Archive for the ‘Amusements’ Category

“it is time to spruce myself for dinner”

Below, ANNE BLAIR continues her long and frequently interrupted letter to her sister Mary. I love the way she refers to handkerchiefs——spelling it just the way it was/is often pronounced. I had no idea the word “duds” was in use back then. When I did a quick search I found that it had been used to refer to clothes for hundreds of years, since the Middle Ages in fact. Regarding Anne’s remark “it is time to spruce myself for dinner,” I was fascinated to learn that “spruce” originally had been used as an adjective describing items brought from Prussia, as in “spruce leather.” Toward the end of the 16th century it began to be used as a verb “to make trim and neat.”

I am sorry I gave you so much trouble about my long lawn aprons as I have them all; I lost the last of my Cambrick in King William (Hankerchiefs I mean) so that I did not bring one down with me——am much obliged for the care you have taken to get all my dud’s together. I have found one of ye Shifts which I will give Mrs. Starke for you. I cannot find that you have neglected putting up anything for Betsey [Mary’s daughter] [t]hat was necessary——adieu till tomorrow, it is time to spruce myself for dinner——after wch expect Company to Tea.

Good Morrow to you, Sisr. we spent a cheerful afternoon yesterday——Mrs. Dawson’s Family stay’d ye Evening with us, and ye Coach was at ye door to carry them Home, by ten o’clock; but everyone appearing in great spirits, it was proposed to set at ye Step’s and sing a few Song’s wch was no sooner said than done; while thus we were employ’d, a Candle & Lanthorn was observed to be coming up Street . . . no one took any notice of it——till we saw, who ever it was, stopt to listen to our enchanting Notes——each Warbler was immediately silenced; whereupon, the invader to our Melody, call’d out in a most rapturous Voice, Charming! Charming! proceed for God sake, or I go Home directly——no sooner were those words utter’d, than all as with one consent sprung from their Seats, and ye Air echoed with “pray, Walk in my Lord;” No——indeed, he would not, he would set on the Step’s too; so after a few ha, ha’s, and being told what all knew——that it was a delightful Evening, at his desire we strew’d the way over with Flowers &c. &c. till a full half hour was elaps’d, when all retir’d to their respective Homes.

Mrs. Dawson was the widow of the president of William & Mary College. The visitor was Norborne Berkeley, 4th Baron Botecourt, royal governor of Virginia. It sounds as if a good time was had by all.

William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XVI, 1908, 177-78.

posted June 5th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Blair, Anne,Braxton, Mary Blair,Clothes

“to-morrow is Dancing day”

Although this excerpt of the letter of ANNE BLAIR to her sister MARTHA BLAIR BRAXTON appeared in an earlier post it seems appropriate to revisit it as it follows the previous post chronologically and is worth repeating. Anne in Williamsburg is describing the education and antics of her sister’s daughter Betsey who is in her charge.

August 21, 1769.. . . . Betsey is at work for you. I suppose she will tell you to-morrow is Dancing day, for it is in her thought by Day & her dreams by night. Mr. Fearson [the dancing master] was surprized to find she knew much of the Minuet step, and could not help asking if Miss had never been taught, so you find she is likely to make some progress that way. . . . her Reading I hear twice a day and when I go out she is consign’d over to my Sister Blair: we have had some few quarrels, and one Battle; Betsey & her Cousin Jenny [Jane Blair, daughter of Judge John Blair] had been fighting for several days successively, and was threaten’d to be whip’d for it as often, but as they did not regard us——her Mama & self thought it necessary to let them see we were in earnest——if they have fought since [I] have never heard of it——she has finished her work & Tucker, but the weather is so warm, what with all ye pains I can take with clean hand’s [sic], and so forth she cannot help dirtying it a little. I do not observe her to be fond of Negroes Company now nor have I heard lately of any bad Word’s [sic]; chief of our Quarrel’s is for eating of those Green apples in our Garden, & not keeping the Head smooth. I have had Hair put on Miss Dolly, but find it is not in my power of complying with my promise in giving her silk for a Sacque & Coat; some of our pretty Gang, broke open a Trunk in my absence and has stolen several thing’s one of wch the Silk makes a part——so immagine Betsey will petition you for some.

Instruction in dancing was commonly given to girls (and boys) from wealthy families as it was considered a social asset and also played a role in the courtship ritual. It is not clear whether the remark about not being fond of the company of Negroes is intended to be positive or negative. The word “now” may indicate that Betsey had enjoyed the company of Negroes and perhaps this was not considered a “good” thing.

More from Anne in the next post including some modern-sounding words.

William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XVI, 1908, 177.

posted June 1st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Blair, Anne,Braxton, Mary Blair,Education,Virginia

“for the first time in my life, I tried the experiment”

ABIGAIL ADAMS continues her letter to her sister Mary Cranch describing the trip she and her husband took to the West Country of England in 1787. In Southampton Abigail took a dip. During the 1780s bathing in the sea began to be considered healthful.

“Machines,” such as the one illustrated, allowed a woman to change into her bathing costume and slip into the sea in a protected environment away from prying eyes. It is not clear whether Abigail used one of these but it does sound like it. The woman who assisted the bather was called a “dipper.”

Proceeding to Weymouth, Abigail was distressed by the poverty she witnessed and the inability of the ordinary folk to better themselves given the circumstances in which they lived. She was proud that in America, in addition to its other advantages, it was relatively easy to acquire property.

From Winchester we proceeded to Southampton, which is a very pretty seaport town, and much frequented during the summer months as a bathingplace; and here, for the first time in my life, I tried the experiment. It would be delightful in our warm weather, as well as very salubrious, if such conveniences were erected in Boston, Braintree, and Weymouth, which they might be, with little expense. The places are under cover. You have a woman for a guide, a small dressing-room to yourself, an oil-cloth cap, a flannel gown, and socks for the feet.

We tarried only two days at Southampton, and went ten miles out of our way in order to visit Weymouth, merely for its name. This, like my native town, is a hilly country, a small seaport, with very little business, and wholly supported by the resort of company during the summer months. For those persons, who have not country-houses of their own, resort to the watering-places, as they are called, during the summer months, it being too vulgar and unfashionable to remain in London. But where the object of one is health, that of fifty is pleasure, however far they fall short of the object.

This whole town is the property of a widow lady. Houses are built by the tenants, and taken at liferents, which, upon the decease of the lessees, revert back again to the owner of the soil. Thus is the landed property of this country vested in lordships and in the hands of the rich altogether. The peasantry are but slaves to the lord, notwithstanding the mighty boast they make of liberty. Sixpence and sevenpence per day is the usual wages given to laborers, who are to feed themselves out of the pittance. In travelling through a country, fertile as the garden of Eden, loaded with a golden harvest, plenty smiling on every side, one would imagine that the voice of Poverty was rarely heard, and that she was seldom seen, but in the abodes of indolence or vice. But it is far otherwise. The money earned by the sweat of the brow must go to feed the pampered lord and fatten the greedy bishop, whilst the miserable, shattered, thatched-roof cottage crumbles to the dust for want of repair. To hundreds and hundreds of these abodes have I been a witness in my late journey. The cheering rays of the sun are totally excluded, unless they find admittance through the decayed roof, equally exposed to cold and the inclement season. A few rags for a bed and a jointstool comprise the chief of their furniture, whilst their own appearance is more wretched than one can well conceive. During the season of hay and harvest, men, women, and children are to be seen laboring in the fields: but, as this is a very small part of the year, the little they then acquire is soon expended; and how they keep soul and body together the remainder of the year is very hard to tell. It must be owing to this very unequal distribution of property, that the poor-rate is become such an intolerable burden. The inhabitants are very thinly scattered through the country, though large towns are well peopled.

To reside in and near London, and to judge of the country from what one sees here, would be forming a very erroneous opinion. How little cause of complaint have the inhabitants of the United States, when they compare their situation, not with despotic monarchies, but with this land of freedom ! The ease with which honest industry may acquire property in America, the equal distribution of justice to the poor as well as the rich, and the personal liberty they enjoy, all, all call upon them to support their government and laws, to respect their rulers, and gratefully acknowledge their superior blessings. . . .

Abigail’s letter is from the volume Letters of Mrs. Adams, The Wife of John Adams With an Introductory Memoir by Her Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume II, 1840. The image of the bathing machine was taken from this SITE.

posted August 8th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Americans Abroad,Amusements,Britain,Health

“fine riding-parties and musical frolics”

SARAH “SALLY” MCKEAN, a belle of Philadelphia particularly enjoyed the company of members of the Spanish delegation to the United States in the 1790s.Writing again to her friend Anna Payne, Dolley Madison’s younger sister, she described the activities they enjoyed. Anna married Richard Cutts, a congressman from the Maine section of Massachusetts; her portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1804. Her hair and clothing reflect the popularity of French fashions in the United States at that time.

Philadelphia, September 3, 1796MY DEAR Anna, I received yours by Mr. Taylor and duly delivered its inclosure. You can have no idea, my dear girl, what pleasant times I have; there is the charming Chevalier, the divine Santana, the jolly Viar, the witty and agreeable Fatio, the black-eyed Lord Henry, the soft, love-making Count, the giggling, foolish, and sometimes the modest, good Meclare, who are at our house every day. We have fine riding-parties and musical frolics. However, I will refer you to my letter to your sister Madison, as I am tired of writing, this being my third letter to-day.
Mr. and Mrs. Jandenes set sail about the middle of July, with the two dear little children in good health and remarkably fine spirits. I am to have a large packet of papers from them as soon as they arrive in Spain, telling me all the news, and also a very elegant Spanish guitar, on which I intend to learn to play. Signor Don Carlos has given me a few lessons on that instrument. I have one at present, lent me by Santana, and we have a famous Italian singer, who came with the Minister, who can play on any instrument, and is moreover the drollest creature you ever saw. He sings divinely, and is the leader of our fine concerts. I am serenaded every night with divine music. I must say divine, for it is so much above the common music.
I long with the greatest impatience for the month of October, that I may have the pleasure of embracing my dear Anna ; for Heaven’s sake make as much haste to town as you can, for we are to have one of the most charming winters imaginable. Santana and Fatio send their compliments to you, and Meclare told me to be sure to give his best and most sincere love to you; he looks quite handsome, and is smarter than ever. God bless you, my dearest, and believe me to be your sincere friend and admirer,
SALLY McKEAN

Two years later Sally McKean married the Don Carlos, (Marques Don Carlos Maria Martinez de Casa Yrujo y Tacon) mentioned in the letter who was the Spanish ambassador, and became Marquesa de Casa Yrujo. Samuel H. Wandell, in his biography of Aaron Burr described Don Carlos:

He was an obstinate, impetuous and rather vain little person with reddish hair; enormously wealthy, endlessly touchy, extremely intelligent and vastly attractive … he liked America, he understood it and enjoyed it; he was tremendously popular at Philadelphia, and at Washington when he condescended to appear there; he was on intimate terms at the President’s House. If he lost his temper from time to time, and thought nothing of haranguing the country through the newspapers, he served his King with energetic loyalty; he went about his business with dignity and shrewdness; he never forgot the respect due to his official person, however much he might indulge his democratic tendencies in private intercourse; he was the only Minister of the first rank in America, and consequently the leading figure in the diplomatic corps; he contributed to American society the brilliant qualities of his elegant and felicitous personality; he was a very great gentleman.

After the birth of their third child, Sally and Don Carlos left for Spain. Her husband lost favor with the American government by his disapproval of the Jay Treaty and the Louisiana Purchase and his opposition to the ceding of Florida to the United States. Sally returned to America with him on several occasions and continued to carry on a correspondence with her friends.

The text of the letter can be found here.The portrait of Don Carlos can be found here. For more information about Sally McKean see this site.

posted January 11th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Cutts, Anna Payne,d'Yrujo McKean, Sarah (Sally),Don Carlos, Marques de Casa d'Yrujo,Entertainments,Madison, Dolley,Philadelphia

“Balloon mania”

The Montgolfier brothers launched their first balloon (powered by hot air) in June of 1783. Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers, Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis, launched a hydrogen balloon from the Champs de Mars in Paris on August 27, 1783 before a huge crowd of onlookers. The balloon landed 45 kilometers away where it was attacked and destroyed by frightened peasants with pitchforks.
Another Montgolfier balloon, this time carrying sheep, a duck, and a rooster in a basket attached to the balloon, rose into the sky on September 19. The craft landed safely with the animals no less the worse for wear.
These successes spawned a slew of subsequent flights by various engineers and inventors, with human passengers, across the English Channel in 1785 and in 1793 in Philadelphia, the launch of which was watched by George Washington. There were accidents, of course, the first in Ireland in 1785 in which the balloon crashed and nearly destroyed the town of Tullamore by fire.

Percy Bysshe Shelley composed this Sonnet:

To a balloon, laden with Knowledge

Bright ball of flame that thro the gloom of even
Silently takest thine etherial way
And with surpassing glory dimmst each ray
Twinkling amid the dark blue Depths of Heaven
Unlike the Fire thou bearest, soon shall thou
Fade like a meteor in surrounding gloom
Whilst that unquencheable is doomed to glow
A watch light by the patriots lonely tomb
A ray of courage to the opprest & poor,
A spark tho’ gleaming on the hovel’s hearth
Which thro the tyrants gilded domes shall roar
A beacon in the darkness of the Earth
A Sun which oer the renovated scene
Shall dart like Truth where Falshood yet has been.

Not everyone welcomed this fascination with flight. One author wrote: “Let us leave to each its domain,/ God made the skies for the birds;/ To the fishes, He gave the waters./ And to the humans, the Earth./ Let us cultivate it, my dear friends.”
But the balloon craze hit hard and was reflected in dress and hair styles, fashion accessories like cuff links and fans, furniture and snuff boxes, as well as many commemorative objects. And it was the subject of satire. Here are some examples.

You can even buy fabric (below on right) depicting airborne balloons for your walls today at 78 £ per meter.

posted July 20th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amusements,Art,Fashion,France,Paris,Philadelphia,Poetry,Washington, George

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