Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Pair of Hand-stitched Wedding Handkerchiefs, 1780

Thursday, September 21, 2017
Susan reporting,

Most historical research for a novel involves words, and more words: letters, journals, diaries, and other books. But sometimes research means things: objects that were significant to my characters, and somehow survived: a tangible, magical link to the past.

Despite the popular history myths, 18thc women didn't sew the their all the clothing that their families wore. Nor did they shear the sheep and harvest the flax, process all the fibers, spin the thread, and weave the cloth; even if you lived on the edge of the wilderness, there were skilled tradespeople who took care of all that, and merchants ready to supply their wares at every price point. But while creating jackets, breeches, and gowns was left to tailors and mantua-makers, women did make the less challenging items like baby clothes, neckcloths, handkerchiefs, shirts, and shifts at home.

Sewing by hand was a useful skill, and considered a virtuously industrious one as well for women of every rank. But for many women, sewing was also a form of personal satisfaction and self-expression. The past (and the present!) is filled with women for whom sewing a neat, straight seam of perfectly even stitches or completing an intricate embroidery pattern is a matter of pride, accomplishment, and zen-like peace. Stitching for a special person could create a personal, even intimate, gift as well. Hand-made items can come with love and good wishes in every stitch.

Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (the heroine of my new historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton) enjoyed sewing, embroidery, and knitting. I've already shared one surviving example of her needlework, this lavish embroidered mat to display the miniature of her then-fiancee, Alexander Hamilton, made during the summer and fall when they were engaged but apart. Here are a pair of handkerchiefs that, by family tradition, were also made by Eliza, and carried by her and Alexander at their wedding in December, 1780.

The larger handkerchief would have been Eliza's. Made of fine imported linen, it shows skilled cutwork over net inserts as well as precise stitching of the highest level, suitable for a special event like a wedding. (Given its size, I'm wondering if this might have been a neckerchief for wearing around the shoulders - a popular style in the 1780s - rather than a handkerchief, but since the archival description calls it a handkerchief, then so shall I.) Surviving, too, is the gentleman's handkerchief with an embroidered geometric pattern with floral accents. Again, the legend is that Eliza made the handkerchief for Alexander, a romantic gift that he must have treasured.

Today the linen on the two handkerchiefs is yellowed and so fragile that they cannot be unfolded, but the beauty and the undeniable care (and likely love) that went into each one of those long-ago stitches remains. The fact that both pieces were set aside and treasured for more than two hundred years shows how special they must have been - and even now, in their special, acid-proof archival box, they're still stored together.

Many thanks to Jennifer Lee, curator, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University, for showing the neckerchief and the handkerchief to me.

Above: Pair of wedding handkerchiefs, c1780, Alexander Hamilton Collection, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University. Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Loretta reports:

Before we embarked on our month-long stay in London, I had read about the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park, and put it on my (very long) list of places to see. This is why, following our visit to the Museum of London one day, my husband and I walked a short distance to quiet little Postman’s Park, for a completely different kind of experience of history.

The monuments for fallen military men, for political and military leaders, are easily found elsewhere. This memorial was meant for ordinary people who gave their lives to save others.

It was the idea of G.F. Watts, a Victorian painter and sculptor, to memorialize everyday heroes. His plan was for over a hundred ceramic plaques with the heroes’ names and their brave acts, but the memorial opened in 1900 with only four, and today seems to have stopped at fifty-four, though it appears that names will continue to be added over time.

Even fifty-four, though, provide for a powerful experience. And it does grows heartbreaking, reading one brief, sad story after another. Still, there's something consoling, too, especially in times like ours, when there seems to be so much ill will in our world. The names on the tablets remind us that the best in human nature does triumph, and does so often. These tablets stand for countless unnamed everyday heroes who have acted unselfishly over the years. There are some, we can be sure, who are acting heroically at this very moment.

You can move through a 3D image here, view large images here,  and see examples of more detailed histories here at the Smithsonian site. Wikipedia provides a list of the tablets here.

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, September 19, 2017

Writing Away From Home, c1780

Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Susan reporting,

I'm a wandering writer. I don't have a desktop computer, or even a desk, let alone an office. Perhaps because I scribbled away at my first books on legal pads on commuter trains and while waiting at kids' sports practices, I can (well, most of the time) write wherever and whenever. With a laptop computer, it's easy enough, and even if that's not with me, I always have my smartphone for notes and ideas.

It wasn't that way in 18thc America. The painting, left, is an illustration by Angelica Kauffman to one of the most popular novels of the 1780s: Emma Corbett, or, The Miseries of Civil War founded on Some Recent Circumstances which happened in America. The civil war in question was the American Revolution, and when Samuel Jackson Pratt published his novel in 1780, the "miseries" were real and current. Told in letters, the story concerns the tragedies faced by two families torn apart by the war - the first fictional work to describe both sides of the conflict.

Here one of the novel's young women, Louisa Hammond, is shown writing a letter outdoors. While this makes for an elegant illustration, it also demonstrates the challenges of writing away from home. Writing on a single sheet of paper and using her portfolio, balanced on her knee, as an impromptu desk, Louisa holds an open bottle of ink in one hand, ready to dip her feather pen repeatedly as needed. Writing with an open bottle of ink seems a perilous act in a white dress. If the faithful dog at Louisa's feet is suddenly startled, or a breeze catches her hat and startles her, then there's a good chance that ink is going to splatter across her embroidered apron.

But while Louisa Hammond is a fictitious character, real people found a way to write away from home, too. Most gentlemen who traveled frequently owned a portable desk. Basically a hinged wooden box, these desks were the predecessors of modern laptop. Designs varied to taste, but all have a surface covered in soft cloth (which made a quill pen move more easily over the page) for writing, plus compartments for storing bottles of ink, pens, paper, and other supplies. The desks folded and latched shut into a self-contained unit for carrying.

This desk belonged to Alexander Hamilton, a real-life officer (unlike Louisa Hammond's true love) in the Continental Army who did survive the American Revolution. It's currently on view at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, VA as part of their exhibition AfterWARd: The Revolutionary Veterans Who Built America, through November 27, 2017.

In the 1780s and after the war, Hamilton worked as a lawyer, frequently traveling by horseback and carriage for various cases around the state of New York. During this time, he also served as a representative to the Continental Congress and as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, which meant more traveling between his home in New York City and, most often, Philadelphia - hundreds of miles on unpredictable roads, in good weather and bad.

Hamilton was a ferociously prolific writer, full of ideas, opinions, and arguments, and blessed with the gift for words to express them. In an era before phones, being able to communicate through letters was vital. Wherever Hamilton went, this desk usually accompanied him. Made of Spanish mahogany with brass hinges, the desk is battered and well-worn from use.

Tradition says that this was the desk on which Hamilton wrote the fifty-one essays that became his share of The Federalist Papers, and helped lead to the ratification of the Constitution. Striving to remove himself from the distractions of New York City in 1787, Hamilton and his wife Eliza traveled by packet up the Hudson River to Albany and The Pastures, the home of Eliza's family, the Schuylers. The length of the voyage was dependent on winds and currents, yet it must have given him uninterrupted days to think and write - something every writer craves.

Still, spoiled as I am by modern technology, I marvel at the idea of writing this way: drawing each letter, each word, with a quill pen in one hand and an ink bottle in the other, on a desk like this braced against your knees or a rickety ship-board bunk, and everything (including you) rocking and shifting as the packet tacked back and forth across the river....

Upper left: Louisa Hammond by Angelica Kauffman, c1780s, Fitzwilliam Museum Collection.
Right and lower left: Portable desk owned by Alexander Hamilton, American or English, late 18thc. Collection of Department of Special Collections, Burke Library, Hamilton College. Right photo courtesy of New-York Historical Society. Lower left photo ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

I, Eliza Hamilton will be published by Kensington Books on September 26, 2017. See here for more information and to pre-order.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of September 11, 2017

Saturday, September 16, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• A bibliophile's guide to National Park libraries in America.
John Hancock's table: turtles, pineapples, and the paradoxical politics of 1768.
• An Irish suffrage leader tours America in 1917.
• Heartbreaking keepsake book made by a Jewish teen in 1941 for his boyfriend before he was murdered at Auschwitz.
• Amazing librarians: the women who rode miles on horseback to deliver library books.
Image: "The 'New Woman" and her Bicycle" Puck Magazine, 1895.
• How an 18thc orange-flavored dessert recipe created a modern political maelstrom.
• What does that say? Deciphering 17th-18thc handwriting.
• Ten common phrases that originated in the middle ages.
• Newly digitized: Gertrude Bell's 1911 diary of her journey from Damascus to Aleppo via Baghdad.
• America's first planetarium holds the ultimate cabinet of curiosities.
• The Roman cemetery where Keats, Shelley, and other unfortunate international visitors are buried.
Image: This hairy beast is an 18thc man's muff.
• An elegant, be-ribboned 1870s dress with a watery history.
• Why was Benjamin Franklin estranged from his wife for nearly two decades?
• The history of the ampersand.
• A well-worn pair of men's striped trousers, dating from the 12th-14thc.
• Seven flavors that any solider of the American Civil War would recognize.
• This is what an 18thc feminist looked like.
Video: Just for fun: What happens when you fasten a GoPro camera on the blades of a windmill.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fashions for September 1862

Friday, September 15, 2017
Seaside costume September 1862
Loretta reports:

Author Donna Hatch, whom I finally met in London, recently shared a post on crinolines, which I in turn shared on Facebook. You may want to look at this piece while you peruse this month’s fashions. You’ll note that this dress, from the Met Museum’s collection, which appears in the article, bears a resemblance to the image from Plate 2 of the magazine.
Description of Plates
SECOND PLATE.—First Toilette. Dress of white coutil embroidered in black. The embroidery in this style of dress always affects the Greek style of ornament, is always based on a line and placed close to the hem. The Zouave jacket is much rounded, and embroidered in accordance with the skirt. Sleeves half-large, rounded, and open to the elbow. The chemisette and under-sleeves in strict accordance, even so far, that the wristbands and collar band are equally flat, plain, and close. Red cravat. A full sash of black lace, knotted behind, takes off from the perhaps too nautical appearance of this dress. The hat is in capital accordance with the entire dress; it is of leghorn straw, flat brim, band and edging of black velvet, ends of black lace, and black feathers. The chemisette must be very full to give due effect to the jacket.

Second Toilette. Inasmuch as England sets France the fashion in men's apparel, we need barely refer to this toilette, but we may say it is peculiar from this fact, that not only is all the suit made of one material, but the hat also is en suite. The cravat is in bad taste, but the harmony of the suit and gloves is admirable.

FOURTH PLATE.—First Toilette. Dress of white muslin, trimmed with black lace insertion. The skirt is trimmed with a flounce, and there is novelty in the application of a band of insertion lace, put above the hem of the flounce, which is headed with a fine puffing, over which is placed two narrow insertions, forming three narrow plaits. Bodice low; the berthe being in accord with the petticoat; small puffed sleeve, and each in perfect keeping with the dress; the ends very wide— a still prevalent mode.


Second Toilette. Dress of drab gauze, trimmed with blue taffetas. The undulating flounces are unusual, and made more so by the edge-plaiting, while almost perfect novelty is obtained by the vertical ribbons continued under the lower flounce. The bodice open. The bodice is in exquisite agreement with the skirt. —Les Modes Parisiennes September 1862
September 1862 fashions

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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