Four forces joined to create the collection associated with James Monroe and his family. One was the general human desire to save such items as connections to the past. A second was that of the special attachment of Americans to items associated with past Presidents of the United States. A third was the great importance attributed to this President and all his achievements that led Monroe’s family and associates to keep so many and such varied items. And the fourth was the splendid generosity of the family members, descendants and associates, who wanted so much to share their perceptions and their memories that they gave away to the rest of us this wonderful patrimony – forming the Monroe Collection at the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library.
The sense that Monroe’s objects were valuable connections to his important roles in city, state, national and world politics was developed very early in his family. His children Eliza Monroe Hay and Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur inherited some items and bought others. Maria and her husband Samuel L. Gouverneur were special collectors, and two of their children, Samuel L. Gouverneur, Jr. and Elizabeth Kortright Gouverneur Heiskell, inherited Monroe items.
Samuel Gouverneur, Jr. was deeply involved in preserving his grandfather’s legacy. He was the leading family member in the 1858 negotiations to remove Monroe’s remains from the Marble Cemetery in New York City and reinter them in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. In his duty as first United States Consul in Foo Chow, the capital of the Chinese province of Fokien, he had an artist make a painted copy of a Leslie’s Illustrated engraving showing him standing beside his grandfather’s coffin, lying in state in the Governor’s Room of New York City Hall. Sam Jr. also went into Orphan’s Court to gain possession of some of the Monroe items which his father had taken to the home of his second wife, Mary Digges Lee Gouverneur. And it was Sam Jr. who made personal notes in some of the books now in our collection, attesting to their ownership by James Monroe.
The intensity of involvement increased in the long and productive life of Sam Jr.’s daughter Rose de Chine Gouverneur Hoes. She not only played a central role in the creation of this museum but was also the leading figure in the creation of the collection of “Gowns of the First Ladies” at the Smithsonian Institution, for which Rose Hoes wrote the first catalog of that collection, published in 1916.
In 1927, when notified that the old buildings on Monroe’s Fredericksburg town lot were about to be demolished and replaced with a gasoline service station, she bought the buildings and brought there her collections of objects, books and documents, opening our James Monroe Museum, now in its seventy-fourth year.
Rose’s sons Gouverneur Hoes and Laurence Gouverneur Hoes assisted at that early moment, and Laurence and his first wife Ingrid Westesson Hoes gave the next fifty years of their lives to enhancing the collections, adding to the building, establishing the James Monroe Memorial Foundation, and giving the museum to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Laurence’s second wife Camilla has continued generous gifts in her widowhood, and Laurence and Ingrid’s late son Monroe Randall Hoes and his wife Mary Alice Regier Hoes have made further generous contributions. It is particularly to Rose and her family that we owe our treasure house of Monroe materials, and I remain in awe of their work and their generosity.
It was my personal honor and pleasure to know Laurence and Ingrid Hoes, and it continues to be my honor and pleasure to know not only their descendants but so many others who have continued the wonderful gifts that make this a living, growing collection. Just within the last few years so many of the descendants have contributed objects to the collections. They have also contributed their funds and interest to the work of the museum, to the Friends of the James Monroe Museum, and to the annual Monroe Reunion which we began in 1990.
At the very first Reunion, Minor Fairfax Heiskell Gouverneur II (deceased 1993), a great-great-great-great-grandson of James and Elizabeth Monroe, gave us the original key to our old buildings.
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe Emory Gatchell (deceased 1996), great-great-great-granddaughter of the Monroes, gave us "Maria’s quilt,” the unfinished quilt on which Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur had been working when her recently widowed father came to live with her in 1830; Maria put down the quilt and never took it up again, making it a very special memorial of the last year of James Monroe’s life.
I have already mentioned the late Monroe Randall Hoes and his wife Mary Alice Regier Hoes. They have given us a number of very important items in the last few years, including a group of Monroe’s bank checks, 1811-1822, which shed light on his personal financial transactions, and a beautiful set of pearl handled, silver-bladed fruit knives and forks, engraved with Monroe’s eagle crest, an ornament we have used in a number of ways at the museum and in our catalogue, A Presidential Legacy: The Monroe Collection .
In 1989, Margaret N. Randol, a collateral descendant of Mary Digges Lee Gouverneur, generously donated one of Monroe’s dispatch boxes. Others have told us of their intentions to give us Monroe items still in the family, or help us create an Acquisitions Fund through which to acquire Monroe materials which are offered for sale. An envelope arrived filled with wonderful family information, from Jane Fairfax Gouverneur Ten Eyck, a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of the Monroes.
It has been a delightful revelation to me and the staff to meet many other descendants whose interest, family information, financial gifts and general support are so important to the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library. It is especially inspiring to us that so many of the younger generations are now interested – including those who are helping us construct a web page and others helping us build a Monroe Family e-mail network.
From these family efforts have come our wonderful collections, now presented in the catalogue by former Curator Lee Langston-Harrison, with the help of many students and faculty members of the University of Mary Washington (which administers the museum). And now I hope all of you who read this will become members of the Friends of the James Monroe Museum (“honorary Monroes"), carrying on the special mission of finding the objects, books and papers which illuminate the life, times and influence of James Monroe, and helping us create the programs to carry the message to others.
John N. Pearce
Director of the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, 1993-2010