Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Mary Washington

For Mother's Day, Washington Post writer Gregory S. Schneider wrote an article about Mary Washington.  I was interviewed and had the pleasure of giving Mr. Schneider a tour of the Mary Washington House in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I invite everyone to come to the Mary Washington House to learn about the life of this remarkable woman--and your view of her might just be challenged.  The mother who made George Washington--and made him miserable

(Gregory Schneider/The Washington Post)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Encounters with the Paranormal: Volume 2

While on Mike Ricksecker's and Vanessa Hogle's show The Edge of the Rabbit Hole, I mentioned that I contributed a story in Mike's anthology Encounters with the Paranormal: Volume 2: Personal Tales of the Supernatural.  The book is a collection of true stories of encounters with the paranormal.  I contributed a story about my favorite ghostly encounter at the Whaley House.

The best part about participating in this book is that a portion of the proceeds of this book will be directly donated to the restoration and preservation of the historic Goldenrod Showboat.

Encounters with the Paranormal: Volume 2 is currently available on Amazon

To learn more about Mike Ricksecker's Haunted Road Media please here   

Spiritualism In The Lincoln White House | Michelle Hamilton | Edge Of Th...

Last week I had the pleasure of being a guest on Mike Ricksecker's and Vanessa Hogle's YouTube show The Edge of the Rabbit Hole where I discussed my book "I Would Still Be Drowned in Tears": Spiritualism in Abraham Lincoln's White House.  It was a great hour and I enjoyed my time on the show.

"I Would Still Be Drowned in Tears": Spiritualism in Abraham Lincoln's White House is available on Amazon

"My Heart is in the Cause": The Civil War Diaries of Private James A. Meyers, 45th PA Volunteers is available on Amazon

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Fredericksburg Ghost Story

Sometimes while researching I come across something completely unexpected.  While preparing for a lecture about Civil War women diarist in Fredericksburg I came across this amazing story that I would like to share.

General John Minor was a solider in Revolutionary War and a general in the War of 1812.  Minor entered politics and was an associate of James Monroe.  A respected member of Fredericksburg, Minor had a large family and a large plantation called Hazel Hill.  In June of 1816, Minor was in Richmond, Virginia attending the General Assembly when the following events occurred.  This story was recorded by Minor's granddaughter Mary Isabella Blackford (1841-1928):

"My mother never did tell me this ghost story at all.  I never heard it till after I was grown...My grandmother had kept it a dead secret forty years.  The servants had strict orders not to mention it in Fredericksburg or anywhere.  In those days servants had to mind.  As far as I know, they never did tell it.

"General Minor was at that time a member of the General Assembly that was meeting in Richmond.  My grandmother was not expecting him at all.  She was sitting in her dining room at Hazel Hill about 6 o'clock that evening...with her sons, their tutor and my mother, when suddenly the door opened and the butler, an elderly colored man, came in and said, 'Mistress, did you know Master had come?'  She rose from the table quite excited and said, 'No, Ben, I was not expecting General Minor.  Where is he?'

"Then they all followed Ben out in the hall and saw [the General] at the lower end and just about to go upstairs.  He turned a moment and looked at them and then went on up.  He was in full evening dress.  They could see his hand on the banister as he went up, and the ruffles at his wrist.  Some went upstairs and searched every room but he was no where to be found.  The family were all excited and distressed, not knowing what to think.

"At that very moment General Minor was at the Governor's Mansion attending a state dinner.  Several hours later a man on horseback, his horse covered with foam, dashed into he yard with a letter to Grandma telling the sad news of the General's sudden death at the dinner party." (Source: Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory: The Story of a Virginia Lady Mary Berkeley Minor Blackford 1802-1896 Who Taught Her Sons to Hate Slavery and to Love the Union by L. Minor Blackford (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954) pg. 8-9).

Sadly, Hazel Hill no longer stands, but there is a historical marker detailing the history of the property and Minor's accomplishments.  For more information on Hazel Hill here.

General John Minor's remains were returned to Fredericksburg and buried in the Fredericksburg Masonic Cemetery.  Visit his Find a Grave page here.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Printed Fashions at Colonial Williamsburg

Last week a new exhibition at the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg opened for the public.  "Printed Fashions: Textiles for Clothing and Home" examines the printed textiles that flooded the market from the late 17th century to early 19th century.  Spurred on by new technologies and trade with India and Asia, British manufacturers found a wealth of inspiration for printed fabrics--and an eager public who quickly snapped up the fabric to decorate their homes and display their wealth through vibrant clothing.

The curators at Colonial Willamsburg gathered 75 examples of the best of 18th-19th century printed fabric.  Many of the pieces have never been on display before.  The selected pieces are simply breathtaking.  The pieces dazzle the eye, and quickly banish any thoughts of Colonial era fashions and homes as dark, bland, or unfashionable.  The colonists were just as fashion conscience as their English counterparts and quickly adapted the latest trends and fashions into their homes and wardrobes.

Below are just a few of the highlights on display:

Caraco Jacket, with quilted petticoat c. 1775-1785.  I love how the fichu is tucked into the front of the caraco.  The fichu, wig, and jewelry are reproductions.

Back view of the caraco jacket with the fichu draped over the shoulder.

Banyan c. 1770-1810.  During this period, men were not afraid to wear bold colors and flowered fabrics.  Banyan's were worn at home in private when a gentlemen took their waistcoats off for comfort.  The cap kept the gentlemen's head warm when the wig was not being worn.

Gown and apron c. 1780-1790.  This is a very fashionable gown and highlights the fashionable silhouette of the 1780s.  My favorite part about this dress is that at the front of the bodice an extra strip of fabric was added across the top for modesty.  I also liked how the apron is tucked under the V at the front of the waist.

Gown c. 1785.  This was my favorite gown in the exhibition.  I love, love, love every part of this outfit.  The wig, fichu, flowers, petticoat, and jewelry are reproduction.

Side view of the gown.

Gentleman's shaving or dressing apron c. 1750-1775.  Worn while being dressed and shaved, the apron prevented the powder that dusted the wigs from getting on a gentleman's clothing.

Gown c. 1800-1810.  This is a beautiful example of the Empire style fashions.  The fabric dates from c. 1790 suggesting that the dress was remodeled after the 1790s to reflect the changing fashions.

A close up view of the lovely sleeve trim.

Gown with removable sleeves c. 1805.  This dress has removable sleeves which transformed a day dress into an elegant evening dress.  I love the ruffles on the bodice for modesty.

Gown bodice and skirt panel c. 1790.  Another example of a dress remade to reflect changes in fashion.  The skirt panel had been connected to the bodice, but was removed at a later date.

Reproduction gown in the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum gift shop.  This fabric was reproduced by Colonial Williamsburg, but has been retired.  You think they would have waited till after the exhibit!

Fabric fragment c. 1775-1800.  Colonial Williamsburg has reproduced this fabric and can be purchased here.

Two stomachers c.1720-1740.  This is the back of the stomachers and would would not have been meant to be seen.

Doll in a wrapping gown c. 1770-1775.  Dolls in the 18th century showcased the latest fashions and this doll came with a complete wardrobe of fashionable gowns and underpinnings.

Apron c. 1770-1775.  A unique example of a bib apron from the 18th-century.  I need to add on of these to my wardrobe!

Child's gown or frock c. 1790.  Guests to Colonial Williamsburg will recognize this gown and fabric as the inspiration for the outfit sold in the gift shops of CW.

Back view of a jacket c. 1775-1785.  The stomacher to this jacket has been lost.

Kerchiefs c. 1795-1825.  Printed kerchiefs added a dash of color to everyday wear.

Jacket c. 1780.  Another example of fabric being reused to reflect changing fashions.  The jacket dates to the late 1770s to early 1780s, but the fabric dates to an earlier period.

Jacket c. 1795-1815.  Changing fashions are reflected in this jacket for everyday wear.

Hat c. 1780-1820.  Cotton chintz used to line the inside of this fashionable straw hat.

I highly recommend a trip to Colonial Williamsburg to view "Printed Fashions."  Pictures do not do justice to the beautiful fabric and fashions on display.  The exhibit is scheduled to run for two years, so there is plenty of time.

For more information visit the official page here



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes

In February 2017, American Girl brought everyone's favorite spunky colonial girl, Felicity Merriman, out of the archives with the re-release of her her original stories now repackaged as part of the Beforever line.  I have been a fan of Felicity Merriman since I was nine years old.  While I have had a deep love for all of the historical American Girl's, Felicity has remained my favorite.  Needless to say I was thrilled when American Girl re-released Felicity's original stories along with a brand new book Gunpowder and Tea Cakes: My Journey with Felicity by Kathleen Ernst. 


Gunpowder and Tea Cakes is a choose your own adventure, allowing the reader to dictate the story line by making decisions at key plot points that affect the outcome.  The story follows an unnamed ten year old girl living in 21st-century Williamsburg, Virginia.  Our heroine is grieving the death of her mother and is struggling to follow her overprotective father's strict rules.  While dusting an 18th-century miniature in her grandmother's antique shop she is whisked back in time to 1775.  The city is tense after the royal governor Lord Dunmore's removal of the colonies supply of gunpowder.  In the midst of the political powder keg our heroine meets and befriends Felicity.  The stories then follow the narrator's adventures with Felicity.  Through her adventures in 1775 the narrator gains the strength to confront the challenges that she faces in the 21st-century.  

Kathleen Ernst expands Felicity's world to include a diverse cast of new characters.  Inspired by new scholarship into 18th-century Williamsburg, Ernst includes Native American voices that was lacking in the original stories.  Also included is more nuanced portrayal of the Patriot cause and the movements supporters.  The narrator is shocked that the Merriman's own slaves, which causes her to question if Felicity could still be a good person despite coming from a slave owning family. Gradually, the narrator realizes that she can still like Felicity, even if she does not like everything about the era and society that Felicity lives in.  

A delightful journey through Felicity's Williamsburg, Gunpowder and Tea Cakes is a welcome addition to the series.  

Purchase Gunpowder and Tea Cakes Amazon

Visit Kathleen Ernst's website.