Tag Archives: Revolutionary War

An Imposter at the Concord Ball: 1875

Colonial Revival costumes in a portrayal of George and Martha Washington’s wedding, 1912

A Western Deceiver.

Nora Perry writes of the centennial celebration at Lexington and Concord in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. Of the Concord ball she writes: And oh! What a pretty sight, as everybody unanimously voted. Such brocades, smelling of cedar and camphor-wood, as would now and then appear, plaited and puckered in the very stitches of the old-time—not a fold altered nor a ruffle changed. But there were not many of them. Those fair ones who rejoiced in these veritable old heirlooms walked about with their pretty chins aloft, lifted up above common modern clay by the sublime consciousness of a fine Mayflower ancestry, which these credentials would place beyond dispute.

But a woman’s wit will sometimes get the better of the stoutest credentials; and so a saucy, mischievous little damsel managed to array herself in a brand new gown, which she so plaited and puckered and betrimmed with coffee-dipped lace and scented with camphor-gum, in the very pink and pattern of the Continental dames, that all the little Mayflowers lowered their chins on her approach and whispered audibly, in her delighted hearing, “That is the real thing! Wonder who she is?”

And the little deceiver, with “a smile that was child-like and bland,” went on her way rejoicing, happy as all human nature must be at such a signal triumph. Boston is much too well-bred to ask outright questions of identity, so my fair one kept her secret with these fine Mayflowers; but after the ball she is perfectly willing to reveal her cunning guilt, and to let a faithful correspondent say that it was one of Chicago’s nearest neighbors who thus proved herself more than a match for Boston.

Daily Graphic [New York, NY] 7 May 1875: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: On this, the anniversary of the fateful day that the American Revolution began: the commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, it seems appropriate to record the sartorial conflict between the camphor-scented blue-bloods of the East and the parvenu of the West in her coffee-dipped lace.

1876 saw a revival of “Colonial” American costume, from antique lace ruffles at ladies’ elbows to daintily embroidered shoes to sack-back gowns of flowered brocades. Mrs Daffodil regrets to say that some enthusiasts actually remade historic 18th-century garments into fancy-dress costumes or pageant attire for “Lady Washington teas.”

Eighteenth-century costumes were proudly displayed as an emblem of pedigree by Americans who otherwise scorned England’s class system as un-democratic.  An aged American lady of impeccable lineage was distressed to part with her historic quilted petticoat. And this improbably aged relic was described at a celebration of The Geauga County Historical Society, 30 September, 1875:

In the exhibit, first, I bring to your attention, the singular and costly specimens of work presented by Mrs. Polly Norton, of Troy, Ohio, in 1873, a widow lady, seventy-seven years of age, and an early settler in that township. Her husband was a farmer, and died some years ago. First, the waist of a dress; second, a portion of the skirt to another dress; third, a window curtain—all made of linen, the waist being striped with blue, the other two pieces white, all worked in flowers, made of woolen floss. In this floss may be found, at this date, twenty-three different shades of color, and upon the waist are forty-seven different kinds of buds and flowers. Upon the skirt, which is supposed to be about one width, there are one hundred and sixty kinds, and it is estimated that upon the whole skirt there must have been no less than eight hundred buds and flowers worked. Upon the curtain there are one hundred and thirteen kinds, no two of which are considered to be alike. The flax was carded, spun and wove for the fabric of these relics, and the wool was carded and spun for the floss, and it was colored into all the various shades, and then worked into the almost countless flowers upon the fabric. Then the dresses were made, and the curtains stitched and worked, all this having been done by one and the same person, the great-great-grandmother of Mrs. Polly Norton, thus running back, on the line of descent, four generations, or more than six generations of the average life of men. These garments, so skillfully made, must have cost more than twelve months of work to perfect them, including the full set of curtains. The dresses look like the completion of a “sensation” toilet upon the charming person of this great-great-grandmother, as she moved in society more that two hundred years ago, in the colony of Massachusetts. Indeed, they take us back to the threshold of the days of the Pilgrims, and it would almost seem that this dress had brushed against the sword at the side of Miles Standish, or touched the gallant arm of a Governor Carver or Bradford. It was made in the old Bay State, far back beyond the days of cotton mills and whizzing spindles. Pioneer and General History of Geauga County [Ohio] 1880: pp. 42-3

Mrs Daffodil fears that this little story perpetuates the myth of pioneer ladies who made clothing entirely from “scratch,” although, both before and during the Revolution, there was an active trade smuggling the English textiles, laces, and luxury goods the Colonies desired.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



An Ancestral Petticoat: 1740, 1890


A Wonderful Work Wrought Fully a Century and a Half Ago

A marvelous example of old-time needle-work has found its way into one of the exchanges for the women’s work in this city through the impecuniousness of the family in which it has long been cherished as an heirloom.

It is a piece of the quilted work which has become one of the lost arts in these days, and was the border of a petticoat worn by some richly-clad German dame 150 years ago. The strip is a half yard in width and about three yards in length. It consists of two thicknesses of fine white cotton with a soft interlining. It is quilted all over with an exquisite medley of flowers, foliage, and arabesques, into which is wrought every variety of “stitch” known to expert needlecraft. In those days there were no other ornaments nor any devices for stamping. The patient fingers that fashioned such work also made their own designs, drew them with a needle, free hand, as they went along, and so this petticoat border was the work of an artist as well as a clever needlewoman. The fabric is stiff with stiches—there are millions of them—and the surface puts one in mind of a piece of fine repousse work in white silver.

The woman who is now compelled to part with this has a pitiful history. She and her husband in their advanced age were forced by reverses to emigrate to the Far West, where in an unsettled country, three days’ ride from a human habitation, they “took up a claim.” The wife, unused to hardship, finally lost her health, and in the hope of regaining it came East last autumn, leaving her husband alone. The severity of the winter killed all their stock, and the old man finally met with an accident which laid him up with both legs broken. He is helpless and penniless and alone, and his wife is helpless and penniless here, unable to reach him. She had sold every thing available before she made up her mind to part with her ancestral petticoat. It is a rare and interesting piece of work and ought to be in a museum. N.Y. World.

Barbour County Index [Medicine Lodge, KS] 12 November 1890: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Quilted petticoats are a delightful combination of utility and art.  The one illustrated, from the collections at Colonial Williamsburg, was probably altered to use as a costume during one of the many pageants celebrating the centennial of America’s ill-advised rebellion against the Crown.

Quilted underskirts had several fashionable revivals in the nineteenth century.

The quilted petticoat is once more fashionable. Many years ago this garment was in great demand during the very cold weather; then they were made at home; now the manufacturers vie with each other in getting out novelties in colored petticoats. For several seasons the balmoral skirts were “all the rage,” although there were ladies who would not wear them, not because they were so warm, but because they were colored and hence ugly in their eyes. Starched cotton petticoats in cold weather are more suggestive of poverty than bad taste when soft wool textures made into pretty skirts can be had, or richly quilted satin and silk petticoats are sold at bargain prices, considering the fine quality of the goods and the excellent workmanship required to finish one of these very desirable garments. The quilting is beautifully done; some of the patterns show tiny diamonds, and there are shell designs effectively quilted; flowers and leaves are also well copied and often quilted in with tinted silks. For brides there are petticoats of satin in all the light shades, quilted over flannel and lined with China silk of the same shade. N.Y. Telegram.

Texas Siftings [Austin, TX] 20 March 1886: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


The Revolutionary Pantaloons: 1776

Spinning at the Colonial WIlliamsburg Weave Room. http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Winter07/weaving.cfm

Spinning at the Colonial WIlliamsburg Weave Room. http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/Winter07/weaving.cfm


An old lady used to relate the following anecdote of her Revolutionary remembrance: The afternoon of one of the last days of 1776 when I was a few months short of 8 years old, notice came to Townsend, Massachusetts, where my father used to live, that fifteen soldiers were wanted.

The training band was instantly called out, and my brother that was the next older than I, was one that was selected. He did not return till late at night, when all were in bed. When I rose in the morning I found my mother in tears, who informed me that my brother John was to march next day after to-morrow morning at sunrise. My father was at Boston, in the Massachusetts Assembly. Mother said that though John was supplied with summer clothes, he must be absent seven or eight months, and would suffer from want of winter garments. There were at this time no stores, and no articles to be had except such as each family could make itself. The sight of my mother’s tears always brought all the hidden strength of the body and mind to action. I immediately asked what garments were needful. She replied “Pantaloons.”

“Oh, is that all?  We will spin and weave him a pair before he goes.”

“Tut,” said my mother, “the wool is on the sheep’s back, and the sheep are in pasture.”

I immediately turned to a younger brother and bade him take a salt-dish and call them to the yard.

Mother replied, “Poor child, there are no sheep-shears within three miles.”

“I have some small shears at the loom.”

“But we can’t spin and weave it in so short a time.”

“I am certain we can, mother.”

“How can you weave it? There is a long web of linen in the loom.”

“No matter, I can find an empty loom.”

By this time the sound of the sheep made me quicken my steps toward the yard. I requested my sister to bring me the wheel and cards while I went for the wool. I went into the yard with my brother and secured a white sheep, from which I sheared, enough for a web; we then let her go with the rest of her fleece. I went the wool in by my sister. Luther ran for a black sheep, and held her while I cut off wool for my filling and half the warp, and then we allowed her to go with the remaining part of her fleece.

The good old lady further observed that the wool thus obtained was duly carded and spun, washed, sized, and dried; a loom was found a few doors off, the web got in, wove and prepared, cut and made two or three hours before the brother’s departure—that is to say, in forty hours from the commencement, without help from any modern improvement.

The good old lady closed by saying, “I felt no weariness, I wept not, I was serving my country, I was relieving mother, I was preparing a garment for my darling brother. The garment being finished, I retired and wept till my overcharged and bursting heart was relieved.”

This brother was, perhaps, one of General Stark’s soldiers, and with such a spirit to cope with, need we wonder that Burgoyne did not execute his threat of marching into the heart of America?

The Bloomfield Times [New Bloomfield, PA] 23 August 1870: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Leaving aside the question of the Colonies’ treasonous and iniquitous rebellion against King and Country, this charming anecdote points out how quickly eighteenth-century clothing could be manufactured, when necessary. Mrs Daffodil has seen advertisements for modern “Sheep to Shawl” events where one starts with the raw wool and ends with a finished garment. In a similar vein, the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop at Colonial Williamsburg, while not weaving the fabric, holds popular “Gown in a Day” events where a complete gown is draped and hand-sewn in a miraculously short time.  Janea Whitacre, Mistress of the Shop, says that if a lady ordered a gown for a ball that evening, it could be completed in time by laying on many extra hands to make the work light. A video of a lilac silk gown being made in a day may be seen here, as well as an article about Mistress Whitacre and eighteenth-century millinery work.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.