|William Patterson by Thomas Sully, Bequest of Mrs. George Patterson, MdHS, 1883.1.1|
By Heather Haggstrom, Exhibitions Manager
By September of 1805, Elizabeth had all but given up on hearing from her husband Jerome. Sad and missing her mother with whom she had a very strong bond, she set sail aboard the brig Mars and returned reluctantly to Baltimore. Crossing the Atlantic in the fall was risky, but Elizabeth arrived safely in mid-November and moved into the Patterson House to await word from Jerome.
Life was not easy for Elizabeth at the Patterson household. Her father, who had never fully approved of her marriage, viewed her as a strong-willed and careless girl who had cost him a great deal of money. William Patterson had put cash on deposit in several European ports, chartered a ship and paid for two of his sons to accompany his daughter on her voyage. But the most egregious offense for Mr. Patterson was covering his new son-in-law’s extensive debts. There were bills for tailors, shoemakers, carriages and pistols. Jerome had spared no expense. Mr. Patterson felt obliged to pay these debts in order to keep his family name in good standing.
Elizabeth like any daughter, desperately wanted her father’s approval and spent years trying to make up for her marital mistake, but her father and her brothers treated her harshly and rebuked her at every turn. In later years she wrote:
Quietness was not my definition of happiness. That the Event, and not my Conduct should determine my character, that to be Unsuccessful and guilty should be the same thing and that I should be held up as a public criminal for not doing what could not be done. (MS142…)
Despite Elizabeth’s best efforts, her father never forgave her.
Finally in January of 1806, letters from Jerome reached Elizabeth in Maryland. In the spring, James McIlhiny from London forwarded a letter and two boxes of gifts to from Jerome to Elizabeth. The boxes contained an elaborate Paris wardrobe, jewels, and a thousand guineas in gold. Feeling entitled, William Patterson kept half the gold. He also sold many of the goods Jerome had purchased in America.
Desperate for word from Jerome, Elizabeth began visiting Washington to be near diplomats who were privy to the most current news from Europe. She stayed with her uncle, Sam Smith, and his wife Margaret in their Capitol Hill residence. During these frequent visits, she began a friendship with then First Lady Dolley Madison who often invited Elizabeth to her famous dinners. In July of 1806, one of the last letters from Jerome arrived full of continued promises to return to his wife and son.
Back in Europe, Napoleon was launching an ultimately unsuccessful effort to get Pope Pius VII to declare Elizabeth and Jerome’s marriage invalid. Though the Pope refused, Napoleon was undeterred and sought to have the marriage annulled by the French ecclesiastical court. In October of 1806, Napoleon got what he wanted most and what Jerome and Elizabeth had not wanted at all.