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Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 333. First ed., 1855.


Sarah (“Sally”) McKean, the eldest daughter of lawyer and politician Thomas McKean and his second wife, Sarah Armitage, grew up in Philadelphia. There, she gained a reputation for being a “great beauty” and a “celebrated belle.”[1] In 1796, the Spanish ambassador to the United States, Don Carlos Maria Martínez de Yrujo y Tacón, the Marqués de Casa Yrujo (1763-1824), visited President Washington and toured Philadelphia. In June, at a dinner party attended by Anne Bingham, among others, he met Sally McKean; they married two years later, and she began to use the title of Marchioness de Casa Yrujo.[2]

Sally was good friends with Dolley Payne (who would become Dolley Madison, wife of the fourth president, James Madison), and probably also associated with Harriet and Sophia Chew, Elizabeth Willing, and other famous Philadelphia belles. Along with the other social and political elite, Sally McKean attended Martha Washington’s first levee in Philadelphia. She thought much of it, as is evidenced by the following excerpt from one of her letters:

You never could have had such a drawing-room. It was brilliant beyond anything you can imagine, and though there was a great deal of extravagance, there was so much of Philadelphia taste in everything that it must have been confessed the most delightful occasion of the kind ever known in this country.[3]

A few years after the birth of the last of her three children, Sally d’Yrujo left the country for Spain. She returned on visits with her husband on several occasions, but the Marquis d’Yrujo fell out of favor with many American politicians for arguing against the Louisiana Purchase and Jay’s Treaty, and for declining to cede Florida to the United States. After this fallout, her husband changed positions and became minister at Rio de Janiero and, afterward, at Paris. Sally would never again live in America, and died in Madrid in 1841. Their son, Carlos Martínez de Yrujo y McKean (1802-1855), became Prime Minister of Spain briefly in 1847.[4]

Written by Annie Turner.


[1] Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1867), 388; Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), 218.

[2] Carrie Rebora Barratt and Ellen G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004), 246-47.

[3] Sarah McKean, to a friend in New York, as quoted in J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1604-1884 (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1884), 2:1695.

[4] Griswold, The Republican Court, 388; Roberdeau Buchanan, Genealogy of the McKean Family of Pennsylvania (Lancaster, Pa.: Inquirer Printing Company, 1890), 137.


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