Saturday, January 20, 2018

It's the Little Things: Shadow Portraits, Bourdaloues, Revolutionary Mothers, and Other Interesting Historical Odds & Ends

Today's post may be slightly unusual for me,  for I am incorporating numerous different subjects all in one.  But the underlying theme here is based on a single thread:  everyday life.  And if you know me at all you also know that my passion for the past - my love of history and reenacting - is centered on that motif. 
Hmmm...maybe today's posting isn't so unusual for me after all.

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Let's see...from the top:
George Washington,  Martha
Washington, and...wait..who is
that last person?
I've said this time and again, and I cannot emphasize it enough: it really is the little things that make the past come to life -- and sometimes such things are rarely spoken about or hardly ever seen.
Take the shadow portrait for instance.
The what??
Shadow portraits!  You what you see in the photo on the left here.
Yeah,  I know...many people today call these silhouetted profiles silhouettes,  though that term was seldom used until the early decades of the 19th century,  and the name has stuck here into the 21st century.  But back in the 1700s they were actually known as shadow portraits or shades. 
Cutting these portraits,  generally in profile,  from black cards became popular in the mid-18th century.  They represented a cheap but effective alternative to the portrait miniature,  and skilled specialist artists could cut a high-quality bust portrait,  by far the most common style, in a matter of minutes,  working purely by eye.  Other artists,  especially from the later part of the 1700s,  drew an outline on paper,  then painted it in,  which could be equally as quick and the quality just as well done.
So,  anyhow,  it was back in the early summer of 2016 when I found myself,  with my family,  enjoying nearly a week in Colonial Williamsburg,  and I did my best to take in every nuance of that wonderfully historical place.  It was on our first day there,  upon entering the John Greenhow store,  when I first saw that they had a shadow portrait artist - one who used paint rather than scissors and black paper.  Throughout the next few days the idea of having one done was in the back of my mind,  making its way to the forefront every time I passed the shop.  It was on our final morning there,  just hours before leaving to return to our home state of Michigan,  that I decided to do it.
The John Greenhow Store in Colonial Williamsburg~
Viewed from the street,  this building,  which combines store and 

house,  appears to be in three segments.  From left to right we see 
the small addition which was originally a counting room or office 
but is now part of the store,  in the middle section we have the 
store entrance  (that's me standing in the doorway),  and then the 
front door to the house where Greenhow lived on the right.
It is in the rear of the left section where the 
shadow portrait studio is located.

"Yes,  Mr.  Greenhow. 
I am interested in having my shadow portrait made. 
Might your artist be available?"
In all honesty,  this was probably one of the highlights of our trip there for me.  I still cannot believe that I hem'd & haw'd for a few days on whether or not to have my portrait done.  I am certainly glad I made the decision to do so.
And here is where the magic is done.  It is set up very much like 
I would imagine an 18th century studio might look. 
The height of the popularity of shadow portraits/shades/silhouettes ranged from the 1770s to the 1860s,  and with me wearing my period 1770s clothing,  I figured this would be the perfect souvenir of my time in Colonial Williamsburg.
Zach,  the artist you see in the picture below,  practices the more refined style of painted shadow portraiture.  Painted shades were relatively inexpensive because they only used a single color.  Zach uses ink and watercolor for his shades.
Here we see Zach preparing to create another 
authentic shadow portrait:  mine.  
For me, the sitting actually added to my 
living history experience. 

The affordability made shadow portraits appealing 
to the middling sort in society,  as well as to those with 
aspirations of climbing a bit higher on the social ladder.

The sitting usually takes 40 minutes or so.  Zach captures the 
outline of the profile in perhaps ten minutes,  then spends the rest 
of the time filling in the color and detail.  He uses ink and 
watercolors,  and the paper is from the print shop in Williamsburg.
Yes,  this is my portrait he is working on here.
He works out the details of the portrait through conversation.  Initially I was going to wear my tricorn hat,  but I was told that was not the norm.  Of course,  I wanted mine to be as authentic as it could. 
For Zach,  portraiture isn’t meant to be photographic.  For him,  the magic of portraiture lies in the attempt to capture the essence of a person—their personality,  how they relate to the world—more than a rote likeness.
Here is my shadow portrait. 
I am happy to say there is more than a remote likeness. 
By the way,  yes, I keep my hair long,  and you see it here
tied back in the ever-popular and fashionable  "queue." 

Aside from all of the photographs I took while in Williamsburg,  
this is,  perhaps, my favorite souvenir of my time there.
With my likeness in my satchel,  I continued on into the world of the 18th century.

~   ~   ~

This next subject may seem a bit unusual for me,  a male,  to write about.  Yes,  I must admit,  as much as I have studied early American history,  I have never seen or heard of the bourdaloue.  Until the AMC TV series  "Turn: Washington's Spies,"  that is.
The bourdaloue?
The maid stands with the bourdaloue
(though it looks like the gentleman on

the left is also holding one).

Now,  most of us are aware of the chamber pot - that little porcelain bowl tucked underneath our beds so we don't have to venture out of doors in the middle of the night to the necessary to do our,  um,  duty,  right?  Well,  the bourdaloue,  which was a boat shaped vessel with a raised lip at one end and handle at the other  (a bit like a gravy boat),  was a chamber pot designed specifically for women.  With the assistance of a lady's maid,  who would be expected to carry this for her mistress,  the bourdaloue could be  "slipped beneath skirts and petticoats,  employed while standing,  only to be discreetly carried away and emptied after use."  If the woman didn’t have a maid then she had to deal with it herself.  Apparently it was designed to be used standing up.
Mrs. Arnold - the former Peggy Shippen
Other versions were more functional and fashioned of tin or leather,  and intended to make long church services or long journeys by carriages bearable.  Even when skirts shrank in size towards the end of 18th century,  the bourdaloue was deemed too practical an item to abandon,  and they remained in use throughout the Victorian era.
"Ken!"  you exclaim.  "Seriously?  You are writing on a subject such as this??"
Yep.  As soon as I seen it on Turn,  it grabbed my attention;  it fascinated me on a number of levels.
"But...but you are a man!  You have no right to do so!"
My friend Steve said it best: 
The three pictures depicting usage of the
bourdaloue were taken from AMC's
Turn: Washington's Spies

(Thanks to Marlene DiVia for these shots!)

“I think all of us who study the most minute details of history have seen Francois Boucher's  (18thc)  painting a time or two of a bourdaloue in use.  The ensuing amused shock and astonishment as to why he would choose such a subject is always a wonderment.  But it is a most common of all human issues,  and it gives us a remarkable insight into the reality of life in the 18th century.  The subject lady,  judging by her elaborate dress design,  is obviously of a higher class.  That we may go about in our period finery today without such necessity due to no other option is a bit of a disconnect to actual life during the period.  Although I have heard many ladies in more elaborate costuming insist that a bourdaloue would be far easier than the ubiquitous portajohn!
Though I would bet most female reenactors may not use such a utensil in this manner, which is understandable, gaining further knowledge on such past practices allows us a deeper, greater understanding and appreciation of not only the way people from the 18th century lived, but of the environment in which they were living as well.

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Since we are on the subject of women in the colonial era,  I found a few interesting informational bits offering a slightly different perspective on women during the Revolutionary War.  For those who have patriot ancestors,  I believe this may be compelling  (as short as it may be).
The following was taken from the book Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin:

"The loneliness and anxiety felt by women whose husbands,  sons,  and lovers had enlisted was captured in a popular song:
Here I sit on Buttermilk Hill
Who can blame me,  cry my fill?
And every tear would turn a mill,
Since Johnny has gone for a soldier.

With her man off fighting in the War,  
the woman of the house took over all the 
daily chores to keep the home a-running,  
including chopping wood.
While men faced the enemy,  women faced the challenge of managing on their own.  With small children to tend,  with prices quickly spiraling upward,  with shortages of everyday necessities such as pins and medicines,  and above all with the loss of the family members who normally tilled the fields,  ran the shops,  or worked the docks,  women did their best to ensure that there would be something to come home to when the soldiers came home.
Women everywhere improvised when household materials ran out.  In rural South Carolina,  women used thorns for pins.  In other regions,  they made tea from herbs and flowers.  Lacking salt,  they preserved foods with a concoction made of walnut ash.  Resourceful and inventive women shared their secrets:  a Province,  Rhode Island,  woman found a way to improve the quality of homemade soap and published the recipe in the newspapers.  'Take eight quarts of common family soap,”  she wrote,  “and put to it about half a pint of common sea salt;  boil this for a few minutes,  then set it by and let it cool.'  The result,  she promised,  would be almost as good as the British soap urban women had become accustomed to buying."
Life on the homefront - - - -

I also found interesting something else that Ms. Berkin wrote about,  which seemingly goes against the grain of today's thinking about Abigail Adams,  the wife of our second President. 
"Abigail Adams was not an early suffragist,  demanding that John and Congress grant women the right to vote.  She was a dutiful,  if politically informed wife,  asking privately if her husband could do something to reform the horrendous laws of coverture that deprived married women of their property rights."
Abigail Adams
Upon further research,  I found others that had nearly the same conclusion,  albeit giving Mrs.  Adams a bit more credit,  for though she may not have necessarily been a suffragette,  she was  looking out for the women of her time.  The best of my findings comes from WGBH News:
"Abigail was very much her own woman and she was a bit fiery,"  said Sara Martin,  the series editor of the Adams Family Correspondence at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  "That we know Abigail Adams,  and her husband John,  with such depth and intimacy,  is thanks in large part to their extraordinary correspondence:  more than 1,000 letters between them,  that we still have today..."  (due to their many years apart during the revolutionary years).
Perhaps the most celebrated of them was penned by Abigail on March 31,  1776,  from the Adams' farm in Quincy to John,  knee-deep in the heady business of creating a new nation at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
"The heart of the war is going on in Boston and she’s in Quincy and she’s able to see the smoke and hear the cannon from her home and her husband is several hundred miles away,"  Martin said. 
Abigail is not only managing the day-to-day of the family farm,  but also caring for the couple’s four young children.  She opens the letter with a powerful indictment of John’s slaveholding southern colleagues.
"I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breast,"  Abigail Adams wrote.
Then,  amidst family updates,  and talk of war damages,  smallpox and mumps in the three-page letter,  comes its most famous passage.
"I long to hear that you have declared an Independency and by the way in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make,  I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors."
She continues with a bit of spirited button-pushing that Martin says is classic Abigail Adams.
"If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies,  we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound in any laws in which we have no voice or representation,"  Adams wrote.
From what I understand,  Abigail was living in the house on the 
left during the time she penned the March 31,  1776 letter.
John’s response,  two weeks later,  engaged her in a bit of verbal jousting.
"As to your extraordinary code of laws I cannot but laugh,"  he wrote,  adding a comment that Abigail's being saucy.
But he goes on to cleverly,  if not endorse,  at least validate her viewpoint.
"They actually agree more than they don’t,  but it’s just the language that they’re using to communicate,"  Martin said.
It’s an extraordinary exchange,  candid and progressive.  And it’s easy today to see Abigail’s words as an early rallying cry for women’s rights under the law.  But Martin views Abigail’s words more in the context of the times.
"It’s not a viewpoint that I think she would have seen herself,"  she said.  "She might have embraced it.  Oh,  that we could have those conversations!"
That Martin doesn’t believe Adams was necessarily calling for suffrage,  or equal representation under the law,  doesn’t lesson the importance of her words.  In this passage,  and countless others it in her letters,  we can plainly see — right from America’s start — a woman that was the equal of any man.
And in today's study of our colonial and Revolutionary War past,  Abigail Adams is now being taught in nearly the same ranks as some of the founding fathers in many classrooms.
As she should be. 

Cover from the book
 Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin
The following is another story I read about another woman of the Rev War period named Abigail Hinman,  an American Patriot who is best remembered for her decision to remain at her New London home while her husband,  Captain Elisha Hinman,  was away at sea.  On September 6,  1781,  a combined force of 1700 British,  Hessian,  and Loyalist forces attacked the town and Fort Griswold  (which was across the river).  The British,  commanded by American traitor Benedict Arnold,  burned the city of New London.  As recounted by Abigail to her children and grandchildren,  she stood by her second story window watching the British when she identified Arnold and seized a musket to take aim.  Upon firing she discovered that the gun was not loaded.
Imagine...just imagine...the outcome if she had been successful.
It's stories like this that I like to teach the children at the high school where I work,  for not only does it help to put flesh and bones on the folks of the Revolutionary War period,  but it also gives the girls a better reflection of the female past, for it was more than just men who survived the times.

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Earlier in this posting you saw a painting of two early homes once belonging to John Adams.  I also mentioned the show  "Turn: Washington's Spies"  during the bourdaloue segment of today's post. Now,  if you don't already know,  Turn is a show that I absolutely love,  and for four years I watched it on AMC,  purchased the DVDs  (still a-waiting season 4!),  and I have placed it at or near the top of my all-time favorite television shows.
No foolin'.
It is so well done in nearly every way:  from the script to the storyline  (not all historically accurate,  but still great historical drama)  to the clothing  (for the most part)  to the storyline to the amazing sets.
And the fact that it is based in American history - the Revolutionary War! - makes it that much better!
But aside from the story itself,  the sets used in filming the show blew me away;  for instance,  Abraham and Mary Woodhall's saltbox house in Season One was perfect. 
The farm  'set'  of Abraham and Mary Woodhall in  "Turn."
And,  just to show you how authentic this  "set"  is,  below is a 
similar-style photo taken of an actual 1750s saltbox/breakback 
house relocated and situated inside historic 
Greenfield Village in Dearborn,  Michigan:

Pretty cool,  eh?

The Woodhull saltbox house...
And below we see another shot of the Daggett 

saltbox/breakback from 1750.
It makes me wonder if the house on Turn is real or truly just a 'set'? 
And if it is a set,  then they did a remarkable job.

By the way,  Daggett is,  perhaps, my favorite house inside Greenfield Village.

Mary Woodhull sitting near her hearth in  "Turn,"  and below is a 
picture I took inside the Daggett House at the hearth.

The past comes to life in person and on TV.
'Tis a far cry from TV shows of old.

In another scene from  "Turn,"  we see the inside of another 
colonial home,  though this is not the one used for the Woodhulls.
However, it still bears a striking resemblance to the Great Hall in 
the Daggett House in the photo below, doesn't it?

In all seriousness,  one has to admit just how authentic these sets 
are in the TV show when compared to the real deal.  The set 
designers truly went above and beyond in historic authenticity.
Yes,  it definitely is  the little things that'll bring history to life...
(By the way,  many thanks to Marlene DiVia for extracting  the  "Turn"  photos from me from the show.  I certainly do appreciate it!)

As a living historian,  I find myself paying as much attention to the smaller,  mostly background details that most others tend to overlook as much as the reenactors themselves;  the style of candle holder here,  a walking wheel there,  type of chair,  seeing kettles in the hearth or over a fire...that's what will attract me to a show or another living historian more than clothing (though we should not go  "cheap"  on the period clothing either).  I am aspiring to improve my impression with each new season,  for it is my hope that when a visitor enters my camp or area,  they feel as if they stepped out of the future and into the past.

Until next time,  see you in time.

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Speaking of little things that tend to be over-looked - - two more items known to our ancestors but are rarely thought of today are heating stoves and wall pockets,  both of which were very common in the 19th century.  Click HERE if you are interested in reading more on them.

Most of the bourdaloue information came from HERE and HERE

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