Saturday, January 6, 2024

12th Night Celebrations in Colonial British America

Twelfth Night by Isaac Cruikshank 1756-1811, London  Pub 1794 by Laurie & Whittle, No. 53 Fleet Street, London

When the British settled in colonial America, many brought their Twelfth Night celebrations with them. In the 18C colonies, Twelfth Night parties frequently took place in regions where large numbers of English colonists had settled, such as Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, & Pennsylvania. These celebrations were especially popular with members of the Church of England (later the Episcopal Church) but not among the New England Puritans, who found them too frivolous & not at all religious. 

Among the wealthy in the middle & southern colonies, many celebrated Twelfth Night with formal balls. These balls usually featured a bountiful buffet table of such delicacies as Twelfth Night Cake, roasted meats, root vegetables, candied fruit, cookies, fritters, & New Year's pie. This last item was an elaborate dish prepared by placing a beef tongue into a boned chicken, wedging the chicken into a boned duck, stuffing the duck into a boned turkey, cramming the turkey into a boned goose; & then roasting the stuffed goose in an oven. 

Just as in Europe, colonial & early American cooks often placed a bean & a pea inside their Twelfth Night cakes as a means of selecting a Twelfth Night king & queen. If there was only a bean in the cake & a woman found it in her piece, she got to chose the king of the evening.

In colonial & early America, the Christmas season, capped by the celebration of Twelfth Night, served as a favorite time of year for weddings. Twelfth Nightballs offered young, single people the chance to meet & to interact freely, & hopefully, to find a mate. This goal was facilitated by the fact that the parties usually featured dancing & some form of masking, as well as card & dice games. Indeed, some balls were designed exclusively as affairs for the young. One very famous colonial romance led to a marriage scheduled for Epiphany. George Washington (1732-1799) and his bride, Martha Dandridge Custis (17321802), married on January 6, 1759.

The importance of Twelfth Night celebrations in the American colonies is illustrated in the papers of George Washington. On Christmas Day, Washington usually attended a church service, after which he would spend the day sorting through other year-end business matters of his plantation.  But, George & Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night in 1759 in Williamsburg. Washington's records indicate that he & his wife Martha often entertained groups of relatives and friends throughout that day.  Martha Washington's papers, preserved at Mt. Vernon, include her recipe for a huge Twelfth Night cake that included 40 eggs, four pounds of sugar, & five pounds of dried fruits.

Nicholas Cresswell,  who was an Englishman who spent years in Virginia and kept a journal, wrote while in Alexandria on December 25, 1774: “Christmas Day but little regarded here.”   Cresswell did, however, attend a ball on Twelfth Night: "There was about 37 Ladys Dressed and Powdered to the like, some of them very handsom, and as much Vanity as is necessary. All of them fond of Dancing. But I do not think they perform it with the greatest elleganse. Betwixt the Country Dances they have What I call everlasting Jiggs. A Couple gets up, and begins to dance a Jig (to some Negro tune) others comes and cuts them out, these dances allways last as long as the Fiddler can play. This is social but I think it looks more like a Bacchanalian dance then one in a polite Assembly. Old Women, Young Wifes with young Children on the Laps, Widows, Maids, and Girls come promsciously to these Assemblys which generally continue til morning. A Cold supper, Punch, Wine, Coffee, and Chocolate, But no Tea. This is a forbidden herb. The men chiefly Scotch and Irish. I went home about Two Oclock, but part of the Company stayd got Drunk and had a fight."

Famously weathy Robert Carter of Nomini Hall had hired New England tutor Philp Fithian to teach his children.  Fithian's journal entry of December 29 of that same year he wrote “we had a large Pye cut today to signify the conclusion of the Holidays.”

Those who did not celebrate Christmas deplored the idea of a Twelfth Night ball.  Mordecai Noah, who published a book on home economics in the year 1820, decried the wasteful custom of Twelfth Night feasting:  "What a sum to be destroyed in one short hour! The substan-tials on this table, consisting of a few turkeys, tongues, hams, fowls, rounds of beef and game, all cold, could have been purchased for fifty dollars; the residue of this immense sum was expended for whips, creams, floating islands, pyramids of kisses, temples of sugarplumbs, ices, blanc manges, macaroons and plumb cake; and ladies of delicacy, of refined habits, of soft and amiable manners, were at midnight, cloying their stomachs, after exercise in dancing, with this trash." 

For further Twelfth Night & Epiphany information see:

Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. 

Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. 

Christmas in Colonial and Early America. Chicago: World Book, 1996. 

Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. 

Crippen, T.G. Christmas and Christmas Lore. 1923. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations. 2nd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2003.

Hadfield, Miles, and John Hadfield. The Twelve Days of Christmas. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown and Company, 1961. 

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. 

Henisch, Bridget Ann. Cakes and Characters: An English Christmas Tradition. London, England: Prospect Books, 1984. 

Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. 

MacDonald, Margaret Read, ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1992. 

Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition. 1912. Reprint. Detroit, Mich.: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Muir, Frank. Christmas Customs and Traditions. New York: Taplinger, 1977. 

Pimlott, J. A. R. The Englishman's Christmas. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978. 

Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. The Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. 

Urlin, Ethel L. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. 

Weaver, William Woys. The Christmas Cook. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Eleanor Magruder Briscoe (1766-1806) by John Drinker (1760-1826) 1800-02


Eleanor Magruder Briscoe by John Drinker, in Jefferson County West Virginia 1800-02 

When Eleanor Magruder Briscoe was born on January 6, 1766, in Maryland, her father, Alexander, was 46, and her mother, Susannah, was 39. She married John Briscoe on February 19, 1784, in Frederick, Maryland. They had 11 children in 16 years. She died on March 11, 1806, in Virginia at the age of 40.

MESDA tells us that this portrait of Eleanor Magruder Briscoe by John Drinker shows a woman seated in a Chippendale type chair, half-length, facing forward & dressed with a white high crowned cap, gray dress & white neck piece with a black ribbon & jewel at her throat. She has brown eyes, dark hair. She holds a reddish-brown book in her right hand & is seated at a column base to the right, with red drapery & tassel, & with a balustraded rail & trees in the background to the left. 

Eleanor (Magruder) Briscoe (1766-1806) & her husband Dr. John Briscoe (1752-1818) lived at Piedmont, an imposing two-story brick house in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charlestown. The families had 17th century roots in tidewater Maryland: The Briscoes in St. Mary’s & Charles County, Maryland; the Magruders in Queen Anne County, Maryland. The couple married in 1784 in Frederick County, Maryland. 

The portrait descended at Piedmont, the Briscoe Family home, in Berkeley County, Virginia. Two years later they formally acquired the land on which Piedmont was built. Though the deed to the house is dated November 22, 1786, it is generally believed that the Briscoe family were living on the property for some years prior to that time. It is now generally thought that Piedmont was constructed between 1786 & 1800. (Piedmont was surveyed in 1937 by the Historic American Buildings Survey: Piedmont was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973:

The artist John Drinker (1760–1826) was a miniaturist, portrait painter, & drawing master, who advertised in 1787 that he was opening a drawing school in Philadelphia with the assistance of Matthew Pratt. Using funds from an inheritance Drinker began investing in Berkeley County, Virginia, land in the 1780s. In 1797 he married Elizabeth Peppers in Berkeley County, West Virginia. Though the couple first lived in Philadelphia, by 1801 they had permanently resettled in Berkeley County. This painting is signed on the reverse “A.D. 1800/ by Drinker.” . He was listed as a portrait painter or limner in Philadelphia directories in 1800-1801. Two portraits by him are listed by FARL (Frick Art Reference Library)

The MESDA Collection includes 5 paintings from “Piedmont," the house built between 1786-1890 for Dr. John Briscoe, Jr. (1752-1818), & Eleanor (Magruder) Briscoe (b.1766). These include portraits of Dr. & Mrs. Briscoe by John Drinker (1760-1826) (MESDA acc. 973.1-2); a portrait of Sarah D. Rutherford by Drinker (MESDA acc. 973.3?); & a portrait of General William Darke (1736-1801), by Frederick Kemmelmeyer (1760-1821) (MESDA acc. 973.3).

See: Kate Hughes, “Piedmont’s Portraits: Patrician Image-Making in the Lower Shenandoah Valley”, MESDA Summer Institute 2017.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

1716 Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) by Henrietta Johnston(c 1674-1729)

1716 Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) by Henrietta Johnston(c 1674-1729)

MESDA tells us that Frances L’Escott (1705-1747) was the daughter of the Reverend Paul L’Escott (b.1675), pastor of the Huguenot Church in Charles Town from 1700 to 1719 & from 1731 to 1734. She married Peter Villepontoux (1684-1748), a wealthy Huguenot. He owned a plantation on James Island; a town lot near the Quaker Meeting House on King Street; a lot on Trott’s Point; & a plantation in Christ Church Parish. The couple had seven children though only one daughter & four sons are mentioned in Peter Villepontoux’s will; there is no mention of his wife Frances, & it is believed that her death preceded his. She was living, however, in 1741, when she & her husband signed deeds of lease & release for property.

There is an anecdote about young Frances L’Escott in The Carolina Chronicle of Commissary Gideon Johnston in his letter to the secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. His letter, dated July 5, 1710, reads: “One of the enclosed papers is a letter of Sir John Chardins to Mrs. L’Escot. . . .You will see by it that a Legacy of 30 [pounds] was left to her daughter, which was to revert to the Mother in case of the Daughters death. The Daughter is still alive & the father & Mother think it their undoubted right to have this money & the Interest of it hitherto.” The letter does not state whether the parents received control of the legacy. It does, however, mention that Mr. L’Escot could not understand English so that any other correspondence to him must be done in “Latin or French.”

Henrietta de Beaulieu Dering Johnston (ca. 1674 – March 9, 1729) is recognized as the earliest professional female artist & the first known pastelist working in the American colonies. The daughter of Susannah de Beaulieu, it is generally accepted that she was born in northwestern France & that her family immigrated to London in the mid-1680s. Henrietta was of French Huguenot descent.

In 1694 Henrietta Beaulieu married William Dering, & moved to Ireland. It was during this time that she began to draw pastels, as is evidenced by her earliest portraits of a number of people to whom she was related by marriage, including members of the Percival family. Although the quality of her work suggests that she had received formal training, nothing is known of her education. Like her contemporaries, however, she copied the conventions set by London court painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723). It is possible that she studied with Dublin artist Edward Lutterel (1650-1710).

Widowed by 1704, & the mother of two daughters, Henrietta married in 1705 Anglican clergyman Gideon Johnston who was appointed two years later to serve as commissary of the Church of England in North & South Carolina & the Bahama Islands & to serve as rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina. The Johnstons arrived in Charleston in 1708, & over the next few years Henrietta’s work as a pastel portraitist became critical to the economy of her family as is proven by one of her husband’s letters, in which he wrote: “were it not for the assistance my wife gives by drawing of Pictures (which can last but a little time in a place so ill peopled) I should not be able to live.” Gideon Johnston died in a boating accident in 1716 & Henrietta remained in Charleston until her death in 1729. She is believed to have traveled to New York City in1725 where she drew at least four portraits of a family of that city. More than forty of her portraits survive, many of which are of members of Charleston’s early Huguenot community.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Martha Washington's Laundry Wash House at Mount Vernon in 18C Virginia

Compiled by Sydney Marenburg 

In the Mount Vernon home of Martha & George Washington. the Laundry or Wash House, enslaved laundresses performed weekly washings for the Washington family, long-term guests, hired white servants, & overseers.

Laundry in the 18C was usually a 3-day, labor-intensive process reserved for household linens, like sheets & tablecloths, & clothing worn closest to the skin: shirts, shifts, & stockings. Many people contributed garments to each laundry load, so clothes & linens often were marked with the owner’s initials or name in ink or cross-stitch. 

At Mount Vernon, as at many other elite 18C houses, the employment contracts of unmarried, white male servants often included the provision of laundry services. (See: Agreement with Burgis Mitchell, 1 May 1762,” 

A married man’s laundry fell to his wife. (See: "George Washington to James Anderson (of Scotland), 7 April 1797,”

George & Martha Washington’s famous hospitality included providing laundry services for Mount Vernon guests staying longer than 1 week (the typical turn-around time of the Wash House.) A constant stream of guests surely created a heavy workload for the enslaved laundresses.

Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, a visiting Polish Nobleman who stayed at the plantation for 2 weeks, noted that the enslaved workers “took care of me, of my linen, of my clothes,” treating him “not as a stranger but as a member of the family.” (See: Ursyn Niemcewicz, Julian, Early Description by Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz. June 5, 1978.)

The 1799 probate inventory taken after George Washington’s death recorded the contents of the Wash House. The building contained 9  tubs, 4 pails, 2  small buckets with handles (called piggins), 4 tables, & 2 copper tubs (called boilers) valued at $34.75. (See: P.C Nash, Fairfax County Will Book J, 1801-1806, Fairfax, Virginia: Fairfax County Court Archives, 1810, George Washington.) 

In addition, 8 jars of soap, valued at $25, were stored in the Mansion cellar. When Washington inherited the property in 1761, the Wash House inventory records 9 hand irons.

Although there were no automated laundry appliances, Mount Vernon’s Wash House was equipped with a built-in brick stove that held a copper kettle over a fire. This was a feature of many elite homes in the 18C & was a relative luxury, as laundresses did not have to move the heavy pots of hot water.

Generally, laundry in the 18C was conducted exclusively by women. (See: Mohun, Arwen Palmer. “Laundrymen Construct Their World: Gender and the Transformation of a Domestic Task to an Industrial Process”The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for the History of Technology, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Jan., 1997): 97-120

Woman with Bag of Laundry The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University 

Records from 1759 to 1799 indicate the names of 9 enslaved women & when they were assigned to the Wash House.

Jemima, 1759

Jenny, 1759

Mima, 1787 –1788

Sall, 1786 –1791

Sinah, 1794

Lucy, 1794

Caroline, 1793 –1798

Dolshy, 1786 –1799

Vina, 1798 –1799

Home-care manuals of the 19C instructed that laundry should begin Monday & conclude on Wednesday, leaving Thursday to Saturday free for other work. (See: Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie's Lady's House-book: A Manual of Domestic Economy, Containing Approved Directions for Washing, Dress-making, Millinery, Dyeing, Cleaning, etc 1850.  Note: although this source is from a much later period, it is conjectured that the laundry process remained very similar between eras until the widespread use of laundry machines.)

Many of the enslaved women assigned to Mount Vernon’s Wash House were not only doing laundry, but also acted as seamstresses, spinners, & knitters.

Laundresses also needed a wide knowledge of treatments for all sorts of stains on many different fine fabrics. Finer garments made out of wool, silk, & cotton were rarely, if ever, fully washed, but instead spot-treated for stains. 

Laundry was an intense job requiring an incredible amount of physical strength. During the hot Virginia summers, the washhouse would be an almost unbearable temperature due to the constant fires & clouds of billowing steam. Laundresses had to move pounds of clothing, made even heavier with water, from pot to pot & agitate the laundry—all by hand.

The enslaved laundresses began each load by hauling the necessary water & firewood: thirty to fifty gallons of water from the kitchen well to fill copper kettles, & roughly 180 pounds of firewood to feed the boiler that heated water for the first phase of washing. Depending on the volume of laundry, a total of over 100 gallons of water could be necessary. This could entail more than 2 dozen trips back & forth to the well for each day of washing.

Copper kettles, not iron, were used for washing. The water, soap, bleaching agents, & heat would cause iron to leach into the water, potentially ruining delicate linen fabric.

Soap was rubbed over stains & soil, but not added to the water. Items of the highest quality were washed 1st; when the water was cleanest.

Washerwomen agitated the clothes by hand, stirring them in the water or scrubbing them with laundry bats, flat wooden paddles with ridges.

Usually, once cleaned, the clothes would be rinsed in separate water. To keep the fine white fabrics of shirts, shifts, & tablecloths white, sometimes a bluing powder would be added to the water. A bluing powder, made of indigo, would counteract the yellowing of the fabric & make it look whiter. (See: Dunbar, James. Smegmatalogia, or the art of making potashes and soap, and bleaching of linen. By which the industrious farmer is taught to bleach and wash his cloath with the produce of our own country. United Kingdom: the author, 1736.)

To dry, items could be hung over drying racks indoors or spread out on the grass outdoors on warm, dry days.

Once dry, the process of ironing would begin. Ironing required experience & skill: the laundress managed the temperature of at least 3 irons. When one grew too cool, another would be ready for use, hot but not hot enough to burn the fabric.

Finally, the laundry would be folded with the assistance of the housemaids & distributed to the closets of the house & outbuildings.

Much of this research & more are available from George Washington's (1732-1799) home Mount Vernon's website, You can donate to their excellent efforts directly from their website. Please do. 

Women's Work - Doing Laundry in the 15-18C

A Laundress on the Beach, The Decameron, Manuscript 5070. 1432. Arsenal, Paris. 

Soap, mainly soft soap made from ash lye & animal fat, was used by washerwomen supplied by their masters or employers. Soap was rarely used by the poorest people in medieval times but by the 18C soap was fairly widespread: sometimes kept for finer clothing & for tackling stains, not used for the whole wash. 
1736 Giacomo Ceruti (Italian painter, 1698-1767) The Laundress
1736-75 Richard Houston, after Philippe Mercier Domestik Employment 

A variety of preparations might be used on stained clothing. Chalk, brick dust, & pipe clay were used on greasy stains. Alcohol treated grass stains & kerosene, bloodstains. Milk was thought to remove urine stains & fruit. Urine, due to the ammonia content, was often used for bleaching as were lemon & onion juice.
1740 Pietro Longhi (French-born Italian artist, 1701-1785) The Laundress
1730 Jean Siméon Chardin (French artist, 1699-1779) The Laundress

Shakespeare calls a laundry basket a “buck basket.” The phrase might be related to the back-&-forth action of washing laundry, agitating water, soap, & clothes in a tub, not unlike the motion of a bucking horse. A buck was a tub for soaking or washing. And a small buck was a bucket.
1750s Henry Robert Morland (British artist, 1716-1797) A Lady’s Maid soaping Linen

Silk was cleaned by scourers, who fully cleaned gowns, usually only once a year. Mainly they spot-cleaned them, using salt, chalk, or fuller’s earth & solvents like turpentine, lemon juice, warm milk, or urine. The whole gown was not immersed in water or scrubbed. As a result, silk garments tended to last. They were loosely stitched, because sooner or later they would be taken apart & remodeled. In 1763, one of Martha Washington’s old dresses was sent to London to be retailored in a more contemporary style.
1768 Hubert Robert (French painter, 1733-1808) La Bievre

Washing clothes in the river is still the normal way of doing laundry in many parts of the world. Even in prosperous parts of the world riverside washing went on well into the 19C, or longer in rural areas - even when the river was frozen. Stains might be treated at home before being taken to the river. Women might take tools to the river to help the work: like a washing bat or a board to scrub on. 
1782 Camp Laundry. Robert Sayer & J. Bennett. London
1761 Jean-Baptiste Greuze (French painter, 1725-1805) The Laundress

This painting shows a rather well-dressed washerwoman with her utensils. She sits on two boards laid across the top of a buck. The buck’s unplugged hole drains away lye or dirty water. Behind her is a buck basket. Atop the cabinet are a large boiling copper and two earthenware pots. Two sheets dry on the line. And in the lower-left corner is her battledore, or bat, for hammering wet linen until it released its dirt.
1765 Henry Robert Morland (British artist, 1716-1797) A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen

As a rule, wool was dry-cleaned by people called fullers, who tackled stains on woolens using fuller’s earth, a clay that absorbs grease. They also used fuller’s teasel, a thistle, to rough up the fibers & mechanically shake away the offending dirt.
1770 Illustration from Basedow's Elementary Work

A 1770 inventory of the laundry at Williamsburg’s Governor’s Palace in colonial Virginia on the death of Governor Botetourt includes “2 Linnen Baskets, 3 Washing Tubs, 3 Rensing Tubs, 2 pails, 1 Large Iron pot, 1 Large Boyling Copper. ”
1750-80 Mrs Grosvenor Laundry Woman to the Queen  Unknown British Artist

Soaking laundry in lye, cold or hot, was an important way of tackling white & off-white cloth. It was called bucking, & aimed to whiten as well as cleanse. Colored fabrics were seldom used for basic items like sheets & shirts. Ashes & urine were the most important substances for mixing a good "lye" to remove stains & encourage a white color, these acted as de-greasing agents.
1760-70 Nicolo Cavalli (Italian artist, 1730-1832) La Lavandaja

Bucking involved lengthy soaking & was not a weekly wash. Until the idea of a once-a-week wash developed, people tended to have a big laundry session at intervals of several weeks or even months. Many women had agricultural & food preparation duties that would make it impossible for them to "waste" time on hours of laundry work every week. 
1750-80 Miss White Clear Starcher to the Queen Unknown British artist

Starch & bluing were available for better quality linen & clothing. A visitor to England just before 1700 sounded a little surprised at how much soap was used in London: "At London, & in all other Great Britain where they do not burn Wood, they do not make Lye. All their Linnen, coarse & fine, is wash'd with Soap. When you are in a Place where the Linnen can be rinc'd in any large Water, the Stink of the black Soap is almost all clear'd away." M. Misson's Memoirs & Observations in his Travels over England (published in French, 1698)
1774 Henry Robert (British artist c 1716-1797) Laundry Maid (after Moreland)

In most cases, that source was a brigade of servants or slaves who trudged to a nearby well or stream. But in the basement laundry in the colonial Virginia Wren Building at Williamsburg’s College of William & Mary, water was drawn from a well in the center of the room.
1750s Henry Robert Morland (British painter, 1716-1797)  Woman Ironing

Blacksmiths started forging simple flat irons in the late Middle Ages. Plain metal irons were heated by a fire or on a stove. Some were made of stone, like soapstone irons from Italy. Earthenware & terracotta iroms were also used, from the Middle East to France & the Netherlands.

Flat irons were also called sad irons or smoothing irons. Metal handles had to be gripped in a pad or thick rag. Some irons had cool wooden handles. This stayed cool while the metal bases were heated & the idea was widely imitated.  Cool handles stayed even cooler in "asbestos sad irons." The sad in sad iron (or sadiron) is an old word for solid. Goose or tailor's goose was another iron name, & this came from the goose-neck curve in some handles. In Scotland, people spoke of gusing (goosing) irons.

Many 2 irons for an effective system: one in use, & one re-heating. Large households with servants or slaves might have used a special ironing-stove for this purpose. Some were fitted with slots for several irons, & others might have water-jug on top.
1800 Louis Leopold Boily (French painter, 1761-1845) Young Woman Ironing

Box irons, charcoal irons used the base of the iron as a container for putting glowing coals inside it & keep it hot a bit longer.  Notice the hinged lid & the air holes to allow the charcoal to keep smouldering. These are sometimes called ironing boxes, or charcoal box irons, & may come with their own stand.

For centuries charcoal irons have been used in many different countries. When they had a funnel to keep smokey smells away from the cloth, they were sometimes called chimney irons.  Today charcoal irons are manufactured in Asia & also used in much of Africa. 
1750s Henry Robert Morland (British artist, 1716-1797) A Girl Ironing Shirt Sleeves

Some irons were shallower boxes & had fitted "slugs" or "heaters" - slabs of metal - which were heated in the fire & inserted into the base instead of charcoal. It was easier to keep the ironing surface spotlessly clean, away from the fuel, than with flatirons or charcoal irons. 

Brick inserts could be used for a longer-lasting, less intense heat. These are box or slug irons, were also called ironing boxes. In some countries they are called ox-tongue irons after a particular shape of insert. 
 1785 Henry Robert Morland (British artist, 1716-1797) Laundry Maid Ironing

At home, ironing traditional fabrics was a hot, arduous job. Irons had to be kept immaculately clean, sand-papered, & polished. They must be kept away from burning fuel, & be regularly but lightly greased to avoid rusting. Beeswax prevented irons sticking to starched cloth. Constant care was needed over temperature. Experience would help decide when the iron was hot enough, but not so hot that it would scorch the cloth. A well-known test was spitting on the hot metal, but Charles Dickens described someone with a more genteel technique in The Old Curiosity Shop. The ironer held "the iron at an alarmingly short distance from her cheek, to test its temperature..."

The 1770 inventory of the laundry at Williamsburg’s Governor’s Palace in colonial Virginia on the death of Governor Botetourt includes owned “5 Flat Irons, 2 Box Irons, with one Heater to each, 2 Iron Stands, 1 pr of Tongs” The ironing would have been done on Botetourt’s “2 pine Tables,” which were probably padded with his “2 Ironing Cloaths,” wool blankets perhaps pinned to tabletops. 

The inventory of the Palace laundry says that Botetourt had “4 Mangle Cloaths, 1 Mangle.” This was a sort of ironing machine that was coming into use in the late 18C. Also called a box mangle, it was a box of stones resting on 2 large cylinders. When it was rolled across carefully folded items of washing that had been tucked inside the clean mangle cloths, many items could be smoothed and ironed at once.
Women washing clothes in a river, spreading them to dry in the fields alongside and hanging them from a rack, Splendor Solis, Harley 3469, fol. 32v. 1582. British Library, London.  

Wash or the Great Wash were names for the irregular "spring cleaning" of laundry. Soaking in lye & bucking in large wooden bucking tubs were similar to processes used in textile manufacturing. So was the next stage - drying & bleaching clothes & fabrics out of doors. Sunshine helped bleach off-white cloth while drying it. Sometimes cloth was sprinkled at intervals with water &/or a dash of lye to lengthen the process & enhance bleaching.

Towns, larger estate houses, & weavers often had an area of mown grass set aside as a bleaching ground, or drying green, where household linens & clothing could be spread on grass in the daylight. Early settlers in North America established communal bleaching areas like those in European towns & villages. Both washing & drying were often public or local group activities.
Pieter de Hooch  (1629–after 1684 ) A Woman & Child in a Bleaching Ground 1657-1659 Betail Private collection

People also dried clothes by spreading them on bushes in Europe & the North American colonies. Outdoor wooden drying frames & clotheslines are seen in a few paintings from the 16C, but most people would have spread laundry out to dry on grass, hedgerows etc. Clothes pins appear to have been rare before the 18C. 

Drying the laundry in sunshine was, among other things, an effective way of bleaching linen & keeping it white. Spreading laundry on grass, bushes or washing lines out of doors meant there was a risk of having it stolen. In Britain. thieves of white clothes & household linen were sometimes called "snow gatherers."

Well-to-do 17C households were advised that box or privet (primp) hedges were good for drying. They could be clipped to have a "smooth & level" surface. "...a border of Primpe, Boxe, Lauandar, Rose-mary, or such like, but Primpe or Boxe is the best, & it was set thicke, at least eightéene inches broad at the bottome & being kept with cliping both smooth & leuell on the toppe & on each side, those borders as they were ornaments so were they also very profitable to the huswife for the drying of linnen cloaths, yarne, & such like: for the nature of Boxe & Primpe being to grow like a hedge, strong & thicke, together, the Gardiner, with his sheares, may kéepe it as broad & plaine as himselfe listeth." See: Gervase Markham, The English Husbandman, 1613
George Moreland 1792 Drying clothes on Branches of Trees 

In his 1745 Directions to Servants, Jonathan Swift suggests that “the place for hanging” laundry “is on young Fruit Trees, especially in Blossom; the Linnen cannot be torn, and the Trees give them a fine Smell.”  ... “When your Linnen is pinned on the Line, or on a Hedge, and it rains, whip it off, although you tear it, &c. ”

London lawyer  Roger North liked hedges better thja tree limbs. He set down his thoughts on buildings, gardens, & housekeeping in a long manuscript called “Cursory Notes of Building,” which he wrote after the completion of building his country house at Rougham, Norfolk, England in 1698.  For the best clothes drying, North wxplained, “Hedges of prim are best; thorn tears linen, and box is of slow growth, and not sweet.” By “prim” he meant privet. 

Janet Schaw, an Englishwoman, liked little or nothing about the washing methods in early America. She observed laundry being done in Wilmington, NC in 1776.  She wrote that “all the cloaths coarse and fine, bed and table linen, lawns, cambricks and muslins, chints, checks, all are promiscuously thrown into a copper with a quantity of water and a large piece of soap.  This is set a boiling, while a Negro wench turns them over with a stick.”..."This operation [boiling] over, they are taken out, squeezed, & thrown over the Pales to dry. They use no calendar; they are however much better smoothed when washed.  Mrs Miller showed them [how to wash linen] by bleaching those of Miss Rutherfurd, my brother & mine, how different a little labour made them appear, & indeed the power of the sun was extremely apparent in the immediate recovery of some bed & table-linen, that has been so ruined by sea-water that I thought them irrecoverably lost." 

Schaw also noted that North Carolinians were the “worst washers of linen I ever saw, and tho’ it be the country of indigo, they never use blue, nor allow the sun to look at them.”  See: Janet Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776, eds, Evangeline Walker Andrews and Charles McLean Andrews,  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921)

University of Maryland English Professor Michael Olmert, who integrates art, architecture, & archaeology into his literature & drama classes, says that in England & America, the large country & town houses often  had dedicated laundry outbuildings, or at least a separate room with a large hearth, dedicated to cleaning and repairing clothes and all sorts of fabrics. Its basic elements were a hearth, space to manipulate the vast copper tubs of hot water, dressers or tables for ironing, ropes or racks overhead for drying, & a source of water. 

Professor Olmert tells us that in Calvert County, Maryland, a 1711 house is listed as having an outside laundry, according to a probate inventory from 1715. 

As with the kitchen in America, the laundry moved out of the main house as the 18C wore on. Originally, most people had washed their clothes in the room where they cooked & lived. But in elite households, both operations moved outside to a separate one-room structure, in which laundering & cooking were once again done at the same hearth.

At the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, although entirely demolished, the archaeology of the site discovered a laundry building was made of brick & had a basement with a paved floor. The site also had a catchment for wash water, & the floor had brick drains connected to a drainage system that ran from the Palace down to the garden canal.

In Williamsburg, all that remained of the original Tayloe House laundry was a decayed brick foundation that indicated a large chimney & a brick entrance platform where a door would have been. Although there was no record of what the 16-by-12 foot building looked like above ground, it is clear it was framed, to judge by the narrow 8-3/4 inch width of the old foundation; heavier, brick structures have more substantial roots. The reconstruction was given the simplest of roofs, a typical gable-end A-frame with forty-five-degree slope. Colonial precedent was used for the details of weatherboarding, cornice, windows, & shutters. Mainly, the design was meant to match other Tayloe buildings. The paneled door was copied from a number of existing Tayloe doors: six-paneled, but with the paneling on one side. It is a workaday structure.

A laundry near a kitchen appears in 1770s Williamsburg in colonial Virginia, The ledger of Williamsburg builder Humphrey Harwood shows that October 9, 1777, he was paid 19 shillings for whitewashing the kitchen & laundry of printer Alexander Purdie. On May 14, 1783, Harwood got 12 shillings for repairing the plaster in the kitchen & laundry of Susanna Riddell. Before she died in December 1785, Riddell lived on Francis Street. Her home is gone, but the archaeological report on her kitchen site indicates it had 2 rooms & was likely a kitchen-laundry. Riddell also rented the Everard House in Williamsburg & its brick laundry, a separate building with a massive chimney & attic. On July 13, 1784, Humphrey Harwood got another 7s 6p for whitewashing the Riddell laundry.

The Nicholas-Tyler Laundry & its matching office fronted Francis Street, according to the Frenchman’s Map, the 18C military map detailing Williamsburg’s structures. An 1820 insurance plat shows the building & lists it as “wood, one story, 16 x 36’, valued at $400.” The laundry was pulled down in the mid-19C century & was reconstructed on its original footprint in 1931 & 1940.

Professor Olmert notes that in Williamsburg, Virginia, Wetherburn’s Tavern (& laundry) was a combination kitchen-laundry, servicing an ordinary that catered to overnight guests as well as townies out for a meal, a drink, a chat, & a card game. Wetherburn’s estate inventory says he owned 20 pairs of sheets, 19 pillowcases, 18 tablecloths, 27 napkins, & 17 towels. He also had 12 very busy slaves.

In Annapolis, Maryland, the 1739 Ogle Hall had a “brick kitchen & laundry 16 by 32” feet, according to the United States Direct Tax of 1798. 

In Lunenberg County, Virginia, Cumberland Parish built a 28-by-16-foot kitchen-laundry that must have been a two-room structure, because the vestry book stipulates the kitchen floor is to be tiled, while the laundry floor is “to be layd with Plank." The entry requires the laundry walls to be “lath’d & plastered.” 

An elegant two-room laundry still exists at 1739’s Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia, made of brick & plastered throughout.

Olmert's observations are verified beginning in the 1750s up to the Revolution, when colonial American houses with combination kitchens & laundries appeared for sale ads in regional newspapers.

The PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE. September 22, 1757
To be exceeding good large Brick Dwelling house, in the Town of Newcastle, almost opposite to the Court house, a fine Garden and Lot thereto adjoining, with an excellent Laundry , Kitchen, Stable, Chaise house, and other Houses thereto belonging, a large commodious Cellar under the whole House...John Land 

A BEAUTIFUL tract of LAND, situated on Rappahannock river, about half a mile below Port Royal , containing 700 acres, on which is a very good brick house one story high, 4 rooms and 3 closets on the lower floor, and 2 above, a good cellar under it, a portico 52 feet long and 8 wide facing the river, a 12 foot porch on the front side, a good kitchen and laundry with a brick chimney, a garden 200 feet square paled in with sewed pales, poplar rails, and cedar posts

I PURPOSE to reside in the county of Culpeper , as soon as I can sell my habitation and estate in and near Fredericksburg for near its value. I therefore now offer it for sale; and, although the great worth of it is well known, yet it may not be amiss to describe it, that it may be more generally known. The dwelling-house is very pleasantly situated on the main street, in a retired part of the town, and near the river, where a ship may lie close to the shore. There are three very good rooms, a large airy passage, and two large closets, below stairs, and three commodious dry cellars, with stone walls; and up stairs are four good chambers, with three fire-places, and a large closet. The out-houses are, a new built kitchen and laundry under one roof, with two good white limed rooms and fire-placed above stairs, two other common kitchens for servants to lodge in, two diaries, one of them built with freestone, with several steps under ground; there are many other conveniences, such as a smokehouse, hen houses, a well of water, and several yards wood, fowls, &c. a large coach house, with stables at each end, and two other stables and a large stable yard, and cooper's and shoemaker's shop. These improvements are fixed on three lots and a half of ground, consisting of half an acre each; the garden contains an acre of ground, is well paled in with locust posts, and the north west end has a high freestone wall, and is well stocked with fruits and every thing necessary for a family...Roger Dixon

I plantation, handsomely situated on Corotoman river, containing about 400 acres, on which is a large and very commodious dwelling-house, above 50 feet long and 30 wide, with six good rooms and a fireplace to each, five closets, two large passages, and cellars under the whole, in three rooms. There is another house divided into a kitchen and laundry, with lodging rooms above, also a neat dairy and meat house, all new, and handsomely finished, and several outhouses. There are two very good springs, and fish and oysters very convenient, besides good landings, and water for vessels of any burthen...James Waddel

I will dispose of the Tract of LAND whereon I live, containing about 820 Acres, six Miles from Petersburg , mostly very level, good Wheat and Corn Land, as may appear from the present crop of fifty Acres sown in Wheat; it is well timbered with Pine, White and Red Oak, has on it a new Dwelling-House 32 Feet by 18, neatly finished, good Cellars, a new Kitchen and Laundry 36 Feet by 18...Duncan Rose

Publication: THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE. December 8, 1774
THE purchase I lately made of Warner Washington , Esq; consisting of an exceeding good Brick House with five Windows in Front, a very good Kitchen and Laundry , Coach House and Stables (the Latter entirely new) Negro Quarters, &c. together with 2000 Acres of Land, more or less, whereof about 500 Acres adjoin to the House...Jonathn Watson

THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE 3.  January 17, 1777
I HAVE for sale a valuable plantation, on Nottoway river, adjacent to Freeman's bridge, about 500 acres, whereon is a dwelling-house, with two rooms below and two above, with a passage on each floor underpinned and brick chimnies, and a cellar under the whole, a kitchen and laundry , of the whole building underpinned, and a stack of chimnies in the middle...Augustine Claiborne

THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE 3. April 18, 1777
For SALE , EIGHT valuable lots in the town of Fredericksburg , on which are the following improvements, viz. A large and commodious brick dwelling-house, two stories high, with five rooms on a floor, and a good cellar, a kitchen, laundry , wash house, meat house, dairy, joiner's shop, stable, coach house, and granary; also a brick storehouse and warehouse convenient, well situated for trade, being on them in street. Four of those lots are well improved with a good falling garden, &c. , the others are under a good enclosure...Edward Carter

Port Royal. TO BE SOLD...a valuable House on the Market Square in this City, with 4 handsome Rooms below neatly papered, and a Fire Place in each, with 3 Closets, and 6 Rooms above, with dry Cellars under the Whole, a good Kitchen and Laundry , with Closets, a Brick Dairy, Corn House, Smokehouse, Stable, and Coach Houses, with a Flower and Kitchen Garden, well paled in; also a small House adjoining, with 2 Rooms and Fire Places, a good Cellar, and Yard...John Baker

Even the early decades of the 19C saw the kitchen & the laundry combined in an outbuilding in Washington, DC, where the Octagon House had a separate wood-frame laundry built in 1817. Writing in 1870, a family member said the structure was “a two story house for the laundry & servant rooms.”


“Fuller’s earth”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc.,

Leed, Drea. “Ye Shall Have It Clene” : Textile Cleaning Techniques in Renaissance Europe. In Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Eds), Medieval Clothing and Textiles 2. Woodbridge, UK Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2006.

Markham, Gervase. The English Houswife : Containing the Inward and Outward Vertues Which Ought to Be in a Compleat Woman: As Her Skill in Physick, Surgery, Cookery, Extraction of Oyls, Banquetting Stuff, Ordering of Great Feasts, Preserving of All Sorts of Wines, Conceited Secrets, Distillations, Perfumes, Ordering of Wool, Hemp, Flax: Making Cloth and Dying; the Knowldege of Dayries: Office of Malting; of Oats, Their Excellent Uses in a Family: Af Brewing, Baking and All Other Things Belonging to an Houshold. a Work Generally Approved, and Now the Eighth Time Much Augmented, Purged, and Made Most Profitable and Necessary for All Men, and the General Good of This Nation. London: Printed By I.B. for R. Jackson, 1615. 

Sim, Alison. The Tudor Housewife. The History Press: Stroud, 1996. 

Wheeler, Jo. Renaissance Secrets, Recipes & Formulas. London New York: Victoria and Albert Museum. Harry N. Abrams, 2009. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

18C Women + their Families & Friends by Henry Benbridge 1743-1812

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Margaret Cantey (Mrs. John Peyre).

Henry Benbridge (1744–1812), early American portrait painter, was born in Philadelphia, the only child of James & Mary (Clark) Benbridge. When he was 7 years old, his widowed mother married Thomas Gordon, a wealthy Scot. The boy's artistic talent was encouraged, as he made decorative designs for his stepfather's drawing-room.

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Gordon Family (his stepfather & mother Mary Clark Benbridge Gordon) 1763-65

When he was 21, Benbridge was sent to Italy, where he studied with Pompeo Batoni & Anton Raphael Mengs. From there he journeyed to London before returning to Philadelphia. Like other young Americans he was encouraged by Benjamin West. He wrote, on December 7, 1769, to his stepfather: "Upon my arrival I waited upon Mr. West who received me with a sort of brotherly affection, as did my cousin, Mrs. West." 

He left England in 1770, bearing from West the following note of recommendation to Francis Hopkinson: "By Mr. Benbridge you will receive these few lines. You will find him an Ingenous artist and an agreeable Companion. His merit in the art must procure him great incouragement and much esteem. I deare say it will give you great pleasure to have an ingenous artist resident amongst you."

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Mrs Charles Coteworth Pinckney Sarah Middleton Benbridge 1773

In Philadelphia, Benbridge married & was admitted to membership in the American Philosophical Society in 1771. Suffering from asthma & the cold of Philadelphia, he moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he succeeded Jeremiah Theus as the region's popular portrait painter. Around 1800 Benbridge relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, & made frequent visits to his native Philadelphia. At Norfolk he gave Thomas Sully his first lessons in oil painting. Earlier in Charleston, he had instructed Thomas Coram. Sully described his master as "a portly man of good address–gentlemanly in his deportment."

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Archibald Bulloch Family 1775

Benbridge, who had certainly seen the lastest opulent fashion trends, as he studied in Italy with Pompeo Batoni & in England with expatriate Benjamin West, had a distrust of the trendy fashionable. In 1770, when his sisters were nearing marrying age, Benbridge wrote his mother from London, that his sisters "should not refuse a good plain honest Country farmer if such a one should offer himself with tolerable good estate, for one of the town who perhaps may have a better taste for dress, but not more merit, if perhaps as much."

1784 Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Rachel Moore (Mrs. William Allston II).

When Benbridge had returned from Europe settling in Charlestown, South Carolina, to make a living painting portraits, he wrote to his sister Betsy in 1773, "Every kind of news here is very dull, the only thing attended to is dress and dissipation, & if I come in for a share of their superfluous Cash, I have no right to find fault with them, as it turns out to my advantage."

1790 Henry Benbridge (743-1812). Mary Boyer (Mrs. Robert Shewell).

In 1785, Benbridge, who loved the simple pleasures of gardening, was still worried about the too fancy dress of his son, Harry, whom Benbridge lovingly called "my little fellow." He wrote to his sister that he felt that his wife was dressing him in "too good things for a boy like him to wair, & likewise too many of them at once; he can't take care of them when he is at play & more common & Strong stuff in my Opinion would answer much better, & not fill his head with foolish notions of dress, which perhaps may be his bane."

1780s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Elizabeth Allston (Mrs. William H. Gibbes).

It is not surprising that Benbridge painted many of his female clients in dignified classical gowns looking serious, thoughtful, & restrained.

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Lady of the Middleton Family. 1780s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Enoch Edwards Family 1779

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Mrs Benjamin Simons 1771-76

Henry Bendridge (1743-1812). The Hartley Family. 1787

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Sarah White (Mrs. Isaac Chanler). 1770s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812 The Tannant Family 1770s

Attributed to Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Rebecca Lloyd (Mrs Edward Davies) 1770s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Mary Bryan Morel and Her Children c 17773

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Allegorical Portrait of young Sarah Flagg c 1774

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Mrs. Mumford Milner (Elizabeth Brewton) b 1786

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Rebecca Gordon (his half sister) 1770s

Henry Benbridge (1743-1812) Elizabeth Ann Timothy Mrs William Williamson c 1775-85

1770s Henry Benbridge (1743-1812). Charlotte Pepper (Mrs. James Gignilliat).