By CYNTHIA EARMAN
Following is an article based on a recent "Treasure-Talk" at the Library. Treasure-Talks are given by Library specialists who discuss particular items in the permanent exhibition "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," on view Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. except Sundays and federal holidays.
Early in the 19th century the newspaper Paul Pry dedicated itself to exposing political corruption and religious fraud. It was edited by the audacious Anne Newport Royall at a time when few women were newspaper editors and even fewer were willing to take on the establishment.
The Library's collection of the works of Royall include nine volumes of travel books, one novel and two newspapers that together span more than 30 years -- from Presidents Monroe to Pierce. Royall's travels took her from Louisiana to Maine, and her observations of the people and places she encountered provide a rich glimpse into antebellum America. As the self-appointed guardian of democracy, Royall exposed graft and corruption wherever she went. Her boldness and tenacity were remarkable in an era when society was obsessed with the trappings of gentility.
Born in 1769 in Baltimore in the colony of Maryland, Anne Newport grew up on the frontier of western Pennsylvania. Later, she moved with her widowed mother and half-brother to the mountains of western Virginia. There Butler found work as a housekeeper for the Revolutionary War veteran Maj. William Royall. Anne was 18 when they met and Royall delightedly introduced his young servant to the works of authors ranging from Shakespeare to Voltaire. Royall was a Mason and told Anne that Masons always helped each other, which she later found to be true. At some point Anne moved into Royall's mountain mansion, and in 1797 they wed. She was 28; he was in his 50s. For 15 years, the Royalls lived in comfort. This marked the only time in Anne's life when she had no financial worries. In 1812 William Royall died, leaving her with a life interest in his property. Royall's relatives protested, claiming the will was a forgery. Seven years of litigation ensued until in 1819 a jury annulled the will. Left with only a smaller dower, Anne left for Alabama.
For four years, Anne Royall traveled around Alabama. In letters to her friend and lawyer, Matthew Dunbar, she described the evolution of the young state. During this sojourn, Royall decided to become a writer. Despite plans to sell her books by subscription -- a common practice during this time -- Royall needed capital to cover her travel costs. Thus, she gathered her letters to Dunbar into a manuscript that would eventually be published as Letters from Alabama. She then completed the manuscript of The Tennessean (a novel) and set off for Washington, D.C., to petition for a pension as the widow of a Revolutionary War solider.
In 1824 Anne Newport Royall arrived in Washington. Like many other widows, she came to present her case to Congress. As fate would have it, the Pension Law then in effect did not specifically recognize a widow's right to her husband's pension; each widow needed to plead her own case. And so Royall began lobbying. From the house gallery, Royall listened to the orations of men including Virginia's John Randolph and Massachusetts's Daniel Webster. Eventually she called upon Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to discuss the pension issue. He agreed that the pension bill needed reform and promised to support her efforts. In 1805 Adams, while he was senator, declined a plea for support from Charlotte Hazen, widow of Gen. Moses Hazen. At the time, Adams believed it wrong for representatives of a state to act in the interests of an individual. Rather, legislators should act for the benefit of the whole country. Almost 20 years later, Adams changed his mind. In addition to a new champion (Adams continued to support Royall's pension petitions when he later served in the House of Representatives) she also gained a subscriber for two books. Adams also invited Royall to visit his wife at their Washington home, as well as his father, in Massachusetts. Before resuming her travels, Royall did call upon Louisa Adams, who greeted her warmly and gave her a warm, white shawl for her journey. Royall's final task before setting out north was to interview Gen. Lafayette, from whom she obtained a letter attesting to her husband's military service.
From Washington, Royall journeyed to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, Springfield, Hartford, Worcester, Boston and New Haven. In each city, she called upon leading citizens for interviews and subscriptions. In Philadelphia, she visited the printer Matthew Carey. Carey and his son declined to publish her works, as the American audience preferred European authors. Royall took copious notes concerning each city's population, industry, physical description and modes of available transportation. She also noted regional dialects, modes of dress and the character of residents. When unscrupulous innkeepers tried to take advantage of travelers by charging too much, Royall protested, refused to pay the excess and took more notes.
Such incidents are spread throughout her books. By the time Royall reached New York, she needed money. Drawing upon Masonic connections, she met Hippolite Barriêre, the manager of the Chatham Garden Theater, who arranged a benefit performance. Barriêre gave Royall the house receipts -- $180. Continuing onto Boston, Royall visited John Adams and gave him an update on his son and daughter-in-law. By 1826, Royall had completed her manuscript of the northern tour. Titled Sketches of History, Life and Manners in the United States, it was privately printed in New Haven. Royall was 57. The Tennessean was published a year later.
Royall's books caused quite a stir and earned her some very powerful enemies, including Philadelphia's Rev. Ezra Stiles Ely. In the 1820s, Ely tried to forge an alliance between church and state through the election of Christian candidates. Never fond of missionaries, Royall became an outright critic of Ely and the American Tract Society, whose pamphlets were liberally distributed during this time. In her books, Royall called Presbyterians "blue-skins," "blackcoats" and "copper-heads" as she detailed their political plots and thus earned herself a reputation as a vulgar, offensive woman. Occasionally her critics bought and destroyed her books. Others simply refused to sell them. While in Vermont, one "blue-skin" shopkeeper pushed Royall down a staircase. Ely and his followers considered Royall a devil and devised a plan to punish her.
Anne Royall returned to Washington in 1829 and took up residence on Capitol Hill, near an engine house. In her absence, the engine house -- built with federal monies -- had been allowing a small Presbyterian congregation to use the house for services. Royall claimed that children from the congregation pelted her windows with stones. One member of the congregation, John Coyle Sr., a congressional clerk and a "blackcoat" -- began praying silently beneath Royall's window. Others visited her, trying, she claimed, to convert her. When Royall responded to the taunting and visits by cursing, she fell into their trap.
John Coyle and others, who were in contact with Ely, presented their complaints to District Attorney Thomas Swann. Their first attempt failed, as their complaint was dated a day before the alleged incident occurred. The second time Royall was arrested. She was charged for being a public nuisance, a common brawler and a common scold. At the trial, witnesses including former Librarian of Congress George Watterston and Secretary of War William Eaton testified. On June 31, 1829, the Circuit Court of the United States for Washington County found Ann Royall guilty of being a common scold and disturber of the peace. She thus became the first North American legally declared a common scold. The traditional punishment of ducking -- for which the Marines at the Navy Yard had constructed a ducking chair -- was found obsolete; the offense, however, was not. The court fined Royall $10. Two reporters from Washington's preeminent newspaper, The National Intelligencer, paid the fine. Embarrassed, Royall resumed traveling.
Upon her return to Washington in 1831, she began publishing Paul Pry, a newspaper dedicated to exposing all and every species of political evil and religious fraud, without fear or affection. Named by one of the orphans, who worked for Royall, the paper had almost 100 subscribers. Together with her friend and partner Sally Stack, Royall printed the paper in her house and sold single issues at the Capitol. Paul Pry consisted of Royall's original editorials, excerpts from other papers, advertisements, letters to the editor -- and her lengthy replies. Part of Royall's financial difficulties were exacerbated when postmasters throughout the country refused to deliver Royall's paper. In retaliation, she published lists of subscribers with accounts in arrears and the names of those postmasters who refused to release the paper to subscribers. With type donated by The National Intelligencer and set by a cadre of orphans, the readability of the paper varied from issue to issue. In 1836, The Huntress replaced Paul Pry. As with Paul Pry, the new paper exposed the graft, nepotism and laziness of government clerks. Both papers also included pen portraits and biographical sketches of notable people containing insights drawn from Royall's interviews and observations. Almost every disclosure of government waste was followed by a reminder that the money could be used for widows, orphans or the indigent. Royall exposed land fraud against Native Americans, and though she opposed slavery, Royall argued against the divisive tactics of abolitionists. Indeed, despite a personal abhorrence of drunkenness -- she found the selling of alcohol in the Capitol building reprehensible -- Royall also criticized temperance advocates. She objected to zealotry and the interference of the government in people's lives.
In 1848, Congress passed a new pension law and Royall obtained her pension. William Royall's family again claimed most of her money. Royall continued to publish The Huntress until her death in 1854 at the age of 85. For 30 years, Anne Royall struggled to keep her country informed. A passionate patriot, her sprit and tenacity live on through her writings.
Books by Anne Newport Royall
- Sketches of History, Life and Manners in the United States, by a Traveller. New Haven, 1826.
- The Tennessean, a novel founded on fact. New Haven, 1827.
- The Black Book, a Continuation of Travels in the United States. 3 vols. Washington, 1828-1829.
- Mrs. Royall's Pennsylvania, or Travels in the United States. 2 vols. Washington, 1829.
- Letters from Alabama on Various Subjects. Washington, 1830.
- Mrs. Royall's Southern Tour, or, Second Series of Black Books. 3 vols. Washington, 1831.
- Paul Pry. Washington, 1831-1836.
- The Huntress. Washington, 1836-1854.
- Jackson, George Stuyvesant. Uncommon Scold: The Story of Anne Royall. Boston: Bruce Humphries.
- James, Bessie Rowland. Anne Royall's U.S.A. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1972.
- Maxwell, Alice S. and Marion B. Dunlevy. Virago! The Story of Anne Newport Royall (1769-1854). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 1985.
- National Intelligencer (Washington). July 31, 1829.
- National Journal (Washington). August 1, 1829.
- Porter, Sarah Harvey. "The Life and Times of Ann Royall, 1796-1854," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 10, 1-37.
- Porter, Sarah Harvey. The Life and Times of Anne Royall. Cedar Rapids: Torch Press Book Shop, 1909.
- Wright, Richardson. Forgotten Ladies: Nine portraits from the American Family Album. J.B. Lippincott: Philadelphia, 1928.
Mr. Cole is cochair of the Library's Bicentennial Steering Committee and director of the Center for the Book.