Stockton, Annis Boudinot
STOCKTON, Annis Boudinot
Born 1 July 1736, Darby, Pennsylvania; died 6 February 1801, Burlington County, New Jersey
Wrote under: "Emelia" (sometimes spelled "Amelia")
Daughter of Elias and Catherine Williams Boudinot; married Richard Stockton, circa 1755 (died 1781); children: six
Although few records of Annis Boudinot Stockton's childhood remain, her extant manuscripts and Stockton family histories leave a considerable body of material for reconstructing her adult life. Born to a tradesman of French Huguenot descent, Stockton apparently received a more substantial education than was common for girls of her time. Her first poems were written before her marriage to Richard Stockton, a well-known New Jersey lawyer, landowner, and future signer of the Declaration of Independence. Some of these poems celebrate their courtship: "…I find on earth no charms for me / But what's connected with the thought of thee!" After her marriage, Stockton moved to the Stockton estate near Princeton, naming her home "Morven," after the imaginary land of Ossian's (James Macpherson's) Fingal. The romance of that title and the elaborately stylish gardens Stockton cultivated at Morven reflect the impulses of much of her verse: pastoral, sentimental, and imitative of popular British modes.
The quiet life at Morven was interrupted by the Revolutionary War. Because both Stockton and her husband were committed patriots, Morven was occupied by the British under Cornwallis during the Battle of Princeton in December 1776. The estate was sacked; plate and papers (including some of Stockton's early poems) were stolen. And although the family had been evacuated, Richard Stockton was taken prisoner soon after their escape. Washington's quick recapture of Princeton allowed Stockton and her children to return to their ruined home. Richard Stockton was released later in 1777, but ill treatment in prison probably hastened his death in 1781.
Stockton's watch by her husband's deathbed occasioned two of her most moving elegies: "But vain is prophesy when death's approach, / Thro' years of pain, has sap'd a dearer life, / And makes me, coward like, myself reproach, / That e're I knew the tender name of wife." Stockton continued to live at Morven until the marriage of her eldest son, at which time she left the estate to him and moved to the home of her youngest daughter, Abigail Field of Burlington County, where she died in 1801.
Much of Stockton's life had been occupied with the raising of her six children and the managing of a sizeable household. But however demanding those responsibilities became, she continued to make time for her verse. Her husband encouraged her work, and Stockton's audience gradually expanded beyond the family circle. She exchanged verses, for example, with Philadelphia poet Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. Noting the support she found in her "sister" poet, Stockton addressed Fergusson directly in "To Laura" (Fergusson's pseudonym): "Permit a sister muse to soar / To heights she never try'd before, / And then look up to thee…." Additionally, Stockton became a close friend of Esther Burr, who preserved two of Stockton's poems in her journal. She wrote a number of odes to George Washington, many of them warmly acknowledged in his letters to her. Such encouragement from family and friends may have suggested to Stockton the possibility of an even wider audience: her first known publication, "To the Honorable Colonel Peter Schuyler," appeared in the New-York Mercury on 9 January 1758, and in the New American Magazine in January of 1758. Although other Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey periodicals printed Stockton's verse from time to time, most of her work remained in manuscript.
Throughout her life, Stockton continued to work in the couplets and alternately rhymed quatrains of Pope, Young, Thomson, and Gray. Using these models, she developed themes of courtship, marriage, nature, friendship, patriotism, old age, and grief. But even as she imitated conventional forms, Stockton worried about the propriety of her activities: she confided to her brother Elias in a letter dated 1 May 1789, about one of her odes to Washington, that "if you think it will only add one sprig to the wreath the country twines to bind the brows of my hero, I will run the risk of being sneered at by those who criticize female productions of all kinds." Fearful for her reputation, yet wishing recognition for her work, Stockton faced a dilemma common to colonial women poets. The number of her publications and the size of her extant manuscript collection may indicate that the desire to write finally outweighed her fear of impropriety.
Poems by Stockton were published in the New-York Mercury, New American Magazine, Pennsylvania Magazine, Columbian Magazine, and New Jersey Gazette. Some poems are appended to the Reverend Samuel Stanhope Smith's Funeral Sermon on the Death of the Hon. Richard Stockton… (1781).
Bill, A., A House Called Morven (1954, revised 1978). Cowell, P., Women Poets in Pre-Revolutionary America, 1650-1775 (1981). Ellet, E., Women of the American Revolution (1850). Glenn T., Some Colonial Houses and Those Who Lived in Them (1899). Green, H. C., and M. W. Green, Pioneer Mothers in America (1912). Mulford, C. J., The Poetry of Annis Boudinot Stockton (1994). Stockton, J., A History of the Stockton Family (1881). Stockton, T. C., The Stocktons of New Jersey, and Other Stocktons (1911).
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).