Esther de Berdt was born on October 22, 1746 in the city of London. She was the only Daughter of Dennis de Berdt a descendent of the French Huguenots who had fled to England from Ypres. Her father stayed true to the Huguenot faith and taught the Scriptures diligently to his daughter.
Esther had a very bright childhood. She had a happy family, and loved reading. Her father’s home was a bright one.He had many contacts among the business men of the American colonies, many of whom came to visit his home in England. In 1763 one man in particular was a welcome guest. A 23 year old man by the name of Joseph Reed, had come over to England to finish his professional studies as was the fashion of the day.
While staying at the de Berdt house Mr. Reed became quite fond of Esther. He soon asked her for her hand in marriage with she willingly consented to. When the desire for matrimony was told to Esther’s parents, the result was very disappointing to the young lovers. They counsel was that it was they should not be married. Given in such loving and kind words that the young people willingly submitted to the adult’s wisdom, though they still hoped that it would be resolved some day. The couple stay in contact with each other, though five years and the Atlantic separated them from each other.
Over these five years Esther always wrote to Mr. Reed. They sent many letters back and forth, many of which spoke of the political tension rising between England and the Colonies. It has been said of Miss Esther’s family that although English by birth, they where indeed Americans in political opinion. Her father did much to help begin the revolution.
After many years of waiting and prayers, Esther and Joseph where reunited in 1770. Joseph returned for a uncertain visit to England; he returned to find much changed. Mr. de Berdt had passed away, after loosing his entire fortune. Finally, with the consent of Mrs. de Berdt, Joseph was given permission to marry Esther. The couple said their vows privately in a little chapel in London on the 31st of May.
In October they sailed for America, and settled down in Philadelphia. The two spend a happy a mostly uneventful life for the next few years, until the Revolutionary War broke out and Mr. Reed joined the army in June of 1775 at the person request of the commander-in-chief George Washington. Mrs. Reed knowing full well the duties required of her husband let him go willingly and with out a murmur, sending her prayers with him.
Mrs. Reed staying in Philadelphia with her small children until 1776, when she moved to Burlington. She stayed there but a few months, then forced by the advance of British troops to take refuge in a little farm in Evesham. A little while later the family (Mrs. Reed, a Friend, Mrs. de Berdt, The Reed’s 3 children, and a fourteen year old boy) where again forced to flee this time as a precautionary measure to a little village in the woods. Should the British army advance any farther the ladies and children would be in grave danger.
The British and America shoulders met at Trenton and Princeton, and the consequence of this meeting was the saving of the area of New Jersey where the Reed’s resided. Mrs. Reed moved back to Philadelphia and her husband soon joined her. The couple got to settle down for only a brief amount of time. The British soon begun a new and more elaborate attempt on Philadelphia. Mrs. Reed was in Norristown during the movements of the army. Her husband was again called into service and remained until after the battle of brandywine.
Despite the many troubles and fears that where so present during this time of year, Esther was calm, trusting only in God, that He would accomplish His perfect will. Even through these hard years Joseph was able to visit his wife a few times.
In July 1778 yet another hard ship came to the Reed family. The death of one of the Reed children from small pox. Yet even in this she trusted God:
Surely, my affliction has had its aggravation, and I cannot help reflecting on my neglect of my dear lost child. For thoughtful and attentive to my own situation, I did not take the necessary precaution to prevent that fatal disorder when it was in my power. Surely I ought to take blame to myself. I would not do it to aggravate my sorrow, but to learn a lesson of humility, and more caution and prudence in future. Would to God I could learn every lesson intended by the stroke. I think sometimes of my loss with composure, acknowledging the wisdom, right, and even the kindness of the dispensation. Again I feel it overcome me, and strike the very bottom of my heart, and tell me the work is not yet finished.
The hard life of toil and pain where taking there tole on Mrs. Reed, her body was become more frail that it used to be. Yet she was still able to celebrate with her husband in the fall of 1778 when he was elected governor of Pennsylvania. Two happy years went by, full of parties, and society. Yet they to where not without trial. Being the wife of the a governor was not easy. Personal violence was threatened against their family, yet it was subsided.
In May of 1780 a baby boy joined the Reed family, he was named Washington after the General; who a month later wrote the the family saying: “I warmly thank you for calling the young Christian by my name.” This little boy grew up and thirty years later died in service to his country.
That fall the women of Philadelphia united to make clothing for the suffering soldiers. Mrs. Reed was at the head of the association, by popular demand. The services done by Esther and the other ladies on the city was so great that Mrs. Reed was sent from La Fayetter which is as follows:
In admiring the new resolution, in which the fair ones of Philadelphia have taken the lead, I am induced to feel for those American ladies, who being out of the Continent cannot participate in this patriotic measure. I know of one who, heartily wishing for a personal acquaintance with the ladies of America, would feel particularly happy to be admitted among them on the present occasion. Without presuming to break in upon the rules of your respected association, may I most humbly present myself as her ambassador to the confederate ladies, and solicit in her name that Mrs. President be pleased to accept of her offering.
With the highest respect, I have the honor to be,
madam, your most obedience servant, LA FAYETTE
Mrs. Reed did as much work for the soldiers as her heath permitted, but she contracted a fatal disease that soon ran it’s course. On the 18th of September 1780 she breathed her last.
A few days later she was lade to rest in the Arch Street Presbyterian Church cemetery in Philadelphia. Her tumbstone reads:
In memory of Esther, the beloved wife of Joseph Reed
President of this State, who departed this life
On the 18th of September, A.D. 1780, aged 34 [sic] years.
Reader! If the possession of those virtues of the heart
Which make life valuable, or those personal endowments which
Command esteem and love, may claim respectful and affectionate
Remembrance, venerate the ashes here entombed.
If to have the cup of temporal blessings dashed
In the period and station of life in which temporal blessings
May be best enjoyed, demands our sorrow, drop a tear, and
Think how slender is that thread on which the joys
And hopes of life depend.