Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel by Margaret A. Oppenehimer

The tale of a young man rising from rags to riches is well known. For a woman to rise in society and in fortune there was only one way: through a man.

Betsy Bowen was born to a teenage mother in 1775. She was raised in a brothel, indentured, and confined to a workhouse while her mother was jailed. In 1803 she moved and changed her name to Eliza Brown.

She was an occasional extra in the theater when she met wealthy businessman Stephen Jumel and became his mistress. Betsy had drive and intelligence. She knew Jumel loved her and she manipulated him into marriage by claiming she was on the brink of death and concerned for her soul.

Jumel took Eliza to his native land of France. She educated herself to seamlessly fit into French society, teaching herself French through reading. Her intelligence and beauty was celebrated. She collected art and European treasures to outfit her American home. Eliza helped Jumel amass real estate and a fortune. She returned to America to manage Jumel's American assets. They lived apart for four years, during which time Eliza ensured her future financial status.
The Jumel family mansion. 
Read more about the Morris-Jumel mansion here.

After her husband's death, Eliza Jumel was the wealthiest woman in America. She was courted by the financially insolvent ex-Vice President Arron Burr who pressured her into marriage. She soon learned he only wanted her money and divorced him on (justified) grounds of adultery.

She continued to protect her fortune using all means, including lies and trickery to disinherit Jumel's family. After her death at 92 years of age, Jumel heirs fought for control of the wealth for years. Scandalous accusations were flung about the courtrooms, dismantling the respectability Eliza had worked so hard to achieve.

How Eliza changed her own story using every device in her power is fascinating to read. You won't always like her, but you have to admire the woman who defied the odds to become the legend she created in the New York Times obituary of her.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic
by Margaret A. Oppenheimer
Chicago Review Press
Publication Date: November 1, 2015
ISBN: 9781613733806
$29.95 hard cover