Sunday, April 30, 2017

When an 18thc Tent Becomes a National Relic

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Susan reporting,

The new Museum of the American Revolution is filled with fascinating artifacts from the past, objects that tell stories, represent people, explain ideas, or are examples of exquisite craftsmanship. (See my earlier posts here and here.) But among all these treasures, there's only one that's a true relic on a national scale: George Washington's Headquarters Tent.

Quite simply, it's the real deal. From 1778 until 1783, this large (it's about twenty-three feet long) tent served as home and office to the commander-in-chief. While various houses were employed as headquarters during the war's many campaigns, Washington believed in sharing the same hardships as his troops. To be sure, the general's tent was more substantial than that sheltering the average soldier. His tent was supported and shaped by numerous poles and lines, and contained three small chambers: a central office, a half-circle sleeping chamber, and another small area for his luggage, and perhaps sleeping quarters for his enslaved African American valet, William Lee. But the canvas walls were the same, as was the damp or frozen ground beneath his feet. If the men were sleeping in tents through downpours, bitter frosts, and blistering heat, then the General did, too, and they respected him all the more for it.

Washington met with his generals and staff inside this tent, and major decisions about the war and the country's future were settled within it. Here Washington would also have experienced his most private moments, and the emotions that, as commander-in-chief, he was required to keep to himself: his longing for his home and family, his fears before a battle, his joy after a victory tempered by his grief for the men he'd lost, even his doubts about the war itself. If ever a single place carries the spirit of General Washington, then it's this tent.

After the war, the tent was packed into storage at Washington's home of Mount Vernon, but its role as a symbol was only beginning. The tent was passed down through the 19thc to Martha Washington's great-granddaughter, Mary Anna Custis Lee, who was married to General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War. When the Lee family fled the approaching Union troops, the tent and other Washington heirlooms as well as the keys to the house were entrusted to the care of Mrs. Lee's enslaved personal maid, Selina Norris Gray. Mrs. Gray had lived her entire life with the Lees, and recognized the significance of the Washington-related heirlooms. When she realized that occupying Union soldiers had stolen some of the pieces, she confronted them directly, and then alerted General Irvin McDowell. Thanks to her vigilance, the tent and the other heirlooms were sent to the Patent Office in Washington, DC for safekeeping. There the tent was displayed to the public, marshaling all the patriotic fervor of Washington's memory.

After the war, the tent was eventually returned to the Lees, who sold it to raise money to benefit Confederate widows and orphans. The buyer was Rev. W. Herbert Burk, an Episcopal minister who was collecting objects related to the Revolution with the intention of presenting them in a permanent setting. He raised the $5,000 to purchase the tent via contributions from ordinary Americans, and the tent was displayed first in the Valley Forge Historical Society, and then at Valley Forge National Park. Rev. Burk's dream of a more permanent museum devoted to the Revolution finally became realized over a hundred years later when the Museum of the American Revolution opened last month in Philadelphia.

But over the centuries, the tent had become a wispy shadow of itself. The canvas had deteriorated until it could no longer support its own weight, and a large piece had been cut from the side by another collector. Over five hundred hours of painstaking conservation work by Virginia Whelan, the museum's textile conservator, has preserved the tent for another generation. The structural engineering firm of Keast & Hood created an elaborate interior aluminum and canvas sub-tent to support the fragile tent, and yet give the appearance of draped canvas. The elaborate structure of ropes and poles is now strictly for show. (This brief video shows the installation in progress.)

Still, the delicate fabric can only withstand very limited exposure to light and other environmental elements, and the tent is carefully maintained in a 300-square-foot, climate-controlled display case. Faced with these limitations, the museum's multi-media presentation of the tent is an engaging and emotional experience. Long-time readers of this blog will recall the replica of the tent and its accoutrements hand-made at Colonial Williamsburg; that tent acted as a "stunt double" for the real tent in the accompanying film.

But it's Washington's headquarters tent that remains not only the star of the show, but of the museum. If you visit, be sure to attend the ten-minute presentation. At the end, when the tent is revealed, I guarantee you'll have a history-chills moment.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of April 24, 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Finally, from Italy, the full George Washington.
• Charles Dickens called this machine a monster - but it helped the lives of Londoners.
• The sad perils of love unapproved by Queen Elizabeth I: Lady Mary Grey.
• Coach-building in the late 18th-early 19thc.
• Preserving the signs of censorship in a 16thc astronomy book.
• Tiny hand-bound books made by the Brontes as children.
Image: A stunning 1939 embroidered outfit by Schiaparelli.
Florence Nightingale's "rubbish' amulets to go on display for the first time.
• Europe's famed bog bodies are finally beginning to reveal their secrets.
Image: Women on a fire escape during a drill, c1913; their hobble skirts made it difficult to escape in the event of an emergency.
• Surgeon, apothecary, engineer, inventor, antiquarian, musician, artist, and author - William Close was all of these.
• While this menu from Delmonico's is interesting in its own right, the history of its ownership adds to its context.
• Romania's problem with Dracula.
Drums, bugles, and bagpipes in the Seven Years' War.
Pirate Sam Bellamy lacked the fame of Blackbeard, but made more of a fortune.
• Is it just a recipe for soup, or a counter-revolution in a bowl?
Image: Daffodil from Grandville's Flowers Personified, New York, 1845.
• After the devastation of World War One, French women sustained their families by embroidery sold to Americans.
Louise May Alcott wrote "The Brother" for The Atlantic based on her experiences as a Civel War nurse.
• A tiny face  on a glass bead looks at you through a screen from the 1stc BC Roman Egypt.
• Fur coat worn by Titanic stewardess sold for £150,000.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Friday Video: Two Gentlemen and a Lost Dog, 1777

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Susan reporting,

Commercial advertising seldom veers into nerdy history, but a new advertisement from Pedigree dog food features a little-known historical incident involving two gentlemen, a lost dog, and the Revolutionary War. The advertisement is part of Pedigree's series with the tag line that "dogs bring out the best in us," and this advertisement proves exactly that.

I won't ruin the spot with spoilers, but what's shown really did happen. The draft of the note, below, now in the Library of Congress, was written to accompany the dog. The message is from the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington, writing to the commander of the British Army, General William Howe. Washington was himself a great dog lover (there's an entire page on the Mount Vernon website devoted to his dogs), and did in fact return his enemy's lost pet, one gentleman to another. As was his practice, Washington dictated the note to a aide-de-camp. In this case, the aide was a young lieutenant colonel named Alexander Hamilton, who, despite his unquestionable devotion to the American cause, was still sufficiently dazzled by Howe's title that he first addressed him as "Sir William" instead of "General."

Of course, the advertisement doesn't *quite* get things historically correct. The Battle of Germantown took place on October 4, 1777; there was a heavy fog for most of the battle, and not a trace of snow. Washington was only forty-five at the time, not the craggy icon shown here. As for Colonel Hamilton - the real Hamilton in 1777 was barely out of his teens, a slender, fair-skinned, red-haired college drop-out.

Still, it's all a bit more plausible than this version of General Washington (I think it's the same actor, too) routing the British in a muscle car.

"General Howe's Dog", Pedigree, Agency: BBDO, New York, directed by Noam Murro. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Portland Place in 1815

Monday, April 24, 2017

Portland Place 1815
Portland Place description
Loretta reports:

Not until I read this entry about Portland Place did I know there was such a building as Foley House, or the rules that once existed about building in the vicinity. Not surprising. So many great London houses have disappeared, some with virtually no trace. However, I did manage to find an old engraving online (please scroll down), from Old and New London, one of my oft-consulted Victorian guidebooks to London’s history (complete, apparently, with various Victorian myths).

Portland Place is still an impressive street, though you will see more than a couple of carriage rattling around on it these days. And the road is paved, yes.

Portland Place description  

Images from Ackermann's Repository for April 1815, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, via Internet Archive.

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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Elegant Block-Printed Cotton Gown, c1805

Sunday, April 23, 2017
Susan reporting,

This elegant - and adaptable - gown is on display in the Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home exhibition (currently at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg through 2018; see other articles from the exhibition I've mentioned here, here, and here). The photo, right, shows the dress as it appears in the exhibition, and gives you an idea of just how much other printed gorgeousness is on parade in this amazing exhibition.

There are several features that make this dress unusual. First is the fabric itself, a block-printed cotton that was intended to mimic lapis, reflecting the era's interest in nature as inspiration for design. The fabric was printed with a curved hem border design (called "to form" or "a disposition") to be incorporated into the garment's finished design when made up.  Also of interest is the fact that the dress has a pair of matching long sleeves or mitts to offer extra options to the wearer.

Here's the collection's placard:

"This small-scale spotted pattern was printed especially for a gown of this style. The red borders outlining the hem of the curved train and the skirt front are printed to the finished shape, not stitched on separately. The remaining red trimmings around the sleeves and neckline are cut from the printed yardage and stitched in place.

The red and blue printing technique is usually known as the "lapis style," named for the semiprecious stone with a blue ground. The printing method involved printing a mordant (color fixative) for red in with a resist paste before dyeing in indigo blue.

This graceful gown exemplifies the neoclassical style with a raised waistline and skirt falling close to the body. The bodice closes by means of a drop panel fastening in place at the proper right shoulder. Removable matching mitts could be used to cover the arms down to the wrists for warmth or protection from the sun."

The dress is also proof that not every woman in early 19thc Britain - an era much-beloved for the costumes shown in many Jane Austen-inspired films - dressed in plain white cotton muslin. Prints and color were available for ladies who wished to stand out from the crowd, and those who understood the practicality of a dark print and its ability to mask a bit of dirt between laundering.

Woman's gown and mitts, printed to shape, Great Britain, c1805. Collection, Colonial Williamsburg.
Photographs upper and lower left courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.
Photograph right ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of April 17, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The day in 1881 when the mastodons left the British Museum.
• "We lost our appetite for food": why 18thc hangriness might not be a thing.
• How a generation of consumptives defined 19thc romanticism.
Samuel Adams, "Curer of Bacon"?
• The 1906 menagerie on Bleeker Street, NYC.
Image: The Queen's House Tulip Stairs are the first
geometric self-supporting spiral stairs in the U.K.
• The secret family of the Duke of Wellington's nephew.
• When Bram (Stoker) met Walt (Whitman.)
• Pioneering French midwife Angelique du Coudray.
• The 12thc Irish Cross of Cong was made to encase a fragment of the True Cross.
• Countering war-time fabric shortages: keeping khaki kool during World War One.
Image: Fifty years ago organizers tried to keep Katherine Switzer from running the Boston Marathon because she was a woman; this week, at 70, she ran it again.
• Memories of 1775: "About one o'clock, the minute men were alarmed."
• Snapshots of Victorian seaside life.
• "You are so saucy": John Adams replies to his wife Abigail's famous "remember the ladies" letter, April, 1776.
LIFE magazine's mysterious quarter, and the Birth of a Baby, 1938.
• Joseph Priestley of Birstall, UK invented the rubber eraser 247 years ago this week.
Image: Wool and rainbow-striped woman's festival costume shoes from Mexico, c1932.
• "When that April with his showers sweet....": Chaucer's Canterbury Tales may have taken place this week in April.
• Some things never change: in 1743, undergraduate James Otis wrote this letter to his father to ask for money for commencement expenses and sundry "entertainments."
• What sadly happens when you store gunpowder in the over, "out of the Way of Children", 1757.
• Built by Vikings, medieval Irish monks, or Native Americans? Six mysterious stone structures in New England.
Deadline, and seven other words that originated during the American Civil War.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Video: Cycle Skating—A Roaring Twenties Craze

Friday, April 21, 2017
Loretta reports:

Don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of cycle skating, until somebody somewhere posted this British Pathé video. As often happens, I put on my history sleuthing hat to find out more. To my further surprise, I learned that cycle skating wasn’t exactly new in 1923. When it was new, according to this Scientific American article from March 1870, was half a century earlier.

Cycle-Skating - The New Sport of 1923, British Pathé TV.
(You can watch the same video with music here.)

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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Two Tales in Silver from the Museum of the American Revolution

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Susan reporting,

As I wrote here last week, the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, PA is filled with stories, large and small. Like all good storytellers, the museum's exhibits often show their message instead of telling it, and leave it to visitors to make meaningful connections between historical artifacts. Here are two exhibits featuring handcrafted silver, and while their purposes couldn't be more different, their stories are nonetheless intertwined.

To the above are two of an original dozen camp cups, elegantly displayed by the Museum in a tumble of gleaming silver. According to the museum's placard, Philadelphia silversmith Edmund Milne supplied Washington with "12 Silvr Camp cups," fashioned from "16 Silvr Dollrs" in August, 1777. The cups would have been used by Washington as a hospitable commander-in-chief. To be sure their glorious pedigree would never be forgotten, a later owner (the cups descended through the Washington family) had each one engraved with the inscription "Camp Cup owned and used by General Washington during War of the Revolution."

Of course, given that I still have the characters of my next book, I, Eliza Hamilton much on my mind, I thought of young Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, an aide-de-camp to Washington. I wondered if he ever drank from one of these cups, or if they were reserved only for exalted guests - other generals, visiting dignitaries, foreign diplomats, members of Congress - rather than lesser officers serving as part of the general's military family.

Regardless, it's easy to look at the cups and imagine them being used by Washington and his guests, a determined effort to maintain gentlemanly appearances no matter how grim the circumstances or meagre the camp fare. That silver would have reflected the candlelight or fire, and the toasts to liberty and freedom that were drunk from them would have helped seal the camaraderie of these elite men who were risking so much for the sake of the Revolution. Afterwards the cups would have been washed and polished and carefully put away, most likely by one of the general's enslaved servants who were brought with him from his plantation household at Mount Vernon.

In another gallery not far from the cups is another example of the silversmith's art, below. John Drayton (1738-84) of Drayton Hall Plantation in South Carolina was a gentleman of great wealth and taste, a devout member of his church, an ardent patriot, and a loyal supporter of General Washington. Like the general, he was a planter and a substantial landowner.

And, like General Washington, he was also a slaveowner.

This was his branding iron. Here's the information from the museum's placard:

"Although the Continental Army fought to secure independence and liberty, these rights did not extend to all members of society. Many Americans owned slaves. In 1770, an estimated 61 percent of South Carolina's population was enslaved. This branding iron is marked for Revolutionary John Drayton of Drayton Hall Plantation, located near Charleston. A gruesome reminder of slavery, this silver-headed brand was used to mark Drayton's slaves as his property."

Although this branding iron is a modern reproduction of the original in the collection of Drayton Hall, it's still a "gruesome reminder." Crafted either in London or Charleston, the original brand (and the reproduction) was made of silver - a precious metal here used for the basest of purposes. The cast letters of John Drayton's name were bold and unmistakable, as was the brand's message, burned into an enslaved person's flesh: I own you.

Liberty and freedom, indeed.

Above: Camp Cups, made in Philadelphia by Edmund Milne, 1777. Museum of the American Revolution.
Below: Branding Iron (reproduction), made in South Carolina or England, c1790. Reproduced from original courtesy of Drayton Hall, National Trust for Historic Preservation. Museum of the American Revolution.
Photographs courtesy of Museum of the American Revolution.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tricky Surnames & How to Pronounce Them

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Lawrence, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower
Loretta reports:

The first time I saw this image, in a book, I was quite impressed. The first time I saw the portrait in person, at the Yale Center for British Art, I swooned. His stance and attitude, if not his face, have inspired more than one of my historical romance heroes (and he’s appeared in my blogs before).  And yes, you can judge the book by the cover. He was quite the ladies’ man, and aspects of his life have also made their way into my stories.

Today, though, I want to talk about his name (again): Leveson-Gower is not pronounced the way it looks. The correct pronunciation, according to Whitaker’s Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage, and Companionage of 1936 (and other guides) is LEWSON-GORR. Some books use Gore and others use Gor, and my 1985 edition of the A& C Black Titles & Forms of Address has it Lōō-son-Gaw, but it's never Gow-er and Leveson is never Lev-e-son. Wikipedia spends some time explaining the “counter-intuitive pronunciation.” This is merely one example of the way titles, surnames, place names, and other proper nouns can trip us up.

Manners and Rules of Good Society (1913 ed quoted below) offers some basic suggestions about pronouncing names, and a list of some most commonly mispronounced. I had room to post only a couple of pages, but you might want to take a look at the chapter. You may be surprised (Americans more than English readers, I suspect).
THERE are, perhaps, two reasons why various surnames are so frequently mispronounced, the one being unfamiliarity with the freak of fashion which governs the pronunciation of certain well-known names, the other ignorance, or want of education.

When sensitive persons hear a name pronounced differently from the way in which they have themselves but just pronounced it, and in a tone and manner strongly suggestive of correction, it is wounding to their amour propre.

As a rule, when persons are in doubt as to the correct pronunciation of any particular name, it would be best to avoid mentioning it, if possible, until their doubts are set at rest by someone better informed than themselves.

Names that have a fashionable or peculiar pronunciation, or are pronounced otherwise than as they are spelt, are but few, and names which it is possible wrongly to accent are also not very numerous; but it is surprising how often these names occur in the course of conversation.

...With regard to placing the accent on the wrong syllable in the pronunciation of names, it requires but little thought to avoid making this mistake, a popular error being that of placing the accent upon the last syllable of a name; whereas, in a name of two syllables, the accent should invariably be placed upon the first, and the second syllable should be as it were slightly abbreviated or slightly altered.

In names of three syllables the error usually consists in placing the accent upon the last syllable, whereas the accent should be placed upon the second syllable. There are occasional exceptions to this rule, and the few names given in this chapter, both as regards their pronunciation and accentuation, will serve as a useful guide in the pronunciation of uncommon names.
Manners and Rules of Good Society

Surname Pronunciation
Surname Pronunciation

Image: Sir Thomas Lawrence, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, later first Earl Granville (betw 1804 and 1809), courtesy Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Telling a Different Story: The New Museum of the American Revolution

Sunday, April 16, 2017
Susan reporting,

As anyone who reads this blog knows, Loretta and I are always quick to find local museums, historical societies, and other collections wherever we go. It's rare, however, to be among the first to visit a brand-new museum. Last week I was fortunate to attend a preview of the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, PA. The evolution of a century-old collection once known as the Valley Forge Museum of American History, the new museum will officially open this Wednesday, April 19 - the 242nd anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the war.

In a city filled with 18thc, historical landmarks (Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Carpenters Hall are neighbors, and the First Bank of America is right across the street), it's reasonable to ask if we need one more museum devoted to the American Revolution. Within the first minute of the museum's introductory video, the answer is clear: a resounding YES.

Because unlike the majority of historical sites in the region, the new museum was designed from its inception to tell not just the traditional story of the Revolution - the one most of us learned in school featuring those exceptional white male Founding Fathers, and maybe Betsey Ross - but hundreds of others. The most important single word here is "inclusive," because this museum includes the stories of enslaved Africans and Native Americans, women and children, poor laborers and soldiers as well as plantation owners and generals, those who tried to remain neutral during the conflict and those who stayed loyal to the Crown. In other words, it strives to share the many diverse and often unruly voices that somehow, against the odds, managed to come together to create a new country.

To do this, the museum offers a wealth of technological showpieces. The digital interactions, films, unexpected life-sized tableaux, upper right, of recreated historical events, a two-story recreation of a Liberty Tree, upper left, a meeting between the men and women of the Oneida Indian Nation debating which side to support, and a large-scale replica of privateer ship to climb aboard are all truly dazzling. One of the most effective is a small "battlefield theatre" that surrounds visitors with the sounds, sights, and gunpowder smoke of the Battle of Brandywine, complete with thunderous cannon-fire that you feel through the floor. Guides made sure to point out where the exit door was if things became too intense; I wondered how many of the newly-recruited American soldiers experiencing their first terrifying action on that hot September day in 1777 wished they'd had an escape door, too.

But that's one of the museum's great strengths. Exhibits make it easy to identify with the people - all the people - who contributed to the Revolution, both through computer-generated wizardry and well-chosen artifacts, like the baby shoes, middle left. The shoes belonged to the children of Sgt. James Davenport of Massachusetts, and were fashioned from the captured coat of a British soldier; to Davenport, who lost two brothers in the war, the shoes must have been a poignant reminder of the cost of liberty won for the next generation. Law books owned by Patrick Henry are balanced by a signed 1773 volume of Poems on Various Subjects by the country's first published black poet, Phillis Wheatley, written while she was still enslaved, lower right. Swords and muskets are complimented by a book of religious sermons that brought comfort to Martha Washington as she accompanied her husband and the army.

Nor do the exhibits shy from more difficult truths. The Continental Army was never a single, cohesive fighting unit, but a quarrelsome, faction-riddled force often on the verge of mutiny and desertion. Demonstrations of patriotic fervor could quickly degenerate into dangerous and destructive mobs. And the first Congressmen backed away from the abolition of slavery that could have truly fulfilled the promise of "all men created equal," with lasting ramifications that remain in America today.

Of course there are bound to be people who will think this kind of more complete history somehow diminishes the traditional version that they already know. One review of the museum in a national newspaper complained that this weakens the Revolution's familiar narrative, and cited as an example how the Battle of Saratoga is featured through the experiences of Baroness von Riesdesel, the wife of the commander of the Brunswick (Hessian) troops fighting with the British, lower left. Why this woman, the reviewer complained, and not the much better known British Gen. John Burgoyne?

Well, perhaps because the Baroness spent the last week of the siege barricaded in the cellar of a house with cannonballs flying all around her. She not only guarded the lives of other women and children entrusted to her care, but also tended to the wounded who were brought to her, and saved dozens of lives through her courage and dedication. As for Burgoyne, he was the losing general in a costly battle that he should have won. Heroes, and heroines, are where you find them, I guess.

But the ultimate lesson of the museum is to show exactly how hard-fought - and how fragile - the "American experiment" was at its inception, and how it remains so today. The history lessons that are being offered here are meant to inspire present-day citizens to realize that we shouldn't take any of this for granted. The newly-minted Americans of 1781 certainly didn't, and if ever there were a time for us in the twenty-first century to hear and remember this wide range of diverse voices from our collective past, then this is it.

I'll be sharing more from my visit in future posts. Having just finished writing I, Eliza Hamilton, which includes many of the same people, places, and events that the museum features, I can't get enough of the American Revolution!

For more information about the Museum of the American Revolution, visit their website here.

All photographs (except of Baroness Von Riesdesel) copyright and courtesy of MOAR.
Baroness Von Riesdesel exhibit photography by Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of April 10, 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Sex, drugs, and poetry: Renaissance writers were the original rockstars.
• The unrivaled beauty of the hand-held fan.
George IV's sisters and their Oriental fantasies.
• Easter Sunday, 1939: When Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC.
• It's taken 30 years, but the restoration of the State Bedroom at Kedleston Hall is finally, beautifully finished.
Image: F.Scott Fitzgerald's handwritten notes for The Great Gatsby, published in 1925.
• Historical photographs of women pioneers in medicine.
• The wages of a servant at Chatsworth.
• The persistent "fake news" that haunted George Washington.
• A 400-year-old recipe for rose cakes.
• Gowland's Lotion, a popular 18th-19thc medical remedy mentioned by Jane Austen, contained mercury.
• Making history: 2nd Lt. Lillian Polatchek is the first female Marine Tank Officer.
• A room with a loo - a potted history of the British bathroom.
Image: A spirited spotted-pony unicorn from a fruit crate label, c1925-40
• The first coffee house opened in London in 1652, but the phenomenon took off during the 18thc.
• The 1898 Bloomingdale Branch Library in New York City had low windows to lure youths who "did not care to be outdone" by kids reading inside.
• Did the Victorians really get brain fever?
• Going down the rabbit hole: the surprisingly complex symbolism of rabbits in British art.
Image: Woman selling Irish lace on board the Titanic.
Codex rotundus: a 15thc miniature manuscript in a circular form.
• Friends, family, and rivals: Queen Victoria and the European empires.
• New research reunites a 1758 London Foundling Hospital token with the identity of its infant owner.
• Fame, fortune, fire, and brimstone: the legend of Jonathan Moulton.
• Why there are many small memorials in New York City to those who perished with the Titanic, but no large one.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Huzzah and Thanks for Another Milestone

Loretta & Susan reporting,

This week while we weren't paying attention, this blog somehow had its FIVE MILLIONTH page view. To say we're stunned is an understatement. We can't begin to understand how this has happened, except for the undeniable reason that we have the best  readers in the internet universe.

So to all you loyal readers, faithful followers, book lovers, nerdy-history aficionados, fashion history fans, Google-searchers, students finishing history papers at the last minute, and all other innocent bystanders who have found us by design or by accident: a hearty, heart-felt thank-you. We couldn't have come this far without you.


Friday, April 14, 2017

A Chintz-Lined Hat for Spring, c1780-1830

Friday, April 14, 2017

Susan reporting,

This was one of my favorite pieces on display in the Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home exhibition (currently at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg through 2018; see another article from the exhibition I've mentioned here), and it's also one of the simplest. In fact, at first glance, it's so simple that at first glance it may not be easy to tell exactly what it even is.

What's shown, left, is the underside of a woman's flat-brimmed straw hat, a circle of printed pattern that's almost abstract: a circle of printed pattern. Seeing it on the mannequin, right, and it makes sense as a hat. Here's the information from the exhibition's placard:

"Flat straw hats were fashionable women's headwear in the 18th century in parts of Europe and England. In the case of this Dutch example, the underside of the hat brim was lined with scraps of an earlier India chintz, probably dating to the first half of the century.

"The Dutch East India Company engaged in a thriving trade with India during the 17th and 18th centuries, and colorful chintz cottons in a wide array of patterns were readily available."

Of course the storyteller in me longs to know more about that lining. With all the stitched pieces, this looks like a hat that a woman ornamented herself rather than purchased from a professional milliner. The fabric is from India, and dates from 1700-1750, while the hat itself is probably from at least thirty years later. Was that red and white chintz special to the wearer - scraps cut from a treasured dress, or one worn by a mother or sister? Or did she simply choose the chintz as a way of adding color to an otherwise plain hat, with the green ribbons for extra emphasis?

Left: Inner brim, Woman's Hat, Colonial Williamsburg. Photograph ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.
Right: Photograph, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fashion vs Fashion Plates—the Wild & Crazy 1830s

Thursday, April 13, 2017
Hayter, "The Music Lesson" 1830
Loretta reports:

I know that many of the fashion plates I put up each month make readers wonder what women were thinking. In this regard, the 1830s plates seem to take the cake. Fashions in the first half of the decade were extravagant and exuberant. Gigantic sleeves ruled. Hair reached heights it hadn’t seen since the 18th century, and the styles were like mad sculptures. I love them, but then again, I have a better idea of how they really looked. Even the dresses we see in museums rarely capture the true look of these fashions: Sometimes they’re missing the sleeve puffs or corset, or the color’s faded, or they lack accessories—or a head, for that matter. If you can’t see the hair arrangement, you get only a partial sense of the look.

A good way to get a sense of these fashions is through portrait paintings. Susan has sent me a number of images that show the vast difference between fashion plates and paintings. “The Music Lesson,” by Sir George Hayter, is a fine example. The famous portrait artist, working in oil, had the tools, talent, and financial backing illustrators did not. He could give his paintings depth and texture. He could show the transparency of lace. He could create the illusion of life and three dimensions, in other words. He could bring to painterly life what magazine Illustrators could only hint at it. 
von Amerling, Countess Julie von Woyna
March 1831 Fashions

While some of the latter were extremely talented, and created quite beautiful plates (more beautiful than many of the abysmal scans we see online lead us to believe), they were not famous artists commissioned by wealthy families to spend as much time as it took to make a splendid painting. It’s all the more impressive, given the limitations, how well these illustrators managed to convey the designers’ ideas.

I do urge you to click on the painting links to get close and personal. You still mayn't love the fashions, and the hair might be an acquired taste—but at least you'll have a truer image.

Sir George Hayter, Portrait of the Hon. Charlotte Stuart (1817-1861) and the Hon. Louisa Stuart (1818-1891) aka "The Music Lesson." (original in Government Art Collection, British Embassy, Paris). Friedrich von Amerling, Countess Julie von Woyna 1832. Both images via Wikipedia.

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, April 11, 2017

From the c1765 Schuyler Mansion: Fabulous Flock Wallpaper

Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Susan reporting,

This past weekend I visited the Schuyler Mansion in Albany, NY. It's a magnificent Georgian brick house built by landowner, merchant, and politician General Philip Schuyler (1733-1804) between 1761-1765, the one-time centerpiece to a sizable 125-acre estate overlooking the Hudson River.

But what makes the house important to me is that the heroine of my new book, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, considered this house both her childhood home and her adult retreat. Here Eliza met her future husband, Alexander Hamilton, married him in the family parlor, and gave birth to their first child. The estate - then known as The Pastures - was an important place to her, and I'll be writing several blogs about it over the next few months.

Philip Schuyler was determined that everything in his new house would be in the latest style, and while on a trip to London in 1761-62 on business, he went on something of a buying spree. He had both considerable wealth and considerable taste, especially for a young man; he was only 28 when the house was begun. It's easy to imagine fashionable shopkeepers racing to bring out their best wares for the consideration of the New Yorker with deep pockets, and I only hope that his wife Catherine, left behind in Albany with their growing family (she'd eventually bear fifteen children), had some say in the decoration of their new home.

Among Philip's stylish indulgences were flock wallpapers. Mimicking the elaborate patterns of woven silk damask, flock (the flock was pulverized, powdered wool, a by-product of the woolen industry, that was applied to the paper with a turpentine-based glue) wallpapers were the height of luxurious display in the 18thc, and the richly patterned and textured papers hung on the walls of royal palaces. The scale of the patterns tended to be large, and looked best in big rooms like the ones that Philip was having built in his new house.

Miraculously, the record of exactly what he purchased remain in an "Invoice of Sundries to America." He bought flock wallpaper, listed by color, as well as "caffy," a kind of flock that copied damask patterns, enough to paper nearly every room. (He also purchased a special scenic wallpaper that I'll discuss in another blog.) While the original 18thc papers have long vanished from the house's walls, replicas have been created and hung in their place - the expert work of the Peebles Island Resource Center of the Regional Alliance for Preservation

As you can see from these photographs, the effect is stunning, the mixture of colors and textures both bold and sophisticated. (It's also tempting, and visitors are cautioned not to touch the lushly fuzzy patterns.) Impressive as it all is today, 18thc guests to the house must have been left in amazement by so much colorful splendor - exactly as Philip would have wished.

The Schuyler Mansion is now a state historic site, and open to the public. See their Facebook page for more information about visiting and tour reservations.

Many thanks to historic interpreter Danielle Funiciello for her expert tour, and her assistance with this post.

All photographs ©2017 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Read more about Eliza Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton in my latest historical novel, I, Eliza Hamilton, now available everywhere.

Monday, April 10, 2017

From the Archives: Victorian Street Sweeping Machine

Monday, April 10, 2017
Frith, The Crossing Sweeper, 1853
Loretta reports:

We take clean streets more or less for granted.  Litter and dog poo are nothing to what our early 19th century ancestors encountered.  Crossing sweeps pushed brooms, and pedestrians were supposed to pay for a clear path. By the late 1830s, with the filth worsening, inventors set about developing mechanical, albeit horse-driven, methods of cleaning streets.  Mr. Whitworth gets credit for the first mechanical sweeper, but by 1843, when his machines were put to work in London, other inventors (scroll down) were applying for patents for similar devices or “improvements.”

This machine, lately brought into operation in the town of Manchester, where it excited a considerable deal of public attention, has lately been introduced into the metropolis, and is now employed in cleaning Regent-street. It is the invention of Mr. Whitworth, of the firm of Messrs. Whitworth and Co., of Manchester, engineers, by whom it has been patented. The principle of the invention consists in employing the rotary motion of locomotive wheels, moved by horse or other power, to raise the loose soil from the surface of the ground and deposit it in a vehicle attached. The apparatus for this purpose is simple in its construction; it consists of a series of brooms (3 ft. wide) suspended from a light frame of wrought iron, hung behind a cart, the body of which is placed near the ground, for greater facility in loading. The draught is easy for two horses, and throughout the process of filling, scarcely a larger amount of force is required than would be necessary to draw the full cart an equal distance.

Two machines are advantageously worked together, one a little in advance of the other. Not only is the operation of cleansing a particular street thus effected more rapidly, but the two drivers can occasionally assist each other, and one of them (at higher wages) may exercise a supervision over both machines.
The success of the operation is no less remarkable than its novelty. Proceeding at a moderate speed through the public streets, the cart leaves behind it a well swept tract, which forms a striking contrast with the adjacent ground. Though of the full size of a common cart, it has repeatedly filled itself in the space of six minutes from the principal thoroughfares of Manchester. This fact, while it proves the efficiency of the new apparatus, proves also the necessity of a change in the present system of street cleaning.

The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Volume 6, 1843

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, April 8, 2017

Breakfast Links: Week of April 3, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
Women's lives in 1790s New York City: tales from the almshouse records.
Jane Austen and one of the art world's most enduring mysteries.
• Myths of 18thc fashion: was it scandalous to show your ankles, elbows, decolletage?
• Portraits of 19thc African American women activists now available online.
• Fascinating history behind an 18thc portrait of three princesses from Mysore by Thomas Hickey, c1806, done to endorse smallpox vaccination.
• A journey through the Harlem Renaissance in maps, manuscripts, and art.
Image: Army uniform for a carrier pigeon, 1939, National Army Museum.
• Why are so many surviving historical clothes so small?
• A skeleton city: Washington, DC in the 1820s.
Miss Jenny Davis as a bride, c1780.
• How Charles Dickens fought to keep Shakespeare's house from dastardly American showman P.T.Barnum.
• The 18thc stone-swallower: two hundred pebbles in the stomach finally take their toll.
• Thinker, tailor, soldier, spy: the extraordinary women of Ghiyas-ud-din-Khalji's 15thc. harem.
• A 300-year-old recipe for Welsh Cakes.
Image: Photo of a Victorian girl twinning with her doll
in matching bustle dress, c1880.
• Did Queen Elizabeth's virginals actually belong to Anne Boleyn?
• A labor of love? A vibrant crewel pocketbook from 1763.
Vogue and virtuous virgins: a reflection on the history of the fashion magazine.
• The short but thrilling history of the Pony Express.
• A rare find: a tiny 17thc Shakespearean notepad.
• For Galentine's Day: a selection of favorite historical gal-pals.
• Photos from 1960-1970 of the vanishing shops of London's East End.
Image: Photo of women workers for the fleet: the spinners of hemp for cables, c1902.
• "A republic...if you can keep it": the tale of a historical anecdote.
• Archaeologists dig up Philadelphia history beneath I-95.
• From grotesques to frumps: a field guide to spinsters in English literature.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Faking Luxury, c1770

Thursday, April 6, 2017
Susan reporting,

This is another post drawn from the new exhibition that opened recently in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial WilliamsburgPrinted Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home features stunning examples from the late 17thc to the early 19thc, all drawn from Colonial Williamsburg's own collections. It's well worth a trip!

One of the more interesting items on display are these two textiles, shown side by side to demonstrate how block-printed textiles were used to mimic luxury woven silk brocades. The block-printed cotton was created for a lower-price market that wanted the fashionable visual impact of the brocade without the costly price. To the upper left is a sample of a woven silk brocade. To the right is a block-printed cotton that attempted to copy a similar look, and in the lower left is a detail of the same block-printed cotton. (As always, click on the images to enlarge them.)

Here's the information from the exhibition's placards:

"Designs for printed textiles came from a variety of sources. Sometimes the inspiration was the more expensive and less washable textiles such as patterned silks [left].

"The pattern for this block print [right] was taken from fashionable and expensive woven silks intended for women's gowns. Compare this piece with the silk panel. The horizontal lines and other textural effects in the background imitate woven ribbed grounds frequently used on brocaded silks. 

"The design defect caused by mismatching of the blocks and the somewhat coarse ground suggest that this textile was an inexpensive product aimed at audience that desired fashionable patterns without the cost.

"The blue was brushed on quickly after printing the other colors, a technique known as 'pencil blue.' The rapidity with which the work was done is evidenced by the imprecise application and stray drips from the blue brush."

This kind of imitation continues today. Though the reproduction methods and technologies have changed, the fashion world is filled with examples of printed brocades, faux fur, vinyl handbags embossed to resemble alligator, and "leatherette" jackets.

Left: Textile, brocaded silk, Spitalfields, London, England, c1770
Right: Textile, woodblock printed cotton with addition of pencil blue, Europe, possibly France, 1765-1785. 
Both textiles from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. Photographs ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Fashions for April 1831

Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Court & Dinner Dress April 1831
Loretta reports:

By the 1830s, the vertical look is completely gone, the big sleeves are taking over, and hair is starting to get wild.  Though fashion illustrations look completely bizarre, I have seen some of these looks reproduced in period films, and they are more beautiful and graceful than you might suppose.

One of the looks I find particularly interesting is court dress, of which this is a great example. Plumes were required, as were the lace lappets (those lacy things hanging by the lady's ears) and a train. This plate does a good job of showing the difference between what one wore, say, to a Royal Drawing Room and what one wore for an evening event. As opulent as evening dress could be, court dress had to be very much more so.  The monarchs seem to have been very particular about court dress. Interestingly, Queen Victoria insisted on large plumes. She wanted to be able to see them easily.

As extravagant as this dress might appear, it's relatively normal-looking compared to what ladies were obliged to wear during the reign of George III and the time of the Prince Regent. Author Candice Hern offers an overview and examples of  Regency-era court dress here at her website.
April 1831 fashion 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.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

An Elegant Woman's Jacket, c1780, from Printed Cotton from India, c1750

Sunday, April 2, 2017
Susan reporting,

I'm deep in the middle of final copy edits, so this will be a quick - but very beautiful! - post.

This woman's jacket is from the splendid new exhibition that opened last week in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg. Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home features stunning examples from the late 17thc to the early 19thc, all drawn from Colonial Williamsburg's own collections. I'll be writing another post about the exhibition soon, but for now this will serve as a sample of the glories currently on display.

The jacket was made in Europe c1750 from a textile imported from India - a mordant-painted and resist dyed cotton - and lined in linen. Jackets like this would have been worn over a linen shift and a contrasting petticoat, and would likely have been accessorized with a triangular kerchief around the neck, with white ruffles pinned to the bottoms of the sleeves.

According to the placard:

This charming jacket is constructed from an earlier India chintz textile, clear evidence that the chintz was sufficiently prized to warrant restyling years later. The center-front closure suggests a date in the late 1770s or early 1780s. Fitted jackets worn with separate skirts called petticoats were practical and comfortable for work and informal occasions. They were more economical than full-length gowns because they did not require additional yards of fabric.

More to come....

Jacket, maker unknown, Europe, c1780; textile, India, c1750. Colonial Williamsburg. Photo ©2017 Susan Holloway Scott.
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