Anne Forster Berkeley:
The Woman of Whitehall
Like so many early
American homes, Whitehall, in Middletown (formerly a part of Newport),
Rhode Island, is associated with the man who
lived there. Seldom is the woman
of the house named or remembered. This is often true whether or not the man made
any impact on the history of the nation, the town, the surrounding countryside,
or the struggle for independence. The
assumption usually is that the woman made no impact or that there was
little in her life or personality to make her worthy of note. Whitehall is no exception.
Whitehall was built in 1729 by Dean
George Berkeley, philosopher and later Anglican bishop of Cloyne in
County Cork, Ireland. It was
home to the Berkeley family for just two years, from 1729 - 1731. The house stands today, owned and maintained by the Newport branch
of the Colonial Dames of America, as a tribute to this famous man and
his presence in colonial Newport.
Newport, by 1730, was a city
of 5,000 people. The city
attracted hundreds of craftsmen and merchants whose shops lined
the narrow streets leading away from the busy waterfront.
Prosperous tailors, carpenters, tanners, weavers, butchers
and brewers, clockmakers and stonemasons, civil officers and farmers
contributed to the wealth and developing urban complexity that marked
Newport in the early 18th century.
Amid the bustle of this busy port,
Newport citizens marked the arrival on January 23, 1729 of
a ship from Virginia bringing among its passengers the highest ranking
English churchman ever to visit New England.
John Comer, a Baptist minister,
noted in his diary: "This day Dean George Berkeley arrived
here with his spouse and a young ladie in companie ...."Press, 1979) 1-2, 12.
It was not unusual in its time that Comer provided neither
the name of the companion nor the name of the spouse of this illustrious
Even in our own time this seems still
to be the case. On a tour of
the house, the woman of Whitehall was mentioned only as "Berkeley's
wife," never by her given name which on this occasion the docent could
not recall. On another occasion the docent suggested that
Mrs. Berkeley was simply a "non-entity" during her two years in Newport
and so there is little interest in her.
In the graveyard at Trinity Church in Newport a large stone near
the grave of Nathaniel Kay, one of colonial Newport's leading citizens
and a friend of the Berkeley's, marks the grave of "Lucia Berkeley,
daughter (an infant) of Dean Berkeley."
Again, it was common practice in the 18th century
to list only the father of the deceased.
So, the name of the mother who buried her infant daughter on
September 5, 1731, two days before leaving Newport for Boston and the
Berkeley's eventual return to England and Ireland, is missing from the
tombstone. Every year, on September
5th, the Colonial Dames of America commemorate Lucia Berkeley's
brief life at a grave side ceremony. Lucia's mother is strangely absent from the occasion, preserving
her status as "non-entity" in a place she always remembered with great
Shortly before George Berkeley
set sail for America to await a royal grant for his proposed college in
Bermuda for the education of plantation owners' sons for the ministry,
he married Anne Forster. She was a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy.
Her mother was related to the Duke of Albemarle.
Anne Forster was the eldest daughter of John Forster, Speaker of
the Irish Commons (1707-9), who also had been Recorder of Dublin as well
as the Chief Justice. She and her future husband had probably met
during his student days in Dublin. A
paternal uncle, Nicholas Forster, was a bishop who assisted at Berkeley's
consecration to holy orders in 1709.
On the day before sailing from England,
Berkeley wrote to his friend, Thomas Prior, informing him that he had
married and indicated his obvious pleasure and satisfaction with his
choice: "I am married since I saw you, to Miss Forster, daughter of
the late Chief Justice, whose humour and turn of mind pleases me beyond
anything that I know in her whole sex...." To another friend, Lord Percival, Berkeley
wrote: "I chose her for the qualities of her mind and her unaffected
inclination to books...."
Anne Forster Berkeley was
born at the dawn of the 18th century.
She was educated in France and was fluent in the French language. It was most likely during her years in France
that this staunch Anglican came under the influence of two French Catholic
mystics, Francois de FÈnelon and Jeanne de la Motte-Guyon. Madame de Guyon was considered to be the most
influential proponent of Quietism, a form of mysticism that regards the
most perfect communion with God as coming only when the soul is in a state
of quiet. George Berkeley's biographers
report that Mrs. Berkeley was a Quietist.
In her later years, she translated de Guyon's writings which she
shared with fellow travelers on similar spiritual journeys.
Her quiet mystical spirituality did
not translate into a life of prayerful inactivity for Anne Berkeley. She and George Berkeley shared a long and happy
marriage and indications are that it was very much an active partnership. Throughout their wait in America for the royal
approval that never came, she encouraged and supported her husband and
his dreams. Anne Berkeley collaborated
with her husband on his philosophical works and wrote on her own as
well. Her Maxims concerning Patriotism, republished
as Miscellany under Berkeley's name, bears the inscription on
the title page, "BY A LADY." Besides their interest in religion philosophy,
Anne and George Berkeley had a mutual love of music and art.
Anne Berkeley was no stranger
to hard work. Her "inclination
to books" seems not to have kept her from such physical labors as spinning
and managing a large farm both at Whitehall and later in Ireland. Berkeley continues in his letter to Percival: "She goes [to America]
with great cheerfulness to live a plain farmer's wife and wear stuff of
her own spinning wheel." A room on the second floor of Whitehall exhibits
several spinning wheels of the type used by Anne Berkeley. She dressed herself and her family in homespun,
a political and economic statement in opposition to London commercial
interests. During their years
at Cloyne, she managed their large farm as well as extensive relief works
which included a small spinning industry during a time of famine in the
Irish countryside. Berkeley writes:
"She is become a great farmer of late.
In these hard times we employ above a hundred men everyday in agriculture
of one kind or another, all of which my wife directs. ... My wife finds
in it a fund of health and spirits, beyond all fashionable amusements
in the world."
voyage to America had been long and rough.
During that voyage, Anne became pregnant.
Their first child, Henry, was born at Whitehall on June 12, 1729.
He was baptized in September by his father in Trinity Church. In the spring of 1730, Anne Berkeley suffered
a miscarriage which left her quite ill for some time. By March 1731, she was expecting again. By that time, the Berkeley's had learned that
the royal grant would not be forthcoming and had begun to make plans
to return to England. Their departure was delayed by the imminence of
Anne's confinement. The actual
birth date of Lucia is not recorded, but she lived only a few months. She was baptized in late August and was laid
to rest in Trinity Churchyard less than two weeks later on September
Four days later, the Berkeley's left
Newport. They spent 12 days
in Boston before setting sail for England on September 21. Again there is no record, but it is not hard to imagine the terrible
grief with which Anne Berkeley departed Whitehall and America. It is difficult enough for a mother to bury
a child but even more so to leave her in a borrowed grave knowing that
she will never again visit it or lay flowers there.
Although they miss the opportunity to honor a courageous woman,
in their annual ceremony the Colonial Dames do for Anne Berkeley what
an ocean prevented her from ever doing during her lifetime.
In 1734, George Berkeley
was named bishop of Cloyne in Ireland.
By this time the Berkeley family had increased and their journey
to Ireland included Henry and his little brother,
George, born in London in September 1733.
During their years at Cloyne, Anne Berkeley would bear four more
children. Two of them, John
and Sarah, died in infancy. A
son, William, said to be the bishop's favorite, died at age sixteen. In addition to Henry and George, a daughter, Julia, lived into adulthood.
The Berkeley family lived in Cloyne
until 1751. Their home, the
Manse, was a center for the arts. Berkeley
supervised his children's education which included music and painting. An Italian music master lived in the house
and instructed the children in singing and musical instruments. Anne Berkeley was a fine singer and in 1746
took up painting. In letters
to Prior, Berkeley commented favorably and with his usual exuberance
on her talents. In singing, she was inferior to no one in the
kingdom. In painting, "she shows
a most uncommon genius", he remarked concerning her portrait of him.
In 1751, the bishop with his wife
and daughter, Julia, left Cloyne. They
settled in Oxford where Berkeley could more closely supervise George's
education at Christ Church. Berkeley,
much older than his wife, had been in failing health for several years. In January 1753, while spending an afternoon
with Anne Berkeley reading aloud from the bible, George Berkeley died
suddenly. He had made a will
appointing Anne Berkeley sole executrix and guardian of their children,
bequeathing to her all his worldly possessions.
Anne Berkeley lived until 1786. During her long years of widowhood, she continued
to promote the philosophical legacy of her husband. Her comments on his ideas can be found on manuscripts
in the Chapman collection at Trinity College. These include her own story of the plight of
the Bermuda plan in Parliament and an account of their years in Rhode
Throughout her long life,
Anne Berkeley continued as an ardent follower of FÈnelon and de Guyon,
translating passages from their works and including them in her letters
to others. While living with her son, George, in London,
she received a visitor from America.
William Samuel Johnson was the son of Reverend Samuel Johnson
whose friendship with the Berkeley's, begun in America, continued after
their return to England. In subsequent letters to William Johnson who
apparently shared her interest in mysticism, Anne Berkeley instructed
him. In one letter she recommends that Johnson "get
Laws works & Behmens & particularly get his Way to Christ. These two very fine papers Mrs. Berkeley had
the pleasure of translating for Doctor Johnson "wch when he compareth
with his Bible he will find to be the quintessence of the Bible — that for wch every thing was wrote &
instituted — that they may be of infinite use to him is the Prayer of
follower also of Dr. Nathaniel Hooke, she advised Johnson: "Mrs. Berkeley
presents her compliments to Doc: Johnson & sends him the Promised
Manuscripts, which are Invaluable & genuine.
She got them, some from Mr. Hooke, some from two of his most
Intimate Friends, please to remember that NO MANUSCRIPT OF MR. HOOK'S
[sic] with his Name to it must be printed, even in America....
Anne Berkeley ended another letter
to Johnson dated May 18th 1771: "I go please God in a fortnight
to Canterbury to reside if I live so long for three years." In a letter to his father, William Johnson
provided a description of Anne Berkeley at age seventy. "She is the finest old lady I ever saw; sensible,
lively, facetious and benevolent. She
insinuates herself at first acquaintance into one's esteem, and begets
a high opinion of her virtues. She
received me very affectionately and remembered America and you in particular
with great regard...." 
Anne Berkeley would live 15 years
beyond 1771. In 1780, her son
George commented that, at age 80, her powers were "as great as ever
and very few persons have exceeded her in this respect." She died in Langley, England, on May 27, 1786.
This paper is written as a tribute
to all the unnamed and mostly forgotten women who in so many cases managed
the homesteads now so carefully preserved in their husband's names. It is a tribute to all the women who transformed
early America's cold, drafty houses into warm, welcoming homes — especially
to Anne Forster Berkeley, the woman of Whitehall.
 Edwin S. Gausted, George Berkeley in America. (New Haven and London: Yale University
 A.A. Luce, The Life of George Berkeley, Bishop
of Cloyne. (London: Thom Nelson & Sons, 1949) 11.
 George Berkeley to Thomas Prior (September 5, 1728)
quoted in John Wild, George Berkeley: A Study of His Life and Philosophy. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1962) 306.
 George Berkeley to Lord Percival quoted in Luce
 George Berkeley to Lord Percival quoted in Luce
 George Berkeley (February 17, 1747) quoted in Luce
 Anne Berkeley to William Samuel Johnson in Yale
University Library Gazette, Vol. VIII, No. 1, July 1933. 29-41.
 Yale University Library Gazette.
 Yale University Library Gazette.
 William Samuel Johnson to Samuel Johnson in Yale
University Library Gazette.
 Luce 11.
Gausted, Edwin S.
George Berkeley in America.
New Haven & London: Yale University Press,
Luce, A. A. The Life of
George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. London: Thom Nelson & Sons,
George Berkeley: A Study of His Life and Philosophy. New York: Russell &
Yale University Library
Gazette. Vol. VIII, No. 1, July 1933.