She’s the woman who dueled Aaron Burr and won. And she didn’t have to go to New Jersey to do it. Move over Alexander Hamilton. For a story about a scrappy American in the New Republic, Eliza Jumel is figure that pulled hardest on her bootstraps to rise in early American society.
Margaret Oppenheimer’s terrific new book, The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel tells it all. Oppenheimer, a docent at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in upper Manhattan, subtitles her book Marriage and Money in the Early Republic. Eliza Jumel used every means, every trick and every man she could to advance her progress. Let’s just call her a prototypical New York woman, determined to make it.
Eliza came to the city to reinvent herself and lead a new life. She had entered the world in Providence, RI as Betsy Bowen; an infant daughter born in what was called a “Disorderly House,” where her mother received men nightly. In New York City, Betsey became Eliza, marrying “up” with a union to French businessman, Stephen Jumel. With Jumel’s money, she lived home on the commanding heights of Harlem, overlooking the river. It was Manhattan’s largest estate at the time, and still survives as its oldest home. And Eliza still lives there–as a ghost who occasionally turns up on the premises.
On February 17th, Dr. Oppenheimer will deliver a lecture on Madame Jumel at The Grinnell, close by the Morris-Jumel Mansion. The date, just after both Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day would surely strike a poignant note for our dear Eliza.