Archive for the ‘Clothes’ Category

“sort of a little biography”

A couple of months ago there was an article in my local paper that described a situation in a nearby middle school. The social studies teacher had included creating a newspaper advertisement for a runaway slave as one of the independent activities available to students for extra credit. Several parents objected and the principal ordered the teacher to remove the project from the list. As a former high school teacher of social studies (not in the district referred to) I found myself conflicted. I would really appreciate comments from readers about whether you think such a project is appropriate and acceptable.

SOME CONTEXT: From a historian’s point of view it has been very difficult to find primary sources in connection with the slave population. Clothing is not likely to exist as it was usually worn out and discarded. Written accounts by enslaved workers in colonial America and later in the United States are rare. Few slaves could read or write; teaching them to do so was a crime in several states. References in plantation account books were usually limited to the sex and age of the slave, perhaps the name, date of acquisition, and the purchase or sale price. Census listings were equally limited. There are precious few details about how enslaved workers looked and dressed, what their lives were like, what skills they possessed.
Ironically ads for runaway slaves often provide answers to these questions because owners not only posted a reward for the return of the “absconded,” a word that was commonly used, but often provided a description of the runaway: color, height and stature, clothing worn and other information. Historians have been working to create archives of advertisements for runaway slaves. Joshua Rothman, a historian at the University of Alabama has said: “They [owners] wanted to provide as much detail about their appearance, their life story, how they carried themselves, what they were wearing . . . Each one of these things [ads for runaway slaves] is sort of a little biography.”

Transcription of the ad: New London, May 16, 1768. Stolen or Run-away from the subscriber, on the 14th Instant (of May), a Negro Woman named SOBINER, between 30 and 40 Years of Age, of a slender Body, and middling Stature, talks good English, and can read well; carried off with her one homespun check’d Woolen Gown, one blue and white striped Linen Ditto, two Linen Shirts, and one Woolen Ditto, three check’d Aprons, two or three pair Woolen Stockings, one quilted Coat, one Side brown, the other striped, a red short Cloak, a chipt Hatt, a Pair white Woolen Mittins, a Cambric Handkerchief, several Caps, and sundry other Articles. Whoever takes up and secures said Negro, so that her Mistress may have her again, shall receive FOUR DOLLARS Reward, if found within twenty Miles of this Place, and FIVE DOLLARS if further, and all necessary Charges paid by LUCRETIA PROCTER. N.B. All Persons are forbid entertaining or concealing said Negro under Penalty of the Law.

I chose the ad above because it was placed in a Connecticut newspaper and shows that slavery was more common in the North than we are likely to admit. And I believe that the list of particular clothing in the ad for Sobiner is due to the fact that the slave owner was a woman.

Back to the use of runaway ads in the social studies curriculum. While readers may have mixed feelings about a student-created ad as a project, I hope that there would be little objection to a teacher’s using several ads as a topic for discussion and critical evaluation in class. Students could look up the numbers of runaways, discuss motives, the risks involved, destinations, penalties for those who helped them, the likelihood of capture, etc. And they could evaluate the ads as primary sources of information: are they accurate, representative, useful, historically significant?

This SITE is the source for the quotation and provides information on this subject as does this SITE. The above ad is one of the many compiled for a PROJECT by students at Wesleyan.

posted August 27th, 2018 by Janet, comments (5), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Connecticut,Lesson plans,Research,Runaway slaves

“Lucy Locket Lost her Pocket”

I couldn’t resist recommending a recent Two Nerdy History Girls blog post on “pockets” because of the charming video of the song “Lucy Locket Lost Her Pocket” that is included, courtesy of Pauline Loven.

For 18th century women, “pockets” were a separate part of their attire, not built into clothing as they are today. They were attached to a ribbon which was tied around the waist rather like an apron, usually worn under the skirt, and accessed through a slit. They could be capacious or small, plain or fancy, and hold a multitude of things. See my earlier post here. The dimity pocket pictured belonged to Abigail Adams. More information about it can be found here.

For those inclined to make a pocket, follow the instructions issued by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. After 1800, the type of pockets described were not suitable for the slimmer fashions, and women took to carrying reticules or purses.

posted March 8th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Clothes,Fashion

“Goods & Chattles”

An inventory of a household’s goods provides an intimate glimpse of the owner’s life as no other document can. Reading it, one almost feels guilty of spying or trespassing. ELIZABETH AMSDEN (1724-1768), an unmarried woman from Deerfield, Massachusetts, made her living as a weaver; indeed she had a shop. Shortly before her death in 1768 she made a list of all her belongings and sold them to a townsman. Here are her possessions, actually quite of number for a single lady. Note that “do” means “ditto”, “hollon” refers to a plain-weave fabric from Holland. Prominent are the tools of her trade: looms, warping bars, sley, shuttles. The signatures at the bottom left are those of the neighbors who witnessed the document.

See the inventory in manuscript form HERE. Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA.

posted November 27th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Amsden, Elizabeth,Clothes,Employment,Furnishings,Primary sources

“a fashionable Muff & Tippet”

ELIZABETH WILLING POWEL kept up her correspondence with George Washington in 1798. She delivered to him a set of prints from a friend that she added to. She also did some shopping for him.

Market Street [Philadelphia] Decemr 3d 1798My dear Sir
I have the Pleasure to send the Book of Prints that you were so obliging as to accept from your Friend. I have also taken the liberty to add a few that I admire on a presumption that the Mind capable of tracing with Pleasure the military Progress of the Hero whose Battles they delineate will also have the associate Taste and admire fine representations of the Work of God in the human Form.

As you wish to take Miss Custis a Testimonial of your recollection of her, I really know not of any Thing more appropriate at this Season, than a fashionable Muff & Tippet; and such may be procured for less than Thirty Dollars, a Pattern of Muslin for a Dress such as you would choose to present will I find cost Sixty dols. at least——a Pattern for a half or undress may be bought for 23 dols.; but let me know what will be most agreeable to you and I will purchase it with Pleasure and pack it up in a manner the least inconvenient for you.

I hope you have suffered no inconvenience from your long unpleasant Walk in the Rain on Sunday last. My best wishes ever attend you as I am always Your sincere Affectionate Friend
Eliza. Powel

The image shows a fur muff on the left and a fur tippet on the right, popular during the 1790s. Eleanor “Nelly ” Parke Custis was Martha Washington’s granddaughter.

“To George Washington from Elizabeth Willing Powel, 3 December 1798,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-03-02-0164. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 16 September 1798 – 19 April 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot and Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 242.]

posted October 2nd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Custis, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke,Fashion,Powel, Elizabeth Willing,Washington, George

“be so good as to send me . . . money”

In October of 1792 George Washington sent his niece Harriot Washington (his deceased brother Samuel’s daughter), who had been at Mount Vernon, to live with his sister Betty Washington Lewis. Betty’s husband had died and Betty and her family found themselves in some financial distress. Harriet wrote letters to her uncle asking for money for herself. (He had promised to take care of her). It must have been embarrassing to do this; it makes me squirm to read this letter.

Fredericksburg [Va.] January 5 [1793]I hope my dear Uncle will excuse my troubleing him again, Aunt Lewis has desired me to ask you for a little money there is a few thing’s I want, that I would be much obleiged to you for, she say’s if you will send me some she will keep it, & I shall not get any thing but what I really want, I hear the Birth night is to be kept, and as every one is a going here and as I should like to go I will thank my dear Uncle if he, will be so good as to send me enough money, to get me a ⟨s⟩lite Lutestring or something, of that kind, as there is some very pretty one’s here, Aunt Lewis will get it for me and I will take great care of it[.] I had a violent pain and inflamation in my jaw last week I was obleiged to have my tooth drawn, and the Doctor charged two dollar for it. . . . If you please to give my love to Aunt Washington. I am my dear Uncle Your affectionate Neice
Harriot WashingtonP.S. Aunt Lewis desirers me to give her love to you and say’s she would have wrote to you but she had not time.
H.W.

George Washington sent “Money for Harriot” in a letter to his sister later in January. According to local newspapers a ball was planned to commemorate George Washington’s birthday. Lutestring is a glossy fabric used for women’s dresses and ribbons.

Betty Washington Lewis wrote to her brother George on January 29, 1793 saying she had received the money for Harriot and she provided a few details about Harriot’s situation.

My Dear Brother
Your letters of Januy the 6the and 14the of this Month came duly to hand, the enclosed letter to my son Robert met with a speedy conveyance the same day, the other with the Money for Harriot, which I shall see that no part of it shall be laid out but in those things that is really necessary, it is unfortunate for her my living in Town for many things that could be wore to the last string in a Cuntry Place, will not do here, where we see so much Company, I must say less would be more agreeable to me.

I must in justice to Harriot say she Payes the strictest regard to the advice I give her and really she is very Ingenious in makeing her Clothes and altering them to the best advantage. . . . Harriot desir’s me to thank you for your Kindness to her, and Joins me in returning your Compliment, by wishing you many happy New Years. I am with sincear love to you and my sister [Martha] Your Affet. Sister
Betty Lewis

Citation: “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 5 January 1793,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-11-02-0373. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 11, 16 August 1792 – 15 January 1793, ed. Christine Sternberg Patrick. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002, pp. 590–591. “To George Washington from Betty Washington Lewis, 29 January 1793,” founders Online pp 60-81.

posted June 26th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clothes,Lewis, Betty Washington,Washington, George,Washington, Harriot

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