Making Social Connections

Social connections:

Elizabeth's network of acquaintances extended transnationally. To give a gift with writing in mind, it signaled the desire to help young women develop an "enlightened mind" with "appropriate and useful remembrance," of the giver.  

Inkstand, 1815-1825

This inkstand was purchased for another young connection of Elizabeth's, around 1812. The design is nearly identical to one purchased years later for Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis.

The financial records for that inkstand do not survive (Elizabeth had a stroke in 1820 and did not keep as detailed of financial records after that), but she paid $44.37 for this inkstand in 1812. In 2020, that equals nearly $831.

Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis to Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, 25 October 1823

In this letter, Eleanor writes to her good friend Elizabeth Gibson to tell her about the gift, as well as give her the regular updates about her life in Virginia.

Social connections:


Recipient: Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (1779-1851)

An exact duplicate of the inkstand pictured was given to Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, in 1823. Elizabeth included an engraving on the stand, as shown in the letter included from Eleanor to her good friend Elizabeth Bordley Gibson, another Philadelphian. The engraving reads:

'A testimony of cherished affection from E.lzth Powel to her favorite Eleanor P. Lewis.” Just before Elizabeth sent Eleanor the gift, Eleanor had just been in Philadelphia. She lived in Virginia, so this gift may have been a nod to the fact that Elizabeth would like to continue correspondence with her.[1]

Writing was a seminal part of a woman’s education and life, and as Eleanor was 44 at this point, it was likely Elizabeth just wanted to send this gift as a nod to continue their connection. By inscribing both she and Eleanor's name, (the giver and the recipient) as well as referring to her as her "favorite" showed the real connection between the recipient and the giver. Though Eleanor was not a family member, she was the granddaughter of her closest friends, the Washingtons, and that alone likely made Elizabeth want to be included in Eleanor’s family’s legacy.[2]

[1] Fran White, “An Inkstand for Sophia,” unpublished paper, 2017.

[2] Barbara McLean Ward and Gerald W.R.Ward, “Sterling Memories: Family and Silver in Early New England,” in The Art of Family: Genealogical Artifacts in New England, D. Brenton Simons and Peter Benes, eds., (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society 2002) 177, 184.