Amy Heard in 1862, Paris
Amy Heard was born on 7 October 1860 in Paris, the month before the election of Abraham Lincoln and the year before the outbreak of the American Civil War. She was christened Amelia, but never used the name. She was the second child of Augustine Heard, at the time a well known China merchant, and Jane Leaps de Coninck, the daughter of a Belgian Diplomat. Augustine went to China following his graduation from Harvard in 1847 to serve with his uncle and namesake, Augustine Heard, the founder of Augustine Heard and Co. 

Augustine Heard Jane Leaps Heard

Like his brothers John, Albert Farley, and George Farley, young Augustine was a senior partner of the largely family controlled firm and was reputed to be the first American permitted to trade in Siam (1855). Augustine took over leadership of the firm in 1852 from his older brother John, and directed the company until John's return in 1855 or 1857, when Augustine moved to Paris as a representative of AH& Co. He married Jane Leaps de Coninck in April 1858, and they had a reputation for living in grand style. The family still traveled during this time and Amy's younger sister Helen Maxima (Max) was born in 1868 in Hong Kong, then the headquarters of Augustine Heard and Company.

Jane's parents were François DeConinck and Amalia Williams Taylor. François served as the Belgian Consul in Havana. Amalia was born in Baltimore in May 1806, the daughter of Lemuel Taylor and Mary Wheatly Williams. Taylor was a Baltimore merchant who lost his fortune in 1816-1818 when he lost several cargoes in his West Indies trade. In 1821 he started fresh and moved to Cuba, where eventually he became owner of Sta Amelia, a sugar plantation in the Cilizo district between Matanzas and Cárdenas. François and Amailia were married at the Sta Amelia plantation on 16 June 1831 and subsequently had four children: François, Jane Leaps, who was born in Cuba in May 1832, Mary Taylor, who was born in 1833 and died in Cuba in 1886, and Amalia, born in 1835 and died in October 1884. Mary Taylor de Coninck married Thomas Johnson of Baltimore in 1881, as described in the notes herein. Amalia married Francois Pilletur.
Amy Heard in 1877, Biaritz
Amy spent most of her first ten years in Paris and moved with her parents to the U.S. to live in Washington, DC, in 1870. Although centered in Washington, DC, the family still traveled as she had portraits in Brighton in 1876 and in Biarritz in 1877. As recession turned to depression in the early 1870s, Augustine Heard and Company went out of business in 1875 and the family had to learn to live on a much reduced income. Augustine Heard apparently moved to Washington with the hope of gaining a government diplomatic position based on his extensive experience in China. As is told in these pages, he eventually succeeded, but not in the way he wished. In the mean time, the family travels to Europe and to the playgrounds of the wealthy in the U.S. such as Newport and Bar Harbor seemed expressly designed to find good matches for the daughters, Amy and Max.

Amy lived with her parents until November 1886, although she often traveled to visit friends or spend summers with her friends. As told in the letters and commentary, she found a husband and in 1886 she married Russell Gray, from Boston, who was ten years her senior. Gray was trained as a lawyer at Harvard, but never practiced law. He was the son of Horace Gray, who founded the Boston Public Gardens with his donation of tulips, and Sarah Russell Gardner, an aunt of John Lowell "Jack" Gardner, the husband of Isabella Stuart Gardner.

During her time in Washington, D.C., Amy was an active participant in the political and diplomatic social scene. During her trips away from Washington and after her move to Boston she carried on an active correspondence with friends and family.

Her parents remained in Washington, until 1890 when her father was appointed the U.S. minister (the equivalent of a modern ambassador) to Korea, a story that will be told here. Amy and Russell lived in Boston thereafter. Russell died in 1929 and Amy died in 1949.

The letters tell many related stories and form a window into another era. Perhaps the primary story is the Murchison affair, which may have cost an American preisident his reelection and resulted in the British Minister being recalled and a break in relations between the U.S. and Great Britain. The life of Victoria Josephine Sackville-West, who would later become Lady Sackville, is illustrated during her Washington days. She was the mother of the writer Victoria (Vita)Sackville-West and she was famous on her own, both because of her fascinating life and her powerful personality. Less well known is her younger sister, Amalia, who in these pages is more real than in any books I have found. Some of the most famous diplomats and politicians of the time appear, including the Spanish novelist, poet, and diplomat Juan Valera. When he announced his impending departure from Washington, Catharine Bayard, the daughter of the US Secretary of State, committed suicide. The attraction of this 60 year old renaissanse man to young women in their twenties is apparent in the letters.

Transcriptions of the original French were added in summer 2005 and as a result many errors of translation were corrected. In the future I hope to start adding more letters from others of my grandmother's correspondents who are mentioned here.

Robert M. Gray, September 23, 2005