Thursday, November 30, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1770s-Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration the word Dutch is handwritten in pencil. Netherlands 

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

From Freedom of the Press to St Elizabeth Seaton - The complicated life of Elizabeth Becker Curson 1731-1787

1757 Thomas McIlworth (fl 1757-67). Elizabeth Becker (Mrs. Richard Curzon or Curson) 1731-1787. 


Elizabeth Rebecca Becker was born into a family of strong women, but she certainly was not born into elite colonial society. Elizabeth Becker was born in New York City in 1731, the daughter of Frederick Becker & his wife, Anna Catharina Zenger.  Elizabeth Becker's mother Anna Catharina Zenger had sailed to New York City from Germany with her family in 1710. The Zengers hailed from the Rhine section of Germany called the Palatinate, which had been impoverished by a succession of wars & extravagant local rulers.  In 1710, England's Queen Anne sent 3,000 Palatinate refugees to the colonies to establish naval stores in New York. In return for 7 years of labor, the emigrants were promised grants of land. Unfortunately 25 % died during the 2 month voyage. Among the dead was the father of Anna Catharina Zenger. She survived the voyage with her newly widowed mother, older brother 13-year-old John Peter; & her younger brother Johannes. Anna Catharina's 33-year-old mother Johannah arrived in the new world a widow with 3 children to shelter & feed.  Anna Catharina married Frederick Becker in 1727, & their baby Elizabeth Becker would live through turbulent events that seemed to swirl about her throughout her life from the moment she was born.

Elizabeth Becker's uncle John Peter Zenger & his wife fight for Freedom of Speech
In 1711, the widow Zenger apprenticed her 14 year-old son John Peter to New York's only printer, William Bradford (1663-1752).  Completing his indenture in 1718, young Zenger moved to Chestertown, Maryland, to make his living as a printer. Though he was named to print the session laws of the Maryland state legislature, he did not prosper there; & in 1722, he returned to New York. The industrious young Zenger entered into a partnership with his old master Bradford in 1725, leaving just the next year to start his own print shop, only the second in the city of New York.  For several years, Zenger was active printing mostly German religious tracts until, in 1733, he was approached by James Alexander with the opportunity to print America's first political party newspaper, the New York Weekly Journal. James Alexander, a native of Scotland, had emigrated to New York, where he practiced law & became a leading member of the popular party.

The same year that Elizabeth Becker was born, the English appointed William Cosby as Governor of New York after removing him from a similar post in the Leeward Islands amid serious controversies. New York was faction-ridden. A brief period of peace ended in 1732, with the arrival of the tainted new governor, who intended to use the post to enhance his own fortunes. Shortly after arriving in New York, the new English Governor fired the Chief Justice, Lewis Morris, for having the grit to decide against him in a lawsuit. After the new governor removed the Chief Justice, attempted to fix an election, & accepted questionable honorariums, John Peter Zenger agreed to print anonymously James Alexander's attacks on Cosby's administration.  These newspaper revelations so enraged the colonial governor, that he had Zenger imprisoned. Zenger was formally accused of libeling the Governor. Zenger endured nearly 9 harrowing months in New York City's jail refusing to identify Alexander or any of his sources for the offending articles.
Trial of John Zenger

Elizabeth Becker's aunt, Zenger's wife Anna, took over publishing the newspaper. With her husband in jail
 & young children underfoot, Anna Zenger somehow managed to keep the New York Weekly Journal publishing, missing only one issue.  Because of her stubborn determination, the uninterrupted publication of the newspaper helped build public support for Zenger's plight. In 1735, Zenger's lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, argued that the newspaper articles could not be libelous, because the accusations against Governor Cosby were true. Zenger's attorney Hamilton challenged the constitutionality of the crimes for which his client was being prosecuted. It was one of the first times in American history in which a lawyer challenged the laws rather than the innocence of his clients.  The jury found Zenger not guilty, & the acquittal set an important precedent for American freedom of the press. Released from jail, Zenger immediately wrote A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger telling the story of the court case.

Elizabeth Becker's Marriage
When Zenger's neice, Elizabeth Becker turned 16, she met an exciting young Londoner Richard Curson (1726-1805) soon after he immigrated to New York City in 1747. Curson was 21; & after a whirlwind romance, they married in December of 1747. Newlyweds Richard & Elizabeth sailed back to England, so that the new bride could meet his family. His father, Samuel Curson III, was a successful London wine merchant with extensive business contacts in Italy & Spain. While young Elizabeth was in England with her new groom, she survived a vicious attack of smallpox leaving her severely permanently disfigured. Longing for the comfort of her family in the American colonies, Elizabeth & Richard returned to New York City in 1756, where Richard used his family's extensive contacts throughout England, Europe, the Atlantic region to became a prominent merchant & banker.  By 1763, when Elizabeth was 32, she had given birth to 4 children who lived to adulthood: Rebecca, Samuel, Anna Maria, & Richard. Her husband's mercantile career was flourishing by the early 1770s. One of his companies had offices in both New York City & St. Eustatius in the Dutch West Indies. He was trading silks, flour, corn, gunpowder, fish, wines, slaves, tobacco, & rice in ships he was having built as far away as India.  But the war & the arrival of the British interrupted Elizabeth & Richard's success in New York City. The Curson's took their youngest son Richard Jr. & fled New York City in June of 1776, to avoid possible capture by the British; because of their open sympathy for the revolution. By June, 1777, they had settled in the safer port of Baltimore, Maryland, where Richard established a new mercantile firm operating from 1777-1803.  While importing goods & wines from the Caribbean, Italy, & Spain, Richard, Sr., also used 8 of his ships as privateers to run the British blockade & attack the enemy vessels during the American Revolution. Elizabeth Becker & Richard Curson thrived in Baltimore, becoming friends with Thomas Jefferson, Light Horse Harry Lee, General Horatio Gates, & Daniel Dulany.

Elizabeth Becker Curson's Children
Elizabeth Becker Curson did not fret about finances, she worried about her children -- with good reason.  Because of his sympathy for the revolution, the family's oldest son Samuel had moved to St. Eustatius in the Dutch West Indies by March, 1776, establishing a mercantile company there. When it was safe in 1780, the young Corson returned to New York City.  In 1784, an uncle in England, left 3,000 pounds to his grandnephew Samuel Curson of New York City, who used his windfall inheritance to travel extensively throughout Europe & England. By July, 1785, Samuel had established his own business in New York. His American future looked bright; but in 1785, young Samuel Curson unexpectedly applied to the U.S. Congress for the position of U.S. Consul in London.  Apparently during his travels in England in 1784, he had fathered an illegitimate son with Betsy Burling who soon after married Richard John Whittell of England, a 1st cousin of Samuel Curson. Betsy's new husband tried to blackmail the wealthy American Curson family from England. Betsy's brother (or possibly her new husband posing as her brother) Walter Burling determined that he needed to be much closer to the situation, & he actually moved to Baltimore.  Walter Burling persistently continued to seek monetary satisfaction for the illegitimate child from young Samuel & from his parents.  He physically pursued Samuel Curson from the West Indies to London & finally back to America. In New York, on April 21, 1786, Burling challenged Curson to a duel, in which Samuel received a fatal wound dying 3 days later.  Elizabeth Becker's final living son, Richard Curson, Jr., was born on 1763 in New York, & fled to Baltimore, in 1777, with his parents. In 1784, he married Elizabeth Moale, had 3 children who lived to maturity, & lived at his parents' home until 1803. Elizabeth had worried about this son Richard for years. He was in ailing health & suffered from a spinal disease since early childhood.  In 1787, Elizabeth Becker Curson died & was buried at Old Saint Paul's Episcopal Church Cemetery in Baltimore. In 1805, Richard Curson Sr. died & was buried next to his wife.  The following year, their son Richard was declared a lunatic by the Chancery Court of Maryland. The custody of his person & property were given to Samuel Vincent, who had administered the estate for the elder Curson & his wife, Elizabeth Becker Curson. Richard Jr. died on June 14, 1808, & was buried next to his parents in Baltimore.  

Elizabeth Becker Curson's Granddaughter becomes a Saint
By 1786, Elizabeth Becker Curson had 13 grandchildren in America; one of her sons had been shot to death; one of her grown daughters died from childbearing; & the remaining daughter was married & raising both her own 7 children plus the 6 children of her deceased sister. Daughter Rebecca Curson had married William Seton (1746-1798) in 1767 in New York; & when she died in 1775, the newly widowed William Seton married her sister Anna Maria Curson in 1776.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)

Elizabeth Becker's grandson, her deceased daughter Rebecca Courson Seton's firstborn son William Seton (1768-1803), married another strong, determined woman, Elizabeth Ann Baley (1774-1821). She converted to Roman Catholicism; founded the American Sisters of Charity (the first sisterhood native to the United States); & was a wife, mother, widow, single parent, & educator. Elizabeth Bayley Seton was the first person born in the United States to become a canonized saint.

Monday, November 27, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1770s-Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration the word Dutch is handwritten in pencil. Netherlands 

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton 1759-1846, poet, humiliated child, betrayed wife, + a snarky John Adams

Gilbert Stuart Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp)

Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton (1759-1846) was an early American poet whose published work of the 1790s, received praise of her contemporaries, who called her "the American Sappho" after the Greek lyric poetess.  But her life was anything but lyrical.  She felt humiliated as a child, when her father was accused of having Tory tendencies.  Her carefully chosen, popular, politically-correct, patriotic husband had an affair with her younger sister right in their home, resulting in the birth of a little girl.  Her sister wrote her a letter of apology just before taking her own life.  Once again, Sarah was the focus of a huge scandal in her community.  John Adams chose to defend her husband from any culpability in her sister’s suicide.  And her husband was found guiltless.  Yes, the husband had an affair with her younger sister which produced a child, before she committed suicide; but the older husband should be forgiven & all should be forgotten. It was the male dominated 18C; and after-all, men will be men.  John Adams then recommended that the family -- her husband, her father, her brother, & herself  -- restore “peace & harmony between them…again to embrace in friendship & affection.”  The clever, patriot husband went on to become a political leader in the state.  Sarah did as she was told & reunited with him until his death in 1837.


Sarah was born in Boston, Mass., the 3rd daughter of 10 children of James & Sarah (Wentworth) Apthorp.  Her father, a 3rd generation British American of Welsh ancestry, was a well-to-do Boston merchant, as was her mother’s father, Samuel Wentworth, who came to Boston from a distinguished New Hampshire family. 

Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp) c 1802,

Until age 10, Sarah lived in the Charles Apthorp mansion on King Street (later State Street) in Boston.  Her parents then moved to Braintree, MA, where she lived until her marriage.  At this time, Braintree was the home community of the prominent Adams, Quincy, & Hancock families.  Braintree provided access to the social & cultural aspects of Boston, with the addition of rural beauty, which Sarah often celebrated later in poems.  
In Braintree, the Apthorps attended the Episcopal Christ Church, which was associated with Loyalists at the beginning of the Revolution. Town records of June 1777, list her father James Apthorp among persons suspected of being "inimical" to the colonial cause.  He & his family suffered great local unpopularity because of his suspected Tory sympathies.

In 1781, Sarah Apthop married Perez Morton, a popular, young, politically-correct, Boston lawyer & patriot, whose reputation would cement Sarah’s name among the patriots.  After graduating from Harvard in 1771, Perez Morton studied law & was admitted to the Massachusetts bar as an attorney in 1774. During the Revolution, he was a leading member of the Committee of Safety & the Committee of Correspondence. He was also an active Mason.  In April 1776, he was praised for his delivery of the funeral address for General Joseph Warren, a fellow Mason killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill.  
John Adam's wife Abigail wrote at the time, "A young fellow could not have wished a finer opportunity to display his talents."  In 1778, Perez Morton served as major & aide-de-camp to General Hancock in the Continental Army. 
  
In 1784, just 3 years after her marriage, Sarah Morton became mistress & manager of her ancestral home, Apthorp House, on State Street.  Here she hoped to put the Loyalist whispers of her past behind her & regain her natural place in the fashionable, aristocratic social life of a younger generation of Bostonians.  
James Brown Marston (American artist from Salem, MA, 1775-1817)  Painting of State Street or The Old State House 1801 The Apthorp mansion was the 2nd building from the right.

The newlywed Sarah's wishes for elite acceptance seemed to be coming true.  The Mortons became members of a prominent social circle. Along with the James Swans, Harrison Gray Otises, Isaac Winslows, & others, the Mortons formed a club in the winter of 1784–85 for playing cards & dancing. Although bets were limited to 25 cents, the group’s activities quickly were criticized in the newspaper. 


The society Sarah so desperately wanted became the target of ridicule & sarcasm. The Massachusetts Centinel (Boston), January 15, 1785, declared that the club was deemed "an Assembly so totally repugnant to virtue, as in its very name (Sans Souci, or free & easy )," & it was encouraged to disband.  Later, the club was satirized in a play, “Sans Souci, alias, Free & Easy:–Or, an Evening’s Peep in a Polite Circle. An entirely new entertainment in 3Acts, printed in late January 1785.”  In the play, the newlywed Mortons, who were identified as Mr. & Madam Importance, were portrayed as pompous, snobbish, & exclusive.


Apparently, neither her elite social activities, however, nor the birth of 5 children prevented Sarah from pouring her emotions into verse, which she had begun to do as a shunned young girl in Braintree.   Sarah & Perez had 4 daughters & a son.  Sarah Apthorp Morton (1782–1844), Anna Louisa Morton (1783–1843), Frances Wentworth Morton (1785–1831), & Charlotte Morton (1787–1819) lived to adulthood.  The only son to live beyond infancy, Charles Ward Apthorp Morton was born in 1786, & died in 1809. Another baby boy, born in April 1789, lived only 18 hours.

Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Mrs. Perez Morton (Sarah Wentworth Apthorp) c 1802,

In 1786, Sarah’s younger sister Frances "Fanny" Theodora Apthorp (1766–1788) had come to live with the Mortons in Boston. Fanny & the head of the house, Perez Morton, became lovers, while Sarah was expecting their 5th child in 6 years.  That child was Charlotte, born in September of 1787.  It would be their last. 
Shortly after Charlotte's birth, in the autumn of 1787, Fanny also gave birth to a daughter of Perez Morton.  Fanny & Perez apparently carried on their affair for nearly another year.  The Apthorp family was in an uproar.  Sarah & Fanny's brother James wanted to challenge Perez Morton to a duel.  Fanny’s diary & letters from August 1788, include instructions to Perez Morton to take care of her child "for you know in the sight of heaven you are the Father of it."  The day before Sarah's sister Fanny decided to take poison to end her life on August 28, 1788, instead of publicly confronting Perez Morton, as the sisters' father had requested, Fanny left a note begging forgiveness from her family, especially from her sister Sarah.  

Although Perez Morton was implicated by a jury in Fanny’s suicide, his friends John Adams (1735–1826) & James Bowdoin (1726–1790) defended him in the Massachusetts Centinel on October 7, 1788:  "...the accusations brought against a fellow citizen, in consequence of a late unhappy event, & which have been the cause of so much domestick calamity, & publick speculation, have...been...fully inquired into by their Excellencies James Bowdoin, &  John Adams, Esq’rs...the result of their inquiry is, that the said accusations are not, in any degree, supported.“  Criticism of Adams & Bowdoin’s defense & disregard of the jury’s findings appeared in the Herald of Freedom & the Federal Advertiser. 


The scandal gained strength with the announcement of the publication of one of the 1st American novels, The Power of Sympathy Or, the Triumph of Nature, in January 1789. Although the novel was set in Rhode Island, its plot was clearly the story of Fanny Apthorp & Perez Morton, whose name was only weakly disguised as "Mr. Martin."  The author clearly wanted to cash in on Sarah & her family’s tragedy.


The illicit affair & subsequent suicide seemed to have no ill effect on Perez Morton’s career as a professional politician. Morton, as a Democratic-Republican, was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in May 1794.  After he & his reunited wife Sarah moved to Dorchester, Perez was elected to the House of Representatives in 1803, & in 1806 was elected Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  He was appointed attorney general in 1811, & held the office for 20 years.


Soon after the emotionally debilitating scandal, Sarah Morton’s 1st published poem, "Invocation to Hope," appeared in the July 1789 issue of the recently established Massachusetts Magazine under the pseudonym "Constantina." 


Her subject matter was predominately patriotic, celebrating the new nation, its ideals, & its leaders. From 1789 to 1793, she contributed to the “Seat of the Muses” in the recently established Massachusetts Magazine, 1st under the pseudonym “Constantia” & later as “Philenia,” the pen name by which many of her generation came to know her.   


The often humiliated Sarah chose to champion the plight of Native Americans & African slaves. Her 1st long poem, Ouâbi or the Virtues of Nature, An Indian Tale. In Four Cantos, published in December 1790, was even hailed in London, where it inspired a 3-act play. Though Sarah claimed to depict authentic native customs, her fictional Indians reflected the currently accepted literary view, not real life in the American forest, & the virtues her Native Americans exhibited were in the “noble savage” tradition. However, her reviewers, both English & American, were comfortable with these traditional descriptions & greeted her work favorably. In choosing a subject “wholly American” Sarah Morton hoped to tap into the patriotic urge which immediately followed the Revolution. She still longed to be identified with the patriot cause.


Sarah expressed abolitionist views about slavery in America in a few poems, including "The African Chief," which appeared in the June 9, 1792, issue of the Columbian Centinel describing a slave’s decision to die in order to escape the horrors of the Middle Passage & slavery. The last stanza reflected the poem's examination of heroic death & suicide:

Let sorrow bathe each blushing cheek,
  Bend piteous o’er the tortured slave,
Whose wrongs compassion cannot speak,
  Whose only refuge was the grave.

In November 1792, Sarah chose to become one of the founders of the Boston Library Society.  Her literary interests also extended to the theater.  Both she & her husband were involved in repealing the 1750 colonial law entitled "An Act to prevent Stage Plays, & other Theatrical Entertainments," & her husband Perez Morton was a trustee & shareholder of the resulting Federal Street Theatre.

Portrait of Perez Morton. By Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. ca.1793-1814.

In Boston, Perez Morton, an elegant figure with polished manners, became a leader of the old Jacobin Club, which held meetings at the Green Dragon Tavern, & also became a decided Democrat. A political poet of Boston thus satirizes Perez Morton:

 " Perez, thou art in earnest, though some doubt thee ! 
  In truth, the Club could never do without thee ! 
 My reasons thus I give thee in a trice, — 
 You want their votes, and they want your advice ! 

" Thy tongue, shrewd Perez, favoring ears insures, — 

  The cash elicits, and the vote secures. 
  Thus the fat oyster, as the poet tells, 
 The lawyer ate, — his clients gained the shells." 

Contemporaries, who knew Sarah's identity, reading her 1794 poems "Marie Antoinette" & "Bativia" would know, that they were a blatant statement, that she did not share her husband’s pro-French sentiments. 

The sex, betrayal, & suicide scandal had made Sarah famous. Sarah’s verses, under a variety of loosely-held pseudonyms, continued to appear regularly in the Massachusetts Magazine’s "Seat of the Muses" column through 1793, as well as in the Boston Columbian Centinel until 1794. They were also reprinted in Philadelphia, New York, & New Hampshire journals. After the turn of the century, her poems appeared occasionally in the Monthly Anthology & Boston Review until 1807.  Hailed by fellow magazine poets as the “Sappho of America” & the “Mrs. Montagu of America,” she soon found entrée to other poetry corners in newspapers & magazines of the period.  


In 1797, Sarah Morton moved from Boston to nearby Dorchester, where she lived in the 1st house which she designed; & after 1808, the family took residence in Morton’s Pavilion, built by her husband.  During these years Sarah relished making her home a gathering place for the American literati & other distinguished visitors.  


Also in 1797, she published her poem, Beacon Hill. A Local Poem, Hsitoric & Descriptive, dedicated to the “Citizen Soldiers who fought, conquered, & retired under the Banners of Freedom & Washington.”  In the introduction to Beacon Hill, Sarah Morton defended her "application to literature...It is only amid the leisure & retirement, to which the sultry season is devoted," she wrote, "that I permit myself to hold converse with the Muses; nor does their enchantment ever allure me from one personal occupation, which my station renders bligatory; but those hours, which might otherwise be lost in dissipation, or sunk in languor, are alone resigned to the unoffending charms of Poetry & Science."


Sarah intended to publish Beacon Hill as the 1st segment of an ambitious larger work. "The apprehensive feelings of the author," Sarah Morton explained, "did not permit her at present to offer more than the first book."  The poem, dedicated to the Revolutionary soldiers who fought under George Washington, looks at the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the siege of Boston, & the Declaration of Independence & pays tribute to Washington & the Revolutionary leaders in each colony. 

William Bentley (1759–1819), pastor at Salem’s Second Congregational Church, wrote in his diary in November 1797, "The talk now about Mrs. Morton’s Poem, Beacon Hill, & it is said to exceed any poetic composition from a female pen. She is called the American Sappho.  Mr. Paine calls her so.  Besides Mr. Stearns is soon to publish The Lady’s Philosophy of Love, which they have begun to praise before they have seen it." 

However, The Reverend Mr. Bentley also voiced his doubts about the quality of the poetry; & it does not appear that Sarah Morton was encouraged to complete the other installments of "Beacon Hill," at least they were never found or published.  In 1799, she offered the companion piece, The Virtues of Society.  A Tale, Founded on Fact.


In 1823, Sarah Morton published a compilation of prose & poems in My Mind & Its Thoughts, in Sketches, Fragments, & Essays.   It was the 1st work to which she signed her own name.  In addition to new poems written to celebrate national & local events, the 1823 volume contained careful revisions of poems published earlier in newspapers or journals under her various pseudonyms. 
The book’s essays bounced from marriage, to physiognomy, to the sexes, to civility, & age. Sarah wrote in the introduction, "Thus occupied—with neither leisure, nor disposition, nor capacity to write a Book, there has always been opportunity to pen a thought, or to pencil a recollection." A list of subscribers at the end of the volume is topped by "John Adams, late President of the United States" & "His Excellency John Brooks, Governor of Massachusetts."  In total, 34 women & 125 men on this "subscribers" list were convinced to order copies of the book in advance of its publication. Many of the poems, such as "Stanzas To A Recently United Husband" or "Lamentations Of An Unfortunate Mother, Over The Tomb Of Her Only Son," are extremely personal & sad. Her "Apology" at the end of the text openly suggests that writing poetry brought her consolation from the many disappointments & grief she experienced in her life.

Perez Morton died in Dorchester on October 14, 1837, leaving all his real & personal estate to "my beloved wife Sarah Wentworth Morton."  After his death, Sarah moved from Dorcester back to the Braintree house,
 where she had lived as a child, when the family had been humiliated because of her father's Loyalist leanings.  Here she would come full circle to live out the rest of her life.

In 1846, Sarah died in Quincy, aged 86, & was buried in the Apthorp tomb in King’s Chapel, Boston.  None of her children survived her.  
Her will instructed, that she be interred in the Apthorp family vault in King’s Chapel.  She also requested that the remains of her daughter Frances Wentworth & her son, Charles, be re-interred in the family vault; so that she would have her "own remains between those of my two dearly beloved & lamented children."

By the time of her death, her fame as a poet had been mostly forgotten.  Not one of her obituaries in the Quincy Patriot, Boston Daily Mail, or Daily Evening Transcript made any mention of her literary career.  Without an ounce of compassion, they noted simply, that she was the widow of the late "Honorable" Perez Morton. The extant ledgers of the Boston Library Society attest to the numerous books she read as the years passed; & the inventory of her estate compiled at her death contains more than 250 books, including 20 volumes of Shakespeare & 9 volumes of Pope.  



This posting also based in part on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971 

Friday, November 24, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1770s-Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration the word Dutch is handwritten in pencil. Netherlands 

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

18C Women in Business - Lighthouse Keeper Hannah Thomas 1731-1819

The Gurnet, a 27 acre peninsula forming the northern boundary of Plymouth Bay, is located a few miles northeast of Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims knew the land as “the gurnett’s nose,” apparently naming the area for similar headlands in the English Channel, where the gurnet fish flourished along Devonshire’s shores. When Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1606, to map the Gurnet and Clark’s Island, he found thick pine forests & Native Americans fishing for cod using lines made of tree bark with wooden fish hooks to which a spear-shaped bone was attached.
Lighthouse at Plymouth (Gurnet), now Saquish Beach, MA.  The Gurnet became part of Plymouth on January 7, 1638. By the 1770s, 75 fishing vessels were based in the area, and at one point, Duxbury was one of the world’s leading shipbuilding enters. Under the direction of the Massachusetts Legislature, the first Plymouth Lighthouse, a wooden keeper’s dwelling measuring 15 by 30 feet, equipped with a lantern at each end of its roof, was completed in September 1768 at a cost of £660. The twin lights, exhibited at a height of 86 feet above the sea, distinguished the station from the single light used at Boston.
Gen John Thomas (1724-1776) Husband of Hannah Thomas (1731-1819). He was born in 1724. Marshfield Plymouth County Massachusetts, & died Jun. 2, 1776. Chambly Monteregie Region Quebec, Canada.

The lighthouse was built on land rented for 5 shillings a year from Dr John & Hannah Thomas. Hannah Thomas was born on April 20, 1731, in Middleborough, Plymouth, Massachusetts. She married Dr John Thomas in 1761.  Originally, the lighthouse built on their property had 2 towers which were first lit in 1769. Dr John Thomas was appointed the keeper of both lighthouses, since the towers were constructed on his land.  John, a surgeon, the 1st keeper served, until he joined the Continental Army. He recruited a regiment of volunteers from Plymouth County to help repel the British in the Siege of Boston, & then served as a major general leading troops in Quebec, where he died of small pox on June 2, 1776. Along with raising their 3 children, his widow Hannah took over John’s lighthouse post, making her the first woman lighthouse keeper in America.  

It is said that in 1776, after Fort Andrew was erected at Gurnet Point, the H.M.S. Niger reportedly sailed around the Gurnet toward Plymouth Harbor, exchanging fire with the fort’s 6-cannon battery and, many believe, destroying one of the lighthouse beacons in the process.

Plymouth’s worst shipwreck occurred in 1778, when the American privateer General Arnold was trapped in a blizzard less than a mile from Plymouth Light. Choosing to forego the risk of entering Plymouth’s inner harbor without a pilot, the captain dropped anchor hoping to ride out the storm. As the gale rose to hurricane force, the vessel drug anchor running aground on White Flats. Before residents of the Gurnet could construct a causeway over the ice to reach the stranded vessel, 72 of the its crew of just over 100 froze to death in view of the light.

After the American Revolution, the lighthouse was refurbished & put back in service with Hannah Thomas as keeper.  The prevailing work at a lighthouse included tending the light; cleaning lighthouse instruments & buildings; & keeping records of supplies; all traditional women’s work. Women had long been associated with maintaining the lights & fires within a home. This female task was noted in ancient Greece where the goddess “Hestia stays at home on Mount Olympus to keep the fires alight.” During the Early American Republic, women continued the practice of maintaining fires for cooking & warmth, as well as candles & lamps for illumination.

Hundreds of American women have kept the lamps burning in lighthouses since Hannah Thomas tended Gurnet Point Light from 1776-1786 in Plymouth, MA, staying at their posts for periods ranging from a few years to half a century. Caring for a lighthouse was a continuous occupation, making it necessary for the keeper to live where she worked. Thus, the light station was not just a government job, but also a way of life.  Most of these women served in the 19C, when the keeper lit a number of lamps in the tower at dusk; replenished their fuel or replaced them at midnight; and every morning polished the lamps & lanterns to keep their lights shining brightly. 

Several of these women were commended officially for their courage in remaining at their posts through severe storms & hurricanes. The power of ferocious storms & rushing water affected the physical structures, & took a heavy toll on the keeper, at times causing the death of the keeper or a family member. On 13 March 1832, a ferocious ice sweeping down Hudson River during spring breakup destroyed the Stuyvesant Light. Keeper Volkert Witbeck & some family members were able to survive, but Elizabeth, aged 11, and Harriet, aged 13, perished.

A few female lighthouse keepers went to the rescue of seamen, when ships capsized or were wrecked.
Ida Lewis (1842 –1911) was an American lighthouse keeper noted for her heroism in rescuing people from the seas.

Hannah Thomas, who had served since 1776, hired Nathaniel Burgess (or Burges) to act as keeper in 1786, and that same year a coasting sloop traveling from Boston to Plymouth struck a sand bar near the Gurnet. Two of the seamen from the vessel trudged 7 miles through a bitter snowstorm to reach Gurnet Lighthouse. Keeper Burgess fed & warmed them beside the fire, dispatching his assistant, perhaps Hannah’s son John, to bring in the rest of the crew.  

In 1790, the light was ceded to the U.S. government, & Hannah Thomas' son John Thomas took over as keeper. His salary of $200 per annum was lower than at other lighthouses, because the Gurnet was deemed an acceptable place to live with ample fishing & land with good soil to garden.
1843 photo of the twin Plymouth Lights. Photo from US Navy

After the lighthouse was completely destroyed in a fire on July 2, 1801, the merchants of Plymouth and Duxbury funded the construction of a temporary beacon. On April 6, 1802, Congress voted to repay them $270 and appropriated $2,500 to rebuild the lighthouse on the Gurnet. The Thomas family was paid $120 for the land on which twin, 22' tall lighthouses, spaced 30 feet apart, were built in 1803.

During the late 18C - early 19C, the US federal lighthouse service furnished some provisions, but almost all keepers found it necessary to have a garden & some livestock. Kate Moore described in the New York Sunday World, in 1889, the extra care necessary for survival at Black Rock Harbor Light in Connecticut: "I had a lot of poultry & 2 cows to care for, & each year raised 20 sheep, doing the sheering myself - and the killing when necessary. You see, in the winter you couldn’t get to land on account of the ice being too thin, or the water too rough. Then in the summer I had my garden to make and keep. I raised all my own stuff, and as we had to depend on rain for our water, quite a bit of time was consumed looking after that." Kate’s family moved to the lighthouse in 1817, her father had a paralyzing stroke in 1819, & Kate kept the lighthouse functioning until his death in 1871, becoming the official head keeper from 1871-1878.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1770s-Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration the word Dutch is handwritten in pencil. Netherlands 

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Nearly 27-year-old James Monroe 1758-1831 Marries 17-year-old Elizabeth Kortright 1768-1830

On January 16, 1786, future President 27-year-old James Monroe (1758-1831) married 17-year-old New York beauty named Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830).  Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830), wife of the 5th president of the United States, was the eldest daughter of 5 children of Laurence Kortright, a wealthy New York merchant of late 17C Flemish descent, & his wife, Hannah (Aspinwall) Kortright. Her father’s fortune, much enlarged by privateering during the French & Indian War, was greatly reduced during the Revolutionary War, but Elizabeth Kortright was reared in the exclusive & formal atmosphere of New York mercantile society.  Considered one of the great beauties of the city, she first met James Monroe in 1785, when he was a Virginia delegate to the Confederation Congress sitting in New York.
Detail of a Miniature of Elizabeth Kortright (1768-1830).

The 6 ' tall Monroe, already a famous revolutionary & a practicing lawyer, married not for money, but for love. They were married on Feb. 16, 1786, at New York’s Trinity Episcopal Church.  After a brief honeymoon out on Long Island, the newlyweds rode back to New York City to live with her father, until the Continental Congress adjourned. The Monroes returned to Virginia, where he had graduated from the College of William & Mary, & promptly started a family. They settled first in Fredericksburg & then in Albemarle County, Va.  There Monroe practiced law & pursued a political career which found him successively United States Senator, minister to France, governor of Virginia, minister to Great Britain, Secretary of State, &, ultimately, president of the United States.  In keeping with the custom of the day, Monroe shielded his private life from public view, by the & his wife were devoted to each other, & they were rarely separated.  Three children were born to them: Eliza in 1787; a son in 1799 who died in infancy; & Maria Hester, in 1801 or 1802, who was married in the White House in 1820 to Samuel L. Gouverneur.
James Monroe (1758-1831)

Elizabeth & her daughter followed Monroe to Paris, when President George Washington appointed him ambassador to France in 1794. There, he & Elizabeth became enthusiastic Francophiles. Elizabeth, with her sophisticated social graces, adapted easily to European society. The French aristocracy referred to her as "la belle americaine."  The violent fallout of the French Revolution marred the Monroes' sojourn in France.  They acquired a lasting appreciate of French manners & styles which was later reflected in the furnishing they purchased for the White House.  Both spoke French fluently.  Members of the aristocracy whom the Monroes befriended were increasingly falling prey to the rebels' guillotine. In 1795, Elizabeth succeeded in obtaining the prison release of the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette. When he learned that the wife of America’s great friend the Marquis de Lafayette, the dashing Frenchman who had served on Washington's staff during the American Revolution, had been imprisoned by Robespierre & was in danger of being executed, Monroe, believing that direct appeals to the Committee of Public Safety would be of no avail, arranged for his wife to visit her.  The tearful meeting of the women at the gate of the prison drew a large & sympathetic crowd, & the demonstration was sufficient to secure Madame de Lafayette’s release. 
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe (1768-1830) by John Vanderlyn

When Monroe's term as ambassador ended in 1796, he brought his family back to America & settled on the Oak Hill plantation in Virginia. For the next 15 years, he shuttled his family between stints in Virginia political office & the occasional foreign appointment. In 1811, Monroe accepted President James Madison's offer to serve as U.S. secretary of state. Six years later, Monroe himself was elected president from 1817-1825.

 After her husband’s appointment as Secretary of State in 1811 & his elevation to the presidency in 1817, Mrs. Monroe was constantly in the public eye.  No accounts of her as a person, however, survive, although her regal bearing & distinguished appearance often inspired comment.  “Her dress was superb black velvet,” one presidential guest recalled; “neck & arms bare & beautifully formed; her hair in puffs & dressed high on the head & ornamented with white ostrich plumes; around her neck an elegant pearl necklace” (quoted in Daniel Coit Gilman, James Monroe, 1883, pp. 182-83).  She seems to have been easy & affable in small groups, but her public manner was marked by a formality & reserve which some labeled haughtiness.

During their 1st year in Washington, the Monroes lived in temporary lodgings until the White House, which had been destroyed by the British during the War of 1812, was repaired. As first lady, Elizabeth, usually very social, deferred to her husband's wishes to minimize White House social events. He & Elizabeth both deplored the opulent displays of the previous first lady, Dolley Madison, preferring more private, stately affairs modeled after European society. 

Just after he assumed office, in June 1817, President Monroe embarked on a "Goodwill Tour" of the United States. Paying expenses out of his own pocket, the new president was greeted by cheering crowds & treated to celebratory picnics, dinners, & receptions in every city he visited. After touring New York, Philadelphia, & Baltimore, Monroe stopped in Boston, where a newspaper hailed his visit as the beginning of an “ERA OF GOOD FEELINGS.” Despite this phrase, while in the White House, the Monroes endured the depression called the  Panic of 1819 & a fierce national debate over the admission of the Missouri Territory. Monroe is most noted for his proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which stated that the United States would not tolerate further European intervention in the Americas.

As First Lady she was inevitably compared with her predecessor, the warm & open-hearted Dolley Madison, who had elevated presidential receptions above the dull level of official functions. In a rapidly growing Washington, the Monroes introduced a new formality, & White House receptions took on an austerity reminiscent of George Washington’s administration, with Monroe & his wife receiving guests but manifesting little personal solicitude.  In her 1st year Mrs. Monroe appeared only infrequently at White House dinners, & consequently ladies were seldom invited.  She further announced that she would not make or return any calls, although it had been Mrs. Madison’s custom not only to return all calls but to pay her respects to visiting ladies.  Many women, particularly the wives of Senators, took offense at the new rule, but Mrs. Monroe, supported by Louisa Catherine Adams, whose husband was then Secretary of State, prevailed, & the new policy became firmly set.  Mrs. Monroe’s French-educated & somewhat formidable daughter Eliza (Mrs. George Hay) shared her social duties at the White House, where social life was also curtailed by Elizabeth's declining health. Washingtonians, eager to being seen with the powerful even back then, mistook the lack of White House social events for snobbery.
James Monroe (1758-1831) by Gilbert Stuart

During her husband’s 2nd term Mrs. Monroe’s always delicate health failed rapidly, & her public appearances became more rare.  She preferred to spend as much time as possible at Oak Hill, their country home in Loudoun County, Va., some twenty miles from the capital, where she was joined by Monroe upon his retirement in 1825.  She died at Oak Hill in 1830 & was buried there.  Of her death the aged ex-President wrote to James Brown, “After having lived with the partner of your life, in so many vicissitudes…& afforded to each other comforts which no other person on earth could do…to have her snatched from me…is an affliction which none but those who feel it, can justly estimate” (Dec. 9, 1830), John Deposit, University of Virginia Library).  According to the family, Monroe burned 40 years' worth of their intimate correspondence. 
James Monroe (1758-1831) painted by Rembrandt Peale about 1824-1825

Upon Elizabeth's death in 1830, Monroe moved to New York City, to live with his daughter Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur who had married Samuel L. Gouverneur in the White House.  Monroe’s death occurred the next year.  In 1903 Elizabeth Monroe’s body was re-interred beside that of her husband in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1770s-Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration the word Dutch is handwritten in pencil. Netherlands 

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available.

Friday, November 17, 2017

18C Women in Business - Mary Alexander 1693-1760

The Alexander Papers at the New-York Historical Society Library contain the records of the mercantile business of Mary Alexander and provide a glimpse into the life of a colonial NYC businesswoman

From the New-York Historical Society Library

Mary Alexander’s mercantile business specialized in “haberdashery,” or what today is called notions. Records from this firm include samples of fabrics that Mary Alexander had requested or purchased. According to the records, Mary ordered expensive silks and worsteds as well as plain, utilitarian materials. The sample above is from the 1730’s and includes swatches of silver lace and crepe. The fabric samples are still vibrantly colored and are beautiful to examine.


Mary Alexander was born in New York City in 1693. In 1711, she married Samuel Prevoost, an importer. The couple had three children and together ran their mercantile business. Mary contributed much of her inheritance to the business and generally acted as a business partner with her husband. 

After Prevoost’s death around 1720, Mary married James Alexander, a notable attorney and politician. She had seven more children in her second marriage (only five lived to adulthood) and continued to run the Prevoost mercantile business. She sold goods in her store in front of their mansion on Broad Street and soon became one of the leading merchants in New York City. With her social connections and her successful business, Mary was a prominent member of colonial society and is reputed to have served as an informal advisor to many New York politicians. Mary Alexander died in 1760 and was buried with her husband at Trinity Church.
From the New-York Historical Society Library

Information and images in this posting are from the blog of the New-York Historical Society Library. This article written by library Curator of Manuscirpts Maurita Baldock. Click here for more from the N-YHS..

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1770s Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration the word Dutch is handwritten in pencil. Netherlands 

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

18C Women in Business - Female Apprentices

Apprentice Female Tinsmith? Detail Ferblantier (Tin Plate Maker) Encycopedia of Diederot & d'Alembert 1765

Though there was no system of standards governing the trades in the British American colonies, the method of learning a trade generally followed the apprenticeship guidelines established by the guilds in medieval England & Europe. 

It was unusual or sometimes even shocking to come upon women doing tasks normally done by men. Traveling through the English countryside in 1741, William Hutton happened upon a blacksmith's shop, where he saw "one or more females, stripped of their upper garments, & not overcharged with the lower, wielding the hammer with all the grace of the sex."   Women were not excluded from membership in the earlier guilds. The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in London lists 65 "brethren" & 2 "sistren" in its 1434 charter. "No one contested the right of wives & daughters to work in a shop or at a stall leased in the name of the husband & father," writes Olwen Hufton in The Prospect before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800. "The tendency of a master in an occupation where there was scope for the employment of his daughter—particularly if he had no sons—may have been to familiarize her with the techniques of the trade. At the humblest levels, where the master in question did not employ journeymen & where any apprentices kept quiet, then the master's daughter unofficially may have done much work without incurring opposition from the guild."  Male or female, a prospective guild member had to apply for entrance by apprenticeship, patrimony, redemption, or marriage. Most women applied by right of marriage, or widowhood. More than 200 youngsters are documented to have been apprenticed to women in Oxford between 1520 & 1800, evidence that women claimed the rights of masters.  Conspicuous differences existed in the strength & types of guilds to enforce their control, so a female's success or participation in a business could vary from place to place, from year to year. "Complaints were more common in periods of economic strain," Hufton wrote, "particularly when the labour supply was overabundant & rising prices outstripped wages. In easy times, journeymen were less anxious & might permit without complaint some infiltration by women into what they saw as their sphere of activity."  Girls were apprenticed, too, usually in cases of orphaning. Parish or pauper apprenticeships, as they were called, featured contracts that left blank spaces so the court or church official could write in "him" or "her," "she" or "he." K. D. M. Snell's Annals of the Labouring Poor lists nearly 300 orphan girls apprenticed to trades in the 18C in the southern counties of England.  But the guild system began to decline during the 18C, & with it went the detailed records. A 1770 publication called The Tradesman's True Guide or a Universal Directory for the Towns of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsal, Dudley & the manufacturing village in the neighborhood of Birmingham carries exhaustive lists of tradesmen & -women alphabetically by name & by trade. There are women listed in every trade from butcher to wire drawer.  Records of guilds & corporations frequently omit mention of female apprentices suggests Bridget Hill in Women, Work, & Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-Century England, because "the completion of a man's apprenticeship had political & social, as well as economic consequences (parliamentary franchise) that did not apply to women."

In 18C colonial British America & the New Republic the distinction between indentures for servants & apprentices was less clear. Binding out or apprenticing became a catch-all concept that both provided a controllable & skilled labor force to the new country & provided parent/authority figures to children who had no parents. In the 17C & early 18C, scholars project that 80% of the Chesapeake’s immigrants were indentured servants from Britain & Europe. Some authorities state that more than  75% of all immigrants who settled south of New England were indentured servants, convict servants, or redemptioners.  Most of these servants were over the age of 20, but a significant number were young men & girls still in their teens. Historian John C. Coombs suggests that by the 1670s, slaves had begun to replace white indentured servants among the Chesapeake gentry before both Bacon's Rebellion & the sharp decline in new servants. By 1690, enslaved Africans & African Americans account for nearly all of the Virginia gentry's bound workforce. Slaves account for only 25-40% of the non-elites' workforce.

In return for their passage to the Chesapeake, these young servants agreed to work on the land, in trades, or do household chores, for a period of time, usually between 4-7 years, without pay. During their service, masters provided food, clothing & shelter.  Servants whose contracts had expired typically received "freedom dues," loosely described as a quantity of corn & clothing. The 1705 Virginia statute "An Act concerning Servants & Slaves" was the 1st to explicitly mention this "good & laudable custom," & required that male servants, "upon their freedom," be supplied with 10 bushels of corn, 30 shillings (or the like value in goods), & a musket worth at least 20 shillings. Women were entitled to 15 bushels of corn & the equivalent of 40 shillings. Many of these youths from across the Atlantic were orphans, some were kidnapped onto ships sailing for the New World, and some were from indigent families who could not care for their children, & therefore sent them off to make their own way.

Colonial courts dealt with a broad variety of indentures, roughly divided into 2 categories: (1) voluntary apprenticeships, where a parent entered a voluntary arrangement with a 3rd party, usually to train the child in a specific trade in exchange for the child's services & some parents even paid the master for training the child; & (2) involuntary apprenticeships, where the parents were dead or unable to properly raise their children & court officials placed them with a master. Many children in the colonial era did not spend their whole childhood under the custody & control of their own parents or step-parents. These children were put under the custody & control of masters (& sometimes mistresses), to whom they were indentured. "Binding out, putting out, & apprenticing" were all variations on the well-established English custom of placing children in the home of a master who was obliged to provide ordinary sustenance & some training in return for services. This training could be as specific as teaching a skilled craft, or it could be as general as instruction in basic reading & the catechism. Laws differed by colony pertaining to articles of indenture for servants & for apprentices. 

Some scholars estimate that colonial British American young women comprised less than 1/5 of recorded indentures. Generally, these apprenticeships of girls were for household work or textile trades (spinning, weaving, or knitting).  Though apprenticeship contracts do exist for the British American colonies, they tend to be fewer & they are not as specific. And without the meticulous record keeping of the older guilds, what happened to a boy or girl once an apprenticeship began is difficult to track. Orphan apprenticeship contracts from the period sometimes record more detail than a standard agreement, although many of the girls' apprenticed trades are listed as "unspecified," & the only way to guess what they learned is if the master's or mistress's business is known. Colonial British American apprenticeship was a system of on-the-job training which was based on both ancient & medieval practices.  The basis of colonial laws of apprenticeship were the English 1562 Statute of Artificers and the English 1601 Poor Law, which standardized customs long recognized & enforced by the guilds and local authorities. 

The Virginia Poor Law of 1672 gave county courts the power to place all children, whose parents were unable to raise them, as apprentices. Churchwardens were ordered to report children in this category. The Virginia Orphan Act of 1705 empowered the Orphan's Courts to bind out all orphans whose estates were too small to support them. It also gave the court the power to hear complaints of apprentices for ill use by their master or failure to teach his trade.  

Female colonial apprentices often worked in the shops of dressmakers & sometimes with tailors. Some of these apprenticeships were based on formal contracts between the child’s parents & the artisan with the aim of teaching the child a skill she could use one day to earn money. Many formal apprenticeships for girls tended to be short - often just one year. Sometimes, though, they could be very long for poor & orphaned girls, some very young. In 1715 Northumberland County, Virginia, Ariskam Crowder was "hereby bound an apprentice to serve Mary Knight in all lawfull Services & imploym until he shall attain the age of One & twenty years, he being Seven years old."  One 1770 New England document records an apprenticeship binding 7-year-old Rebeccah Baxter to male tailor Elijah Treadway in Middletown, Connecticut. According to the terms of the document, she was to stay in Treadway’s household for 11 years, until she turned 18. 

Four females are named in York County, Virginia, apprenticeships recorded from 1747 to 1789. Earlier York County records contain several others. Generally, these apprenticeships were for household work or textile trades - spinning, weaving, or knitting.  
At least one woman in Pennsylvania owned a traditionaly male business. She was a brass founder. A 1730 Pennsylvania Gazette ad was placed searching for one James Curry, "an Apprentice to Mrs. Paris of Philadelphia, Brass Founder."  The Pennsylvania Gazette printed the rules of contracting apprentices to "the Masters or Mistresses" in 1763, such that the youngster "shall be bound by Indenture to serve as an Apprentice in any Art, Mystery, Occupation or Labour, with the Assent of his or her Parent."

In 1762, the law dealing with orphans as apprentices in North Carolina stated: Where the estate of an orphan shall be of so small value that no person will educate & maintain him or her for the profits thereof, such orphan shall, by direction of the court, be bound apprentice, every male to some tradesman, merchant, mariner or other person approved by the court, until he shall attain to the age of 21 years, & every female to some suitable employment, till her age of 18 years; & also such court may, in like manner, bind apprentice all free base-born (illegitimate) children, & every such female child, being a mulatto (mixed parents-Black & White)or mustee (mixed parents-Indian & White), until she shall attain the age of 21 years: And the master or mistress of every such apprentice shall find & provide for him or her diet, clothes, lodging & accommodations, fit & necessary; & shall teach, or cause him or her to be taught to read & write; & at the expiration of his or her apprenticeship, shall pay every such apprentice the like allowance as is by law appointed for servants by indenture or custom, & on refusal shall be compelled thereto in like manner; & if upon complaint made to the inferior court of pleas & quarter sessions, it shall appear that any such apprentice is ill used, or not taught the trade, profession or employment to which he or she was bound, it shall be lawful for such court to remove & bind him or her to such other person or persons as they shall think fit.

Records from Boston show that in 1769, Ann Cromartie, age 13, was bound to Ruth DeCosta by the Overseers of the Poor to learn the “Art, Trade or Mystery of a Mantuamaker.”  Her term was about 5 years, again until she turned 18.

Many Virginia apprenticeship contracts (indentures) were private arrangements between a master & an apprentice's parents & were not recorded in the public records. Apprenticeships ordered by the courts for orphans & poor children were recorded, but their lengths varied widely or were often stated only as to age 21. Of the 110 apprenticeships recorded in York County, Virginia, from 1745 until 1789, 34 were “until 21,” and 64 were from 4 to 7 years.

Records from a Massachusetts lawsuit in 1791, tell of 24-year-old Clarinda Colton’s contract with male tailor Ithamar Burt. She was supposed to get one year of training. But her parents alleged in the suit that when Clarinda returned home after one year, she knew almost nothing about cutting cloth. Clarinda had apparently been assigned mainly to do household chores.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

18C Women Across the Globe

1770s Bunka Fashion College in Japan. Underneath the illustration the word Dutch is handwritten in pencil. Netherlands

Across the 18C globe, dress varied widely. In the early 1700s, British & British American colonial women dressed similarly, but they could get an idea how women in far places also might dress from costume drawings, which were becoming more popular & more widely available.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

18C Women in Business - Millinery Shops


In the 1500s & 1600s, the millinery business involved shopkeepers who dealt in milanese (as in Milan, Italy) ware, like silks, ribbons, armor, swords & other Italian goods. Millinery, however, began to change its meaning as swords & armor fell out of fashion. The word also took on a new life as English retailing underwent a big shift in the mid-1600s. The Great Fire of London in 1655 had a lot to do with this change. Prior to the fire, trades were concentrated along certain streets. After the fire, trades intermingled in new shopping districts. Shopkeepers also began selling many goods & services in their stores, offering customers greater convenience & expanded choices. A milliner could carry possibly a thousand different goods, becoming the forerunner of the modern department store. At this point, the term “milliner” was tied to the Latin word "mille," meaning 1000.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation tells us that prior to the American Revolution, millinery shops were almost always a woman's business. Women had a place in 18C British American commercial life. Those who reached their majority & were not married could own property, buy & sell, sue & be sued, represent themselves in court, make contracts & perform other routine commercial & legal functions. In short, they had all the rights of men, but they did not have the privileges of voting or holding public office. 

Milliners catered to the fashion needs of men, women, & children. In addition to being a trades-woman who made fashion accessories, the milliner was also a businesswoman who sold a wide range of fashionable imported goods. It was not uncommon for a milliner in the British American colonies, to advertise that she had just imported from London the very latest in mercery, haberdashery, jewelry, hosiery, shoes "and other items too tedious to mention." The millinery sold fabric, baby & children's clothes, hats & shoes, dolls, jewelry, tea pots, sugar, needles, thread, laces, liquor, lottery & theatre tickets, ribbons, hair pieces, medicines, books, games, & much, much more. A millinery store owner also needed to know about fashion & the intricacies of the clothing business. A well-informed entrepreneur might know about sewing, tailoring, gown making, laundrying, ironing & making & maintaining fine lace.
Henry Robert Morland 18C Ironing

The other primary 18C woman's trade was that of mantua making – or gown making. On occasion, the apprenticeship for milliners also included learning the skills of mantua making. Independent of a millinery shop, the gown maker was on par with the tailor – both were skilled in cutting, fitting, & sewing but usually were not able to sell fabric to their customers. In the 18C, fabric accounted for the largest part of the cost of clothing. Mantua-makers specialized in making women's gowns. Not only did milliners sell fabric straight from the bolt, they also employed or contracted with  mantua makers who made dresses, jackets, & gowns for customers. 

A mantua-maker was responsible for draping, cutting, & sewing the gown. It was possible for a gown to be "gotten-up" in the very latest fashion from London with 3 half-hour fittings in 7 days. From fabric sold in the shop, milliners would make items such as: shirts, shifts, aprons, neckerchiefs, caps, cloaks, hoods, hats, muffs, ruffles, & trim for gowns. The cost of any clothing varied depending on the type of fabric that was chosen. A gown made from wool, silk, or cotton cost more than one made from linen. The cost for the labor was less expensive than the material involved. The fabric was usually 80%-90% of the cost of the gown. 

Clothing producers knew that one way to keep sales humming was to keep styles changing. Many British American colonists had an insatiable appetite for news, particularly fashion news, which reached America fairly quickly given the slow transportation of the day. In the early 1770s, Virginians learned about the latest styles through English newspapers & magazines. The news typically was 6 to 8 weeks old until it finally arrived from across the Atlantic, but it was welcome never-the-less.The whirl of fashion during the 1700s was endless & often contradictory. During the 18C, ladies' skirt styles changed five times. It was not unheard of for hat styles to change 17 times during a 2-year period. “Solomon in all Glory was not array'd like on of These,” wrote visitor Rev. Jonathan Boucher of upper class Virginians in 1759. “I assure you, Mrs. James, the common Planter's Daughters here go every Day in finer Cloaths than I have seen content you for a Summer's Sunday. You thought (homely Creatures as your are) my Sattin Wastecoat was a fine best, Lord help You, I'm noth'g amongst the Lace & Lac'd fellows that are here. Nay, so much does their Taste run after dress that they tell me I may see in Virginia more brilliant Assemblies than I ever c'd in the North of Engl'd, & except Royal Ones P'rhaps in any Part of it.”
1787 A Milliner’s Shop, Lewis Walpole Library