Madame Jumel comes to Worcester
by John de Marrais
Worcester, NY
Posted with permission.
Author reserves all rights.

It was a summer day in Worcester, the year of 1831. Andrew Jackson was president, it was the tenth anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte's death. Another "French" celebrity and alleged acquaintance of the Little Corporal was about to grace the main street of town with her presence. A new coach with a team of four horses made its way through the village. It soon stopped in front of the Circuit Judge's law office. Schuyler Crippen, the son of the early settler Silas Crippen, met with the elegantly dressed Madame Jumel to discuss her properties in Worcester and nearby Cherry Valley. With her was Mary Eliza, her adopted niece. Thirty years old and unlucky at romance, Mary Eliza's eyes met with Judge Crippen's understudy, Nelson Chase. The young law student, perhaps the son of the town supervisor, former judge and assemblyman Seth Chase, was her contemporary both in age and availability. Soon a deal was struck between the Madame and the Judge, and she departed leaving her niece behind as his household guest. Her coach traveled to Saratoga Springs where she purchased a vacation cottage for herself. The area was renowned as a gathering place for celebrities such as Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother), Martin Van Buren, and the Marquis de Lafayette. After some socializing, she returned to Worcester. Some final arrangements were made and Mary and Nelson were engaged to be married in the Fall of 1832 . Nelson was promised a job at the law office of Aaron Burr and he and his bride would live near the Madame in New York City. Before leaving the village the Madame met with the parents of Mary Marilla Stever, a seven year-old Worcester girl. Another arrangement was made, and the young girl was sent to live with the Madame in the big city.

The chronology of the Madame's life still remains a mystery. She was known to tell many stories involving her ancestry. History suggests that she was born 1769 at sea to a prostitute and a sailor named John Bowen. She was adopted and raised by Mrs. Thompson of Newport, Rhode Island. Her mother died at birth and Mr. Bowen disappeared, later to be found floating in Newport Harbor. By 1790 Eliza Betsey Bowen was unmarried and pregnant. She gave birth to George Washington Bowen, abandoned him, and moved to New York City living with the French sailor Jacques de la Croix. By the year of 1800 he was dead and the Madame la Croix was romancing the wealthy French coffee and wine merchant Stephen Jumel. They were married on April 9, 1804. He purchased a mansion for her in an area now known as Washington Heights. It was the former Revolutionary War headquarters for George Washington. Here they entertained such guests as and Thomas Jefferson, Dewitt Clinton, Jean Moreau and Joseph Bonaparte. In spite of this the Madame could not lose her reputation as a gold-digger. In 1832, Stephen Jumel met with a mysterious death and the Madame inherited everything. Her long-time friend and ex-Vice President, Aaron Burr provided legal assistance with the estate. In July of 1833 they were married. He quickly squandered much of her money, they were separated and she filed for divorce. It was finalized the day of his death September 14, 1836.

The Madame's adopted niece, Mary Chase, died in 1843 leaving Nelson with two children, Eliza Jumel age seven and William Inglis age three. On a later trip to Europe, Madame Jumel arranged a marriage for Eliza, granting an allowance to the couple of 5000 francs a year. The Madame died in 1865 at age 92. Her will had been recently changed and all was left to charity. The case was disputed for twelve years with many potential heirs coming out of the woodwork. The little girl from Worcester, Mary Marilla, was called to testify. She was now Mrs. Mary Mumford of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Finally, another Worcesterite, Nelson Chase and his children were awarded the bulk of the estate. It was considered one of the most famous estate trials of New York City. Nelson and family moved to New Jersey. Thirteen years later, at the age seventy-nine, Nelson took his own life.

John de Marrais, Worcester, 3/22/97

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