“that quilted contrivance”

The correspondence between ABIGAIL SMITH ADAMS, MARY SMITH CRANCH, and ELIZABETH SMITH SHAW/PEABODY reveals the strong bond that existed between the Smith sisters. Mary was the eldest, followed by Abigail, and Elizabeth “Betsy.” Mary was living in Salem Massachusetts in 1766 while Abigail was in Braintree. The two were too far apart to be able to see each other frequently and they sorely missed the visits and chats they used to have. Mary Cranch had a daughter Betsy and Abigail had her first child Abigail called Nabby. Mary’s husband Richard had been ill and Abigail hopes she is not too “cast down”, that is depressed, by it. The letter ends with an interesting request from Abigail.

Dear Sister
I heard to Day that the Doctor had a Letter from Mr. Cranch, and that he was still very Ill, poor Man. I am grieved for him, and for you my dear Sister, who I know share with him in all his troubles. It seem[s] worse to me when I hear you are unwell now than it used to, when I could go and see you. Tis a hard thing to be weaned from any thing we Love, time nor distance has not yet had that Effect upon me. I think of you ten times where I used to once. I feel more concern’d for you, and more anxious about you—perhaps I am too much so. I would not have you cast down my Sister. Sufficient to the Day is the Evil thereof. . . . Tho things may not appear so agreable and encourageing at present, perhaps the Scale may be turned. Mr. Cranch may, and I hope he will have his Health better, and we may all have occasion to rejoice in Each others prosperity.
I send my little Betsy some worsted for a pair of Stockings to go to meeting in. You must remember my Love to Mr. Cranch. Mr. Adams would be very glad if he would write to him, and I should take it kindly if you could write to me by Father, and let me know how you all are. I should be obliged if you would Lend me that quilted contrivance Mrs. Fuller made for Betsy. Nabby Bruses her forehead sadly she is fat as a porpouse and falls heavey. My paper is full and obliges me to bid you good Night. Yours,
A Adams

The “quilted contrivance” that Abigail speaks of is a pudding cap. This was a padded cap tied onto the heads of toddlers beginning to walk. It was intended to protect their heads from injury by falls. It was commonly thought that frequent bumps on the head would turn children’s brains to mush— as in pudding, thus the phrase “pudding cap.” Small children were often called by the endearing term ” little pudding heads.”

“Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 13 October 1766,” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-01-02-0045. [Original source: The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 1, December 1761 – May 1776, ed. Lyman H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963, pp. 56–57.] A glossary of children’s clothing and the above image can be found on the Colonial Williamburg SITE.


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