AN INTERVIEW IN THE WATER
How A Woman once Interviewed John Quincy Adams
As a boy, being fond of bathing in the Potomac, I frequently resorted thither at early hours of summer mornings. The favorite point for such enjoyment was at ” the sycamores,” so called because a group of those trees stood on a certain part of the shore. The location was in the immediate vicinity of the present Washington Monument. There I had sometimes the honor of attempting to rival the natatory skill of John Quincy Adams.
It was his custom to seek the refreshment of the River of Swans—Pow-tow-mack—at the dewy hours of four or five A.m. My young companions and I encircled him as minnows may swim about a whale, but with no fear, for among children he was as a child.
A strange incident occurred there one day. Mrs. Anne Royal, a stout, aged, and eccentric widow of a Revolutionary soldier, had come to Washington some time before and undertaken the publication of a weekly paper entitled “The Huntress,” in size little beyond a sheet of foolscap, blurred print, and more typographical errors than lines. Biographical accounts of gentlemen of the Cabinet and of Congress were its main features, with notices, too, of distinguished ladies of the metropolis. If the elite furnished her, on her call, with proper data and proper pay, their lives were made glorious in the next number of the unique journal, and they were also presented as angels, either masculine or feminine; but if her visit, as did happen now and then, met with refusal, the imaginative editor would invent wonderful circumstances and attribute them to such personages. These, in publication, startled, and even terrified the subjects thereof and all their society friends. So it became necessary to buy off the vengeful madam and to obtain from her a pleasant report. Cases of fancy were often more profitable to the Royal treasury than those which were authentic. So severe and denunciatory was the editorial tone of this Saturday visitor that it soon created dread in all quarters, and few were brave enough to provoke her wrath by declining the application of the proprietor. The demand granted, the consequent laudation proved scarcely more acceptable, being extravagant to absurdity, and read with general laughter.
No paper of the period in Washington, not even the stately and venerable “National Intelligencer,” could compare in extent of local subscription with the list of “The Huntress. ”
The active and resolute madam would have it, and made it so, by going from house to house, office to office, stores, departments of the Government, in a word everywhere, of course including Congress assembled. By love or by fear she usually succeeded. Soon as the queer little sheets issued from the press, and while they were yet damp, Mrs. Royal, huge basket on arm, bore them through the city, acting as carrier.
The enterprising widow had long sought an opportunity to pay her respects to the Honorable John Quincy, but somehow—perhaps John Quincy knew—fate failed to favor her.
She chanced to learn the early summer morning practice of his late Excellency, and the very next day repaired to the river and the sycamores. There he was, serenely disporting. She looked on with self-congratulation. The swimmer approached the shore at last, nearer and nearer, till he observed her ladyship in waiting, then, the stream admitting, stood, head and neck exposed above the surface.
Thus situated, a prisoner, she addressed him, introduced herself, and held sufficient talk to furnish subject for a fine article in the following “Huntress,” which accomplished, she retired, and once more all was ” quiet on the Potomac.”
Saginaw [MI] Evening News, 24 January 1887: p. 1
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One can scarcely imagine the austere figure in the photograph as nature made him, but, of course, at this time men and boys were accustomed to bathe in the nude.
Mrs Royall [that is the correct spelling] had come to Washington to try to collect her late husband’s pension, as she had been disinherited by her husband’s family and left penniless. It is said that Mr Adams supported her application after being held captive in the Potomac and that she became a friend of the family. Mrs Royall was exceptionally outspoken and was derided as a virago by the many targets of her journalistic censure. There were actually threats to duck her as a scold, (one would have liked to have seen them try!) but she was merely fined instead. She was the first woman to interview a United States President and is regarded as the first American woman journalist.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes. You may read the Mrs Daffodil story, “A Spot of Bother,” in the compilation of that name on Amazon or on Barnes & Noble.