Material Culture at the Time of the York Candlemas Raid- Part 2, The Abenaki

The Abenaki Native People living in southern Maine at the turn of the17th century (also called Wabanaki), or “People of the Dawn Land” were of the Eastern Woodland culture and spoke an Algonquian language. They called the area Agamenticus, which roughly translated means “where the tidal river overflows the marshes”. According to Charles Edward Banks, “Of the language in general it may be said that the articulate sounds employed by the Indians lacked several of the consonants employed in the English language, such as b, f, g, l, r, and x. Their vowel sounds were like our own, but y was not a part of their speech. The intonations of them were peculiar to his mode of articulation. The sound of o and oo was made with the lips closed, through the nose.” (Banks, The History of York, Maine, Vol 1, p. 25).

They lived in typical Eastern Woodland villages comprised of lodges and wigwams, and generally were hunter/gatherers, though they farmed somewhat, planting the “3 sisters” corn, beans, and squash, fertilized by fish. Fish such as sturgeon, pike and bullhead were caught. Hunters provided meat from deer (venison), bear, moose and smaller game like squirrel or rabbit. Furs worn and traded included deer, fox, and beaver, which was especially valued. They likely traveled the waterways in birchbark canoes.

Europeans began arriving in the area in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, at first fishing and trading with the Native people, but after disease (possibly smallpox) wiped out the local people, similar to what occurred in the Plymouth area with the Wampanoag people, they began to settle in the area during the 1620s and 30s. An Englishman named Ferdinando Gorges was granted a charter in 1635 to create his own province. At that time a village existed and was called Agamenticus, but Gorges renamed it Gorgeana (we aren’t entirely certain if it was pronounced Gorge-ee-ana, or George- ee-ana) after himself. At this time, Gorgeana was NOT a Puritan community.

In the 1640s King Charles I was deposed by Oliver Cromwell and executed. Massachusetts Bay Colony then began an initiative to subdue and acquire neighboring colonies. In 1651 they subdued Kittery, followed by Gorgeana in 1652 and renamed it York in honor of a town in England that had submitted to Cromwell. At this point, York now has a Puritan government. Yay? The 3 main areas in York were Scituate (the site of current York Village), Scotland (settled by Highlanders who had been prisoners of war from the Battle of Dunbar in 1650) in the vicinity of current Rt 91 toward South Berwick, and Cape Neddick, near the current Rt. 1 and the Shore Road to Ogunquit.

In 1675 King Phillip’s War broke out encompassing much of New England. Where there had not been much conflict with Native People in the area, now the attacks got closer though they were mainly on the outskirts of town: in fields outside of the town, and on Cape Neddick houses were occasionally burned.

In 1688 when Catholic King James was overthrown and replaced with the Protestant William and Mary, Louis XIV of France declares war against England and the French instigate their Catholic Native allies, encouraging them to secure their land against encroachment by the English “heretics”.

And so the scene is set. Tensions between the Abenaki and Europeans began almost as soon as trading began. In 1525 an agent of Spain raided Maine and Nova Scotia and took upward of 50 Native People prisoner, bringing them back to Spain, presumably enslaving them. The Native People also viewed the English who came to fish and trade as bringers of disease, and some of these men cheated their Native clients in trading. They were increasingly angered by land grabbing and settlements, while becoming increasingly dependent upon Europeans, trading furs for guns, ammunition, and other commodities. By this time, in addition to traditional bow and arrow and axes/tomahawks, the Abenaki are using the matchlock and its successor the wheel lock muskets and pistols. I’m by no means a weapons expert, so if you’d like more information, start here:

Mutual suspicions and the wars between the French and the English further soured relations and the Native People began to raid the settlements to avenge wrongs and insults, including the English settlers blocking their cornfields, damming rivers preventing fish from arriving in their fishing grounds, and claiming their hunting and foraging grounds for homesteads. The English believed that Native People were inferior to Europeans, calling them “savages” and were convinced that Native religions were the equivalent of devil worship. There were atrocities against the Abenaki committed by the English during King Phillip’s and King William’s Wars and in 1676, 400 Native People were invited to a conference in Dover, at which time Major Richard Waldron used the occasion to enslave 200 of them. He also later led an expedition designed to capture Madockawando, the chief sachem or sagamore on the Maine coast, and while he failed to capture the chief, his soldiers killed 8 peace seeking Indians at Pemaquid. By 1690, as King William’s War raged, Sir William Phipps, governor of the Province of Maine captured Port Royal, an undefended settlement in Nova Scotia, wounding or killing many Abenaki allied with the French. In addition the English settlements were strung out in various locations along the coast, making them difficult to defend. For all of these reasons, the Abenaki began to raid the settlements.

After an attack by the Abenaki in Kittery, 60 of the local militia from York were withdrawn to Portsmouth, NH. The Abenaki attacked a small party on the beach in Rye, NH in the autumn of 1691, killing a dozen men and taking another dozen captive. These captives told them that an army was coming from Portsmouth to exact retribution. Madockawando’s people may have been trying to reach the coast ahead of the soldiers they believed were coming, and in February of 1692 the York settlement was nearby and vulnerable. For many years, the English and their descendants viewed the 1692 raid as a terrible, unprovoked massacre they didn’t deserve. But was it really, and did they or didn’t they deserve it? I know what I think, but you be the judge. Up next: the events of January 25 1691/2.

Material Culture at the Time of the York ME Candlemas Raid (Part 1- Background)

Many of you are aware of the event that took place in February of 1692 known as “The York Candlemas Raid”. At my place of employment, the Old York Historical Society (OYHS)*, we’ve presented a walking tour on the raid for the past 2 summer seasons. The basic tour outline was prepared by one of our Ph.D. students, though I supplemented the outline with some of my own research, as is typical, before I gave my own version of the tour when asked to fill in for him last summer after he returned to university. I had also spoken in the past about the Candlemas Raid and the possible connection to the Salem witch hysteria with a local historian, and those 2 gentlemen inspired my search for further information. **

The larger context of the raid is the conflict between the Native People and English settlers in the region since the end of King Philip’s War in 1678.  The Native People in what is now the State of Maine (Wabanaki/Abenaki) were allied to the French in Canada and by the late 1600s, many had converted to Catholicism.  Another war, King William’s War, broke out in Europe in 1688 between Protestant England who had overthrown the Catholic King James II in favor of William of Orange and Mary, and Catholic France, and quickly spread to the New England region, including the province of Maine. Religious hatred played a major role in this war, since the English Puritans believed that Roman Catholics were agents of the Antichrist. This religious hatred was combined with English racial contempt of the Native People as inferior to Europeans.

I won’t go into great detail about the raid itself here…if you’d like further information on that please come to our walking tour on the subject during the summer/fall season. Details can be found on the website of the Old York Historical Society.

The raid was planned by Abenaki Sachem Madockawando and Father Louis-Pierre Thury. Madockawando himself probably led the raid with several hundred warriors who crept into town following a heavy snowfall, taking the population by surprise. Although there has been controversy surrounding the number of people killed in the raid, the real number was around 50, with 80-100 captured, and probably around 150 survivors in three garrison houses in different locations in town.  Shocking for the Puritan colonies was the killing of the Reverend Shubael Dummer, founder of the First Parish Church, which left York without spiritual leadership. Both Captain John Flood of the Portsmouth Militia, and Judge Samuel Sewall wrote of Dummer’s demise.

Although people of the time probably knew where the mass grave was located, it was never documented. After the mid-1700s when the last survivor of the raid died, large scale political and economic changes in York contributed to loss of memory of its location. Recent radar analysis found no evidence of a mass grave in the York Burial Yard, despite a monument erected in the 1940s which proclaims the site. There are other inaccuracies inscribed on the monument, which are described in detail on the OYHS Candlemas Raid tour.

Although there are several articles online, the best and likely most accurate and detailed account of the raid on York, despite some inflammatory language, is by Charles Edward Banks, History of York, Maine: Successively Known as Bristol (1632), Agamenticus (1641), Gorgeana (1642), and York (1652), published by Calkins Press in York, ME in 1931. The 2 volumes have been reprinted for the York Historical Society, though few copies remain available for purchase at the Historical Society. It is available for reference at the York Public Library, the University of Maine, and (expensively) on Amazon.

Having given the tour several times, and after attempting, to the best of my ability as a non-Native person, to research the Native perspective on why they attacked the unsuspecting town, I also became curious about the material culture. Where and how did the Abenaki Native People live and how did they dress? What did the houses in town look like? How did the colonists dress, and what were their lives like? It may take several posts to present my findings, so please stay tuned!

Next installment: The Abenaki Native People

*The author has done her best to present the facts. However, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s own and are not necessarily the views of the Old York Historical Society.

**With grateful acknowledgement to Daniel Bottino and James Kences

A Weekend with Ravens at the Nathan Hale Homestead

For this post I’m going back several years to one of the most fun events we’ve ever done at the Nathan Hale Homestead in CT. We had a wonderful, successful event with great friends, old and new.  Our friends have a maritime group called Crew of the Raven, which hasn’t been terribly active lately, but they do mostly 17th century and sometimes War of 1812 living history. For this particular weekend we were firmly in the 18th century.

From an authenticity standpoint, many of you know that Mr. H. and I have been continually trying to improve.  We try to make sure our clothing and accessory choices are documented, and we’ve made efforts to have food that is in season, eliminate the modern packaging, etc.  We did well enough there, though the entire event was more mainstream than progressive, and for many events I take chances and don’t bring much, if anything, to keep things cold (sometimes just a flexible cold pack wrapped in a towel inside the basket).  For this event we did a larger cooking demo, providing Saturday night’s dinner for our group and feeding somewhere around 15 people, so for safety’s sake I could take less of a risk with the food.  It is one thing for us to risk food borne illness for ourselves by choosing not to refrigerate well, but it is quite another to risk the health of our friends, and we just would not take that chance.  We managed to stick the cooler we needed for the meat at the back of the tent where it remained completely covered by a blanket, instead of out in the open.  So there were no issues with the blanket falling off, people sitting on it, the public figuring out what it was or seeing us going into it for something, etc.  

It was hot (3rd week of July) so we thought that opening up one side of our tent as a lean-to for shade would be a good idea.  But the top kept sagging down and I continually knocked my hat into it going in and out, and the Mr had to keep ducking as well so it was a bit comical.  It wasn’t meant to be a baker’s tent per se, but from the pics it rather looked like one.  I’ve heard both sides of the argument on that style tent, and there are a couple of Paul Sandby encampment illustrations that looked like a tent with one side opened up in “lean-to” fashion. Given that I have health issues in the heat and thus absolutely must have shade into which to retreat on occasion in order to remain functional, we thought it was a reasonable compromise.  

I was excited to see that Mr. H. had found some excellent notched branches in the woods behind our house to use as the “fire set”.  Unfortunately we could not get those stabilized in the ground and we had to fall back on the iron fire set which thankfully we’d brought as backup.  We have used branches successfully at other events and will continue to do so whenever possible. (Pics below are examples from another event)

The setting was idyllic, on Friday and Saturday (prior to Sunday’s fife and drum muster) with the house in the background, the stonewalls and fields, the 21st century retreated and one could almost imagine living in another time. Although we’ve gravitated more toward the progressive events, sometimes getting together with one’s friends in a looser setting is well worth it. That particular event remains in my memory as one of the best weekends ever.

Outlander Fans, Mark Me, You Will Love the Isabella McTavish Fraser Gown…(or, tartan on a budget)

I had long admired the Isabella McTavish-Fraser wedding gown from 1785 in the Inverness Museum and had been looking for any excuse to make my own copy even though it is a style of dress very specific to the Scottish Highlands.  I decided to go for it because I can use it for clothing demonstrations (I already wore it to a museum event with documentation on the original gown available), as I would have no reason to wear it for Revolutionary War era living history in the American colonies.  But, portraying a Scot with my maritime group, or wearing it to a Burns night?  Oh yes. Someday I plan to recreate it using Gramp’s family tartan, but since that wasn’t quite in the budget, I made it with some cheaper not-a-real-tartan-but-pretty fabric that my Mum found. We thought it was wool flannel but is probably actually cotton flannel fabric.  At $2.50 a yard we couldn’t lose, and at least it’s a twill weave. She and another random lady in the store decided that it would go well with my reddish brown hair, and that was that.


I decided to experiment with the JP Ryan pattern, since I already know that it fits my figure quite well. Though the colorway is somewhat different, I still thought it would make a reasonable facsimile. Note in the photo below that whoever made the original gown didn’t bother to match the plaid!  I did, however, match my plaid. Note: American Duchess offered a free download of the actual gown pattern they made when they recreated the gown along with Rebecca from Timesmith Dressmaking, but unfortunately it was a year or so after I made my gown. But you’d better believe that I downloaded that free pattern as soon as I could! If I ever get the real thing for tartan fabric, I will use that pattern so that my gown is as close to the original as possible.FrasertartandressinvernessInstead of using the separate back bodice pieces, I used the pleating template from the Larkin and Smith pattern along with the front bodice pieces from JP Ryan to make a gown with a one piece pleated back.  I had not been able to find a photo of the back of the original gown, so made an assumption that it has a pleated back, rather than separate back bodice pieces. After I finished the gown, I saw some photos on someone’s blog and the original gown definitely DOES have the pleated back, which recent research suggests should not be referred to as “en fourreau” as this wasn’t the period term. 


I re-drafted the sleeves to shorten the very top of the sleeve head (the original pattern piece makes a large pouf at the top back of the sleeve, which doesn’t look quite right), and also re-drew the bottom of the front of the bodice to reflect the shape of the original gown instead of the squared off front that exists on the pattern piece. 20180306_072731

The original gown is center front closing, so that is how I made it. I had enough fabric left to make the airisaid, which is really just folded cloth, and a matching petticoat, as well as a stomacher, robings, and even cuffs to easily convert it from center front closing gown of 1785 to an open front gown more appropriate to the Jacobite period of the 1740s.  20180308_111236In fact, many of my gowns have removable robings and cuffs so that I can adapt them to the time period for the particular event I’m attending. 

As you can see, when I get the funds to do a real tartan, I have several options for the family tartan. The one at the bottom left looks closest to the original gown to my eyes though it is NOT the Fraser tartan.


The original gown has its own blog here: and was written about by Peter MacDonald on the Scottish Tartans UK website as well.

How about an American Girl doll in her own version of the gown from Pemberley’s Threads?!

There are also so many YouTube videos , so check those out below!

Smugglers, Rum Runners and other Rogues from Rogues Island

During isolation due to the current coronavirus pandemic, I’ve had more opportunity to concentrate on Rhode Island history. My job is in Maine so Maine history is usually my focus, but my primary home is in RI so naturally, my interest is here too. I found several books describing the economy of Rhode Island in the 18th century hiding in my bookcase and since I’d been asked to participate in a special program by the Newport Historical Society, I dove in.


Colony House, Newport, RI. Photo by author.


The Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House, Newport, RI. Photo by author.

Until the 1760s Newport dominated Rhode Island’s economy with the wealthy merchants controlling the government. This allowed them considerable freedom in violating England’s trade laws. The entire RI economy depended upon the sea, and most direct importing from England was done by a few Newport merchants who in turn supplied the merchants in Providence. By 1763 over 534 ships from Newport alone were involved in overseas and coastal trade.


19th-century lithograph of Fort George and Newport Harbor, based on an 18th-century over-mantel painting, Newport Historical Society.


The sloop Providence sails past Fort Adams. Photo by author.

In 1764 the Sugar Act brought about stricter enforcement of the tax on molasses. This was devastating to RI’s economy because molasses was so critical to trade. The primary exports from RI were rum and spermaceti candles. In the mid-17th century, RI already had at least 2 dozen distilleries and by the 1760s, Newport alone had more than 30 distilleries. Central to this was the West Indies triangle trade. RI merchants had long avoided duty on molasses by smuggling, and the new law was interfering with both their profits and their way of life.


18th-century rum bottle, image from eBay


Richard is angry. Very, very angry. He doesn’t want to be made into oil and candles, thank you very much.

These are probably 19th-century items but are good examples of spermaceti products. This image was found on Wikipedia with no attribution for the image.

Similarly, RI merchants were not enthusiastic about the non-importation agreements. These acts, adopted by some colonies as early as 1766, restricted importation of goods into the colonies and led to the repeal of the Stamp Act. In general, Providence was more patriotic than Newport, whose residents had many more Loyalists with ties to England. Providence drew up agreements first in 1769 following the passage of the Townsend Acts in 1768 and after New York cut off trade with the colony. Finally, Newport fell in line.

By 1763 England had been at war for over 30 years. Privateers were recruited to prey on enemy ships, and ships receiving a privateering commission were allowed to keep a large portion of the spoils of war. Small coves in upper Narragansett Bay near Warwick were suited for smuggling, as compact schooners could enter to hide, with goods later taken off the ships to be stored and distributed. These schooners eluded the British patrols around Beavertail on Conanicut Island (Jamestown), thereby avoiding the duties imposed by the customs officials in both Newport and Providence. Later, under cover of darkness, the goods were sent from the warehouses at Mill Cove to Providence and Newport.


Map showing “Mill Cove” in the Conimicut area of Warwick, RI.


The Captain Peter Greene House on the corner of West Shore Rd. and Economy Ave. Our friends used to own this home. Photo by author.


The beach at Conimicut in Warwick RI. Photo by author.

Since the beginning of the century until 1774, there had been a ban on printed cotton fabrics from India, France, the Netherlands, and Prussia (Germany), silks from Asia, as well as French ribbons and lace. In 1765 ready-made garments of foreign silk, foreign silk fabrics, and velvet were banned. These bans were in support of England’s textile industry, where designers and manufacturers attempted to replicate foreign silks and printed cotton fabrics for export to the colonies. Officials from the East India Trading Company were allowed to make personal imports and quietly exceeded the legitimate limits, as fabrics especially were easy to fold and hide amongst other goods. Since fabrics of flax (linen) and wool with a minimum of finishing were made in the colonies, silks and cotton prints, with few exceptions, were imported for their wealthy customers in the colonies. Throughout the century, up until the time of the Revolution a variety of goods, including fabrics, were smuggled into the colonies. RI, in particular, had many small private coves which made it easy to hide small boats containing smuggled goods. Foreign goods, as well as British goods, were smuggled.


Photo by author

Pic by Chris Palmerie

A notorious band of privateers. Photo by Chris Palmerie

Top 2 and bottom left are copies of extant printed cotton fabrics from the Colonial Williamsburg collection. At bottom right is block-printed cotton from India. These are all examples similar to expensive imported printed cotton fabrics available in the 18th-century.


Silk brocade, Lovebirds by Scalamandre. Brocades were often made in England in London’s Spitalfields district and were exported to the colonies. Merchants would have tried to avoid paying duty on these imported silks.


Rose taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics. Many silks came from China and were often smuggled in contrary to the bans on importing of foreign fabrics.

Silk brocade gown by Hallie Larkin. This might have been a Spitalfields fabric in the 18th-century and is similar to a gown in the Met Museum in NY. Photo by author’s husband.

At the White Horse Tavern in Newport wearing a printed cotton gown that I made. Photo by author’s husband.


If one wants the best fabrics for her gowns, one must keep both the privateers and the merchants happy. Photo by Hallie Larkin.

Two of the most prominent merchants in Newport were Jacob Rodrigues Rivera and his son-in-law Aaron Lopez. These merchants were ethnically Jewish men from Portugal who were practicing Catholics in Portugual and even initially in Newport. Later they were instrumental in founding Touro Synagogue in Newport, the first in the colonies. These families were among the most wealthy and successful in Newport and were involved in many ventures. They had a major interest in the West Indian trade, as well as business interests in the production of textiles, clothing, shoes, hats, and bottles. Aaron Lopez also had a candle making factory in Newport. Mr. Lopez was married to Sarah Rodrigues Rivera, whose mother Hannah Sasportas Pimental Rodrigues Rivera, I portrayed in a small educational video on the NHS YouTube channel for the Newport Historical Society as part of their “History at Home” distance learning initiative.


Jacob Rodrigues Rivera by Gilbert Stuart, 1775.


Pastel drawing of Aaron Lopez from the Jewish Historical Archives.


Mrs. Aaron Lopes (Sarah Rivera) and her son Joshua, by Gilbert Stuart, 1772/73


Unfortunately, there was no painting of Mrs. Jacob Rodrigues Rivera (Hannah Sasportas Pimental) so here I am as Mrs. Rivera with NHS’s Elizabeth Sulock, Director of Public Programs, in the little clip from the Newport Historical Society.

For further information, see the following sources:

Withey, Lynne, Urban Growth in Colonial Rhode Island- Newport and Providence in the 18th-Century, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1984.

Journal of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Volume 3:4, November 1975

Warwick, RI Digital History Project online

Time Travel Textiles blog

Textiles and Independence in Colonial America,

Jewish Virtual Archives

Aaron Lopez Collection, Rhode Island Historical Society

Newport Historical Society

An Incident on King Street, and the Ladies of Boston

Sometime this winter I was approached by the organizer of the Boston Massacre 250 event and asked to participate. At first, I wasn’t certain I could do it, but she explained to me that there were only so many spots available to participants and in the end, I recalled what a positive experience the events in Newport RI have been, so I jumped at the opportunity. It was also the first time that women were being invited to participate on a larger scale. We each were assigned a character and much preparation was necessary. Fortunately, there was a Dropbox file where the organizers could upload research documents and primary sources for general use, though we each needed to do our own research for our characters, real people residing in Boston in March of 1770. The first thing of note…Paul Revere’s engraving was both plagiarized and inaccurate propaganda…tawk amongst yuhselves.


My character was a wealthy widow named Griselda (also called Grizzell) Eastwicke Apthorp. Madam Apthorp was born in Jamaica to wealthy parents, married London born Charles Apthorp at age 16 and had 18 children. No, you’re not reading that wrong. She had 18 children and none of them were multiples! I determined that she was either pregnant or nursing for most of the time from age 17 to 42. Five of the kids died when they were infants or young children, so she had 13 that lived to adulthood. Three more died as young adults and she had 10 living children at the time of the Boston Massacre in 1770. She was older than I am by a bit, but no one would know that.

Her husband was one of the wealthiest merchants in Boston at the time of his passing in 1758. He helped to found Trinity Church and was a warden at King’s Chapel in Boston. Unfortunately, he made most of his fortune in the slave trade, though he also sold Madeira wine, fabric, anchors, window glass, guns with carriages and lead shot, and even several ships. The family also owned several properties, residing on merchants row on Brattle Street in Boston, and had another home in Quincy. In March of 1770, Madam Apthorp as she was entitled to be called as a wealthy widow, owned the building being used as the Customs House, and also rented one of her properties to several gentlemen, officers of the 14th and 29th regiments who were stationed in the town in order to enforce unpopular Parliamentary tax legislation. The young boy killed by a customs officer in a riot on February 22, 11-year-old Christopher Seider, was a part-time servant in her household. This incident had all of Boston on edge, and she must have been upset and concerned about what might happen next. Her family was Loyalist but unlike many of her political persuasion, she remained in Massachusetts throughout the war and was never pushed to leave or to surrender her property. My bet is that she went about her business and was quiet about her loyalties to the Crown. Mrs. Apthorp lived to be 88, dying in 1796 at the home of her son John in Quincy, outliving many of her children. She was described as having rare qualities of personality and character, virtuous, amiable, charitable, and well regarded. She was also described, in her younger years, as beautiful. So of course, I needed to see what she looked like and judge for myself. Even though there are thought to be portraits of her as a young woman, the only one I could find was the Robert Feke portrait from 1748 when she was about 39. She would only have one more child (who sadly died as a young child) after this portrait was painted. Either the artist flattered her, or she looked amazingly great for a woman who had given birth to 17 children.


Mrs. Charles Apthorp (Griselda Eastwicke) by Robert Feke, 1748 Feke painted her with a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost, open to page 9 describing the temptation and the fall, which is supposed to signify that she was educated and literate, and is a paragon of virtuous motherhood. Or something to that effect. This info came from Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World By Zara Anishanslin.


Charles Apthorp by Robert Feke, 1748

I also found portraits of 2 of their children, eldest daughter Grizzel (who had just died in 1769) and Susan, their 6th child. I suspect that these ladies were painted due to their marriages to prominent men of the time. Grizzell was married in 1747 to a merchant who had been apprenticed to her father (guess he had designs on the boss’s daughter!). They moved to England, and her husband later, in 1770 after her death, became Lord Mayor of London.


Mrs. Barlow Trecothick (Grizzell Apthorp) by Robert Feke, 1748.

Daughter Susan married Thomas Bulfinch, a noted physician in Boston and had her portrait painted by Joseph Blackburn in 1757. Her portrait resides in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She’s quite pretty, and I could imagine what her mother may have looked like as a young lady. Susan was one of the few children to outlive her mother, dying in 1814 at about 80 years of age.


Mrs. Thomas Bulfinch (Susan Apthorp) by Joseph Blackburn, 1757

Now that I had her background story, I needed to decide how I might portray her. The scenario that was set for us for the daytime event in Old South Meeting House was an elegant tea at the home of fellow rich widow, Madam Lydia Hancock, Auntie of young Johnny. It is debatable which one of them was richer. Some of the ladies would be loyalists, others would oppose the non-importation agreements (essentially a boycott on importing British goods, jeopardizing the livelihood of Boston merchants) and others would not yet have made up their minds. Other scenarios for the day would include a tavern, an almshouse for the poor, merchant sisters running a millinery business, a Council meeting in the council chamber of the Old State House, a print shop, and various street scenarios demonstrating the tensions between the soldiers and the townspeople. The March 2 brawl between the rope workers and the soldiers would take place in the afternoon, and in the evening the main event would be the re-enactment of the “Incident on King Street” or the “Boston Massacre” that occurred 3 days later on March 5.

I first studied a number of Copley portraits painted in the 1760s through 1770 to determine what I wanted for Mrs. Apthorp’s “look”. The first thing I noticed was that old ladies pretty much wear brown or perhaps gray. Sigh. I’m an old lady for sure, but I’m not quite ready for “old lady brown”. I decided that Mrs. Apthorp was undoubtedly charming so she’d be wearing something less subtle. Right? Yeah, ok. I knew that I wasn’t going to make the gown she wears in the Robert Feke portrait because 1748 was far too early, and the gown was most likely some sort of wrapper. A portrait that kept jumping out at me was Mercy Otis Warren, painted by Copley in the 1760s. Mercy was not terribly gorgeous, but her gown sure is! For a moment I considered making a blue silk sack back gown for several reasons I won’t get into here (let’s just say I could probably use it at work if asked to portray Sally Sayward Barrell), but I already had a sack back gown in my own best color, emerald green. It had delicate white sleeve flounces, and I had a sheer handkerchief, a small pleated cap (I can’t really tell exactly what hers is in this portrait) and several silk bows. I felt somewhat guilty because I knew my friends were making new things, but that 12-year-old green gown was sitting there, just begging to be worn. I figured Mercy would be flattered that I wanted to copy her look. She was also in her 40s in 1770, not her 60s and that was a bit more the elegant look I wanted to go for. I know, I’m so vain I probably think the song is about me…


Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis) by John Singleton Copley, 1763


Mrs. Apthorp in the basement of the Old South Meeting House prior to the event. Apologies for the poor quality photo, it was taken with someone’s phone, and for some reason, these phone photos were pixelated and made most of our faces look like blobs with sunken eyes, smooshed noses, and bad teeth. We don’t really look like that (hopefully!)


An old pic showing the back of the gown. I kept knocking things over and banging into people with my pocket hoops.

Incidentally, one of my friends exactly copied Copley’s portrait of Mrs. James Russell from 1770. She joked that she was giving in and making the “old lady brown” gown, but in reality, it was lovely and she looked fantastic.


Mrs. James Russell (Katherine Graves), John Singleton Copley, 1770


Mrs. Russell with her sister, Mrs. Smith (Vicki and Betsy)

Now that I knew what I’d wear, all that remained was to study the events leading up to the day, and what actually happened on the day itself. Basically, tensions are running high in Boston as the Crown has sent soldiers to calm the rebellious townspeople who have been objecting to the acts of taxation that began in the 1760s. Their presence had done little to calm the people, and conflict between soldiers who wanted jobs and men who didn’t want to provide them, soldiers who didn’t want to answer to the night watchmen, townspeople who resented being stopped and questioned by soldiers, and women who feared walking about in broad daylight lest they be harassed by soldiers was rampant. Soldiers were quartered in the town (though it is a myth that it was forced on the townspeople) and some were marrying the young ladies of Boston and integrating themselves with the citizens, which was not always welcomed. On February 22 in the North End where Paul Revere lived, angry young men gathered to protest Theophilus Lillie’s shop that would not honor the non-importation agreements. When customs officer Ebenezer Richardson tried to disperse the crowd, they threw a rock which hit him in the head, followed him home and began throwing rocks and sticks, breaking his windows and striking his wife. He then loaded his musket (some accounts say with small shot, so he did not intend to kill anyone) and fired into the crowd, striking and killing 11-year-old Christopher Seider who worked in Mrs. Apthorp’s house. His funeral 4 days later was arranged by Samuel Adams and attended by approximately 2000 citizens of Boston. This incident served to fuel tensions between citizens and soldiers of the Crown even further. On Friday, March 2 workers at Mr. John Gray’s ropewalk insulted a passing British soldier seeking employment. He was told he could have a job and then told that he should clean the privy, enraging him and provoking a fight between the rope workers and the lobsters…I mean soldiers. The ropeworkers appeared to win the fight and there were rumors that the soldiers would take revenge. This set the scene for the incident on King Street on March 5.


Photo by George Comeau


Photo by George Comeau

On the night itself, it began with a young apprentice accusing a soldier of not paying his master for services rendered. The soldier had settled his bill the previous day and ignored the challenge. At that point, the sentry, Hugh White, called out to the apprentice telling him to be more respectful. The apprentice began harassing the sentry and White hit him with the butt of his musket. He fell to the ground and the ruckus attracted a larger crowd which began throwing snow and ice, sticks and stones at the sentry. The church bells began to ring and citizens, thinking there was a fire, began to come out of their homes, and many men joined the crowd around the sentry. In fear, he called out for help and soon Corporal Wemms arrived with a group of 6 privates from the 29th. They loaded their weapons and formed a semi-circle in front of the Custom House steps. Captain Preston arrived shortly after, stood in front of the men, and shouted for the crowd to disperse but they continued taunting the soldiers, daring them to fire. After a short interval, someone pushed one of the soldiers who fell back then stood and fired his musket. The rest of the soldiers then fired a ragged volley into the crowd (they may actually have reloaded and fired twice) and 11 people were hit. Three died instantly, Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, and James Caldwell. 17-year-old apprentice Samuel Maverick at the back of the crowd was hit by a ricocheting musket ball and died several hours later. Irish immigrant Patrick Carr died 2 weeks later (his coffin was not depicted in the newspaper the next week because he had yet to die). The soldiers retreated and Governor Hutchinson dispersed the crowd promising there would be an inquiry. The soldiers, including Captain Preston, were arrested along with 4 civilians and charged with murder. General Gage removed the soldiers from Boston in May and the trial ensued later that year, with John Adams defending the accused. Several witnesses gave depositions and while some argued that it was murder, others argued that it was self-defense. They were acquitted of murder, except for 2 soldiers who were branded on the thumb. This was only a brief synopsis and there are many sources that delve into what happened that day.


After studying all the information I was ready. I picked up a friend who was portraying one of Mrs. Hancock’s servants, and we met other friends in Braintree to carpool into Boston together. We had a wonderful day presenting the difficulties for these ladies in forming political opinions without the awareness we obviously have now of what would happen, and also discussed some of the differences in freedoms between married women and widows, while partaking in herbal tea (NOT imported British tea, although Mrs. Apthorp likely would not necessarily avoid that at home) and eating Shrewsbury cakes, scones, candied fruit, and Madeleines (in itself a political statement, indicating the hostess’s alignment with the French, staunch enemies of the British).


Photo by Betsy Jordan


Photo courtesy Betsy Jordan


Photo courtesy Sharon Burnston

That evening we walked down to the Old State House and took our places in the upstairs windows, as we were the prominent ladies of Boston, to witness the incident. The participants did such a great job that even though I was expecting it, I was shocked, horrified and profoundly moved when the soldiers fired, the crowd screamed, ducked, and ran, and the bodies of the dead and injured lay on the ground. For just a moment, I nearly thought it really happened and was almost overcome by emotion imagining how Mrs. Apthorp may have felt if she looked out her nearby window and saw this unfolding so soon following the death of her servant boy who had been killed just 2 weeks prior.


Photo by Betsy Jordan. We’re apparently in the gift shop.


Photo by Betsy Jordan. There is documentation of at least 4 women watching the incident from the 2nd floor of the Customs House. Elizabeth Avery later gave testimony about what she saw.


Photo by Betsy Jordan. The action really happened closer to what is now the middle of the street, near the light pole in front of the building just to the left of the middle of the photo.


Photo by Mass Live- Jane Whitehouse witnessed the entire incident first hand after she came out to speak to the sentry.

For better photos of the action, go to Mass Live here:

For the actual video of the re-enactment, click here for YouTube Boston Massacre 250th Re-enactment 2020


A more accurate depiction of what happened, painted by artist Don Troiani. Several re-enactor friends posed for this painting. The man in the dark suit on the far right of the painting is a gent from here in RI. Mr. Troiani is an artist from the colony of CT.


Photo by George Comeau

I want to thank Elizabeth Sulock of the Newport Historical Society, the staff of Revolutionary Spaces, the planning committee, the 100 re-enactors involved in making it all come to life, and especially the 43 women who participated in this event which until this year had been male-dominated with only a handful of women invited to participate. It was an honor to be asked and it was an experience I will never forget. I only hope that I did Mrs. Apthorp’s memory justice with my portrayal of her.


Kudos to Elizabeth from the Newport Historical Society for her fantastic organizational and planning skills, and her infinite patience.


The entire group in Old South Meeting House

Mini-Meg, An American Girl, Part the Second, Whereby She and Her Friend Felicity Get Clothed

It’s all about the clothes, isn’t it?  Once the American girl doll was rehabbed, she needed clothes because she came without any.  I found some socks for 18″ dolls at Joanne Fabrics and I had an extra pair of AG Felicity shoes, but nothing else.  I did, however, have a printed copy of “Felicity’s Pretty Clothes” from 1992 that I was able to download free from a website I found. If you are interested, you can download the 1992 Pleasant Company Patterns here.


The first thing I made was a shift, using the shift pattern I downloaded and some scrap linen from my own projects.  I didn’t want to use the elastic called for by the pattern so I made it without and hoped for the best.  The neckline was absolutely huge.  I pinned it into tucks so that it looked decent, but soon realized I might not be able to get it over her head.  I decided to compromise by adding a casing made of ribbon and putting in a drawstring.  It’s acceptable, but I think next time I make this I will try to re-draw the neckline to be more like a real 18th-century shift.






Casing added


Shift finished, complete with tiny cuffs.

The next thing I did was make little garters from a scrap of green wool.  All I had to do was tear tiny strips in the right length, as that’s all I did for my own garters.  Since they are wool, they will not unravel much if they aren’t hemmed. They wrap twice around the leg just below the knee and then tie in the back.  If the stockings were long enough then the garters could go above the knee rather than below.  I garter my own stockings below the knee because they stay up much better that way.


Then she needed a “Meet” outfit, just like all the other American Girl dolls.  I had some scrap wool from my own projects, and my friend really likes green, so I made a green bedgown (drafting the pattern by modifying the shift pattern), a gold petticoat, an organza apron and cap, and a linen handkerchief.  I also wrote and illustrated a “Meet Meghan” story where she and her friend Felicity get involved in the HMS Gaspee incident.  This is RI after all…



Taking a tuck in the back of the neck.


Gold wool petticoat. Petticoats are straightforward.  They are basically 2 pieces of fabric 14″ wide by 10 to 10.5″ long.  They are sewn together on each side, leaving the top open to about 3″ down each side for pocket slits.  Either a tape or a self-fabric waistband and ties on each side are added, and the whole thing is hemmed.


Bedgown and petticoat done.

I put the band on the cap backwards at first and had to rip it out and re-attach the pleated ruffle!


I did put an elastic in the cap…it was just easier.  I had to keep reminding myself that it was a doll and she wasn’t going to attend a progressive event.



I sort of made up the apron and half handkerchief without a pattern, but I traced and measured the pocket hoops, mitts, and stays to make patterns for those items.


Pleasant Company undergarments I traced and measured to make patterns.


Pleasant Company had muff, mitts and pattens for Felicity.  I made a pattern by tracing the opened up mitt.  They open and close with Velcro so it was easy to lay out and trace.


Mini-Meg’s “Meet” Outfit.

Below are some of the illustrations for her story.


Meghan and Felicity


Their friends Alice and John


Felicity’s Parents


Above- Mini-Meghan’s parents

After this, I went through my scrap pile and made a number of clothes for both Meghan and Felicity.  Felicity’s clothes will get another post since most of her things are based on my own clothing, made from scraps from those projects.

First were a blue linen petticoat and a blue and green on white block printed cotton gown (made from scraps from a jacket that I made for myself). Felicity is modeling the finished product.



I decided to do the one-piece back on this one, but it is so difficult that in the future I will likely do the separate bodice.  It’s a doll, so it isn’t like the fashion historical accuracy police will be out.




Then she got a jacket based on the “school outfit” from Pleasant company.  This was made with scraps from one of my gowns.  There was enough for Felicity to get a gown made from this also, but no matching petticoat.


I added an organza neck ruffle and sleeve ruffles but I’m not 100% happy with how they turned out.


Tiny little stomacher!  I centered the flower as much as I could but I was working with oddly shaped scraps of fabric so pattern matching was not going to happen.


After this, Meghan and Felicity received matching outfits, again made from scraps from my clothing.  I did not follow the printed instructions on any of the clothing but put them together with 18th-century construction techniques I use for my own clothing.  Also, with the exception of the gown bodices and stomachers, I didn’t line jackets or sleeves because it tended to make them bulky.


Two of everything!


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I thought the jacket was too small to do real lacing holes, so I stitched the ribbon to the 2 little stomachers to make them look like the jackets were laced.



Best friends.  Felicity’s petticoat looks fuller because she is wearing pocket hoops.  I made a pattern for stays and the pocket hoops and my friend will make her own for her doll.

The final piece to complete the wardrobe was a checked apron, which had to be pieced.  Both girls got the same apron, but I only had a long strip of fabric so both aprons were pieced.  However, piecing is documented to the period so I have no issue with it.


Believe it or not, this is the green worsted petticoat from the in-progress photo.  It looks different in different lights.

I am in the middle of making a silk-covered hat for her, and there are more outfits planned for Mini-Meg, based on some of my friend’s clothing.  We just need to find the scraps!


I got 2 little hats for 79 cents a piece, so if these don’t come out great it’s no big loss.


Meg’s Mini-Martha outfit, as she calls it.  She needs to find the scraps from this and I’ll make the little outfit.


A Williamsburg print caraco or long jacket.  I have more of this fabric and once I do what I’m planning with it, I will make a little gown from the scraps.

Next up, Felicity’s wardrobe based on my outfits.

Mini-Meg, or Rehabbing an American Girl Doll. Part the first…

A few weeks ago, my friend came to visit for a couple of days of pattern making and colonial clothing alterations.  During that time we talked about a lot of things, as you do, and somehow the American Girl dolls came up.  I’m a secret doll collector…lots of people, especially guys, think it’s weird and creepy so I don’t say much about it or have too much on my Facebook profile lest I be summarily unfriended.  It’s weird enough to be a living history enthusiast/re-enactor, right? In addition to AG dolls, I have 60s and 70s Barbie, Mattel Liddle Kiddles, Hasbro World of Love (stoned looking hippies) Topper’s Dawn from the 70s, and a few 70s Madame Alexanders. With the exception of the AGs, which I got when I was an adult because HISTORY DOLLS, many of the others were mine when I was a kid.  While I can’t display all of my vintage dolls in the house we’re in now, I have a select few in a cabinet.  I also have 3 of my many AG dolls standing on my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine in the guest room, and we were joking about how Felicity stares at my friend while she’s sleeping when she visits.  She mentioned that she never had an American Girl doll and we lamented about how expensive they were and are, especially now.  Meg’s birthday is coming up and a light bulb went off in my head…I would get her an American Girl doll, even if I had to get a junky one and fix her up myself.


Ok, my hair does not actually look red in this photo.  Trust me, it is definitely auburn, and Meg’s hair is brighter than this too.


The 18th-century girls on display in the guest room.  The doll in the pink is actually 1970s Julie, the middle is Mattel Felicity, and the one on the right (before her handmade dress was finished) is Pleasant Company Felicity. The gowns on the 2 dolls at left were clothes I purchased on eBay many years ago and are not Pleasant Company or American Girl issued, though all 3 of the hats are.

I started trolling eBay, Etsy, and the doll trading sites on Facebook, etc. At first, I was looking for a Felicity doll but then realized, no, Felicity with her dark red hair and green eyes is actually my mini-me.  She needed her own mini-me.  I found a doll with dark red chopped and frizzy hair, blue eyes, and a wound to her soft body (probably originally Emily, Molly’s friend for those of you who are AG enthusiasts) for a great bargain-basement price and I snapped her up.  She arrived about a week later sitting in a box with no bubble wrap or padding of any kind!  I was appalled, and surprised that she hadn’t been guillotined by postal equipment or at the very least been somehow drawn and quartered.  Some kid had also drawn all over her left cheek, chin, and nose with some sort of orange marker, and this wasn’t terribly visible, even in the close-up pics on the listing.  If I had realized the extent of the marker situation I might have chosen to keep looking, but I had the poor thing now and she needed my help.

Auction photos above.  I didn’t include the facial close-ups, but they didn’t really show the marks on her face.

After watching a few videos on how to rehab these dolls on YouTube, I got to work.  The first thing she got was a wash to her vinyl limbs and face with dish soap, water, and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.  This was supposed to get most marks off the vinyl dolls.  Easy, right?  Not so much.  She looked cleaner for sure, but the marker art was still all over her face.  Next, I spot cleaned her soft body with a wet towel with a little bit of dish soap.  Then it was time for emergency surgery!  The poor girl had a ruptured hernia with stuffing actually sticking out of the wound on her side/back near her bum.  I stuffed her guts back in and sewed the jagged wound closed.  I then discovered a stab wound in her upper back under her hair, and I darned that one closed with heavy linen thread.  I didn’t like the look of the large jagged wound in her side, so I gave her a skin graft with a bit of unbleached linen fabric.  I posted progress on Facebook and one of my friends commented that she was glad to see her smiling despite her ordeal and that a positive attitude was key to recovery.  LOL, cute.


Following hernia surgery.


After her skin graft.

Next, I took some wig conditioner and a wig brush that I use for my hairpieces for historical hairstyles, sprayed her hair and brushed it smooth.  It didn’t look bad, but that same dastardly child who wrote on her face also tried to cut bangs in her hair.  Besides, I knew my friend had bright red hair and wanted her mini-me to have the same.  Back to Etsy, and I found a gorgeous long, curly, bright red wig that would fit AG dolls.  The price wasn’t bad, so I ordered it.


Her hair doesn’t look too bad after I conditioned and brushed it.


In the close up you can see where the child tried to cut bangs into her hair.  She’s got a pretty face, and it is difficult to see the marks on it. I deliberately photographed the right side of her face and the marks were on the left.

While I was waiting for the wig to arrive, I needed to address the marks on her face.  All of the videos suggested trying conservative methods first, so I dutifully tried alcohol, a baking soda and water paste, non-acetone nail polish remover, and even one of those Pink Pearl erasers.  All to no avail.  In desperation, I tried a bathroom cleaner that contained hydrogen peroxide and…it faded the marks a little with hard scrubbing.  One of the videos suggested that if marks didn’t come off, use micromesh sandpaper, grade 1500, 2400, and 3200 in order to get rid of ink and shine marks.  Went to the Home Depot, got the paper and…nothing.  From all the scrubbing and sanding her face was starting to get shiny (yeah, skip that micromesh, it doesn’t actually get rid of shininess and it kind of scratches the vinyl).  I was now ready to take that last desperate step that all of the videos say to only do if all else fails.  ZIT CREAM.  That’s right folks, benzoyl peroxide is the only thing that will fade those marks.  The instructional videos say to pile it on the marks, cover it with cling-film and put the doll with the eyes and hair covered in a sunny window or out in the sun.  Ok, I did that for literally 10 minutes and her face was so hot that I was afraid she’d be damaged.  Therefore, she was going to the spa.  I put the solution on her face and put her under my desk lamp for a half-hour at a time, then I wiped the gunk off her face, checked the progress, and repeated until the marks were almost entirely gone.  I don’t even know how many times I did it over a couple of days, but patience is a virtue with this process. You want to keep checking because if you go too far with it your doll will either melt in the sun, her eyes will roll back in her head, or she will get white marks in the vinyl where the cream did its job too well.    My advice to all of you is to go directly to this step if there are ink marks on your doll.  Just be careful with it, keep checking on it, and repeat it as often as necessary for short intervals until the mark is gone and it should be fine.  All of the “conservative measures” I used changed the texture of the vinyl (probably removed the outermost coating that makes the dolls non-shiny) and her face on that side is smooth and rather shiny.  This only shows in certain lights (especially if a flash is used when taking photos), is certainly better than marker ink all over her face and doesn’t really detract from how cute she is. The pic below left is from the auction and doesn’t look half as bad as the situation really was.  The pic on the right is after treatment and due to the flash, the shininess looks worse than it really is.

Now that she was already visiting the spa, it was time for the hairdresser.  The gorgeous red curly wig had come in.  I tried it on her head over her current hair just to see how it would look and sent pics to my friend to determine whether she wanted a side part or a center part.  Of course, a center part is more period correct for the historical time periods (18th-19th centuries) so that’s how the wig would be placed.


But first, the old one needed to be removed.  I had a medium-sized spoon and some non-acetone nail polish remover at the ready.  I found a place in front where the wig was loose and placed the spoon, backside facing me, under the hairline in front and pulled upward.  Going carefully around the front of the hairline and pulling slowly did the trick.  I didn’t need to use the nail polish remover to loosen the glue until I got to the center of the top of her head.  Even then, only a little loosened it right up.  I proceeded until I got to the back of the hairline.  Most of the wig came off in one piece with only 1 small clump of hair pulled out of the wig and still stuck to the back of the hairline, which I trimmed off with scissors.  It ripped the wig liner very slightly at that spot as well.  Once the wig is off there is usually some glue residue at the top of the head and glue and hair residue as a ring around her head.  This is covered by the new wig so it is unnecessary to try to get it all off.  I suppose you could, with non-acetone nail polish remover, but it also helps as a guideline for placement of the new wig.  Sorry, I forgot to take pics of this part of the process.  I was very careful because 1) I didn’t want to damage the doll, and 2) I wanted to save the wig to use as a “rat” for 18th-century hairstyles.  Once she was as bald as an egg she got a couple more facial treatments.


At the spa, getting a facial treatment under the heat lamp. You can see the glue/hair residual ring around her head.


When her facial treatments were completed satisfactorily, it was time to have her hair done.  I took that beautiful wig out of its bag and tried it on her head.  Good thing I did this and didn’t just slap some glue onto her head the way the tutorials suggested because the wig was very tight and took me several tries to get it on her head and into the proper place.  If I had tried gluing it on I would likely have ruined the hair.  As it is I was cursing, snarling the hair, and nearly decapitated her trying to wrestle it on.  She’s lucky she didn’t lose an eye!  Once it was in place it was a pretty good tight fit so I decided to secure it to her head using straight pins pushed into her little vinyl head, or as my husband gleefully announced, I gave her a lobotomy.  I tapped in 2 pins; one toward the back under her hair and another in the middle of her part.  In hindsight, I probably should have placed that one slightly off to the side of the part under the hair, but it barely shows and it is easy to find if the wig ever needed to be changed again.


Pretty curly red hair! And yes, the same type of pin holding her hair on is holding her clothing closed.

During the whole rehab process, I had begun making her clothes because hey, it’s winter in New England and she was getting cold! The first thing she got was a shift and an extra pair of Felicity’s socks that had come with one of my older doll collection auction lots and had a number of moth holes in them.  Since I didn’t have any wool yarn and I don’t knit, I tried darning the socks with thread with not so great results.  I ended up going to the craft store and buying a little package of modern stretchy knit socks for 18″ dolls.  So she now has both a white and black pair and that will have to do.


Wearing her new shift and Felicity’s old, mended socks, which didn’t look decent enough for her to keep.  Note that she doesn’t have her new hair yet in this pic. She likes waving to her fans.

Next, she got little green wool garters to hold up her socks, and an extra pair of Felicity’s buckle shoes.  Then I began working on her first outfit by drafting a pattern for and making a bedgown, then making a petticoat, apron, handkerchief, and cap and simultaneously planning a larger wardrobe from my scrap fabric (yeah, I still haven’t finished my own green wool gown- all it needs are sleeves and hemming!)  Part 2 will feature her wardrobe as soon as it is all finished.


Our mini-mes.  Meg is borrowing Felicity’s cap and she only has her shift, bedgown, garters and new (modern, sorry) stockings on.  Felicity is in her colonial underwear, how scandalous!

Only Using Fabric from “The Stash” and Other Famous Last Words

It has been a while since I’ve been inspired to write anything, but it’s a new year, so it is time to consider the great fabric stash and determine the new gowns that need to be made. I will NOT purchase more fabric. I will repeat that as often as necessary. Something like this perhaps…


Here are just some of the fabrics remaining in my stash, and my 18th-century attire planned for them.

First is a gorgeous green mid-weight wool that I purchased a few years ago and it has aged nicely in the stash. Last spring I began making a gown and…well, I got busy in the summer, put it aside and didn’t finish it. It will be a standard English gown made with the Larkin and Smith pattern. I think I’ve experimented enough with this pattern that this should fit nicely when finished. It’s quite hard to capture the lovely color in photos, and as you can see, it looks different in each one.



Update:  It’s done!


Next on the list is a remake of a “mistake” made in 2006 or so. A friend made me a gown using the JP Ryan pattern. It was before I developed an eye for 18th-century fabrics, and was also before I learned gown construction. It was mostly machine-stitched and made from a fabric better suited to the 19th-century. It also had a separate bodice (view A) rather than the one-piece back (view B) which was more common. Not my friend’s fault…she did what I wanted. I loved that gown, as it was my very first, and have always wanted a more correct remake. Say what you will about the JPR pattern, but it fits my particular figure type very well and I like the pattern. Instead of following the instructions I use the period construction techniques I learned in workshops. I will be making View B, and I may or may not trim the front with self-fabric trim as in View A.

JPRyanRobe a l'Anglaise


I dunno, I just loved everything about this gown. In the pic on the left below, it has a white tucker around the neckline. The pic on the bottom right shows the bottom of the bodice against the white apron.


Detail of the original cotton print fabric. The print is a bit small, and doesn’t look enough like a block print.


Detail of the replacement fabric, a block-printed cotton from India.

My friend has promised to come to help me cut and fit a red brocade gown with the Scalamandre fabric I scored on sale several years ago. This one might be my favorite gown of all time! The combination of the expensive fabric and wanting it to be perfect has caused me to delay making this over and over again. Also, I want to be skinnier (yeah, that’s gonna happen this year, uh huh, uh huh). Again, the original gown has probably been modified to be center front closing when styles changed in the 1780s so I will make this with a stomacher and robings as it probably originally appeared.


This gown resides at the Museum at FIT, but unfortunately, the photos are all on Pinterest and Tumbler and there is no link to the museum site.


Scalamandre “Lovebirds” silk damask fabric.

The next fabric planned was probably already mentioned in a previous post. It is a lovely light pink silk taffeta, and I plan to make the gown on pp. 24-28 & 65 in Costume Close-Up by Linda Baumgarten and John Watson. The gown itself is in the Colonial Williamsburg collection. I’m no damned good at scaling up patterns, but I’m going to modify an existing pattern in my size to have the same shape as the pattern in the book. Good luck to me! I seldom make fitting muslins, but I will in this case.


Gown in Colonial Williamsburg’s Collection. This was originally lavender and has faded to pink.


Then there’s some dark pink silk slated to become a “Fashionable Gown”. Larkin and Smith based their pattern on an extant gown in a museum, but I was unable to locate the source gown online. However, there were a couple of gowns in the Met Museum collection that looked very similar. The other option for this is a nicely decorated English gown like the portrait of Dorothy Quincy Hancock.


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Next is a gown based on the Oyster Seller made from a brown wool crossbar fabric. I meant to make this one several gowns ago but wanted to make sure that I had experimented enough with patterns to ensure that the gown would fit and that I wouldn’t want to sell it as soon as it was made. The painting is “Native Meltons” or “The Oyster Seller” by Philippe Mercier, based on a mezzotint in the British Museum.

The stash also contains lots of chintz fabric, most of which I have yet to decide what sort of gown they deserve. I’m always looking for examples.


Colonial Williamsburg fabric based on the gown shown below in the Met Museum.


This fabric will make something similar to the gown below, although it will probably have robings and stomacher rather than center front closing.


Red cotton print gown from the Museum Rotterdam.

Finally, a remake of this gown is forthcoming. I made it about 10 years ago and wasn’t 100% happy with the fit so I sold it to a friend. It was also center front closing and was made just before conclusions were made that most gowns would have been stomacher front. This is another Colonial Williamsburg fabric based on an original 18th-century print.


Colonial Williamsburg India Garden chintz

This looks better from the back. The shoulder straps were too long, and the sleeves too roomy for my liking. When re-made, it will have a stomacher and robings.

As you can see, there are many more fabrics in the stash, but those are the planned projects for now. Ooh, wait… I need to make Sally Sayward Barrell’s blue silk gown. I hear that B&T has a blue silk taffeta. Repeat…I will NOT buy more fabric.

Sally Sayward (Mrs. Nathaniel Barrell) York, Maine. Portraits at the Sayward Wheeler House, and the Old York Historical Society.

As with anything, always subject to change on a whim! What goals do you have for this year?

A bit of mustard from the V&A Museum

This gown was made last spring specifically for a trip to Williamsburg to visit my lovely friends who are employees of the Foundation.  For this reason, I knew that I didn’t need to limit myself to lower to middling New England circa 1770, and there is a gown in the V&A museum that I have been dying to make for several years.  It looks decidedly yellow in the photo below from the V&A’s collection, but in other photos the background looks tan.


I use this image cautiously because I saved it from somewhere on the internet when I was looking for a photo of the front of this gown, which is not on the V&A collections website.  Black Tulip’s sewing blogspot also has this image posted.

My initial quest was for a yellow block print, similar to the print on a jacket I made many years ago.  That was cut from a bedcover from India, so that was where I began, without much success.  The next step was to check all the block print manufacturers on eBay and Etsy, to see what I could find.


Nothing was really making me happy.  I would have gladly sold the jacket and made a gown out of that exact fabric if I could have found more of it, but alas, it was not to be.  Nearly everything else was either too regular, like a roller print rather than a block print, was prohibitively expensive for my budget, or was the wrong color.  Almost nothing really looked like the original print.  The color was also bugging me…I felt like it was tan, but in some photos it looked yellow.  I just needed the right mustard color that would give the same effect, despite my desire for a true yellow.


Detail of the original print, from the V&A museum collections website.


The print that was ultimately chosen.  Tannish mustard yellow in a typically 18th-century floral block print. I’m not sure that I love it.

Once I found it, I needed to draft the pattern.  I based mine on the JP Ryan English gown pattern, but modified a few things to suit my purpose.  I cut the back of the neckline lower, modified the bottom front of the bodice, and pleated the back in one piece instead of using the separate, v-shaped pieced bodice in the original pattern.  I also drafted new cuffs based on the Larkin and Smith English gown pattern cuffs.  As I usually do, I had difficulty getting the shoulder straps right (one shoulder is higher than the other and I have no neck so my shoulder slope is weird), but finally got it to look decent with t-minus one day to go before I got on the train to Colonial Williamsburg!


The gown in progress, with pleated back.


Done, waiting for cuffs.


It looks quite like the original, if I do say so myself, and I was beyond ecstatic to realize that I already had a light yellow wool petticoat similar to the one the V&A had paired with the gown.  However, if I had to do this over again, I’d make the following changes: make less of a curve at the top of the bodice; cut the back of the neckline slightly lower and less wide, cut the shoulder straps straight instead of with a curve; and make the sleeves slightly longer.  I still have a bunch of this fabric left, so as I am wont to do sometimes, I may actually cut new shoulder straps and modify the bodice and sleeves of this gown at some point in the future.  Here are some pics of the gown in action.


I dressed this up with white accessories, a green bow at the neckline which matches my hat, and a grosgrain ribbon belt with buckle, as was sometimes done in the 1780s and 90s.





The girls take an evening stroll toward the Capitol.  We were so stuffed from dinner at the King’s Arms that we didn’t want to sit down, so a walk was in order!