Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pink Silk Shoes & an Intriguing Invitation, c. 1785

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Isabella reporting,

Yesterday I finally visited the delightful small exhibition at the Portsmouth Athenaeum that I first mentioned here. Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850 was exactly that - a collection of beautiful shoes, many with tantalizing glimpses into the lives of their long-ago owners.

Today no woman would think of preserving the old sneakers she wears while gardening; it's the shoes she wore to her wedding or other special event that are carefully tucked away in the closet. It was much the same with women two hundred years ago, which is why many surviving shoes in museums and historical societies tend to be of the costly variety, beautiful creations of brocade or silk that carried rich memories for their wearers.

The shoes shown above and right most likely belonged to Martha (Patty) Rogers (1762-1840), the youngest daughter of Rev. Daniel Rogers of Exeter, NH. With their small angled heels, these were the latest style in the 1780s, made by the London shoemakers Chamberlain & Sons and imported to America - proof that trading had once again resumed between the two countries with the end of the American Revolution. Now faded to a pale pink, the silk satin was once a brilliant cherry, as can still be seen on the tongue (the white padding is for modern display.) Imagine them worn with a set of glittery buckles, peeking out from beneath a silk gown and ready for dancing.

And Patty did dance. When these shoes were donated to the Portsmouth Historical Society by family descendants, the small wallet (purse), left, accompanied them. The wallet was likely made from a remnant of silk brocade dress fabric, and lined with more silk that's close to the original color of the shoes.

As charming as the wallet is, the real treasure was tucked inside: a tiny note, folded into an origami-like shape known at the time as a tulip - a special fold favored by lovers - with a handwritten message:

"–––Parkers compliments to Miss Rogers. Would be glad to wait on her this evening to a dance at Capt True Gilman's Friday 10 Oclock."

Did Patty meet with Mr. Parker at Capt. Trueworthy (Trueworthy!) Gilman's? Did they dance together? Was this Mr. Parker's first overture, or was there a long-standing romance between the two? Was the note carefully preserved, or absently tucked into the purse and forgotten?

Although the romance-writer in me longs for a happily-ever-after, it didn't happen for these two. The most likely author of the note was Nathaniel Parker (1760-1812). He later married another lady named Catherine Tilton, while Patty Rogers never wed.

Many thanks to co-curators Kimberly Alexander and Sandra Rux for the personalized tour, and assistance with this post. For more information about these shoes and many others, stayed tuned for Kimberly's upcoming book Georgian Shoe Stories From Early America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.) In the meantime, please check out her blog, Silk Damask, for more fascinating fashion and textile history.

Above left: Silk Satin Shoes, Chamberlain & Sons, London, 1780s. Portsmouth Historical Society.
Right: Wallet, silk brocade from 1750s. Portsmouth Historical Society.
Lower left: Invitation to a Dance, probably mid-1780s. Portsmouth Historical Society.
All photographs copyright 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.


Melody said...

I sometimes ferret around for more details to flesh out the people mentioned in your fascinating posts. Came upon a 1780 letter to Martha "Patty" Rogers from her older brother with both personal and sartorial details which you may find of interest:

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

This is fascinating, Melody - what an excellent find! I've shared it with the curators of the exhibition. I'm guessing that it must be the same Patty (Martha) Rogers of Exeter, NH. I wonder what happened to the engagement mentioned in the letter? Was the match broken off, or did her future bridegroom die before the wedding? Was that the reason she never married anyone else? So many tantalizing questions....

Thank you so much for sharing the fruits of your "ferreting." :)

Anonymous said...

Guess the Puritans were gone from New Hampshire by this time if Captain Gilman's ball BEGAN at 10:00! Wonder if there was a midnight supper, too, such as they would have had in England at this time, followed by more dancing. All quite fashionable and fun.

Anonymous said...

Delightful post, Thank you! Trevette Hawkins

Anonymous said...

Because I can never resist these historical puzzles either, I went on Ancestry and found a "Martha P Rogers" in the 1840 census, living in Exeter, Rockingham,New Hampshire. Of course, that is the year the shoe-owning Martha/Patty died, but the census states there IS a woman aged 70-79 living in the household - the shoe-owning Martha/Patty would be about 78, so it's the right age range. As well, and perhaps slightly curiously, the head of household is listed as Martha P Rogers. She is living with a man aged 20-29, a woman aged 30-39 and five children, age range somewhere between 5-19. Someone in the household (presumably the man 20-29, who perhaps married a woman older than himself?) is listed as a professional engineer. Is this family headed by the same Martha "Patty" Rogers, perhaps having remained a spinster daughter who looked after her parents, then ended up living with a niece or nephew and their family, and perhaps acquired some status as head of the household because (maybe) they were all living in the house Martha/Petty inherited from her parents? Maybe the younger couple were now looking after HER, and hoped or were likely to to inherit the house when she died? Who knows? I love all this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Follow-up: To confuse matters further, there is a death record of a Martha Rogers in Exeter, Rockingham, New Hampshire for March 15, 1840 (birth date is listed as "about 1762"). Problem is, the census did not START until June 1, 1840, and then went on for 18 months. (However, perhaps there is an explanation - perhaps they counted who lived in the household from the BEGINNING of 1840. This would make some sense, as clearly many people would die between June 1840 and approx. Dec. 1841. If they were trying to truly do an 1840 census, they would need to start at the beginning of 1840 and then count anyone who died from that date on. Births wouldn't be so problematic, because they only counted people as being "under 5" - anyone born between Jan 1840 and Dec. 1841 would fall in that category.)

Anonymous said...

Clearly this could go on FOREVER with me.

I found her!!

What's really interesting is that this gives some of her lineage.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you for all the additional sleuthing, Anonymous! Fascinating to try to put together the facts about ordinary people in the past. It's especially challenging with women, isn't it? That death notice was so telling - all the male ancestors of Patty Rogers, but not a word about her or her female ancestors.

Anonymous said...

What's interesting is that I was able to find anything about her at all. As you know, women at that time were are often so thoroughly subsumed under the identity of the males in their family that they hardly existed in the historical record. By virtue of the fact that she never married, this seems to have actually made her more visible. It's interesting that, in the 1830 census, she is also shown as living in Exeter as the head of the household, and there is a woman aged 20-29 living with her - just the two of them. This suggests she had inherited her parents' house, or at least owned the house (and hence why she is listed as "head of household" in both the 1830 and 1840 censuses). Then, 10 years later, there's a male and children living there as well. It suggests that perhaps she had a niece, or a younger woman she had formed a relationship with, living with her when she was 68 and then that woman may have married a man, possibly a widower who may have had young children himself. I suspect if Patty had married, we would have less detail about her.

lizzy kennett said...

I'm curious about the "tulip" lovers note - how does one make a tulip fold? Anyone know?

SilkDamask said...

Hello and thank you all for your comments on the shoes, invitation and Patty Rogers. Sandra Rux and I (we are co-curators for the exhibition which the TwoNerdyHistoryGirls have so thoughtfully & carefully captured on these pages) have tried to bring a number of New England women out of the shadows via their shoe stories.

From the Portsmouth Historical Society Collection (label text by Sandra Rux)
"Invitation to a Dance
Mr. Parker to Miss Patty Rogers, not dated, but probably mid 1780s

Cleverly folded small note reads “____ Parkers compliments to Miss Rogers Would be glad to wait on her this evening to dance at Capt True Gilman’s Friday 10 Oclock.” Captain Trueworthy Gilman (b 1738) lived in Exeter and Nathaniel Parker (1760-1812) is the likely author. He later married Catherine Tilton, while Miss Rogers never wed."

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