On this date in 1769, Anne (nee Newport) Royall was born in Baltimore, Md., moving with her family to the wilderness of Pennsylvania, then to Virginia. A wealthy Revolutionary soldier, Major William Royall, who had hired Anne’s mother as a servant, married Anne, at age 28 more than 20 years his junior, in 1797. Royall knew Washington, Jefferson and Lafayette, and admired Voltaire and Paine. Anne embraced the Age of Reason, repudiating dogma and hell. Left a wealthy, childless widow of 44 when her husband died in 1813, she spent the next decade in Alabama. Royall’s relatives contested the will, and broke it in 1823, forcing her to earn her income by pen. She set off on a series of nomadic adventures to Tennessee, Virginia, New York and New England, writing a series of travel books, including Letters from Alabama (1830). Her books bought her fame and a reputation for writing books that castigated individuals who snubbed her, and praised people who treated her well.
Anne reviled missionaries and piety, fought evangelicals in Congress, destroyed the tracts of the Sunday School Union wherever she found them, including in the Library of Congress, on steamboats, hotel rooms. She drove missionaries from the halls of Congress, wielding an old green umbrella. In 1827, when Rev. Ezra Stiles Ely announced plans for “a Christian party in politics,” and electing only Christians to government, she called it treasonous. As the first state/church lobbyist in Congress, she tried to stop Sabbatarians from halting Sunday mail distribution, championed public schools free from religious bias, taunted religionists, and feuded with a neighboring evangelical church, which harassed her and got her arrested as a “common scold.” She was convicted, but left off with a fine. Depending on which history is believed, President Andrew Jackson went to pay her fines, but was beaten to it either by Secretary of War Jon Eaton or two sympathetic reporters. At 62, she launched the “Paul Pry” D.C. weekly newspaper out of her home (1831-1836), followed by the “Huntress” (1836-1854), dedicated to educating the people about government. She knew and interviewed every president from John Adams to Franklin Pierce. Anne was cheated out of a war pension which it had taken John Quincy Adams 25 years to win for her, dying almost penniless at 85. In his Memoirs, John Quincy Adams ambiguously recalled Anne Royall as “a virago errant in enchanted armor.” D. 1854.
“Good works instead of long prayers.” —Anne Royall’s motto. (Read more about her in Women Without Superstition.)