Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

“we past Christmas day very agreeably”

HENRIETTA MARCHANT LISTON arrived in the United States in 1796 with her husband Robert who had been appointed British ambassador to the new nation. They took up residence in Philadelphia, the capital. Genuinely curious about the New World, they began an extended trip from Philadelphia to Charleston, South Carolina in the fall of 1797. (See previous posts about their journeys here and here.) Henrietta documented their trip in her journal, noting facts that she found interesting, the foods they ate, and their astonishment at the natural beauties, particularly the flora, of the countryside. Traveling on the east coast of North America was a challenge but one that the 45-year-old Mrs. Liston and her 55-year-old husband met with aplomb, courage, and even laughter.

The first night after leaving Mr. Jones’s Hospitable roof, we were obliged to take up our quarters, in what was called an Inn, Consisting of one room containing two Beds, one for the family, the other for Strangers; there were two young Men travelling on Horseback, besides several Inferior Guests, & I found that all the Party, except our Servants who were in a ruinous outKitchen, must lodge in this Chamber. the doors being all open warming oneself was out of the question … although there was a roaring fire….

One of the Group around the fire appearing intoxicated, & seemingly disposed to amuse himself with a Pistol, I took the Daughter of the House aside, & declared our readiness to be contented with any place, in order to Sleep in a separate apartment from these Men. She regretted that there was nothing but an empty Garrat, used for keeping Corn, without fire or door, & an open window. it was frost & snow, but we had taken our resolution, & we repaired to an old flat Bed, that happened to be in this miserable Place &, indeed, we were within a very little of being frozen to Death, notwithstanding an Eddadown [Eiderdown] Green silk Bedcover with which we travelled, & it was with some difficulty the Girl, next morning, could prevail on the Savages to let me approach the fire so as to thaw my fingers.

On Christmas eve, the Listons reached Fayetteville, named after the Marquis de Lafayette who had fought on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

[I]t is a flourishing Town, upon a Branch of the Capefear River & nearly at the head of the navigation—before the [Revolutionary] War it was called Cross Creek. We were visited by a Scotch Gentleman, named [Robert] Donaldson, with whose family we passed Christmas day very agreeably.

No doubt they were happy to spend the day with a fellow Scot, but Mrs. Liston does not give any details of the festivities. However, she does describe a particular meal she and her husband enjoyed en route.

[O]ur most frequent food, & infinitely the best of its kind, was Pork & Corn bread, it happened to be the Season for killing Pork, it was fresh & most excellent meat, . . . always broiled upon the Coals, & when we happened to get a few fryed Eggs to it, it was the best food possible & with Corn bread—no other is known—baked upon a hoe, in general, & call[ed] hoe cake.

On New Year’s Eve, Henrietta and her husband arrived in Charleston, South Carolina where they spent a week before returning to Philadelphia, receiving “very marked attentions” from the “polished Society” that characterized the city. There was no specific mention of how they spent New Year’s day.

Excerpts are taken from “1797. Tour to the Southern States—Virginia, North & South Carolina” in The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800, Louise V. North, pp 26, 27, 28, 30.

posted December 28th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Charleston. SC,Christmas,Food,Liston, Henrietta Marchant,New Year's celebration,The South,Travel

“I keept Christmas at home this year”

Young Anna Green Winslow, whose parents lived in Nova Scotia, was being schooled in Boston and living with her aunt. In these excerpts she describes the weather on Christmas Eve 1771, how she spent Christmas itself, as well as January 1.

Decr 24th.— … today is by far the coldest we have had since I have been in New England. (N.B. All run that are abroad.) Last sabbath being rainy I went to & from meeting in Mr. Soley’s chaise. … Every drop that fell froze. … The walking is so slippery & the air so cold, that aunt chuses to have me for her scoller [scholar] these two days. And … tomorrow will be a holiday, so the pope and his associates have ordained. … *

Decr 27th.—This day, the extremity of the cold is somewhat abated. I keept Christmas at home this year & did a very good day’s work. …

1st Jany 1772—I wish my Papa, Mama, brother John Henry, & cousin Avery & all the rest of my acquaintance … a Happy New Year. I have bestow’d no new year’s gift as yet.** But have received one very handsome one … [a book]. In nice Guilt and flowers covers. This afternoon being a holiday I am going to pay my compliments in Sudbury Street.

* Anna’s remarks reflect the Puritan dislike for Christmas.
** Gift-giving, if it prevailed at all in Puritan New England, took place on New Year’s Day.
For another excerpt from Anna’s journal, click here.

These excerpts are from a reprint of The Diary of Anna Green Winslow—A Boston School Girl of 1771, edited by Alice Morse Earle (Bedford, Massachusetts: Applewood Books, originally in 1894), pages 9-10, 13. The image is of a miniature owned by Elizabeth C. Trott, Niagara Falls, New York.

“Accept the Compts: of the season . . .”

I am taking this opportunity to revisit several posts about the Christmas and New Year holidays. I hope you will find them as interesting and charming as I do.

SARAH LIVINGSTON JAY and her husband John were apart during the holiday season of 1778-1779, John being in Philadelphia serving in the Continental Congress, and Sarah in New Jersey with their son Peter Augustus. Sally (as she was called), whose health was always fragile, was unwell and depressed by the absence of her husband. However, she assured him that “The company of your dear little boy proved a great consolation to me since you’ve been absent.” She ended her letter to him: “Accept the Compts: of the season,” the lovely expression typical of the time, adding to it “& may we repeat the same to each other fifty years hence.” Sadly, Sarah Jay did not live to fulfill her hope.

Christmas was not a widely celebrated holiday in the colonies. Its observance was generally prohibited in New England by Calvinists and other Protestant sects, and by the Quakers in Philadelphia and elsewhere. On the other hand, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Moravians did celebrate the Christmas season with both religious services and secular festivities. Generally these groups were in the Middle colonies and the South. If there was any decoration at all in homes it was likely to be garlands of natural greens, a few sprigs of holly and, perhaps, some mistletoe.

Louise North, Janet Wedge, and Landa Freeman Selected Letters of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005), 56. Read articles on the celebration of Christmas in the colonies HERE and HERE.

posted December 22nd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas,Jay, John,Jay, Peter Augustus,Jay, Sarah Livingston

Holiday Entertainments at Mount Vernon

Now that December is here it’s time to look into some holiday entertainments that are not only timely but informative. Depend on Mount Vernon to present an array of interesting seasonal programs. Plan a visit around those that appeal.

On view until the end of December is a splendid gingerbread replica of the mansion. Including animals in marzipan!

Candlelight tours scheduled throughout the month allow visitors to spend a few hours in the 18th century: visiting the kitchen where servants prepare holiday fare, admiring the dining table laid with beautiful china and traditional comestibles, mixing with costumed dancers and interpreters in the ballroom. There’s no better way to muster up some holiday spirit.

If I could make the trip I would attend a chocolate making demonstration (December 3-6). I never really appreciated the many steps involved in producing the chocolate that is the basis of that wonderful hot drink often served for breakfast back then. Enjoy a spell of spirited music with the fife and drum.

Perhaps the most unexpected and delightful event is a visit with Aladdin the camel. In 1787, George Washington paid 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon for the entertainment and delight of his guests and family. Today visitors can hear about his fascination with exotic animals and learn a few facts about camels.

If you can’t visit Mount Vernon do at least visit the online site, take a virtual tour, and enjoy the videos that accompany the holiday offerings.

posted December 2nd, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas,Food,Holidays,Mount Vernon,Washington, George

“For you my needle with delight I plied”

Benjamin Franklin replied the next day (September 2, 1769) to POLLY STEVENSON’s letter in which she tells of her meeting with a physician who had caught her eye. “Possibly, if the Truth were known, I have Reason to be jealous of this same insinuating handsome young Physician: But as it flatters more my Vanity, and therefore gives me more Pleasure to suppose you were in Spirits on Account of my safe Return, I shall turn a deaf Ear to Reason in this Case. . . .” Stevenson and Franklin exchanged gifts at Christmas; here is the verse Polly composed to accompany her present of a pair of Ruffles.

To Dr. Franklin with a pair of Ruffles Decr / 69
These flowers Dear Sir, can boast no lively bloom,
Nor can regale you with a sweet perfume,
This dreary season no such present yeild’s,
The Trees are naked, unadorn’d the fields,
The Gardens have their sweets and beauty lost
But Love and Gratitude, unchill’d by frost;
Put forth this foliage—poor indeed I own
Yet trust th’intent will for the faults atone.
Altho’ my produce not with nature vies,
I hope to please a friend’s indulgent eye’s,
For you my fancy and my skill I tried
For you my needle with delight I plied
Proud even to add a triffling grace to you
From whom Philosophy and Virtue too
I’ve gain’d—If either can be counted mine
In you they with the clearest lustre shine
My noble Friend this artless line excuse
Nor blame the weakness of your Polly’s muse
The humble gift with kind compliance take
And wear it for the grateful givers sake.

“To Benjamin Franklin from Mary Stevenson, [December 1769],” Founders Online, National Archives, version of January 18, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-16-02-0174. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 16, January 1 through December 31, 1769, ed. William B. Willcox. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1972, p. 274.]

posted March 15th, 2019 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Christmas,Franklin, Benjamin,Hewson, Mary "Polly" Stevenson,Poetry

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