Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aunt Becky to the Rescue

Rebecca Gratz was "Aunt Becky" to a host of Gratz nephews and nieces and to the children of close friends as well. Among these "honorary" nieces and nephews were Montgomery, James, Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Frank Blair, the children of Francis Preston and Eliza Blair of Blair House, Washington DC. Rebecca's brother Benjamin had married Eliza Blair's sister Maria Cecil Gist in 1819; both families were clannish by nature and looked upon each other as relatives for at least two generations.

In October 1843, James Blair, a naval officer, was in love with Mary Boswell, a relation of his mother's from Kentucky, who was visiting Rebecca Gratz. James went to Philadelphia, proposed to Mary and was rejected. The same day he proposed to another young woman named Elizabeth Guillon, the daughter of a doctor, and was accepted.

Naturally his family, knowing of his feelings for Mary Boswell, opposed a rash marriage on the rebound. Preston Blair wrote to Mrs. Guillon, suggesting that wedding plans be delayed, but James announced that he would not leave Philadelphia unmarried. At this juncture, someone with a cool head and a talent for tact was needed on the ground for face-to-face negotiations.

Rebecca enlisted the aid of Jo Gratz (the most charming and sociable of her brothers) and together with Dr. Guillon and James they worked out an arrangement which left any wedding plans in abeyance until James returned from his next voyage. Despite his initial opposition to his parents' wishes, Rebecca Gratz thought James seemed "greatly relieved."

On January 14, 1846, James married Mary Jesup. I have found no record of how Miss Guillon fared.

(This post is drawn from Elbert B. Smith's Francis Preston Blair, New York: Free Press, 1980. pp. 183-84.)

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