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Ahh, Chocolate!

Ahhh Chocolate!

Image result for valentine box of chocolates

February is the time of year when we consume even more than usual, often from heart-shaped boxes gifted by an admirer.

Daddy gave Mother a box for her birthday in November and for Valentine’s Day.  She didn’t share these boxes, but hid them. Whenever her craving prompted her, she would have her choice from those in the Whitman Sampler box.

Probably one of the most universally loved foods, the average American consumes roughly 11 pounds of the stuff a year!  It is hard to imagine a world without chocolate and this love of the heavenly substance stretches all the way back to our country’s colonial roots. Before the mid-1800s, if you had a craving for the world’s favorite sweet, you drank it!

Image result for 18th century chocolate houses

Chocolate has its origins in South America where archaeological evidence indicates it was being cultivated and consumed over 3,000 years ago.  The Spanish were the first Europeans to try the spicy chili and chocolate beverage of the Aztecs.  They introduced it to Europe in the 1600s where, with the addition of sugar, it became the height of fashion.

The first printed evidence we have of Chocolate being used in London is in the notice in the Public Advertiser in 1657: “In Bishopsgate St is an excellent West India drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates.”

By the end of the Commonwealth in 1659, Thomas Rugge, a London diarist, was writing in his Journal about coffee, chocolate and tea as new drinks in London, and referring to chocolate as ‘a harty drink in every street’.

Drinking chocolate of the 18th century was different from our ubiquitous modern day cup of cocoa.  It was made with either cacao nibs or blocks of compressed chocolate that were then grated or ground to a paste and dissolved in a warm liquid inside a dedicated ‘chocolate pot’.

Cocoa NibsThe chocolate was added to any combination of water, milk, cream, wine, or even brandy for an extra kick.  This mixture was combined with sugar, though less than we use because it was an expensive import in colonial America.  Other common ingredients included chili pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, or allspice.  This resulted in a rich, sweet, spicy, and bitter drink that the colonists couldn’t get enough of.

We know that many early Americans were fans of chocolate, but it wasn’t available to everyone.  In the 1700s, chocolate was still a fairly expensive drink, similar to tea or coffee, making it a beverage of the upper and middle classes.  It was seen as a nutritious and filling health food, commonly had with breakfast.

In1757 George Washington ordered 20 pounds of chocolate from British merchant Thomas Knox.  While living at Kenmore Plantation, George’s sister Betty Washington Lewis ordered a gallon of chocolate.

The chocolate would have been delivered in chocolate bars.

Alan Ramsey holds a pressed cake of chocolate wrapped in paper, a common form it was sold in the eighteenth century.

It may seem strange to us that there were special cups just for drinking chocolate.  However, since it was a luxury good enjoyed by the upper classes, it had a specific set of objects associated with its preparation and consumption.  A teapot or teacup could have easily functioned for drinking chocolate but the purpose of this specialized material culture was to show off wealth and sophistication.  For this reason, a well-to-do colonial household would have separate sets of vessels for the making and consumption of tea, coffee, and chocolate.  Using the right one in the right way let your peers know you were a well-educated gentry woman or man.

Chocolate cups and pots were often made of fancy material like silver or porcelain to show off the wealth of the owner and reflect the nature of the luxury ingredient. Chocolate cups can be identified by their straight sides, unlike the gently sloping sides of a teacup.

JPL Jean Pouyat LIMOGES CHOCOLATE POT 4 CUPS SAUCERS HandPainted 1900-1906 GOLD

Similarly, 18th century chocolate pots generally are taller and have straighter sides compared to contemporary teapots. They also have a shorter spout with no strainer and often have a straight handle that juts out from the body.

The most recognizable feature of a chocolate pot however is a hole in the lid where the chocolate mill, or molinillo, would be inserted and rubbed between the hands to briskly stir the chocolate, creating a delicious froth on the top

Kind of makes you want to try eighteenth century chocolate drink, doesn’t it?  The next time you’re enjoying a bite of a candy bar or sipping your instant cocoa, think of the lofty origins of that treat and be grateful to the sweet-toothed colonials who so prized delicious chocolate!

Image result for photo of hot chocolate party

I grew up with hot chocolate being a treat on cold nights, and marshmellows were added for a topping. Even now, I will make us a cup during the winter months as a treat. Whether with that white addition or not, hot chocolate seems to be a comfort food to be enjoyed.

“Some days you get up and you already know that things aren’t going to go well. They’re the type of days when you should just give in, put your pajamas back on, make some hot chocolate and read comic books in bed with the covers up until the world looks more encouraging. Of course, they never let you do that.”
Bill Watterson, There’s Treasure Everywhere: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection

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First Presidential Election in United States

In 1789, the first presidential election, George Washington was unanimously elected president of the United States. With 69 electoral votes, Washington won the support of each participating elector. No other president since has come into office with a universal mandate to lead.

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Between December 15, 1788 and January 10, 1789, the presidential electors were chosen in each of the states. On February 4, 1789, the Electoral College convened. Ten states cast electoral votes: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. New York, however, failed to field a slate of electors. North Carolina and Rhode Island were unable to participate because they had not yet ratified the Constitution. After a quorum was finally established, the Congress counted and certified the electoral vote count on April 6.

Washington was both an obvious first choice for president and possibly the only truly viable choice. He was both a national hero and the favorite son of Virginia, the largest state at the time. Washington ascended to the presidency with practical experience, having served as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and president of the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

According to Article II of the Constitution, each elector in the Electoral College possessed two votes. The candidate who received a majority of the votes was elected president. The candidate with the second most votes in the Electoral College, whether a majority or a plurality, was elected vice president. Behind Washington, John Adams, who most recently had served as the first U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, finished with 34 electoral votes and became the first vice president of the United States. Being from Massachusetts, Adams’ election provided the administration a regional balance between the northern and southern states.

Hearing the news of his decisive election, Washington set out from Mount Vernon to take his place in presidential history. Though filled with great anxiety, Washington reported for duty “in obedience to the public summons” and explained that “the voice of my Country called.”

On April 30, 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City, the first capital of the United States, Washington took the presidential oath of office. Washington, dressed in an American-made dark brown suit with white silk stockings and silver shoe buckles, also wore a steel-hilted sword and dark red overcoat.

With a hand on the Bible, a “sacred volume” borrowed from a local Masonic lodge and subsequently known as the “George Washington Inaugural Bible,” he said, “I, George Washington, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

At that moment, the Chancellor of the State of New York, Robert Livingston, the person who administered the oath to the first chief executive, exclaimed, “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!”

The father of our nation was quiet about his Christian faith. But there can be no doubt his faith in our Lord Jesus Christ was deep and heartfelt.

Below is a prayer attributed to our first President that says much about the man he was. It was found in his personal prayer book, written in his own hand.

O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul.

Direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, from the dross of my natural corruption, that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the everlasting God, in righteousness and holiness this day, and all the days of my life.

Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber. But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life. Bless my family, friends and kindred unite us all in praising and glorifying thee in all our works begun, continued, and ended, when we shall come to make our last account before thee blessed Saviour, who hath taught us thus to pray, our Father.

As I read about these first veterans of our country, I continue to be startled by their dedication to God, family, and country. Sir, thank you for your service.

Image result for george washington prayer at valley forge

Festifall at Walnut Grove

“The benefits of education and of useful knowledge, generally diffused through a community, are essential to the preservation of a free government.” Sam Houston

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This Revolutionary War Festival has been introducing visitors to life during these early times for 23 years. Reenactors make butter, baskets, and corn husk dolls. They craft wooden buckets and brooms, farm implements from molten iron, pottery vases, and cooking implements. It is fascinating to watch these creations from their beginnings to the finished products.

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Men, women, and children camp out in tents for two nights, and they wear the clothes of the late 18th century. The militia recreate the battle for the house against a group of Tories led by Bloody Bill Cunningham.

Image may contain: one or more peopleThis gentleman was sharing the skills of surveying during the 18th Century. President George Washington was a surveyor.
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These past two days I enjoyed meeting new friends, talking about the women during the Revolutionary War, and signing books. Two visitors shared stories with me that touched this author’s heart.

A former third grade teacher and her grandson stopped by my table, and she said she read “Courageous Kate” in her classroom every year until retirement. Then she passed the book on to her daughter for her to read to her third graders. Another family stopped by, who I have met at different historical events through the years; they home school their children. One of their daughters told me she had read “Courageous Kate” times! I bet she has it memorized by now.

Thank you, readers, for continuing to support my writing. It is so much fun to talk to you about our nation’s history and how we must continue to share the stories with the next generation, as well as each other.

October Events:

October 1-2 – Festifall at Walnut Grove

October 13 – DAR chapter at Myrtle Beach

October 15 – Patriots in Petticoats at Musgrove Mill

Little River, South Carolina

May 2009 037.jpgHugging the shore of eastern South Carolina, Little River still has the aura of a sleepy, fishing village.

It is one of the oldest settlements along the coast, with fishermen and farmers settling there in the late 1600s and 1700s. The wide tidal inlet, which narrows to a stream, was a cornucopia of fish and fertile land.

Indian tribes called the stream Mineola, meaning “little river” and that became its name.

Both pirates and shipwrecked survivors found this haven. The few settlers were forced to help pirates who demanded food and supplies; their weapons loudly spoke. Legends like Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Stede Bonnette, and Anne Bonney supposedly dropped anchors here.

The village of Little River can trace its history back to 1734. It was then that a “young gentleman” from England recorded in his diary that he had stayed at Ash’s, or Little River, while traveling through the area.

In 1740, on his way to Savannah, Georgia, Rev. George Whitefield, an English Anglican preacher, apparently visited Ash’s inn also and wrote about his   “pleasant journey” and how “wonderfully delighted to see the porpoises taking their pastime, and hear, as it were, resounding to shore the praises of Him Who set bounds to the sea that it cannot pass.”

The tavern where Whitefield and the “young gentleman” lodged was probably that of Thomas Ash. Ash received a land grant for 350 acres on June 19, 1733. It is believed that he operated an inn or halfway house (midway between Cape Fear and Winyah Bay).

Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox) had a brother, named Isaac, who settled in Little River in the mid-1700s with his wife and family. During the American Revolution, Isaac Marion maintained the “Boundary House” on the NC/SC border at the small hamlet of Little River.

President George Washington, on his southern tour in 1791, stopped in Little River.  He entered South Carolina just north of Little River on April 27, 1791, where he stayed with the Revolutionary War veteran named James G. Cochran. Traveling the well-established coastal road, now known as the King’s Highway, he made his way south.

In his diary Washington stated, “In this tour I was accompanied by Major Jackson, my equipage and attendance consisted of a Chariot & four horses drove in hand – a light baggage wagon and two horses – four saddle horses besides a led one for myself and five – to wit – my Valet de Chambre, two footmen, Coachman & postilion.” The outriders wore bright livery of red and white which gave a touch of distinction to the procession. His carriage was described as a “white chariot.” (An impressive sight indeed!)

In 1826, Robert Mills, America’s first native-born trained architect, born in Charleston, SC, described the village of Little River: “There is another settlement made on Little river near the seaboard of about 25 persons, who carry on a considerable trade in lumber, pitch, tar, &c. … Little river admits vessels drawing 6 or 7 feet water up into the harbor, 4 miles from its mouth. There is a little difficulty at the entrance, but the harbor is perfectly safe from the effects of storms.”

The village became a prosperous port in the 1850’s, shipping fine lumber and naval stores to Northern markets. It had a sawmill, waterhouse, stores, school and bank. Several churches were organized and people built nice homes. The Civil War wiped out this progress. A large salt works produced much needed salt for the Confederate Army until it was burned by Union forces. Shipping and fishing were at standstill, with the coastal blockade.

In 1868 an Horry correspondent for The Marion (SC) Star [December 16] who signed himself Waccamaw wrote that Little River Village was “a flourishing commercial place, that bids fair to become of great importance in the industrial and commercial interest of Horry and of the adjoining counties in North Carolina. [It contained] four stores, one steam saw mill, two gum stills, one academy, church, no jail (!) and a curiosity, in a newfangled ‘Pinder Picking machine… Vessels of one hundred and fifty tons burden can come up to the village, and so make regular trips between this place and Northern cities, as well as to the West Indies. Waccamaw went on to describe the local food in a very favorable light by saying, “These [mullet], with the oysters, that were abundant, and the ducks, of which quite a number were killed, to appetites already good, and highly braced.”

The American Guide Series, 1938 tells an interesting story about Little River in the late 1800s. By then, seagoing steamers made regular runs between Georgetown, Little River and Wilmington, loaded with cargo and passengers. Sewing machines were something of a novelty in the South and greatly needed for family sewing. The few women who had machines would graciously invite friends and neighbors to share their use.

Summer afternoons found ladies gathered on wide porches, under sheltering oaks along the riverfront. The ladies might “piece quilts” or mend or sew for their families, taking turns to use the wonderful new Singer sewing machine. It looked like an old-fashioned “sewing bee.” Passengers on steamers coming into the harbor smiled and waved at the busy women, who happily smiled and waved back.

The influx of cars and roads severed the constant sea traffic into Little River, and now seafood restaurants bring in the travelers, along with opportunities for deep-sea fishing and charter boats. Two casino ships operate each day for further entertainment.

Twice this week at Little River, John and I have slurped up two seafood meals at Capt Juel’s Hurricane Restaurant.

A parade of boats entertained us. Those, on the restaurant deck, waved to the passengers on the boats’ desks. The water created a bridge for a sense of camaraderie, and no pirates decided to jump ship and detain us or our wallets.

W. B. Yeats wrote, “In the great cities we see so little of the world, we drift into our minority. In the little towns and villages there are no minorities; people are not numerous enough. You must see the world there, perforce. Every man is himself a class; every hour carries its new challenge. When you pass the inn at the end of the village you leave your favourite whimsy behind you; for you will meet no one who can share it. We listen to eloquent speaking, read books and write them, settle all the affairs of the universe. The dumb village multitudes pass on unchanging; the feel of the spade in the hand is no different for all our talk: good seasons and bad follow each other as of old. The dumb multitudes are no more concerned with us than is the old horse peering through the rusty gate of the village pound. The ancient map-makers wrote across unexplored regions, ‘Here are lions.’ Across the villages of fishermen and turners of the earth, so different are these from us, we can write but one line that is certain, ‘Here are ghosts.’ (“Village Ghosts”)”

 

Chocolate, Chocolate, and More Chocolate

Ahhh Chocolate!

February is when we consume even more than usual, often from heart-shaped boxes gifted by an admirer. And then chocolate arrives in Easter baskets to continue its place in our homes; most children are satisfied with one chocolate bunny. From Hersey kisses to Kit Kats, all the bite size candies are packaged in seasonal colors to catch our eyes. Cadbury has 21 different flavors of chocolate eggs.

My mother was a fan of a Whitman’s sampler, and she would hide it around the house. Maybe she needed to know there was some close by. I asked her one time which piece of candy in the box was her favorite. She quickly responded, “All of them, of course.”

Probably one of the most universally loved foods, the average American consumes roughly 11 pounds of the stuff a year!

It is hard to imagine a world without chocolate and this love of the heavenly substance stretches all the way back to our country’s colonial roots. Before the mid-1800s, if you had a craving for the world’s favorite sweet, you drank it!

The first printed evidence we have of Chocolate being used in London is in the notice in the Public Advertiser in 1657:

“In Bishopsgate St is an excellent West India drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates.”

By the end of the Commonwealth in 1659, Thomas Rugge, a London diarist, was writing in his Journal about coffee, chocolate and tea as new drinks in London, and referring to chocolate as ‘a harty drink in every street’.

This is an 1800 chocolate cup crafted in England.

English worcester porcelain chocolate cup, 1800

Chocolate has its origins in South America where archaeological evidence indicates it was being cultivated and consumed over 3,000 years ago. The Spanish were the first Europeans to try the spicy chili and chocolate beverage of the Aztecs. They introduced it to Europe in the 1600s where, with the addition of sugar, it became the height of fashion.

In 1755, Benjamin Franklin bought chocolate to support the troops in the French and Indian War.

Drinking chocolate of the 18th century was different from our modern day cup of cocoa. It was made with either cacao nibs or blocks of compressed chocolate that were then grated or ground to a paste and dissolved in a warm liquid inside a dedicated chocolate pot.The chocolate was added to any combination of water, milk, cream, wine, or even brandy for an extra kick. This mixture was combined with sugar, though less than we use because it was an expensive import in colonial America. Other common ingredients included chili pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, or allspice. This resulted in a rich, sweet, spicy, and bitter drink that the colonists couldn’t get enough of.

The American Heritage Chocolate Block
Today we can buy chocolate blocks as American housewives did 200 years ago. Whether shaved, melted, or crushed, chocolate found its way into kitchens.

We know that many early Americans were fans of chocolate, but it wasn’t available to everyone. In the 1700s, chocolate was still a fairly expensive drink, similar to tea or coffee, making it a beverage of the upper and middle classes. It was seen as a nutritious and filling health food, commonly had with breakfast.

In1757 George Washington ordered 20 pounds of chocolate from British merchant Thomas Knox. While living at Kenmore Plantation, George’s sister Betty Washington Lewis ordered a gallon of chocolate.

It may seem strange to us that there were special cups just for drinking chocolate. However, since it was a luxury item enjoyed by the upper classes, it had a specific set of objects associated with its preparation and consumption. A teapot or teacup could have easily functioned for drinking chocolate, but the purpose of this specialized material culture was to show off wealth and sophistication.

For this reason, a well-to-do colonial household would have separate sets of vessels for the making and consumption of tea, coffee, and chocolate. Using the right one in the right way let your peers know you were a well-educated gentry woman or man.

Chocolate cups and pots were often made of fancy material like silver or porcelain to show off the wealth of the owner and reflect the nature of the luxury ingredient. Chocolate cups can be identified by their straight sides, unlike the gently sloping sides of a teacup. Similarly, 18th century chocolate pots generally are taller and have straighter sides compared to contemporary teapots. They also have a shorter spout with no strainer and often have a straight handle that juts out from the body.

The most recognizable feature of a chocolate pot however is a hole in the lid where the chocolate mill, or molinillo, would be inserted and rubbed between the hands to briskly stir the chocolate, creating a delicious froth on the top. Kind of makes you want to try eighteenth century chocolate drink, doesn’t it?

The next time you’re enjoying a bite of a Snickers (my dad’s favorite) or sipping your instant cocoa, think of the lofty origins of that treat and be grateful to the sweet-toothed colonials who so prized delicious chocolate!

As Charles M. Schulz quipped, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” 

Happy Birthday to our Constitution

In 1682, William Penn landed on the land that became the “City of Brotherly love.” It was a city of religious tolerance. The first school in the colonies was established there in 1698, and in 1719 the city was the first to buy a fire engine. The first botanical garden, first library, and first hospital were built here in the 1700’s. It was a city that looked for ways to better itself.

This port city of Philadelphia soon became known for its broad, tree-shaded streets, substantial brick-and-stone houses, as it continued to grow.

In 1787, the wharves on the Delaware River were crowded with ships, passengers, merchants, Indians, and laborers. All interested in the imports from Europe and the West Indies.
Market Street was crowded. Women and men shopped the stores, looking for luxury items. The bakeries were busy all day, because women bought fresh bread every day; the smells of fresh bread lured the customers in.

There were open-air markets on the street that opened 3 days a week where farmers brought in their wares from the farms. They sold fresh produce, dairy goods, poultry, fish, and meat.

Dry good stores sold coffee, sugar, and spices. Also available were sundry other items. From books and spyglasses, Windsor chairs, teas from China, shoes made locally, baskets, buckets, wine and horses.

Philadelphia was the leading publishing center in America; there were 10 newspapers published in the city.

Claypoole and Dunlap published the Pennsylvania Packet and were asked to publish the first copies of the Constitution. In 1784, the Pennsylvania Packet became the first successful daily newspaper published in the US. They also printed books, proclamations, posters, and political pamphlets. Their business served as an information center. Often people gathered there to bring and exchange news. During that time in our history, the printed word was the best way to communicate over long distances.

Philadelphia now boasted 33 churches, a Philosophical Society, a public Library, a museum, a poorhouse, a model jail, a model hospital, and 662 street lamps.

Taverns, inns, and beer houses were scattered around the city; most of the beer houses were on the water front. The Blue Anchor was a popular fish house that opened in 1682 and still serving patrons 200 years later. The City Tavern on Second Street was new; it could accommodate 60 men overnight on its third floor. It boasted club rooms, lodging rooms, two kitchens, a bar, and a coffee room. To encourage visits, they supplied the public rooms with magazines and newspapers.

The roles of unmarried women were clearly defined. They opened their homes as boarding houses or were a school mistress in their homes. Teaching positions were also available for them as tutors in Young Ladies Academies. Women also earned money by spinning, as hat makers, and as menders. Married women ran their households.

This was the city that hosted the framers of the Constitution. On horseback and in carriages, the delegates traveled to meet together. In one accord, their jobs were to hammer out a ruling document to govern the new United States.

Around 40,000 people lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787, as 55 delegates from twelve states gathered; Rhode Island wasn’t represented. They gathered in the same building, where many of them had signed the Declaration of Independence, worked hard on the Articles of Confederation, and now these learned men were back. As one historian noted, it was a “Convention of the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well-wed.”

They were called framers, because this word defines their job. These men shaped, planned, and constructed a new document to govern a new country, the Constitution of the US.

The delegates all arrived and settled in boarding houses and taverns and then they went to work. Even at night, they didn’t talk about their thoughts and plans. When in the taverns or boarding houses, they were silent.
On the starting day of May 21, 1787, only eight state delegates were present, but soon others trickled in. The Convention was convened on Friday. George Washington was elected President, and the South Carolinian William Jackson was elected secretary. Elected that same day for the Committee on Rules were George Wythe from Virginia, Alexander Hamilton from New York, and Charles Pinckney from SC.

All were familiar with the two story building, the Pennsylvania State House, where they conducted their discussions and debates, because this was the same site where many of the same men wrote the Declaration of Independence eleven years earlier. This building of Georgian architecture boasted a bell tower and steeple that gave it the look of a church. That bell today is called the Liberty Bell.

It has often been remarked that in the journey of life, the young rely on energy to counteract the experience of the old. And vice versa. What makes this Constitutional Convention remarkable is that the delegates were both young and experienced. The average age of the delegates was 42 and four of the most influential delegates—Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, Gouverneur Morris, and James Madison—were in their thirties. Over half of the delegates graduated from College with nine from Princeton and six from British Universities. Even more significant was the continental political experience of the Framers: 8 signed the Declaration of Independence, 25 served in the Continental Congress, 15 helped draft the new State Constitutions between 1776 and 1780, 40 served in the Confederation Congress between 1783 and 1787, and 35 had law degrees.

George Nash has written a book about these men entitled Books and the Founding Fathers. Want to share some facts from his book.

To summarize Nash’s point: the Framers 1) read, 2) owned, 3) used, 4) created, and 5) donated books without being simply bookish or “denizens of an ivory tower.”

1. John Dickinson, the person whose legacy is his August observation at the Constitutional Convention that “we should let experience be our guide” because reason may mislead us, would, at university, “read for nearly eight hours a day, dined at four o’clock, and then retired early in the evening, all the while mingling his scrutiny of legal texts with such authors as Tacictus and Francis Bacon.” William Paterson, who introduced the New Jersey Plan in June at the Constitutional Convention, in large part because it was a practical alternative to the Virginia Plan, took his college entrance examinations in Latin and Greek, and entered Princeton “at the age of fourteen. For the next four years he immersed himself in ancient history and literature, as well as such English authors as Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, and Pope.”
2. Benjamin Franklin’s personal library “contained 4,276 volumes at the time of his death in 1790.” George Washington’s library at his death in 1798 contained 900 volumes, “a figure all the more remarkable since he was much less a reader than many.”
3. Washington, in turn, “used” Joseph Addison’s Cato in drafting his Farewell Address. Jefferson “sent back books by the score” from Paris to Madison that, after three years of intense reading, the latter used to draft the Virginia Plan as a response to the history of failed confederacies.
4. The Papers of Madison constitute “52 volumes.” The Jefferson Papers are comprise 75 hefty volumes.”
5. Finally, Franklin, Dickinson, Madison, and Jefferson were each “a faithful patron of libraries.” For example, Dickinson “donated more than 1,500 volumes to Dickinson College.”

They met behind closed doors and windows in sessions. Reporters and visitors were banned; these leaders wanted no outside influences. Guards were placed at the doors to keep sight-seers out.

James Madison was the note keeper. (We know this because his wife Dolly sold his notes to the federal government in 1837 for $30,000 after his death.)

James Madison of Virginia was a quiet fellow, but you could always tell that his mind was working and sifting through ideas. He stayed at Mrs. House’s boarding house, and he kept a candle burning all night so he could get up at any time and write down thoughts as they came to him. He told her he’d always done that. He never slept but 3 or 4 hours anyway.

Mrs. House didn’t know whether to charge him extra for all the candles. She had other boarders from Virginia, including Governor Edmund Randolph.

These dedicated men worked six days a week from 10-3 with only a 10 day break. It was during this July 4 break that James Madison and a few others put together a rough draft.

Their work took place in the Committee of Assembly Chamber Around tables laden with candlesticks, books, paper, ink wells, quill pens, and clay pipes. The newspapers printed regular articles of encouragement. Ben Franklin livened up the proceedings by using his cane to trip various delegates.

The city street commissioners had gravel put down in front of the State House to muffle the sounds of carriages and horses so as not to disturb them. Philadelphia was proud of the history being made there. In those summer months debates, bitter arguments, and compromises were on the daily docket; it was a time of hot weather and even hotter emotions.

George Washington later wrote to his friend Lafayette, “It (the Constitution) appears to me, then, as little short of a miracle.”

The American Revolution had been over for four years, and the Articles of Confederation weren’t strong enough to hold the new states together. In 1786 Alexander Hamilton called for another convention to create a stronger government.

These men called it the Grand Convention or the Federal Convention. Today its name is the Constitutional Convention. Except for Rhode Island, all states were represented. George Washington was elected President.

George Washington’s presence made the convention a prestigious event. His arrival in Philadelphia was spectacular, and a spontaneous parade quickly formed. The general was riding in his fine little coach called a chariot, and he was met by the officers of the Revolution. All those officers were joined by the Philadelphia Light Horse Company, and they rode into the city all in uniform. The city church bells were rung; some cannons were fired, and most all of Philadelphia turned out along the way to applaud the general.

He was going to stay at Mrs. House’s Boarding House, but Robert and Mary Morris insisted he be their guest. It was one of the most elegant homes in the city. Washington just took time enough to get his things in, and then he set out to pay a call on his 81 year-old friend Benjamin Franklin.

These 18th century leaders clearly had developed bonds through the Revolutionary War years.

One by one the delegates arrived and began their work.
Time moved slowly during those summer months, but the men continued their meetings.

Three plans for the Constitution were examined, and a compromise finally reached for the institution of executive, legislative, and judicial arms of government. All states would have equal representation in the Senate, and the elected officials for the House would be based on population. Even on that last day, a change was made to lower the population number for representatives.

George Washington was the first to sign his name. As the delegates moved to sign the Constitution on September 17, it was Franklin, who on the last day of the Convention said of the rising sun chair that Washington had sat in at the front of the room for four months. “During the past four months of this convention, I have often looked at the painting. And I was never able to say if the picture showed a morning sun or an evening sun. But now, at last, I know I am happy to say it is a morning sun, the beginning of a new day.”

On the night of September 17, the delegates met for one last time together at the City Tavern on Second Street to celebrate the birthplace of America’s new Government.

It seems fitting that they chose this tavern in Philadelphia. Built in 1773, many had stayed there during the First Continental Congress. A few years earlier, Paul Revere had ridden up to the Tavern with the news of the closing of the port of Boston by the British.

These leading figures of the Revolutionary War would now go back to their home states and encourage them to ratify the Constitution of the United States of America.

As James Madison proclaimed, “The happy Union of these States is a wonder; their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of Liberty throughout the world.”

Historically, new governments come about because of war or chance. Madison’s words ring true today, as we continue to celebrate this living document.

The Framers of the American Constitution were visionaries. They designed our Constitution to endure. They sought not only to address the specific challenges facing our nation during their lifetimes, but to establish, broad foundational principles that would sustain and guide the new nation into an uncertain future, even in September, 2015.

Martha Washington

One of the ladies in my ancestry is Martha Custis Washington, the wife of our first United States President. I have always admired her for her the way she supported her husband and the soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Martha Dandridge was the eldest child, and oldest daughter, among the eight children born to Frances Jones and John Dandridge. On June 2, 1731, she was born, about thirty-five miles from Williamsburg. As members of the local gentry in New Kent County, Virginia, the Dandridges lived a comfortable, though not lavish, life at Chestnut Grove, a two-story frame house situated on the Pamunkey River.

 

Martha grew up learning from her parents how to navigate in the society of eighteenth century Virginia. Her father insured that she was a member in good standing of the Church of England, the Virginia colony’s official state religion. Baptized as a child, she attended religious services at the local Anglican parish, St. Peter’s Church.

Martha learned both to read and write at an early age. Throughout her entire life, Martha found pleasure and solace in reading. She read the Bible and other devotional literature for religious edification and novels and magazines for entertainment and instruction. Although only a small fraction of her letters survive, she was also a voluminous correspondent.

Her mother also instructed Martha in the skills she would eventually need to know to become mistress of her own household. Except among the wealthiest Virginia families, who had domestic servants and slaves to help them, the female members of the family were responsible for performing all household tasks. These tasks included cleaning the house, washing the clothes, planting a vegetable garden, caring for small domestic animals, preparing the meals, and caring for the children. In an era with few trained doctors, mothers were also supposed to be proficient in the healing arts. Martha’s mother would have taught her folk remedies and the preparation of medicinal herbs to treat common illnesses.

Sewing was among a woman’s most important tasks. The mistress of the household had the primary responsibility for clothing the entire family. Although the wealthiest Virginia planters might import textiles from Britain, most colonists still spun their own thread, wove their own cloth, and sewed their own garments. As an adult, Martha remained fond of needlework, including darning, embroidering, and knitting, and was known for her excellent handiwork.

Like most women of her social class, it is likely that Martha always envisioned her future in terms of being a wife and a mother. Because of her family’s status as members of the local gentry, Martha was able to acquire the values and behavior that would enable her to marry well. She imbibed the fine points of etiquette, learned to dance, and mastered the art of horseback riding. She knew how to deport herself in public and converse with men.

Martha Dandridge and Daniel Parke Custis married on May 15, 1750. Almost nineteen years old, Martha was slightly younger than the average Virginia bride, who married at age 22. At 38, Daniel Parke Custis was nearly twenty years older than his new wife, and significantly older than the average Virginia man who married for the first time at age 27. Yet by waiting until he found a woman of whom his father approved, Custis guaranteed his own financial future as well as that of his future heirs–and of Martha herself.

Two of her four children reached the age of adulthood; two died before they were five. In the colonial era, childhood was the period of greatest vulnerability to death and disease. Only about 60% of children born at this time lived to the age of 20. In 1754 Daniel died, probably of malaria; Frances died in 1757. John Parke Custis (called “Jacky”), who was born in 1754, and Martha Parke Custis (called “Patsy”), born in 1756.

Her husband died on July 8, 1757. By all accounts, their seven-year marriage had been a happy one. Now, however, at the tender age of twenty-six, Martha Dandridge Custis was left alone in the world, a widow with two small children to raise. She was expected to marry again, and she did; her second husband was George Washington.

On January 6, 1759, less than ten months after their initial meeting and less than eighteen months after her husband’s death, Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington at her home in New Kent County. For both Martha and for George, a new era dawned.

As you can see, she was trained to be a woman of substance and a leader in her community. She was well prepared to run Mount Vernon, support her husband during the war years, and become the First Lady of our country.

Although Martha adored her husband, she was not overly deferential to him. It is said that when Martha, more than a foot shorter than George, wanted to get his attention, she pulled on his shirt collar to bring his face down to her level. (I love this story about her!)

 

The Sons of the American Revolution give out several medals to women. The Martha Washington Medal was authorized in 1971 and may be given by the National Society, a state society, or a chapter to a woman over 18 years of age in recognition of outstanding service to SAR. It is presented to those who have assisted the Chapter or in making a significant contribution to the Community.

At their Christmas dinner on Monday night of this week, my husband John, the President of the Daniel Morgan SAR Chapter, presented me with this award. What a surprise it was! And what a treasure it was to me to have John give it to me. Thank you, sirs, for this honor.