Sunday, May 28, 2017

Remembering the Soldiers Who Didn't Die in Combat

Sunday, May 28, 2017
Susan reporting,

Unlike many who live in the Philadelphia area, I haven't spent this weekend - the official kick-off to summer - "down the shore." Instead I returned to the still-new Museum of the American Revolution, one of my favorite places in the city. To my surprise, I had plenty of company. The museum was very crowded with families, a fine and heartening sight to a Nerdy History Person. There's never been a more urgent time in American history to learn about our country's founding, and how the responsibilities that were granted to citizens in 1776 are equally important for us today.

Part of the Museum's observation of the Memorial Day weekend was a quiet reminder that not all those who gave their lives for the Revolution did so in battle. Only a few blocks away from the Museum is the site of a mass grave where Continental soldiers were buried by the British then occupying the city. In 1777, John Adams described his visit to the site in a letter to his wife Abigail:

"I have spent an Hour, this Morning, in the Congregation of the dead. I took a Walk into the Potters Field, a burying Ground between the new stone Prison, and the Hospital, and I never in my whole Life was affected with so much Melancholly. The Graves of the soldiers, who have been buryed, in this Ground, from the Hospital and bettering House, during the Course of the last Summer, Fall, and Winter, dead of the small Pox, and Camp Diseases, are enough to make the Heart of stone to melt away. The Sexton told me, that upwards of two Thousand soldiers had been buried there, and by the Appearance of the Graves, and Trenches, it is most probably to me, he speaks within Bounds....Disease has Destroyed Ten Men for Us, where the Sword of the Enemy has killed one."

Adams was right. While the actual figures for the war are difficult to pin down today, it's estimated that approximately 8,000 Continental soldiers were killed in battle between 1775-1783, while another 17,000 died from diseases such as small pox, typhus, dysentery, and typhoid, often as British prisoners of war in the notoriously unhealthy prison ships.

Today the site of the potter's field lies beneath Washington Square, a tidy, tree-shaded park filled with babies in strollers and well-behaved dogs. In return for a small donation, the Museum offered visitors red and white carnations to take to the Square and place at the small monument honoring the thousands of unknown soldiers and sailors buried there. I did; that's my carnation in the photo above. I was surprised that there weren't any others, but it was early in the day, and I also suspect that other flowers were probably carried off by children unaware of the significance of their prizes.

No matter. As I stood before the marker, I thought of those long-ago men and boys and likely a few women, too, and of the families and sweethearts who never knew what became of them, beyond that they never returned home. Perhaps there was no "glory" to their deaths, whatever that may mean. Yet still they made the greatest sacrifice possible so that, 240 years later, this place could be a peaceful park filled with children. A single carnation doesn't begin to be enough thanks, does it?

John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 13 April 1777, from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to see the entire original letter plus a transcript.
Above: Monument to the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, Washington Square, Philadelphia. Photograph ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of May 21, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The education of women: in 1735, this article argued that women were more "adapted" for learning than men.
Brown Bess: musket or mistress?
George Washington's presidential desk, now inside NYC's city hall.
• For fans of Marie-Antoinette: twenty-five essential travel destinations.
Image: Delightful piggy rattle from Cyprus, C3rdBC.
• What "colonial kitchens" say about America.
Mary Anning, the "greatest fossilist the world ever knew," born this week in 1799.
• The ultimate list of wonderfully specific museums.
Image: Notable telegram from Eleanor Roosevelt to Gypsy Rose Lee, 1959.
• "Would you mind imprisoning my wife?": infamous letters from the archives of the Bastille.
• The startlingly modern photographs of 19thc pioneers David Hill and Robert Adamson.
• A brief history of hearing aids.
• Defying convention and marrying for love in the 15thc: Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford and Countess Rivers.
Image: Martha Washington's 1797 response to Abigail Adams' request for advice on being First Lady.
• The ten best paintings of lace.
• The Leicester Square panorama, opened in May, 1793, gave Londoners their first taste of virtual reality.
• Beautiful miniature books worth straining your eyesight to see.
• Exploring the long-gone streets of old London.
• From high style architecture to the humblest of houses: surveying America's built environment.
• A walking tour of 1767 New York City, using 18thc maps.
• A documented interracial marriage in Georgian England.
• Not history, but we these librarians are true warriors in their neighborhood.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Video: Maj. Sullivan Ballou's Final Letter to His Wife, 1861

Friday, May 26, 2017

Susan reporting,

It's hard to believe that Ken Burns's monumental documentary, "The Civil War", is now nearly thirty years old. Debuting in 1990, it captured the tragedy of the American Civil War with words, music, and images that many of us still haven't forgotten.

This is one of the most memorable segments: the final letter that Major Sullivan Ballou wrote home to his wife Sarah. Ballou served with the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, and like many of the war's soldiers on both sides, he'd left behind not only a wife and sons, but also a prospering career. He had been a respected lawyer and was House Speaker in the Rhode Island legislature when he enlisted to defend his country and his beliefs. This letter was never mailed, but was found in his belongings after he died from injuries after the First Battle of Bull Run in July, 1861. Ballou was 32 at the time of his death; Sarah was only 24, and never remarried. His words to her are eloquent and achingly beautiful, and so full of love that it hurts.

This weekend we mark Memorial Day in the United States. I hope that, in the middle of the picnics, sales, and pool openings for the holiday weekend, you'll pause for a moment and think of Major Ballou and all the other soldiers, from every war, who have made such sacrifices for us. More than ever, it's a message we need to remember, especially in an era where the world seems more unsure by the day.

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Dressing to Look Slender in 1924

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Loretta reports:

No doubt a great many women can relate to the issue of slenderness, whose definition seems to have shrunk (pound-wise, that is) over the years.

It seemed to me that this must have been an especially sore spot in the 1920s, when the fashion was for a boyish figure, instead of the emphasis  only a decade or so earlier on curvaceousness. I gained some insight when I came upon a 1920s book on the Internet Archive whose introduction details the author's frustrations with weight gain, dieting, and trying to look good in fashionable clothing.

“I left [my doctor’s] office crestfallen and disappointed, thinking that if he only knew how much the heavy woman wants to appear thin enough to wear smart clothes, if he could only know how she actually longs for the lovely things that fashion creates for the slender types, he would be more sympathetic.”

But the doctor wasn’t, and friends and family were rather shockingly blunt about her weight gain. And so, author Jane Warren Wells decided “If I could not safely reduce, I would at least give the appearance of having reduced. If I could not actually take off thirty pounds, I would make myself look thirty pounds lighter in the eyes of others.”

The result was the book, Dress and Look Slender.

I’ve clipped for your perusal the pages on colors, but the entire book is quite interesting. As well as offering insight into the mindset of a 1920s lady who liked to look elegant & stylish, it offers useful hints as well as commentary many of us can relate to, nearly 100 years later. Her last tip (on page 185) works, I think, for any era.

Slenderizing with color

Slenderizing with color

Fashion image from La Gazette du Bon Ton 1922

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

For the Longest of Voyages, a Gentleman's Sea Chest that Does It All, c1794

Tuesday, May 23, 2017
 
Susan reporting,

American travelers today are accustomed both to convenience and speed. A journey to the other side of the world can be accomplished in a day, with as much luxury as the budget allows.

But in the late 18thc, international travel was neither easy, fast, nor luxurious, especially for Americans who wished to engage in the lucrative trade with India. All such journeys were made under sail. Voyages that began in Boston or Salem would continue across the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, and then across the Indian Ocean. The length of a voyage depended on winds, storms, seasons, the captain and crew, and a great deal of luck.

For example, Benjamin Carpenter left Boston on December 24, 1789 (Christmas Eve!), and did not arrive in Madras until August 16, 1790, after nearly eight months at sea. Dudley Pickman Salem was more fortunate; his voyage from Salem, MA to Madras in 1799-1800 took only 111 days.*

There were plenty of perils, too, including shipwrecks, illness, accidents, and pirates. If those were avoided, passengers still faced a repetitive and limited menu, lack of exercise, homesickness, and boredom. Even for an affluent traveler, quarters were cramped, often little more than a closet-sized cabin. The best (sometimes only) company would be books, which, like everything else, would have been carefully chosen with space at such a premium.

All of which leads to the ingenious mahogany sea chest shown here, now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Benjamin Joy (c1755/57-1828) was a merchant from Newburyport, MA. Experienced in trading with India (he was one of the rare Americans at the time who had also lived in India), Joy was appointed United State Consul to Calcutta and other Indian ports by President George Washington in November, 1792. According to the chest's placard:

"Joy arrived in Calcutta in April 1794, where the British East India Company refused to recognized him as Consul, but permitted him to reside there as a 'commercial agent.' This marked the beginning of America's official relationship with India.

"Portable chests like this were indispensable on long sea voyages. This chest provides a felt-covered desk, secure compartments to hold inks and other liquids, more compartments for brushes and a sewing kit, drawers, a mirror, washbasin, chamber pot, and even a bidet."

The chest is a marvel of efficiency masquerading as an elegant piece of gentleman's furniture. Curator Anne Bentley demonstrated its various quick-change functions, and even over two hundred years after its creation, every drawer and compartment still fits snugly and perfectly into place. Meant for a tiny shipboard cabin, the chest would have made the most of the limited space. It's the Swiss Army knife of furnishings.

The origins of the chest are now unknown, but it's believed to have been made not in Salem, but in India, in preparation for the voyage home. Perhaps Mr. Joy used all that time on the outbound voyage to decide exactly what was required (and what he was lacking), and from uncomfortable experience was able to have the cabinetmaker create the perfect sea chest. Necessity can often be not only the mother of invention, but splendid design as well.

There is a similar chest in the collection of the Adams National Historic Park that belonged to another diplomat and frequent traveler, John Quincy Adams; his is referred to as a "traveling chest." Beyond that, however, the MHS staff isn't aware of any other surviving examples. If you know of another (no matter its origin), please leave a comment, and I'll pass it along.

* This information comes from another of our wonderful friends of the blog, Dane Morrison, author of True Yankees: Americans, the South Seas, and the Discovery of National Identity, 1784-1844, Johns Hopkins Press. Follow his blog here.

Many thanks to Anne E. Bentley, Curator of Art and Artifacts, Massachusetts Historical Society, for her assistance with this post. 

Sea chest, maker unknown [India?], 1790s. Massachusetts Historical Society. 
Photographs ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Who Really Invented Potato Chips?

Monday, May 22, 2017
Loretta reports:

You find out the darndest things in the darndest places. I recently found a clipping stuck in my trusty computer-side notebook, from a “Violet Days” comic strip by Chris Monroe that appeared in Funny Times of May 2016. In it she pointed out a myth about the creation of potato chips (that would be crisps, to British readers). Naturally, I had to investigate.

I started, as anybody would, by Googling “potato chips origin.” And there, as is the case with many myths, one finds numerous sites citing a tale that happens not to be supported by historical evidence. Several sites declare one George Crum as the inventor, in 1853, and there’s a long, charming story—which very often is a clue to a historical myth—of his inventing them by accident, due to aggravation by an annoying customer.

In fact, a recipe appeared as early as 1817 in Dr. William Kitchiner's Apicius Redivivus; or, the Cook’s Oracle. In other words, our Regency heroes and heroines might have had a bad potato chip habit, just like some of us who shall remain nameless who write this blog post.
Potato Chip Recipe 1817

As Ms. Monroe pointed out in her comic, the recipe also appeared in The Virginia House-Wife in 1827, and Shilling Cookery for the People by Alexis Soyer in 1845, and continued to appear in edition after edition of the Cook’s Oracle. If you compare the clippings from the earlier and later editions of the Cook’s Oracle, you’ll notice a slight change in method, which allowed for even thinner, crispier crisps. You’ll also notice lard, which will cause many readers to grimace. Again, there’s some misinformation about lard. For one thing, it shouldn’t be confused with the vegetable shortening that comes in those familiar cans. Well, familiar to those of us who grew up in the last century. For another, it turns out to be not nearly as unhealthy as had been assumed for decades. And it does make superior pastry, among other delights.
Potato Chips Recipe 1831

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of May 14, 2017

Saturday, May 20, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The secret, scandalous life of the English country house.
• From a 19thc grocery shelf: the phenomenal promises of Hostetter's Bitters.
• The many reinventions of Winchester Castle's great hall.
Dress up: what we lost in the casual revolution.
• Online exhibition: Charlotte Bronte: ten letters and a fictional fantasy.
Orreries in time of war.
• In 1928, five African American women began a 250 mile cycling journey from Washington, DC to New York.
Video: The Queen Victoria Statue, Newcastle Upon Tyne.
• When the South Bronx was the 18thc mini-kingdom of the Morris family, self-made American aristocrats.
• Ten dangers of Georgian London.
• The mysterious death of 1920s movie star Thelma Todd.
• Charles Hamilton Houston: the man who killed Jim Crow.
Image: An early 17thc Dutch barmaid, from the AlbumAmicorum of Michael van Meer.
'Lovers Leap' in Derbyshire.
• One of George Washington's spies, Nathan Hale, taught in this one-room schoolhouse.
• Five pioneering women behind the camera during World War Two.
• The letters between Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his muse Fanny Cornforth are now online to read.
Video: New York State wants us all to plan an Equal Rights summer road trip, and we're totally on board.
• Splash it on: a brief history of aftershave.
• Child labor exposed: the photographic legacy of Lewis Hine.
• The dramatic life and mysterious death of Theodosia Burr, Aaron Burr's only surviving legitimate child.
• Dorothy Wordsworth: writer, sister, and amanuensis.
• Identity of a young girl buried 140 years ago in San Francisco finally discovered.
Just for fun: Jane Eyre, the emails.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Video: Styling Early Victorian Hair

Friday, May 19, 2017
Loretta reports:

My most recent books are set in the 1830s, just before Victoria ascended the throne. Nearly up until about the time she became queen, women’s hair styles were upward bound, wild and crazy and, in my and my heroes’ opinions, highly entertaining.

But about 1836-37 the wild exuberance disappears. Hair sinks from its lofty heights to cling to the scalp, and even the fanciful braids and loops hang rather than leap into the stratosphere.

Still, whether I love the style or not—and I do see the appeal of this as I do other fashions—I love discovering the method of creating it. This video is particularly interesting to us Nerdy History Girls, because it explains how to make the Victorian equivalent of hair spray.

My ladies (1820s-1830s) rely upon pomatums (or pomades), a rather thick concoction, described here and here. Ms Goodman offers quite a different product, called bandoline, of which I was unaware. Also, she’s a treat to watch.

BTW, though I’ve owned Ms. Goodman's How to Be a Victorian for some time, all I’ve had time to do so far is skim. This one is going on the plane with me to England, for sure!


Still  and video from Ruth Goodman's Victorian Hairstyling 101 video on YouTube.



Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Nude Male Races on Kersal Moor, 1777-1811

Thursday, May 18, 2017
Susan reporting,

That title got your attention, didn't it?

Auction house listings for old manuscripts are seldom titillating, but when one of the friends of this blog, Mitch Fraas, shared the listing for the "catalogue," left, we knew we had to learn more, because YOU, our faithful readers, would want to know more, too.

The handwritten catalogue is more a record of races held each year on Kersal Moor, Greater Manchester, with dates and times of the winners. The auction house's description is remarkably straightforward:

"Autograph Manuscript, being a catalogue (headed "Calendar") of 35 nude male races held on Kersal Moor between 1777 and 1811....Dating back to at least the middle of the 17th century, the odd custom of naked fell running continued through the middle of the 19th century. According to Lancashire novelist Walter Greenwood, the custom was from the ancient Greek, and "so the lasses can way up form". This small notebook records a series of 35 races between 1777 and 1811, including names of the racers (and nicknames) as well as in most cases, times, distances and amounts wagered, as well as observations on the races. An interesting representation of a strange, but endearing, pastime."

Unfortunately, only one page of the manuscript is shown. From this, however, we can learn that the tersely named Stump (I don't want to guess how he acquired that nickname) ran three laps against Abraham Hershaw alias Tom Born, and won with a time of 14 minutes 29 seconds. He was speedy, that Stump.

But exactly how prevalent was nude racing in England?

In 1787, the Oxford Journal reported on a man named Powel from Birmingham who was attempting to run a mile race in under four minutes. In his trial, "He ran entirely naked, and it is universally believed that he will win the wager."

In the late 19thc., the journal Notes & Queries reminisced about "foot-races by nude men":

"During the summer of 1824, I remember seeing at Whitworth in Lancashire...two races of this description....the runners were six in number, stark naked, the distance being seven miles, or seven times around the moor. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of spectators, men and women, and it did not appear to shock them, as being anything out of the ordinary course of things."

In London, however, it did shock at least one indignant spectator, who wrote this 1808 letter in the Morning Post:

"In passing yesterday...through the Ride in Hyde Park, I was much surprised at meeting two men, nearly stark naked, running an arc on the foot promenade; they were attended by a great crowd....This indecent transaction was at a time when the Park was full of people, Ladies and others, and a few minutes before the Princess of Wales passed in her coach. The two racers...were privates in the Life Guards. I mention this with a view that their Commanding Officers may prevent such indecorous scenes for the future, which are liable to occur in the presence of all the Ladies of the Royal Family, and every female whom pleasure or business may induce to ride or walk through Hyde Park."

But not all females were so delicate; some clearly relished the view. Barbara Minshull, a wealthy 65-year-old widow from Manchester, attended the races on Kersal Moor on Whitsun in 1796. She was so taken with the sight of one of the racers, a strapping 6'4" soldier named Roger Aytoun that she proposed marriage on the spot. He accepted (though he was reportedly so drunk at the wedding that he needed to be supported.) Their marriage lasted until her death fourteen years later, while he went on to become a major general and a hero at the Great Siege of Gibraltar.

Eat your heart out, Magic Mike.

The manuscript will be sold at auction by Bonhams on June 7; here's the link if you'd like to make a bid.

Many thanks to Mitch Fraas, Curator at Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books & Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania, for sharing this first. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Loretta's New Book: A Duke in Shining Armor

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Loretta reports:

When I wasn’t looking, my publisher put up the cover to my new book on the various online bookstore sites. Fortunately, some of my readers were looking, and alerted me. Since I hadn't expected this to happen quite so soon for a book coming out at the very end of November, a mad scramble resulted to get my website updated. Yes, readers can get the basic information at the online bookstores, but I like to provide a little something extra for those who visit my website.

That’s now done, and I can officially invite you to a preview of my newest book, A Duke in Shining Armor. The little something extra is an excerpt.

Set during the 1833 London Season, A Duke in Shining Armor kicks off a new series, titled Difficult Dukes.

Readers like dukes. This is why we historical romance writers have created so many. Hundreds. The reality is, there were twenty-one, if I have counted correctly. At any rate, it’s in that vicinity. A limited number, because being a duke is a very big deal.

My dukes are a big deal, but not necessarily in a good way. The excerpt will offer some clues. I hope you enjoy it.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Lace-Trimmed Shirt for a Cherished Baby, c1760-1784

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Susan reporting,

Baby clothes hold a special place in costume collections. Except perhaps for wedding dresses, there's no other category of clothing that carries so much emotion. Infant clothes in the past were often made by the mother-to-be or other family members, and each stitch was lavished with love as well as hopes and dreams and probably a prayer or two for the new arrival. Because of their small size, baby clothes were also a splendid opportunity to display superior stitching and the finest of linens, and maybe even a bit of delicate needle-lace.

Too small to be recut or remodeled in a thrifty makeover, they survive as cherished mementos, a tiny little garment carefully tucked away in a drawer or chest. Too often, however, baby clothes are also sorrowful keepsakes from a time of staggeringly high rates of infant mortality, and represent a final link in linen and lace between a grieving mother and her lost child.

The exact reasons for why this particular shirt was preserved have been forgotten; according to the family's history, the shirt was associated with Jane Hodge Nichols, born around 1784 and later wife of Thomas Nichols of Maine. Little Jane was fortunate indeed to wear this shirt, which is rich in costly detail. This was likely a shirt for special occasions, not for everyday wear, and it's small (I'd guess about a modern size 6 month.) The plain-woven linen is extremely fine, the neck and sleeves are edged with bobbin lace, and there are insertions of dainty needle-lace at the tops of the shoulders. The pleats on the sleeves are almost unimaginably narrow, and the entire shirt represents a superior level of needlework. (As always, click on the image to enlarge.)

Most notable are the sleeve buttons (like modern cuff-links), an unusual feature in baby shirts. These are solid gold, with a hexagonal shape and engraved designs. The style of the buttons is earlier than the shirt itself, and it's possible that they were a family heirloom from a previous generation, and passed down along with the shirt. Beautiful and valuable, they must have brought good luck to tiny Jane: she lived until 1861.

Many thanks to Neal Hurst, Associate Curator of Costume and Textile, Colonial Williamsburg, for showing this shirt (plus many other costume goodies!) to me during a visit last month.

Infant's shirt with lace trim, maker unknown, c1760-1784, America, New England, (probably) Maine. Collection of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of May 7, 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Wisteria, and the celebrated 18thc American Wüster family for whom it is named.
• Painting Persepolis: Sir Robert Ker Porter's drawings from his 1820s travels.
Dolley Madison's Wednesday Squeezes.
• Searchable and free: 18thc and 19thc cookbooks online.
• Why people once loved linoleum.
• How snakes have been used both as symbols of American political unity and treachery.
• Why are there so many 17thc paintings of monkeys getting drunk?
• "Delightfully creepy" Roseland Cottage and sixteen other pink-painted architectural wonders.
Image: Spectacular 1920s evening dress sparkling with glass beads and rhinestones.
• "The Queen's big belly": the phantom pregnancy of Mary I.
• Imperfect pages in a medieval manuscript.
Captive history at the Wayne County Jail in Lyons, NY.
George Eliot: is this a rediscovered portrait of the author as a young woman?
• Margaret Fuller was America's first feminist, first female critic, and first woman foreign correspondent - and known for drowning horrifically in a shipwreck only 50 yards from shore while bystanders watched.
Voltaire anecdotes.
Video: How amazing does Rievaulx Abbey look from the air?
History hunt: what lies in a tangle of brush beneath the George Washington Bridge?
• The mysterious marriages of Thomas Nelson.
• Pineapples, guns, and wine: the forgotten heroine of Louisbourg.
Image: A cross-stitched picture of roses worked by author Charlotte Brontë.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Video: A Silk-Covered Armchair that Belonged to Marie-Antoinette (and Gouverneur Morris, Too)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Susan reporting,

Today's video begins like any other local news feature piece (except, of course, that it's in French, with an English voice-over) but I hope you'll stick with it to reach the part about the nearly-forgotten art of silk weaving. The old wooden looms are beautiful in themselves, and what the weavers create is breathtaking. I love the idea that the modern mechanical looms - driven by automated machinery and computers - are incapable of duplicating the painstaking work of a single highly skilled human.

The video explains how the reproduction piece on the loom is destined to cover an armchair - fauteuil à la reine - made for French Queen Marie-Antoinette in 1779, and now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the Museum's site, the chair was part of a set that was intended for the queen's "grand cabinet intérieur at the château de Versailles during the winter months....but the chair and the rest of the set were removed in 1783, when the cabinet intérieur was redecorated, and placed in the queen's billiard room on the floor above."

Like so much of the exquisite craftsmanship commissioned by the 18thc French court, the chair was the work of several different master trades and their workshops. The designer was Jacques Gondouin, the maker was François Foliot, the carving was done by the workshop of Madame Pierre-Edme Babel, the gilding by the workshop of Marie-Catherine Renon, and the original upholstery was by Claude-François Capin.

Since this video was filmed, the project has been completed, and the armchair reupholstered in the reproduction silk lampas with silk passementerie. It's now on display in the Gallery 527, an installed room from the Hôtel de Cabris, right, where I saw it. The colors of the silk are bright and rich, the way they must have been when the queen first chose them. (Click here for more photographs of the chair, including details of the upholstery.) I'm sure Her Majesty would approve.

I thought that would be the end of my post, but to my surprise, there's actually a Hamilton connection to this chair. (I know, I know, because of my new book I, Eliza Hamilton, it seems as if everything has a Hamilton connection for me, but this really isn't as far-fetched as it might seem.) As the museum notes continue:

"Sold during the French Revolution, the entire set of furniture was acquired by the American statesman Gouverneur Morris, who served as minister of the United States in France from 1792 to 1794. The pieces were subsequently sent to Morrisania, Morris's country estate in the Bronx."

Gouverneur Morris was a long-time close friend of Alexander Hamilton, with both men working together from the days of the American Revolution through the fledging American government of the 1780s-1790s. Both were New Yorkers, and often socialized together. When Hamilton died after his fatal duel with Aaron Burr, Morris delivered Hamilton's public eulogy, and was instrumental in organizing a collection to help support widowed Eliza Hamilton and the couple's eight children. Considering the closeness of the friendship, it's entirely possible that at some point or another, Eliza and Alexander Hamilton may each have sat in Marie-Antoinette's armchair at Morrisania. How small a place the 18thc world was!

Many thanks to Melinda Watt, Curator, European Sculpture & Decorative Arts and Supervising Curator, Antonio Ratti Textile Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, for her assistance with this post.

Photograph ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.

If you received this post via email, you may be seeing a black box or empty space where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wills and Married Women in the 1800s

Thursday, May 11, 2017
Loretta reports:

Certain of my early 1800s characters—the heroines, usually—will refer in some way to their lack of legal power. Yes, we know they couldn’t vote. But it’s hard for us to grasp just how little control they had over their lives. This excerpt from Tomlins’s Law Dictionary, 1835 edition, dealing with wills, is only one of many I could present. A glance at Caroline Norton’s situation offers several examples of the difficulties women faced.

Even Queen Victoria believed she ought to submit to her husband’s will…to a point. (For an eye-opening, beautifully written exploration of that marriage, I recommend Gillian Gill’s We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals).

Married women & wills
Married women & wills


Image: Rowlandson, “The Wedding,” from The English Dance of Death 1815

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Preserving Historic Hair from George Washington & Alexander Hamilton

Monday, May 8, 2017
Susan reporting,

In the days before photographs, a lock of a loved one's hair was often the single most lasting link that the living could have with the deceased. Whether cut while the person was alive or dead, the hair could be elaborately woven or braided, preserved under glass or incorporated into jewelry, or simply tied with a ribbon or thread and tucked away as a precious memento.

But hair from from a famous head became more than a mourning memento. It was history, a surviving reminder of a notable man or woman. Famous hair was collected and treasured as a tangible reminder of a more glorious past.

I saw these two wisps of hair, left, framed together in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. (As always, please click on the image to enlarge.) Even though these two were surrounded by dozens of other examples, they stood out, and would have been prized for a number of reasons. The strands of hair at the top belonged to Alexander Hamilton, the first United States Secretary of the Treasury (as well as the husband of the heroine of my new book, I, Eliza Hamilton), while the strands on the bottom were from General George Washington, the first President of the United States and "The Father of his Country."

As the Society's records note: "Given by Alexander Hamilton's son, James A. Hamilton of Nevis, to Eliza Jones Hersey Andrew (1826-1898), the wife of Massachusetts' Civil War Governor John Albion Andrew (1818-1867) on October 27, 1865." The hair is affixed to writing paper by red shellac seals, and the inscriptions are by James A. Hamilton.

This gift would have had special significance in the fall of 1865. The American Civil War had just ended, and the Union forces had won. Mrs. Andrew and her husband were ardent abolitionists, and Governor Andrew had been responsible for authorizing the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in 1863 as soon as President Lincoln had permitted the enlistment of African-American soldiers. Mrs. Andrews must have welcomed the gift of hair belonging to two of the Founding Fathers - men who had helped create the original United States that the Union forces had just fought so hard to secure.

But the hair must have been treasured by James A. Hamilton, too. Washington's hair had most likely been given to his mother or father at the time of the general's death in 1799. The hair of his father, Alexander Hamilton, would probably have been cut soon after his death in 1804, following his fatal duel with Aaron Burr - sixty years before its presentation to Mrs. Andrew.

James Alexander Hamilton was the third son of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton. Born in 1788, he was only sixteen when his father died, yet throughout his life he vigorously defended his father's reputation against numerous detractors. Look more closely at the the inscription beneath the hair, and compare the two way he's written his father's name, and then how he's signed his own. Then look at the example of Alexander Hamilton's signature, right: it certainly appears that at some point the grieving son borrowed his father's distinctive signature and made it his own, a small, poignant homage. The MHS's mention of James Alexander being "of Nevis" is a reference to his sizable country house on the Hudson River that he named Nevis in honor of the Caribbean Island that was his father's birthplace. In other words, James Alexander would not have given away his father's hair lightly.

Then, of course, there's the hair itself. Both Hamilton and Washington are so often portrayed in portraits with white hair - the result of fashionable powdering (see my earlier post on Hamilton's hair) - that it was something of a shock to see that they both did indeed have the reddish-brown hair that contemporaries noted. The strands of Washington's hair are short and fine, a tidy clip, but Hamilton's are long and wirey, weaving back and forth again and again in their thread binding. At the time of Hamilton's death, most men had begun to prefer shorter hair styles, but he still wore the now-old-fashioned long queue (ponytail.) Were these strands cut from that same queue? I wonder....

Many thanks to Anne E. Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts, Massachusetts Historical Society, for her assistance with this post.

Above: Strands of hair of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Mourning in the 1880s: U.S. vs Great Britain

Sargent, Mrs. Adrian Iselin 1888
Loretta reports:

Having recently viewed the famous widow-dancing scene in Gone with the Wind, and encountered a late Victorian widow in a novel, I wondered how different mourning rituals were in the U.S. and Great Britain.

Obviously, things changed from Scarlett O’Hara’s time. The clipping from American Encyclopedia of Practical Knowledge 1886 tells us there aren’t any hard and fast rules, while the one from Manners and Rules of Good Society (England 1888) is quite specific. My own copy of Manners and Rules of Good Society for 1911 shows a loosening of the late Victorian rules, but things still aren’t as casual as in the U.S., and one can imagine some of the older generation frowning at younger widows who shorten their mourning period to less than 18 months.




U.S. Mourning 1886
England Mourning 1888










Image: John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Adrian Iselin 1888, courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, via Wikipedia.


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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of May 1, 2017

Saturday, May 6, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Two babies born in the Tower of London, two very different lives.
• The saga of the skull of the man who prosecuted Aaron Burr, defended the Cherokee Nation, and was the country's longest tenured attorney general.
Elizabeth Bronte, more than a footnote.
• This book was the WebMD of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Image: Photo of young marchers from a 1909 May Day parade to end child labor.
• Abigail Adams considered May 1 King Tammany's Day.
• A 1698 recipe whose popularity has probably passed: "To Pickell Larks."
• The art of marbled paper from the archives of the San Francisco Public Library.
• When spirits and witches roam abroad: April 30, or Walpurgis Night.
• A small metal alms box reveals Americans' thoughts about philanthropy.
Image: Thomas Jefferson's "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence.
• Evil May Day, 1517, and the immigrant rioters in Tudor London.
• The Traveller's Pocket Book provided an early glimpse of Great Britain's roads in the 18thc.
• The well-shod Edwardian woman.
• Hearts of oak on canvas: Copley's Watson and the Shark.
• Image: A gold compact by Cartier with the initials of silent screen star Mary Pickford.
• Costumed roosters and sphinx cakes: highlights from Victorian cookbooks.
• An entertaining quiz to determine who you would have been in the American Revolution.
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851.
• The other side of Anne of Green Gables: the danger of rewriting a beloved book for a new generation.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday Video: London on my Mind

Friday, May 5, 2017
Loretta reports:

I’ve got London on my mind even more than usual because I’ll be heading there in a few weeks to spend the entire month of June in an orgy of visits to museums, theaters, historic sites, and other Nerdy History Girl irresistible temptations.

The film's narrator, Rex Harrison, like 1950s London, is with us no more. But the travelogue does capture the scope of the place, reminding me that a month will never be enough, and a lifetime probably wouldn’t be enough. I also chose this film because it spends a few minutes in Fleet Street, the Inns of Court, and a few other places that feature in Dukes Prefer Blondes.

Londoners and London lovers, please feel free to suggest places for me to visit. I’m still working on my itinerary.


This Is London Reel 1 And 2 (1950-1959), courtesy British Pathé.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

From the Archives: Everyday Clothing: A Rare Woman's Shortgown, c1780-1800

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Susan reporting,

This post originally appeared in connection with a 2014 exhibition at Pottsgrove Manor, the 1752 mansion of prosperous colonial ironmaster, merchant, and judge John Potts (c1710-1768) in Pottstown, PA. While the exhibition has long since closed, I've always remembered this well-worn shortgown - the kind of clothing worn by everyday women in 18thc America, and now extremely rare.


As promised, here's one of the 18th c. garments from Pottsgrove Manor's current exhibition, To the Manor Worn: Clothing the 18th Century Household, that I featured  here. The exhibition included silk gowns, a magnificent embroidered waistcoat, silk breeches, and quilted silk petticoats.

The shortgown, above left, is considerably more humble, and because of that, it's much more rare, too. Like the 19th c. cotton dress I wrote about here, shortgowns were most commonly worn by working women, and they often turn up in the advertised descriptions of runaway indentured and enslaved servants. Shortgowns were t-shaped garments with a flared hem that were comfortable for physical labor. They had no fastenings, but closed with straight pins along the front opening. Made from cotton, linen, or wool, shortgowns were worn over a linen shift and a petticoat; they were early, easy separates.

An 18th c. working woman's wardrobe was limited, and each article received hard wear. Clothes were mended and refashioned until there was literally nothing left but rags, which in turn would then have had another life around the household. Unlike a wedding gown or baby cap, a shortgown like this would not be set aside and preserved for posterity. Even the few that have survived would not find a welcome in most modern costume collections, which tend to concentrate on the clothing of the elite classes, beautifully constructed clothing of rich fabrics.

This shortgown tells a different story. Its owner was neither wealthy nor famous, but she was thrifty and resourceful and skilled with a needle. The fabric is either corded linen or cotton, once off-white and now discolored with age. The simple style could have been made by the wearer herself.

As the exhibition catalogue notes, "In the 18th century, the material made up the biggest cost of a garment, so even the clothing of wealthy individuals often shows some level of patching to get as much use of the fabric as possible."

This shortgown has been patched, and patched again, with neatly squared patches and careful stitching. As you can see in the detail, right, some of the patches are scraps of the original fabric, and others are simply similar fabric. Most of the patches are in places that would have received the most stress and wear, under the arm and along the sleeves.

The name and history of the shortgown's owner are long forgotten, but she left her testimony in each of the tiny stitches across each frugal patch, making the most of what she had. She's as much a part of early American history as George Washington, and I'm glad to see her work preserved and presented as the treasure that it is.

Many thanks to Pottsgrove Manor's curator Amy Reis and the rest of the staff for their assistance with this post.

Above: Women's shortgown, linen or cotton, c.1780-1800. From the collection of the Chester County Historical Society. Photograph courtesy of Pottsgrove Manor.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fashions for May 1844

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

May 1844 Walking & Bridal Dresses

Loretta reports:

Last month, we looked at the wild and crazy fashions of the 1830s. Though they seem more graceful and flattering in paintings than in fashion prints, and not everybody loves the style, I think we can agree that they were not subdued.

Of the 1830s, Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century has this to say: “The fashions of this decade illustrate the transformation from a phase exuberantly romantic into one droopingly sentimental. The change occurred abruptly in the middle of 1836.”

In this regard, Mr. Cunnington gets no argument from me. So far, all the fashion prints I’ve seen illustrate this transition.
May 1844 Visiting & Walking Dresses


This droopier, subdued look continues in the 1840s. According to Cunnington, “The Englishwoman of this decade cultivated her feelings at the expense of her body. She was less physically active than at any period in the century; she was absorbed in acquiring the art of expressing emotions by graceful attitudes rather than by movement. Her dress, therefore, was admirably designed for passive poses. …Sentimentalism in England finds a natural mode of expression in the Gothic, and it was the period when Victorian Gothic was at the height of its popularity.”

I wish I had been able to find, in the limited time I had, better quality fashion prints for the 1840s. However, you can see something closer to a portrait painting here and here, both of which illustrate the radical change in hair styles as well.

Dress description
Dress description

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.
 
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