baron has just come in extremely fatigued & as we have a few preparations to make & am getting sleepy I must bid you good night …Mary”

     “Berlin 1st December 1832

               … Susan was delighted with the pure fresh air of Doberan. She improved wonderfully while there, in looks and in spirits, and went out a good deal; but once back here again, I cannot persuade her to go into society. She suffers very much from the effects of the climate of Berlin, it certainly is a very bad one though I cannot think that it materially injures the constitution. It causes however a constant irritation of the nerves and one is in a continual state of suffering. We have here an easterly wind, infinitely worse than you ever felt it in Boston. Besides which, the German stoves are beyond every thing insupportable… By constant remedies and exercise and by traveling, I have succeeded in strengthening mine… and am now in better health [th]an I have been for a long time. I quite adore Huseland for the good he has done me, he is certainly the king of physicians and one of the best of men. It is to be regretted he is so old, his loss will be felt throughout Germany … My idea now is that we shall be some years more in Berlin, and I think we can continue to make her comfortable here. I suppose Krudener is by this time in America, it is unfortunate for us that he took it suddenly in his head to return there. I think now my husband will have no place of minister till he gets that at Wn which will be fortunate as it is the only means of our returning. The Ministry are very prodigal of praise & promises but I now think they will feed him on it as long as they can. Mr. de Ribeaupierre the Russian ambassador at Berlin will certainly keep him if it depends on him, the whole time he stays here himself, as he is too indolent to carry [on] the affairs alone – patience !!...

             I sometimes think if you could meet us in Doberan next summer how pleasant it would be! By sailing for Hambourg direct you would be there in a very short time, the place would please and the society delight.

             By this time it is decided who is to be president. I much fear Jackson will be reelected. We hear distressing accounts of the state of the union and are in continual fear that you will have civil war before long. … Mary”

        “Berlin, February the 20th 1836

           … Our compatriot Mr Wheaton who lives but a few doors from us, is our constant visitor. He is very much liked and respected here and has produced a favorable impression. For the last 30 years no American having been here in an official capacity – he is much amused by their speaking to him of his predecessor Mr. Adams!! Mr. Wilkins American minister at Petersbourg was here for a few days last month, and is gone to Paris …

           Pray, my dear Papa, be more communicative in your letters and tell us more of your mode of living and domestic arrangements – what sort of a house do you occupy; where is it situated; who do you visit, how do you spend your time; what plans have you made for the future. Have you no thought of visiting Europe? Indeed you should come to us as we cannot go to you – …

           Since Mr. Wheaton has been in Berlin we [ha]ve had more Americans in a few months visit the place than has been the whole time of our residence here – Among them was Samuel Ward – whom you may recollect as a child at Schooley’s Mountain; he has a very lively recollection of you… he has all his mother’s genius and wit and is extremely amusing Wheaton has taken a great liking to him – and given him some good advice … when he has sown some of his wild oats he will be an uncommon fine fellow. His father writes him that a son traveling in Europe is a very expensive piece of luxury.

            Mr. Wheaton is a very good friend of yours and much attached to you, dear Papa – he would be most pleased if you were to write him. In about a month he will be returning to Copenhagen and does not contemplate being here until the Autumn when he will bring his family with him to settle down for the winter.

            … I have been out a great deal this winter and played a conspicuous part in society owing to Mme de Ribeaupierre’s absence it has fallen to my charge to present the Russian strangers to court; and as there has been many Russian ladies here I was kept for nearly 3 months in constant employment. Scarcely a week elapsed that I had not 3 or 4 audiences chez les princesses de Russe who were beyond expression kind to me on the occasions. They are … very engaging women They have dignity grace and affability, and no hauteur whatever. … Mary”

        “La Haye July 25th 1838

                  … During the two last months I was going continually about house my face tied up, ordering and choosing furniture, surrounded by masons, painters, carpenters, upholsterers &c &c everything requiring to be done in the greatest haste for the arrival of the Hereditary grand duke of Russia. It was settled that he was to lodge at the Prince of Oranges’, whose palace is close to our house, but we were to have given him a ball. His arrival having been fixed to the 14th of this month our ball was to have taken place on the 16th But indisposition having detained him at Copenhagen longer than he had intended his plan of voyage is now changed and he will only be here in October. I was put into a complete fever fearing our rooms would not be entirely ready for the occasion. Our invitation cards were out a week before hand; the court had accepted and all the persons remaining in town were to have been present. We have been obliged to send out notes to say the ball is postponed – I shall now have time to breathe till October. I have gained the reputation of having much taste – which if I possess, I owe to you…

            What an important thing is the steam navigation across the Atlantic. How wonderful such an immense space being crossed & recrossed in so short a time! Yet the numerous accidents which have occurred this year, both in Europe & America make it very precarious and after all sailing ships are safer! … The Columbiad I consider a very valuable present especially that edition which you are very kind to part with for us. My music I was also glad to see. My husband thanks you much for his books and papers and sends his love… Mary”


            When Andrew Jackson became president in 1829, the end came for William Lee’s career. The spoils system, wherein everyone who differed politically from the victor was summarily dismissed from office and replaced by a member of the winning party, fell hard on Lee, who had served the government of the United States faithfully for almost thirty years.