“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

Martha Washington’s Recipes

GEORGE and MARTHA WASHINGTON entertained a good deal—at the presidential residences in New York and Philadelphia and, of course, at Mount Vernon where they always welcomed a stream of visitors. Although Martha Washington undoubtedly owned several cookbooks only two survive. Her copy of The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, first published in 1747, is at Mount Vernon. The other, a manuscript cookbook called Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, a collection of 16th and 17th recipes (known as receipts) which she acquired from the family of her first husband Daniel Parke Custis, is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In 1981 it was published in an edited and annotated version by Karen Hess.

At the cookery section of Mount Vernon’s website you can peruse many recipes for dishes that were served at Washington dinners …. and make them yourself as they have been adapted for modern methods of preparation and cooking. I have chosen two suitable for this week’s holiday: one a dressing to serve with your bird, and another which is great for using those leftovers. Both are featured on the menu at the Mount Vernon restaurant.

Fruit Dressing for the Holiday Bird


2 cups chopped, unpeeled Jonathan apples
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped, seeded dates
2 cups chopped figs
2 cups mixed nuts (Brazil, walnuts, filberts and pecans)
1 cup grape juice
6 slices buttered toasted bread, cut into cubes
1 cup turkey drippings


Mix apples, celery, dates, figs, nutmeats and toasted bread cubes. Moisten with grape juice. Arrange ingredients in a 9×13-inch pyrex dish. Baste with turkey drippings. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes.

Serves 14 to 16

Golden Turkey Pie


1 deep-dish 9-inch pie shell
1 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 cup diced, cooked turkey
2 tablespoons chopped pimento
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese


Preheat empty cookie sheet in 375 degree oven. Add pie shell to hot cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. (This will make it crisp.) Cook celery in butter until tender; stir in turkey and pimento. Beat together eggs, milk, mayonnaise, mustard and salt. Stir in turkey mixture. Pour into pie shell. Sprinkle with cheese and paprika. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 35 minutes, until silver knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Serves 4 to 6

Enjoy Thanksgiving Day with friends and family, and count your blessings.

posted November 21st, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Food, Mount Vernon, Recipes, Washington, George, Washington, Martha

“Ye Olde English Tea Shoppe”

More about deciphering eighteenth century handwriting.

Readers will, of course, have seen the sign “Ye Olde English Tea Shoppe” when looking for a place to have a cuppa. The “y” in the sign is a thorn and represents “th”; therefore one should say “The Olde …” The thorn is used in other words too.

Lower and upper case letters of the alphabet in their handwritten forms can be difficult to recognize and differentiate. Nouns were often capitalized but not consistently. The writer will sometimes capitalize a noun on one line but not on another. Or … use the lower case for a proper noun. Cast your eyes on these samples of upper and lower case letters.

Doesn’t the capital “L” look like an “S”? Many’s the time my colleagues and I have conferred in a manuscript library over the handwriting in a letter, trying to decide whether a particular word begins with a capital “G” or a lower case “g”.

One of the more confusing writing conventions met with in reading and transcribing eighteenth century letters and diaries is the “long s” that looks like the present-day “f;” it was used in the middle of words though not at the end. The words shown are “Congress” and “possible.”

I’m off shortly to help a friend examine a cache of family letters. Maybe the tips and examples given will help you decipher old family letters or diaries, if you’re lucky enough to have them.

The source for this post is “What Does That Say?” Series, Pt. I found HERE.

posted November 16th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Primary sources

Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution opened in April of this year. I visited it last week and can report that it is a wonderful addition to a city rich in historic sites and institutions related to the founding of our nation. The films, exhibits and artifacts in this well-designed museum help the visitor understand how the diverse American colonies, often at odds with each other, united to gain independence from Britain. The history examined spans the years from 1760 to the adoption of the Constitution in 1787 and the inauguration of George Washington as president in 1789. And, it is suggested, onward to the present as we continue to try to be true to the founding principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A serious effort has been made to include insights into the experiences of all sorts of people, women and children as well as men. Visitors will meet both the elite and the humble, those who served in the military as well their civilian counterparts, Native Americans and enslaved workers, Patriots and Loyalists. Particular attention is paid to the Oneida Indians who sided with the Americans as opposed to other Indian nations that saw their interests better protected by the British. The Oneida Nation contributed $10 million toward the construction of this new museum and is suitably honored.

The museum is visitor friendly, with many interactive displays. The impressive collection of artifacts and objects includes all things military: from uniforms and kits to guns and swords—in American, British, Hessian, and French versions. The life-size troops pictured are Dragoons of the British Legion.

In one niche is a collection of flags. Another is devoted to women in their various roles. Still others to household necessities and American-made products, including china and fabrics. There are manuscripts, printed documents and broadsheets. Visitors can view books like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and Baron Von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of Troops in the United States; his drills turned a rag-tag army into an effective fighting force.

Happily there are reproductions visitors can touch. Or sit in. This is the chair, with the famous carving of the sun on its high back, from which George Washington as President of the Constitutional Convention listened to the debates. Of it Benjamin Franklin is said to have remarked: “I have often … in the course of the session … looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Clearly the museum is great for kids. There are life-size depictions of famous events: watch Americans tear down the statue of George III in New York City for example. There are so-called “immersive events” with appropriate sound effects: stand beneath a reproduction of Boston’s Liberty Tree where residents discussed the pros and cons of resistance to the British; choose some fighting clothes; climb aboard a privateer’s ship; sniff a tar-coated hauser.

Perhaps the pièce de résistance among the artifacts at the museum is George Washington’s war tent, one of two, used when he was on the road. At the end of a well-done film, describing its construction, use, and conservation, on the stage behind a scrim and in a protected environment the tent itself is revealed. Seeing it is almost like a religious experience.

After some refreshment at the café, the next stop is the well-stocked shop where visitors are sure to find souvenirs or gifts for all ages. There is an excellent selection of books, both scholarly and popular. I am hoping the shop will, in the near future, carry Selected Correspondence of John Jay and Sarah Livingston Jay and In the Words of Women, both by me and my colleagues Louise North and Landa Freeman. There are gifts aplenty for kids but it was a bit jarring, in this day and age, to see these grouped by sex. It was also disappointing and rather ironic to find that many items on sale were made in China, Honduras, Nicaragua, or Pakistan. How great it would have been for a museum about the founding of our nation for them to have been made in the USA.

Visit the museum’s website to purchase tickets in advance at specified times. There is so much to see and absorb that tickets are good for another visit on the next day.

On a personal note, it was gratifying to see many visiting school groups, while carefully arranging to be well ahead or behind them because of the noise. And it was a particular pleasure to talk to some of the other visitors. I met and engaged in conversation a woman of the Lenape nation who visits classes of schoolchildren in Native dress to tell stories and provide information about Native cultures and games. We exchanged email addresses.

posted November 7th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Museums

A Short Break

For the next few days I will be visiting the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It opened in April and I am anxious to see what steps have been taken to make the period more meaningful and accessible to young and old alike. I’m interested, of course, in how much attention has been paid to women and how they are represented. More fodder for this blog.

posted October 24th, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Philadelphia, Primary sources

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